The TAG Heuer Monaco Sixty-Nine was first shown as a concept watch at the 2003 Baselworld Show, before moving into a production model in 2004. The party trick of the Monaco 69 was that it was reversible: on one side was a mechanical analogue watch displaying the the time and on the reverse side was a digital screen displaying chronograph and alarm functions, in addition to the time. It was both literally and symbolically a combination of the old and the new, with the name inspired by the year that the original Heuer Monaco was launched- 1969.
Go beyond the watch itself and a deeper story lies behind the Monaco Sixty Nine. It was a sign of the ambition of the still fresh CEO Jean-Christophe Babin, not only in terms of design, but also manufacture. The Monaco was assembled by TAG Heuer at its new facility, while the case was made by TAG Heuer itself- nothing that surprises us in 2019, but back in 2004 this was quite a change in approach.
2003 Monaco Sixty Nine Concept
The Monaco 69 is a wonderful piece of design, with both sides of the watch looking “right”. The case design shares its 38mm diameter with the other Monaco models of the day and is water resistant to 50 meters. All four pushers operate the digital side- the analogue side only offers only a time function and is wound by the crown.
The Monaco 69 was designed by Ross Lovegrove, who was interviewed by QP Magazine where he explained the challenges of designing the watch:
Next up: the extraordinary Monaco 69, which caused a sensation at Basel last year, cleverly combining a traditional TAG Heuer shape and movement with the latest quartz technology – the latter represented by the 1/1,000th accuracy of the Microtimer.
“It had been in the pipeline for a while; the idea of a reversible watch,” explains Lovegrove. “How smoothly the entire engineering element of the two faces works is a testimony to TAG Heuer’s precision manufacturing. It clips down very satisfyingly and, technologically, it just works like a dream.”
Was its unique flip-top construction the most difficult element of the design?
“No, it was the thickness. What the customer doesn’t appreciate is that when you’re talking about designing watches, you’re talking about fractions of millimetres and how that can change the perception of an object. You don’t want to make it look as if you’ve artificially made it big, but that it’s loaded up. It’s like when you used to buy one of the first Walkmans, they were fabulous because they were stuffed full. Same with the iPod. An iPod is stuffed right to the corners. That’s an emotional thing I want to put across in the work I do.”QP Magazine- 2007
And Lovegrove is spot on with the thickness. There are two things you immediately notice after a few minutes playing with the Monaco 69- how beautifully the mechanism feels when switching dials and secondly how thick the watch is. It’s really thick- and maybe we shouldn’t be surprised given it has two movements, as we’ll come to shortly.
2004 Production Model- Reference CW9110
The watch moved smoothly from concept to production, with the only detail that changed being the swap-out of the rubber strap for a more traditional leather Alligator strap.
The Monaco 69 was a success when launched, winning a design prize in the annual Grand Prix d’Horlogerie
At the fourth Grand Prix d’Horlogerie, held in Geneva on 11 November 2004, TAG Heuer was awarded the Grand Prix for its newly created Monaco Sixty Nine in the design category. An international panel of judges comprising journalists, historians, and experts in the field singled out the design of the Monaco Sixty Nine as the most innovative among the new timepieces introduced in 2004 by the major Swiss watchmakers.
TAG Heuer won the design accolade once before, in 2002, for its Micrograph Formula 1, and in October of this year the company was named by A. T. Kearney and the business magazine Bilanz as one of Switzerland’s three most innovative firms.
The Monaco Sixty Nine: symbolising TAG Heuer’s dual commitment to tradition and the avant-garde, this new chronometer is a fusion of 19th and 21st century watchmaking, housed in a pivoting case inspired by the famous Monaco worn by Steve McQueen.
The major innovation of the Monaco Sixty Nine lies in the extraordinary technical feat that it represents: two timepieces with radically different movements are united in a single case the invention of 144 years of TAG Heuer expertise and patents in the field of mechanical and digital movement.
