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TAG Heuer has one last Monaco trick up its sleeve to round out the 50th Anniversary year of its most iconic model, and this time the focus is pure vintage: a one-off original 1970s Heuer 1133B updated, as needed, with New Old Stock (NOS) parts. In addition, the original Calibre 11 movement has been specially finished and decorated, and to make sure that this craftsmanship isn’t hidden away, TAG Heuer has modified the original caseback to feature a sapphire crystal window.
Reflecting on the Monaco d’Art, it’s worth noting that this project simply wouldn’t have been possible without the extensive work done at the TAG Heuer Heritage Department over the last few years under the leadership of Catherine Eberlé-Devaux. A decade ago, TAG Heuer’s heritage activities consisted mainly of servicing vintage watches, with a small team sat inside the broader Customer Service operations. The team were faced with declining stock of original parts and few solutions for those parts no longer in stock. In absence of these parts, TAG Heuer would fit the “next best” available part if the original wasn’t available, an approach that while understandable for its utilitarian solution, did create confusion in the vintage market.
As we’ll tell you shortly, things are very different today, with the learnings of the last few years providing the knowledge and access to documentation and parts required for a project such as the Monaco Piece d’Art.
The Watch- Heuer Monaco 1133B
Let’s start with the watch itself. What we have here is a Heuer Monaco 1133B (“11” for the Calibre type; “33” being the internal Heuer code for the Monaco and “B” denoting the blue dial), the same Heuer model worn by Steve McQueen in the 1971 movie Le Mans. The base watch was taken from the TAG Heuer museum, before being taken apart and re-built as needed with original parts- there are no modern re-production parts used in the watch.
Dial and Case
The dial on the watch is from the third iteration of the 1133B Monaco- the first being metallic blue dial with the Chronomatic text and the second being the transitional dial- same as the Chronomatic Monaco, but without the Chronomatic text. This is the best-known version of the 1133B Monaco, with a slightly paler blue dial that forms the base for today’s modern Calibre 11 Monaco, reference CAW211P.
While the dial is all-original, we wonder if the lume has been updated, both on the hands and the circular “pips” at each of the red hour-markers. The original lume turned a lovely cream/ beige colour over time, while the Monaco d’Art features clean, white lume.
And for the record, there is only one non-Monaco part used on this watch: the red date wheel is sourced from a Heuer Montreal. It’s a small touch, but a wonderful choice that helps this Monaco stand out from any other.
The Caseback and Movement
As special as the rest of the watch is, the real magic of the Piece d’Art is the movement. Starting with an original Calibre 11 movement (31mm diameter with 38 hours power reserve with a frequency of 19,800 vibrations per hour), the movement has been painstakingly rebuilt and serviced.
The finishing and decoration work on the movement involved the work of four watchmakers over three months, with all of the work done by hand. The final touch was the bespoke caseback, with the centre section removed and replaced by a sapphire crystal to allow the owner to enjoy the work of TAG Heuer’s watchmakers.
Engraving the Calibre 11
Below is a nice piece of footage that TAG Heuer has put together to show off the process of polishing and decorating the movement.
So Where Can I Get One?
Sadly, there is only one of these Monacos that has been made, and it is being auctioned today (10 December 2019) in New York as part of the Phillips Game Changers auction, with all proceeds donated to the charity United Way of New York City.
The Monaco Piece d’Art comes with in a special wooden box decorated with red lacquer and features a white leather interior that holds the stainless-steel circle cut out from the caseback and a loupe. Also included is the original historic Monaco leaflet that came with the original timepiece, as well as a few other goodies:
- An 18×18 inch drawing of the Monaco’s Calibre 11 movement by renowned artist Julie Kraulis
- A copy of Paradoxical Superstar, signed by TAG Heuer’s Honorary Chairman Jack Heuer
Below are some fantastic shots of the Monaco d’Art from the team at Phillips.
TAG Heuer’s Heritage Department Today
Seeing this fantastic new/ old Monaco is a reminder of how far the TAG Heuer heritage department has progressed over the last decade. We first visited the Heritage Department in 2008 and ten years later we went back to see how much had changed. TAG Heuer’s heritage director, Catherine Eberlé-Devaux has worked to transform the brand’s focus on heritage and ensure a more organised approach to the most critical aspect for vintage collectors- access to parts.
The approach now is very clear:
- All vintage work is done at La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland
- No quotes or discussions by phone or e-mail- each watch must be sent to TAG Heuer to be inspected in person
- Any “frakenwatch” (a watch with some original and non-original parts) will be sent back to the customer without any work being done
- A detailed quote is provided to the customer, along with a single point of contact within the team
- TAG Heuer alone decides which parts your watch need- you can’t send in a watch with a few scratches in the bezel and request to buy a NOS bezel (we’ll get to bezels shortly)
- All old parts, or parts replaced are kept by TAG Heuer and will not be returned
While this disciplined approach won’t be welcomed by collectors who would love to be able to buy NOS parts “off the shelf”, the reality is that the long-term perspective supports tighter control over the few remaining original spares.
TAG Heuer’s stock of original parts has been enhanced over the last couple of years, with additional boxes of spares found. But while this will extend the life span of the original parts, TAG Heuer has also gone into the restoration business, including the production of new parts made to the exact specifications of the original.
Below are some examples of the work done at the Heritage Department over the last couple of years.
Dials are perhaps the most challenging of all watch parts to restore, and without question it is the stage where things mostly go wrong in any project. TAG Heuer works directly with Singer on these restored dials, which often involved over-printing the existing dial once it has been (carefully) cleaned.
While you will find other highly-skilled watchmakers who will repair your vintage watch, or even repair a steel case, very, very few will be brave enough to attempt to repair a dial, especially if that work involved printing over the original dial- frankly, we’d think very carefully about this work and only have it done if absolutely necessary, as the risks are high irrespective of who is doing the work…and there is no way back.
In addition to refinishing the case back to the original finish, TAG Heuer will now also refinish gold-plated cases or refresh the black coating applied via PVD back in the 1970s. Re-applying gold plate or black PVD involved stripping back the watch to the metal, before applying a fresh coating of gold plate or PVD as required.
We didn’t get a chance to see a refinished PVD watch, but again this is one aspect that is hard to get right, as Heuer’s 1970s PVD black finishes varied depending on the watch as the PVD process was refined and improved over the decade.
If the dial is the most technically challenging part of a restoration, then re-applying black coating via PVD is the most time consuming, as the existing coasting needs to be removed on every piece of the bracelet, before being re-coated and then reassembled. It’s very fiddly work, but a relief for owners of PVD bracelets, as finding watchmakers willing to take the work on has been challenging in the past. But now, TAG Heuer can help.
As any Autavia owner will tell you, the original aluminium bezel inserts are not only fragile, but also one of the parts that will stand out the most if the bezel is in shabby condition. Rather than try and repair these old bezels, TAG Heuer’s solution is to make new ones- as you can see below, the new re-production parts are engraved with “TH” and the year of manufacture, so you will be able to tell an original from a newly made part.
While these restoration services offer a new channel for owners of vintage watches to have their watches brought back to their former glory, we would like to see some marking on the external caseback of the watch to alert any potential buyer that the watch has been restored by TAG Heuer. There is nothing wrong with a restored watch, but a buyer should know whether they are buying a NOS original or a lovely watch restored with new parts.
The increased interest and investment in TAG Heuer’s heritage has not only created new opportunities for more watches to enjoy a “second life”, but also built up an internal appreciation and expertise for these wonderful pieces. And it’s this skill and passion that allows a special one-off watch such as the Monaco Piece d’Art to exist, as one lucky person will discover later tonight.