The Heuer Monaco is one of the world’s most iconic watch designs. Not only does it immediately stand out from the pack of monochrome circular watches with its sharp-edged square case and bright-blue dial, but the Monaco was also a highly innovative watch when it was launched back in 1969, featuring both the world’s first automatic chronograph movement and the first square waterproof case. And if these attributes aren’t enough to convince you, then there is the famous link with Steve McQueen, who wore a 1133B Monaco in the 1971 movie Le Mans.
But despite all of this, the original vintage Monaco was not a sales success for Heuer- in fact, it was an outright failure, with the series only part of the Heuer range for six years, from 1969-1975. Of course this corresponded with a challenging time for all Swiss watches, but the Monaco was too far ahead of its time for most buyers and is far more appreciated today than it was back when it was new.
When TAG Heuer made the bold decision to reissue the Monaco in 1997, a new generation of watch collectors discovered the Monaco, with vintage collectors picking up unsold stock from the 1970s for a couple of hundred dollars…if only we knew then what we know now….The Carrera may be the sales engine of TAG Heuer today, but without doubt the soul of the range is the Monaco.
Now in 2019 we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Monaco, a watch forever associated with the vintage Heuer world, despite being on sale for six of the fifty years as a Heuer and a further 22 years as a modern TAG Heuer. Seems like there is no better time to look into the story of the most iconic Heuer/ TAG Heuer watch.
Upfront, a special acknowledgment- except as noted, all photos in this story come from Abel Court of HeuerTime. A big thanks to Abel for generously allowing us to use his excellent photos.
The Story of the Heuer Monaco
The idea for the Monaco began back in 1967-8 when Heuer was preparing to unveil the Calibre 11 movement, a calibre to be shared with Breitling and Hamilton. As Jack Heuer told us in 2010 about the product planning to highlight this new movement:
“So we decided to make a Carrera, because the Carrera was already a very good model in non-automatic. We made it in self-winding, but this movement [Calibre 11] was quite a bit thicker, so we had to change the shape a little bit. And then we decided that we need something for our Automotive-Aviation market, so we made the Autavia and we said now we have covered our key markets, why don’t we do something a little more “out-of-the-box”?”Calibre 11 Interview with Jack Heuer- March 2010
Now on the look-out for something “out-of-the-box“, Jack Heuer explained in his autobiography the role of Piquerez in developing the Monaco
“One day, a representative of one of our most reliable watch case suppliers, a company called Piquerez, located at Bassecourt in the Jura, came to us on one of his regular visits to show us Piquerez’s latest samples of watch cases in mock-up form. He drew our attention in particular to a new patented square case Piquerez had developed, emphasising the fact that it was fully water-resistant. We immediately knew this was something special because until then square cases were used only for dress watches because it was impossible to make a square case fully water-resistant. At Heuer a decision had been taken around 1941 to produce only water-resistant chronographs because any water penetrating a chronograph’s case and reaching the movement causes serious damage that is very costly to repair.
We immediately took a liking to the special square shape and were able to negotiate a deal with Piquerez that secured us exclusive use of the case design for chronographs. This way we could be sure that Breitling would not produce a chronograph housed in a similar case when we all unveiled our new products using the revolutionary Calibre 11 microrotor-based self-winding mechanism that was at the heart of Project 99. The revolutionary square case would be the perfect housing for our avant-garde “Monaco” wrist chronograph.”The Times of My Life- Jack Heuer
These stories of how the Monaco came to be explain why Heuer took such a risk with the shape of the watch, because much like a concept car highlighting a new engine, the radical shape was chosen to draw attention to the new-ness of the movement. It was a statement watch designed for the avant-garde– not the conventional mainstream.
Now that we’ve established the basis for the Monaco, let’s take a closer look at the design- a wonderful piece of late 60s period design that is instantly recognisable.
The Monaco has a relatively simple two-piece case , with the top section of the case clipping over the base case. All cases have the same basic case- 38mm steel case with 22mm lugs. In truth, the modern re-edition Monaco case is actually “more square” than the original, with the sides of the vintage case bulging to give a convex rather than straight-edged shape.
The finishing on the case is one of the model’s hallmarks, a wonderful combination of brushed and polished surfaces on the front of the case, while the caseback has a fantastic starburst finish.
As you can see below, the model reference number is engraved between one set of lugs, while the serial number is engraved between the other. Note that some 1533 watches have cases with 1133 engraved between the lugs as the cases are identical.
The next thing you need to know about the Monaco is that the case has sharp edges- or at least, should have sharp edges. We’ll cover these later, because original, sharp-edged cases are hard to find these days.