The Monaco Sixty Nine is the first watch to offer both mechanical and digital displays merely by pivoting the case. Indeed, TAG Heuer has been awarded a patent for this new pivoting system. The strikingly bold model combines tradition and the avant-garde in a way never before seen. On one side, there’s the mythical, uncompromising look and square case of the initial 1969 Monaco, the model preferred by Steve McQueen; on the other, the unique, ultramodern digital face of the Microtimer, the first Swiss wristwatch accurate to 1/1000th of a second, invented by TAG Heuer just 18 months ago. The two timepieces signify the company’s evolution since 1860: a digital chronograph that features unbeatable precision and contemporary functions presents a vision of the 21st century while the traditional mechanical watch, powered by 19th-century wheel and pinion technology, displays the local time with timeless, understated appeal, all enclosed in a single case boasting exceptional character.
The revolutionary new design, strong and elegant, is first visible on the case, with its four push-buttons located at 2:00, 4:00, 8:00 and 10:00. On the classic Monaco side, the black shade of the leather strap and the dial is discreetly matched by the silvered folding clasp and steel case. The small seconds register at 6:00 is entirely in tune with the harmoniously understated overall effect. This subtle equilibrium contrasts with the other, high-tech side of the case, with its digital display dial and 1/1000th-of-a-second chronograph function as well as a perpetual calendar, GMT function, countdown feature and a timekeeping system that records time to the thousandth of a second, ready for tracking the progress of a Formula 1 race over 99 laps, complete with continuous calculation and storage of the best lap times.
This new design icon was developed entirely by TAG Heuer designers and watchmakers at the firm’s design laboratory in La Chaux-de-Fonds. The highly complex case was produced by Cortech, TAG Heuer’s own ultramodern case manufacturer located in Cornol, Switzerland, while the digital movement is exclusive to TAG Heuer. The timepiece is assembled at the brand’s production facility in La Chaux-de-Fonds. The Monaco Sixty Nine, which is being introduced on the market this autumn, provides TAG Heuer’s strongest evidence to date of its creativity and expertise, as summed up in the company’s motto: Swiss Avant-Garde since 1860.TAG Heuer Press Release
Sales volumes of the Monaco Sixty Nine weren’t huge, but that’s not the sort of watch that it was. TAG Heuer was seeking a path for the Monaco and a way of helping the series transition from a retro-novelty to a contemporary part of the TAG Heuer range.
Here are two great shots of a Monaco 69 disassembled, showing the various components.
As flagged earlier, the main reason for the thickness of the Sixty-Nine is that the watch used two movements. The analogue movement is a manual-wind Peseux (ETA) 7001, a calibre that dates its origins back to 1971. Today the movement is still used by a variety of brands, including Blancpain and Nomos. TAG Heuer refer to this movement as the Calibre 2.
The digital movement is the same module as that used in the Microtimer- called HR03. It was not made by TAG Heuer, but it is an exclusive TAG Heuer movement.
Looking Back at the Monaco Sixty-Nine
The Monaco Sixty-Nine was a bold piece of design that started the idea of re-inventing and modernising the Monaco. When the watch was launched in 2004, the series had been back in the TAG Heuer catalogue for six years, but always as a retro play. After the Monaco 69 we had the V4, the Monaco Twenty-Four and the non-Chronograph model, all of which pushed the Monaco forward.
The watch also came about as TAG Heuer sought to revive digital watches, with high-end, multi-functional modules appearing across the Monaco, Microtimer, Kirium and the Formula 1 series. It was a short revival, with none of the digital efforts ever really going beyond the niche.
The Sixty-Nine was phased out in 2009, as the larger 39mm Monaco Calibre 12 range was introduced to mark the 40th Anniversary of the first Monaco. Today you can buy a Monaco Sixty-Nine for around US$2500-3500 (the launch price was €6,100), which is pretty good value for what is a unique watch. If you can get away with a thick case- and you should definitely try one on before you buy- then the Sixty-Nine is a pretty special version of the Monaco that you’ll never tire of flipping back and forth.
As we head into the Monaco’s 50th anniversary, there may well be new models this year that better reflect Heuer’s heritage, but there’s unlikely to be anything as daring and innovative as the Monaco Sixty-Nine.