Everyone knows that sports watches are supposed to be made from steel. It’s not just a question of aesthetics, but also practicality- stainless steel is harder than most precious metals (including 18K Gold), meaning that your steel sports watch is less likely to be nicked and damaged than its gold equivalent.
And yet, there is something special about the TAG Heuer Monaco Gold Chronometer that was sold for two years back in the early 2000s. Perhaps the sportiest of TAG Heuer’s classic chronographs, the Monaco case is already prominent thanks to its large square form, and making that square case from gold makes the watch even more conspicuous.
As we’ll explain, the Monaco was part of TAG Heuer’s Gold Collection, an initiative of the new LVMH-backed management team that existed for a very specific reason beyond a view that Gold was back in fashion. TAG Heuer was headed on a new strategic path, and pushing up the price points associated with TAG Heuer watches was a key element of the strategy.
The Story of the Gold Monaco
While there were Gold Carreras and an Autavia in Heuer’s historic catalogue, there was never a Gold Monaco. It wasn’t until 2002, some 5 years after TAG Heuer revived the Monaco that the first Gold Monaco was launched. The watch featured in the 2002 and 2003 catalogues, before being replaced in 2004 by the Monza Calibre 36 Rose Gold.
If we turn to the 2002 Price List, we can see that the Monaco was priced at £6500 in the UK, and in fact was one of the less expensive gold models, given that others such as the 2000 and 6000 series also featured a gold bracelet. So why this interest in Gold?
When Jean-Christophe Babin arrived as the new TAG Heuer CEO in 2001, part of his mission was to elevate the brand in the eyes of consumers. He was determined to bring back TAG Heuer’s reputation for innovation and precision, projects that began to emerge in 2005 with the launch of the Calibre 360 movement. But projects like the Calibre 360 take time and know-how, and when it came to making movements, TAG Heuer had no in-house knowledge of mechanical movements, having relied on Lemania and ETA/ Valjoux since the 1980s. So how could the brand be pushed up-market ahead of the technical cavalry arriving? The answer was precious metals.
From 2001, TAG Heuer released Gold versions of many of the main model lines- 2000, 6000, Alter Ego, Monaco, Monza, Carrera and Autavia. The Monaco Gold collection consisted of a single Calibre 17 reference (CW5140), although there was also a limited run of around 15 watches of a White Gold Monaco, reference CW5141.
The 18K Gold Monaco (18K being 75% pure Gold and 25% alloys such as zinc or copper) used the same basic design as the standard steel Monaco of the day, reference CW2111, but with a few key differences in detailing to set the flagship Monaco apart from its steel brethren.
The case is the same basic 38mm design as the original Monaco re-edition from 1997, which was designed by Miodrag Mijatovic, known universally as Mijat. Mijat also designed Hublot’s Big Bang, another basic shape that like the Monaco was remained basically unchanged for more than 20 years.
The crystal is a plexi crystal, which while warmer and sleeker than a sapphire alternative, is more prone to scratching. But again, the plexi was standard on the steel Monaco off the day, with sapphire crystals appearing first in 2009.
The dial is quite different to that offered on the steel Monaco of the day, and is a wonderful star-burst silver colour. The hands and applied hour-markers are Gold, giving the watch a luxurious rather than sporty look. And speaking of those hour markers, they are significantly longer than those used on the steel Monaco.
The watch uses a TAG Heuer rather than Heuer logo- it’s often forgotten that LVMH phased out the use of the Heuer logo from around 2002, only reprising it again in 2010 with the 300 SLR. All Monaco/ Carrera/ Monza/ Autavia from this era are branded as TAG Heuers.
It’s business as usual at the rear of the watch, with a solid Gold caseback, engraved with the watch’s reference number and Chronometer number. As was the case with the sapphire crystal, clear casebacks were another seven years away, meaning all Monaco models made do with a solid back.
On the Wrist
The Monaco feels very special on the wrist, and not surprisingly has an added heft over stainless steel. The scales tell the story- the Calibre 17 Monaco in steel weighs 105g, while the Calibre 17 in Gold is 137g.
The watch came standard on a high-quality crocodile strap, but in these photos is mounted on a 1970s rallye-style strap that veers between “light black” and “dark grey”. There is no deployant strap for the Gold Monaco- a gold pin-buckle only.
Whether you like the look of a Monaco in Gold is, of course, highly subjective, but to our eyes the watch looks fantastic with this combination of colours and if anything looks more vintage than the steel versions.
While we’d agree that stainless steel remains the true metal of choice for the Monaco, this is one of our favourite variants of the modern Monacos. Putting aside the Rose Gold V4, it’s the only Gold Monaco ever made which makes sense given we’d expect demand to be limited. But, on the right day, with the right outfit, the Gold Monaco Chronometer holds a special place in the Monaco collection.