Simplistically, there are two dial colours for production Monacos (not four? We’ll come to that later): blue and grey. But within this universe are several variants, with a metallic deep blue for early 1133Bs, differing to the pale blue of the later models. The Calibre 15 blue Monaco is a different shade again.
And the greys are also different- subtly- with grained finishes, flat greys and darker shades that can almost look black. The Calibre 15 “G” is totally different from all other “Gs”, being a golden silver colour with a beautiful grain finish.
One thing to note for collectors is that the metallic-finish dials to tend to age poorly, with the paint often coming away from the dials on the Calibre 15 watches (both models- but the blue is much more impacted) and the Chronomatic/ Transitional Calibre 11 blue dials. There’s nothing you can do with these damage dials other than embrace the unique, “paintless” look of your watch.
The Monaco dials- whether they be two or three registers- all have a printed circular minute scale that provides a wonderful contrast to the blunt edges of the square case.
The most unusual register layout is on the Calibre 15 models, which have a single “standard” register at 3 o’clock and then a smaller seconds hand around 9.30 on the dial with a cross-hair marking. These are also the only Monacos to have their hour-markers angled, a look picked up by today’s Calibre 12 Monaco series.
Steve McQueen and the Heuer Monaco
Well before the era of “Actor Ambassadors”, Steve McQueen wore a Heuer Monaco in the movie Le Mans, providing a series of iconic images such as the two above, that still today form a central part of TAG Heuer’s marketing campaigns. But just how did McQueen come to strap a Monaco to his wrist? Again we turn to Jack Heuer for the story:
“I had recruited Don Nunley, a property master in Hollywood, to help me with my early efforts at product placement in Hollywood films. In early June 1970 he called me from Hollywood and said: “Jack, I have some good news for you. I have been appointed property master on the film ‘Le Mans’ which will star Steve McQueen as a racing driver. But now I need much more than a few chronographs. I need stopwatches, timing boards, large pocket chronographs and any other timing paraphernalia you can think of that’s used in motor racing. But I need to have all this within the next ten days as we start shooting at Le Mans in a week or two.
On hearing the name of the King of Cool connected with stopwatches my ears went up like flick knives and I immediately sprang into action to get all this equipment ready and crated for shipping to France. However, since these watches and timing devices had not technically been sold it would have taken me too long to get the export papers required for what would in effect be just a “temporary import”. I instructed our driver simply not to declare them at the border when crossing into France. The driver, Gerd-Rüdiger Lang, had asked to work for us to improve his knowledge of watchmaking in general and chronographs in particular. He was a very nice and talented person and I was planning to send him to our US subsidiary on a temporary US visa. This had turned out to be impossible, since in our case these special US visas were issued only to Swiss citizens and Gerd-Rüdiger was German.
Anyhow, I gave Gerd-Rüdiger cash for his travelling expenses and he set off for Le Mans in his own car loaded with our equipment. He was of course stopped at the French border and had to hand over most of his travelling expenses to pay customs duty and a fine. But he arrived safely on time on the film set in Le Mans and delivered all the props to Don Nunley. He also got to meet Steve McQueen and returned safely to Bienne.
About 10 days later I received another phone-call from Don Nunley who said: “Jack, this time I’ve even better news for you. We’ve finished the trial shots and will start shooting for real tomorrow. Steve McQueen is going to wear one of your “Monaco” wrist chronographs and will also wear the Heuer logo on his overalls. But I have a problem: what shall I do with the watches when shooting is over in about three weeks’ time?“ Delighted with this good news, I thought for a moment and had nightmare visions of the customs hassle if we attempted to bring back the watches we had “smuggled” into France. I told Don he could give the watches away as gifts.
As I was not present at the moment when Steve McQueen chose to wear a Heuer “Monaco”, I have to draw on hearsay from Don Nunley and Derek Bell, the British racing driver who also took part in the filming. The film company had hired two professional racing car drivers to coach McQueen to drive the unbelievably-fast Porsche 917. One was Derek Bell and the other was Jo Siffert, who was under contract with us. McQueen and Siffert got on like a house on fire, perhaps because they had both started their lives in humble circumstances and had gone on to become superstars in their respective professions. The day before shooting was due to start, one of the film’s production executives, Robert Rosen, went up to Steve McQueen and said: “Steve, tomorrow we start shooting for real. So far you’ve worn several types of racing overalls but now you’ve got to settle on how you want to look.” Apparently McQueen pointed towards Jo Siffert and said he wanted to look exactly like him. Siffert then ran to his caravan to fetch one of his white racing overalls which had the Heuer logo on the heart side and handed it to McQueen.The Times of My Life- Jack Heuer
Then Don Nunley went up to McQueen and said: “Now you have to choose a watch – here’s a nice Omega!” Apparently McQueen then handed the Omega back to Nunley, saying: “Not an Omega, they might use my name”, and instead he chose a Heuer “Monaco”, never having heard of us. Don Nunley says he had to offer the “Monaco” because it was the only watch of which he had three identical models. He needed three because one model would be used in the live racing shots, one would be used in the still photography and one was needed as a spare in case the others got damaged. Furthermore, if Jo Siffert’s racing overalls were emblazoned with a Heuer logo, film continuity demanded that the driver should also sport a Heuer chronograph on his wrist!”
