TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 CAW211P — hands-on review
2015 was an interesting year for TAG Heuer. They unveiled the TAG Heuer Connected, their answer to the booming smartwatch industry, with a cutting-edge high-tech luxury gadget. They also released several tributes and re-editions of their successes from the 60’s. Among them, probably the most remarkable is the Monaco Calibre 11 CAW211P, a re-edition of the 1969 Monaco Calibre 11.
Since 1997, the square-shaped chronograph with a blue dial has known several re-editions and interpretations, but probably none of them are as close to the original 1969 model as the 2015 version, the CAW211P. There is probably one exception, the 2009 Heuer Monaco 40th Anniversary model, the CAW211A. It was limited to only 1,000 pieces and priced at USD $10,000, that also included a special packaging containing a Steve McQueen book. A true collector’s item, it is not easy to find one these days and probably this is why, TAG Heuer felt that releasing a non-limited edition, at USD $5,000, will be welcomed by the fans of the brand.
Before I would go into talking about the CAW211P, for those who are not familiar with the history of the Monaco chronograph, I think it would a good idea to do a quick overview of what made this model so famous.
We should go back to the ’60s when hand-wound watches were losing ground, or wrists, if you wish, to automatic pieces. There was only one popular niche that was still using manual calibres, for the lack of an automatic alternative, the chronograph. The course among watchmakers to come up with a chronograph powered by a rotor was on, but small brands like Heuer (we are in the pre-TAG era), could not tackle such a challenging task on their own. The solution was to join forces, and 1966, Heuer partnered with Breitling, Büren-Hamilton and Dubois-Depraz to work on the secret “Project 99”. In 1969, the fruit of Project 99 was finally unveiled, as the Chronomatic movement went into production.
Jack Heuer knew, that having an automatic chronograph movement is not enough to beat his competitors, among them he had to face even some of his former Project 99 partners. First of all, he wanted to create a chronograph the looks unique thanks to its square-shaped case, but to get the word out he needed to invest in marketing. His marketing budget was not up-to-par with other bigger brands, and it was not enough to make a worldwide impact. One of his old friends suggested that he should sponsor a young motor racing driver Joseph (“Jo”) Siffert, who in July 1969 won the F1 British Grand Prix, beating drivers such as Chris Amon, Jacky Ickx and Jackie Stewart. Here is Jack Heuer’s writing about the deal with Siffert in his autobiography:
This idea immediately appealed to me and a few days later I made an appointment to meet Jo in Fribourg. We got off to a very good start and quickly agreed on the following: (1) During all races Jo would wear the Heuer logo patch on his overalls and one of our chronographs, preferably the “Autavia”, on his wrist; (2) He would put a red Heuer sticker on the front or the side of all the cars he raced; (3) Heuer would allow him to buy its products at wholesale prices and he would be free to resell them privately to colleagues in the pits and anyone else attending the races; (4) Heuer would pay him an annual fee of CHF 25,000; and (5) the initial contract would be for 2 years.
Although I didn’t realise it at the time, this relatively simple sponsoring contract with Siffert was probably one of the best marketing moves I ever made, because it opened the door for us to the whole world of Formula One.
1969, the Monaco Calibre 11 chronograph is introduced, but it really took off two years later, when the movie “La Mans” with Steve McQueen hit the big screens. Jo Siffert was hired as a consultant to McQueen for the movie. It was Jo who introduced McQueen to Heuer, a brand he never heard off, and this is how the Monaco end up on the wrist of the guy, who was known as the “King of Cool”, in “La Mans”. After the movie, everyone called the 1969 Monaco, the McQueen watch. Just to show you how important this watch is for TAG Heuer, the last time that the actual Monaco worn by McQueen went under hammer, in 2012, it fetched close to USD $800,000…
Now that we touched on the illustrious past of the Monaco chronograph, you can imagine that it is a real pleasure for me to have the opportunity to try the new Monaco Calibre 11.
The shape and finishing of the case is similar to the original model, it is only 1 mm larger, resulting in a 39 x 39 mm watch. With the lugs, the entire length is 47 mm. If you have never tried on a Monaco, don’t be fooled by these numbers. Even at this size, because of the square shape, the Monaco has a good presence on the wrist.
