Monaco caliber version 11, Steve McQueen, McQueen wore the watch in an updated version of the movie “Le Mans”, he has been racing to write it all. It took the checkered flag in our tests? Learn Alexander Krupp in this piece looks under the hood by the OK- photographs.
More than four decades have passed since Steve McQueen wore a Heuer Monaco chronograph in the car-racing movie “Le Mans.” Two years ago, TAG Heuer (the company added “TAG” to its name in 1985) launched a commemorative edition of the watch called the Monaco Calibre 11 Edition Steve McQueen. We took it out for a test drive. The watch’s styling evokes its racing heritage. It has racing stripes on its dial – along with a logo that reads simply “Heuer” in homage to its pre-TAG origin − and a perforated strap. The watch is big – 39 mm by 39 mm and 15 mm thick – but it’s very comfortable. Nothing scratches, pinches, or rubs. The clasp and supple calfskin strap both feel pleasant on the wrist.
The movement is a Sellita SW 300 base, with Glucydur balance, paired with a chronograph module made specifically for TAG by Dubois Dépraz. (Most other Monaco chronographs contain the ETA 2894.) The movement’s configuration enables TAG to place the crown on the left side of the case while keeping the chronograph pushers on the right, the same arrangement that was used in the original Monaco. (That watch, launched in 1969, was one of the world’s first automatic chronographs. It contained a caliber developed by Breitling, Büren and Dubois Dépraz, and, like the caliber in our tested watch, was numbered “11.”) It is accomplished by turning the base movement by 180 degrees and then installing the chronograph module in the opposite direction so the push buttons are in their usual position.
Having the crown on the left gives the watch historical accuracy and an unusual look to boot, but does it offer any practical advantages? One benefit is clear: assuming you are wearing the watch on your left hand, the crown won’t dig into the back of your hand when you bend your wrist sharply, to do a few push-ups, for example. Unfortunately, the disadvantages outweigh this plus. First, a right-handed wearer must take the watch off before he can wind or set it because he’ll find it cumbersome or impossible to operate the crown with his right hand. Second, after he takes the watch off, he’ll have to do the winding or setting with his left hand, and not every right-handed wearer will find this easy. Third, the directions for winding and setting are reversed, i.e., you not only have to use the “wrong” hand, you also have to move your fingers in the opposite direction to the one you’re accustomed to.
The watch has another operation-related problem: the stop-start chronograph button is too easy to push in. A smoothly running button is generally a desirable feature, but the one on our test watch yielded to pressure so readily that contact with the tightly fitting sleeve of the wearer’s jacket was enough to stop the chronograph prematurely. These shortcomings are balanced out by several virtues. The crown is large and easy to grasp; the chronograph pushers are also big enough to operate easily; and the movement has both a stop-seconds function and, for the date display, a rapid-reset mechanism. The clasp, made of stainless steel, is sturdy, well-crafted and user-friendly. You open it by pushing two large buttons. It snaps firmly shut afterwards. The strap can be extended – continuously, not by increments – via a clamping mechanism that holds the strap securely in the chosen position.
The clasp is designed so that more leather than metal is in contact with your wrist, thus enhancing wearing comfort. In terms of quality, the strap, laboriously hand-sewn, is on a par with the clasp. If you want to change the strap or remove it to clean the side of the case between the lugs, you’ll be pleased to find little slides on the lugs. No tools are required: a bit of force is all that’s needed to move these slides. The crystal and case are also well-crafted. The former, which is cambered and has elaborate faceting along its edges, is made of sapphire even though this material is notoriously difficult to work with. (Until 2009, TAG Heuer used Plexiglas.) The longitudinal curve of the crystal conforms to the curve of the case, which rises higher between the lugs than at the left and right sides. This complex shape is costly to achieve compared with an ordinary inset crystal.
The case has many chamfers and edges. The borders between polished and satin-finished surfaces are very precise. The chrono pushers are highly detailed and distinctively shaped. They are set in bushings that protect them from impacts and give them greater hold, thus minimizing wiggling. The caseback has a round sapphire window and is held in place by screws. There are only four of them, standard for a square or rectangular watch, but they are thick and sturdy. If there were anything to complain about with respect to the case, it perhaps would be the small size of the caseback window. Although there is no compelling technical reason for it, this window is smaller than the movement. The edges of the movement and of the oscillating weight thus remain hidden. Beneath the window, we were nonetheless pleased to discover that TAG Heuer uses the high-quality “premium” version of the SW 300. This quality grade is comparable to the “top” grade of the ETA 2892, which has precision worthy of a COSC certificate but is not sent to COSC to be tested. (The SW 300 has the same specs as the ETA 2892; it was designed to be used as an alternative to that movement.)
The chronograph module, which is on the dial side of the movement and hence concealed, relies on the simple but effective cam method of switching, which we’re familiar with from ETA’s workhorse 7750. The chronograph works via vertical coupling, which prevents spasmodic jumping of the chronograph seconds hand when the stopwatch function starts. The watch’s running behavior was basically good. On the wrist and on the timing machine, with and without the chronograph running, the average daily gain was about three seconds. The amplitude scarcely declined when the chronograph was switched on, which leads us to conclude that all the working surfaces in the chronograph module are well crafted. We discovered a maximum difference of 11 seconds among the various positions in ordinary operation and 12 seconds with the chronograph switched on. That’s why the watch earned only six points in the “rate results” category. The low daily gain and stable amplitude would otherwise have earned the watch a perfect 10.
The dial’s legibility is also a drawback. The easiest display to read is the minutes counter at 9 o’clock (its hand runs continually rather than jumping forward once a minute). The main dial achieves its very successful retro and auto-racing look by eliminating numerals to mark the hours and minutes, but this makes the watch harder to read. Furthermore, the contrast between the luminous areas on the center-mounted hands and the mostly pale dial is very weak. The luminous material is applied sparingly and glows only dimly in the dark. And the running seconds subdial is confusing because it has so many markers. Poor legibility won’t dissuade fans of mechanical timekeeping who have taken a shine to this smartly styled watch. The watch’s price, $8,100, is high, but not too high given the watch’s expensive movement, its high quality and its good looks.