The specific model that McQueen wore was a 1133B Monaco (more detail on these to come), with one of the specific watches worn by McQueen on set now on display in the TAG Heuer museum.
The Vintage Monaco Range
There are four district models in the vintage Heuer Monaco series- two automatic Chronographs and two manual-wind Chronographs.
- 1969-1975: Calibre 11/12 Automatic with Blue and Grey dial
- 1972-1975: Calibre 15 Automatic with Blue and Grey dial
- 1972-75: Valjoux 7736 Manual with Blue and Grey Dial
- 1974-75: Valjoux 7740 Manual with Blue and Grey Dial
Within these models there are some interesting variants, which we’ll show you below.
Reference 1133- Calibre 11/ 12
The 1133B Monaco is perhaps the most iconic of the Monaco series. Deconstructing the reference number tells us that this model is powered by the Calibre 11 and has a Blue dial- the middle digits “33” are the internal code for the Monaco. Even when the Monaco switched from Calibre 11 to Calibre 12, the model reference stayed the same- there is no Monaco 1233B, but there is a Calibre 15 1533B, which we’ll get to shortly.
But within the single 1133B reference are two main variants.
Reference 1133B- Blue dial/ Chronomatic & Transitional
The very first batch of Monacos in 1969 had a metallic blue dial with light blue lume on the dial pips and the hands. These watches are easy to spot with their square steel hour and minute hands, and of course the legendary “Chronomatic” script above the Heuer logo.
The Chronomatic Monaco is the legendary Monaco- the rarest, the most valuable and the hardest to find. By 1970 Heuer had reached a deal with its “Project 99” partner Breitling to allow them to use the “Chrono-Matic” branding, meaning Heuer dropped the use of the name, but those very first Calibre 11 Chronomatic Heuers are the holy grail of Heuer collecting.
But you will find this same variant without the Chronomatic branding, such as the example above. These watches are known as “Transitional” 1133Bs, as they are the model that transitions the look of the Monaco from the Chronomatic blue to the “production” 1133B (below), as worn by McQueen.
Reference 1133B- Blue dial/ Later
This later design of the 1133B is the one that is the best known- the pale blue dial, red tipped and filled hands. There are several variations to the hands, as Heuer offered at least two different “service hands” designs when watches needed their original hands replaced.
This version of the 1133B is the one that served as the inspiration for the 40th Anniversary Monaco Re-edition and today’s Calibre 11 Monaco.
Reference 1133G Grey Dial
Next we have the grey-dial version of the 1133B, which may not get the coverage of the blue watch, but is equally appealing. There is no Chronomatic 1133G, but we do see some variance in the colour of the sub-dials, ranging from a similar grey to the dial, to a darker almost-black.
Reference 1533- Calibre 15
The Calibre 15 movement was a low-cost version of the Calibre 11 movement introduced in 1972 and offered across the Monaco, Autavia and Carrera ranges, alongside the Calibre 12 variants.
The Calibre 15 watches have a 30-minute Chronograph counter at 3 o’clock and sweeping seconds at 9.30 on the dial where the 12-hour counter would normally be on a Calibre 11/ 12.
Heuer took the revised movement layout as an opportunity to offer a totally new look for the Calibre 15 watches, and as a result some collectors prefer the look of the Calibre 15 models to the “standard” Calibre 11/ 12 versions.
Reference 1533B Blue Dial
First up we have a lovely metallic blue dial on the 1533B. As noted, many of these dials are damaged around the edges and near the hour-markers, with the paint peeling away. It is normal for there to be a wide range of shades of white for the 3 o’clock register, ranging from a white to a blue-grey.
Reference 1533G Grey Dial
The Calibre 15 Grey dial is perhaps the most special Monaco production model, with a wonderful dial that is a “golden silver” colour. This is one of our favourite variants and with a dial colour that is unique to the Calibre 15 Monaco.
Reference 73633- Valjoux 7736
While the 1133B is the most iconic Monaco reference, the manual-wind 73633 has a case for being the most elegant, with the addition of the third register helping to fill the dial, while the crown returns to its more usual position on the right-hand side of the case.
