Swiss watchmaker Heuer released the first Monaco chronograph in 1969 to honour the Monaco Grand Prix.
Heuer had a long association with motorsport and its Autavia chronographs were worn by the likes of Formula One drivers Jochen Rindt, Mario Andretti, Jo Siffert, Derek Bell, Graham Hill, Clay Regazzoni, Giles Villeneuve …The Monaco was one of the world’s first automatic chronographs, certainly one of the first waterproof square watches. But the winding crown was inconveniently on the left of the watch and the design never really took off, even after Hollywood star Steve McQueen (top) wore it in the 1971 film Le Mans. The story goes that McQueen asked Swiss driver Siffert to help him improve his driving skills for the film, shot during the 1970 Le Mans 24-hour race in France. Siffert was contracted to Heuer and Gulf Oil and he lent McQueen his racing suit. It was adorned with Gulf Oil’s colours and an embroided “Chronograph Heuer” crest on the right of the chest. Jack Heuer arrived on the set with a handful of watches and McQueen chose the Monaco watch to complete the look. It is considered one of the most successful examples of product placement. The film came out in June, 1971. Siffert died in a fiery crash that October, in a Formula One race at Britain’s Brands Hatch. Later, Heuer brought out a special-edition Autavia watch honouring Siffert’s memory. Siffert won the British GP in a Lotus-Ford on the Brands Hatch circuit in 1968, beating New Zealand’s Chris Amon by four seconds. Amon’s Ferrari team-mate Jacky Ickx was third. NZ’s Denny Hulme was fourth in a McLaren-Ford. Heuer discontinued the Monaco in the mid-1970s. McQueen died in 1980, but as time went on his popularity increased and the many photos from the movie began to accompany stories about him. In 1998, Heuer became TAG Heuer after its new owner Techniques d’Avant Garde, a Luxemburg holding company. It reissued the Monaco, this time with the winding crown on the right. Production was limited to 5000 examples. In 2003 TAG Heuer issued it again. McQueen’s popularity had gained further momentum, helped by TV screening his big movie hits, among them Le Mans, Bullitt and The Thomas Crown Affair. TAG Heuer continued to update the Monaco over the next 10 years until 2013 when it issued a special commemorative edition called Monaco Calibre 11 Edition Steve McQueen – with the crown on the left. The watch’s styling evokes its racing heritage. The logo reads simply “Heuer” in homage to its pre-TAG origin. It has racing stripes on its dial and a perforated strap. The Monaco Calibre 12 Boutique Edition is the latest edition, this time with the crown on the right. The dial sets this model apart from the other Monacos. It features a starburst anthracite dial bisected by a one broad white stripe and two smaller ones. Price is $US8100.
- The Siffert racing suit McQueen wore in the 1971 film sold at auction in 2011 for $US984,000, says Forbes.com. The Monaco watch he wore passed through the hands of four or five collectors before selling in Hollywood in 2012 for $US799,500. McQueen’s personal Rolex Submariner sold in 2009 for $US234,000.