Few modern TAG Heuer watches have left as much of an impression as the first time that I saw the Monaco Vintage (CW2118), which was released in 2005 as a limited edition of 4000 watches to mark what would have been the 75th birthday of Steve McQueen. It was an outrageous design: a crisp white dial (one of the first times a Monaco has been sold with a white dial) matched with bold blue and red stripes on the right hand-side of the dial and with red sub-dials and hands.
The design of course was based on the driving suit worn by Steve McQueen in the 1971 movie Le Mans, which is the movie that would eventually make the Monaco the iconic watch it is today.
The success of the Monaco Vintage meant that it was inevitable that other versions would follow, presenting TAG Heuer with the same dilemma that any watch company with a hit Limited Edition faces: How many Limited Edition versions with the same design theme can be made before the magic is lost?
Gulf II- Monaco CW211A
In 2007 the next Monaco Vintage was released (CAW211A), this time a black-dial watch with the iconic light blue and orange colours of Gulf Oil, the sponsors of the Porsche 917 driven by McQueen in Le Mans. Interestingly, the watch now carried the word “Gulf” above the date window instead of “Monaco”. Why this didn’t appear on the first Vintage model is perhaps because of the complex story behind the ownership of the Gulf Oil brand.
Up until its 1985 merger with Standard Oil, Gulf Oil was one of the world’s largest Oil companies. The Gulf brand survived the merger- but only as a shadow of its former self and as a retail-only brand. Today there are two Gulf companies- one in the US and one based in London called Gulf Oil International (“GOI”), which allows independent petrol stations to franchise the Gulf Brand. In exchange for paying their franchise fee, GOI builds awareness of the Gulf brand by sponsoring Motor Sports (Aston Martin at Le Mans) and allowing the logo to be used on clothes- and other products like the Monaco. The complexity behind who owns the name in which country apparently meant that TAG Heuer were unclear whether they’d be able to sell the original White Vintage in the US- a problem that was eventually sorted out.
The Black Vintage Monaco- also a Limited Edition of 4000 watches- is a nice design and a real contrast to the first. In particular, I like the detail orange stitching on the black leather strap and the design of the right-hand sub-dial, harking back to the design of the Calibre 15 Monaco from the 1970s.
And to my mind, that is where the Monaco-with-stripes series should have ended: two distinct models, each highly collectible.
Gulf III- CAW2113
But in 2009, we got another striped Limited Edition Monaco (CAW2113), this time with a Grey/ metallic dial and the new Monaco Calibre 12 case (1mm larger than the previous Monaco; Sapphire Crystal; Clear caseback). As you can see below, the watch is broadly similar to the previous Black Vintage:
On its own, the “Grey Vintage” is a lovely watch and if we hadn’t already seen the design in white and black, I suspect I’d feel very different about the watch. But coming on the heels of two “Limited Edition” Striped Monaco series, it feels too derivative, a point made before at Calibre 11.
And so this week we see another Monaco-with-stripes, this time 55 watches being made to mark the 55th anniversary of the Porsche Club of America.
The PCA Monaco is based on the black Calibre 12 Monaco and uses a modified version of the leather strap found on the 40th anniversary Monaco, but this time with red stitching and a red inner-coating. The dial has a single broad red stripe with two smaller white stripes either side. In addition, there are red highlights used on the right-hand sub-dial, along with a single red sub-dial hand. Finishing off the design is the black “55” in a white circle.
With only 55 watches being made- probably all sold- I’m sure that this will be a collectible Monaco- I just wish that they had resisted the temptation to use yet another variation of the striped-dial theme that made the original Vintage Monaco so shocking, unique and memorable. I’m sure its tempting to keep this design theme going, but each version impresses me less than the one it replaces and surely it eventually devalues the “Limited Edition” nature of the original series.
So, come on TAG Heuer- no more striped Monaco Limited Editions…well, OK, maybe one more.