It’s not a very thick watch, it has a height of less than 15 mm, but again, because of its shape, I could not fit it under my cuff. OK, this is a sporty, racing piece and not a dress watch, but thanks to its sophisticated finishing and design, it feel at ease even in a more formal situation.
The sharp angles of the case are softened by broad arches that support the transition from the square-shaped case to the circle on the watch dial. It is a real pleasure to discover the geometry of the case in different lighting conditions, thanks to the contrast between the polished and satin-brushed surfaces.
It’s a Monaco, so the crown is at 9 o’clock and the push pieces ar the 2 and 4 o’clock. Actually, the push pieces are updated on the 2015 model, they are rounded rectangular instead of the round, and they are position at the right angle to make the activation of the chronograph comfortable.
Unlike the 2009 limited edition model, the new Monaco has a see-through case back, giving you the opportunity to have a glance of the famous Calibre 11. The rotor is decorated with côtes-de-Genève stripes and a bright red Heuer logo, and as it turns, beautiful pearlage is further revealed.
I can’t talk about the dial before mentioning the fantastic effect created by the thick curved sapphire crystal that sits above the case. Its height and bevelled edges open up a whole new universe to discover thanks to the fragments of colours and sheen that reflect from the dial. Even when I look at the watch at an angle, it transmits real high-end impression.
The dial is very simple, yet it is a very complex design. It sounds like an oxymoron, but I think that its beauty comes from the control of the different parts and elements, the way they are combined. For example, the blue dial is a simple, plain and honest blue dial. There is no decorations, sun-ray effect, or guilloche, yet it is a unique shade of blue that changes its hue under different lighting conditions, making it hard to describe. TAG Heuer calls it petroleum blue…
The indexes follow the layout of the model from 69, they are placed horizontally and not in a radial manner like on the Calibre 12 Monaco. The minute track draws a circle, and the 5-minute markers are punctuated with Super Luminova dots and a bright red accent.
The silverish, rounded square-shaped subdials sit slightly lower than the blue dial and they are laid out symmetrically at 9 and 3 o’clock. Their functionality is different from the original model, we have a 30 minutes counter at 9 o’clock and a current small second dial at 3 o’clock, instead of the 12-hours and 30-minutes counters on the 1969 Monaco. Purists might not be happy about it, but from an everyday user’s perspective, it’s good to have something on the dial that can tell if the watch is running or not.
The minute and hour hands are rhodium plated with red accents and Super Luminova coating. The second hand is bright red with a long counterbalance.
6 o’clock is reserved for the date window, surrounded by a thin white border and a “Swiss Made” inscription on the top.
This combo of blue, red, white and silver come together in a beautiful way while making the dial easily legible.
A sporty racing chronograph, like the Monaco needs a perforated leather strap, and that is exactly what TAG Heuer is including with this watch. The strap comes with a really nice deployment buckle, featuring the old Heuer logo, adding to the vintage aura of the watch.
With the Monaco Calibre 11 CAW211P, TAG Heuer pressed the reset button, going back in time to its roots, and creating probably the most faithful homage to the original 1969 Monaco Calibre 11. It also comes at a very good price, and as such it will see more action than the limited edition Monaco from 2009, that were picked up mostly by collectors, and I have the feeling that most of them sit quietly at the bottom of safes.
This is not a watch to be kept locked up, this is a watch that wants to go out, it begs you to take him on a drive. This is a weekend warrior, but it can also easily grow on you, and without you would notice, it will end up your everyday watch. This is a 46, almost 47 years old design, but it is just as unconventional and fresh as ever. It is a forever young, sporty and energetic hedonist.
Dimensions 39X39mm. Steel, in three parts, closed with 4 screws.
TAG Heuer Calibre 11
Automatic chronograph with Date Window at 6 o’clock
Dubois Dépraz chronograph module
40-hour power reserve
Metallic blue, chronograph minute counter at 9 o’clock and current Seconds counter at 3 o’clock
Rhodium-plated indices with red dot detail and white Super Luminova™
Perforated calfskin with steel deployment buckle.