Reference 73633B Blue Dial
Reference 73633G Grey Dial
The 73633G Monaco has the sister watch to the 73633B, just as the 1133G is to the 1133B.
Reference 74033- Valjoux 7740
The 74033 Monaco is a combination of the 1133B and the manual 73633, with a two-register layout, but the crown on the right-hand side. The only difference between the dial of the 74033 Monaco and its 1133 brother is lack of the “Automatic Chronograph” text on the hand-wound 74033.
Reference 74033B Blue Dial
Putting aside the Chronomatic, the Valjoux 7740 Monaco is the rarest of the Monaco family, with few examples coming to light. The blue dial is lovely, but given how iconic the Calibre 11 variant is, it takes the brain a few moments to register that this is not the 1133B, but it’s rarer hand-wound cousin.
Reference 74033G Grey Dial
Consistent with our comments on the other grey Monacos, this is the grey companion watch to the 74033B from above, using the same design language as the 1133G and the 73633G.
The Other Monaco- 74033N PVD
Don’t worry- we haven’t forgotten about the PVD (no use of the corny nickname here!) black Monaco. There is no question that the full-black Monaco is a genuine Heuer watch but whether it ever made it into production isn’t clear. When we first asked Jack Heuer about the PVD Monaco back in 2010, he said that he wasn’t familiar with the watch, telling us:
“I don’t really remember- you see, the military black became the fashion in the late 1970s and we were some of the early users of military black- it didn’t cost that much to take your existing case and have the PVD added, so we had to enlarge the collection as maybe someone would buy some more of the Monaco, but I don’t remember when we did it….maybe we said let’s make 100 pieces to try it.”Calibre 11 Interview with Jack Heuer- March 2010
The most likely explanation is that this was a prototype watch, with a small production run that for some reason never made it out into the wild- or if it did, made it out in only a limited number of markets.
Irrespective of its origins, it is a fantastic looking watch, with a great colour scheme, bright white hands and applied lume sticks on the black dial. The lack of clarity over the watches status has done it absolutely no harm in vintage markets, if anything adding to the mystery and allure of the watch.
While the Monaco is synonymous with the Calibre 11 movement, the reality is that comparatively few Monacos are actually fitted with this movement, with the majority featuring the modified and upgraded Calibre 11- the Calibre 12. And speaking of modified versions of the Calibre 11, four of the five movements offered in the Monaco are based on the Calibre 11 calibre- Calibres 11, 12, 15 and the Valjoux 7740. Yes, the hand-wound Valjoux 7740 is actually based on the Calibre 11, but with the micro-rotor removed.
The only non-Chronomatic family movement found in a Monaco is the manual Valjoux 7736. The 7736 is based on the 7730, itself an update of the Venus 188 which traces its origins back to 1948. And to show that you can’t beat a good design no matter how old, today’s Calibre 16 TAG Heuer movement is based on the ETA 7750, which is also derived from the Valjoux 7736.
Heuer also offered the 7736 Valjoux in the Autavia and Carrera lines of the day.
Collecting the Heuer Monaco
Collecting the vintage Monaco can prove something of a minefield, with care needed when looking at the dial, the case and the seals.
Heuer also made the Monaco for other brands (for example, Diarex) and its quite common to see these customer dials modified with the Heuer logo re-added. You may also see dials such as this all-blue variant below. The last discussion we had with the vintage Heuer department last year was that while there is no record of these variants ever being sold by Heuer, they are dials commissioned and tested by Heuer.
But perhaps the biggest crime against the vintage Monaco is the polishing of the case, with many examples (most?) on market having the sharp edges blunted. The edges on a genuine Monaco should be sharp- far sharper than you’d see on any watch today. No matter how nice the watch, if the case has been re-polished, we’d pass.
The final thing to watch for is a melted seal. The Monaco uses a square black rubber gasket between the dial and the case to ensure water resistance. Left over time, that seal can “melt”, leaving a black goo over your dial, which is impossible to remove.
Values of vintage Monacos have stagnated somewhat, except for the Chronomatic and PVD models which has escalated along with the 1960s Carreras ad Autavias. That doesn’t mean that they are cheap (budget on the best part of US$10,000 for a great example with original bracelet, box and papers), but they’re no less attainable than they were a decade ago.
Whether it’s the vintage model or a re-edition, the Monaco remains a true statement watch and one that you’ll never get bored of wearing. It’s a testament to the daring of Jack Heuer and the Heuer team from the 1960s that the risk they took on an “out-of-the-box” watch design is more popular and iconic today than it was 50 years ago. Happy Birthday to the Monaco and here’s to many more.