Despite being the brand’s most iconic design and garnering a stylish, modernist reputation among enthusiasts over the last five decades, the TAG Heuer Monaco series has always felt like a product of its era on some level. Since its introduction in 1969, the Monaco has always been dramatic, eye-catching, and counter-cultural, but in a way that nearly always shows the design’s late ‘60s stylistic roots. Making a Monaco that feels truly contemporary in 2021, one that truly steps past the romantic notions of Steve McQueen and classic rock to create a modern identity, is something of a challenge. The limited-edition TAG Heuer Monaco Titan answers this design challenge handsomely, keeping the spirit of the Calibre 11 Monaco design intact while creating a far more contemporary look with only a handful of visual changes.
TAG Heuer itself obviously has high creative faith in the project, unveiling the Monaco Titan amid the fanfare of the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix, and showcasing the watch frequently on the wrists of both Formula 1 title challenger Max Verstappen and brand CEO Frédric Arnault since its introduction. With that in mind, what is it that sets the Monaco Titan apart from the rest of the current left-hand-crown Monaco range and gives this ‘60s icon a more modern character? At its core, the answer comes down to materials and finishing.
The TAG Heuer Monaco Titan is not technically the first Monaco design in titanium, with that honor going to 2004’s haute horlogerie Monaco V4 with its experimental belt-driven movement. However, this is the first time the classic 39mm Monaco case has been rendered in the lightweight and durable metal, as well as the first titanium left-hand-crown Monaco, and the first titanium Monaco chronograph. While it may not be the very first of its kind, the use of dark Grade 2 titanium drastically alters the look and feel of the Monaco on the wrist. The Monaco case is a bold, planar design almost by definition, but the full sandblasted matte finish and deeper tone compared to stainless steel give the Monaco Titan a chance to showcase the fine details of the modern Monaco form. The current Calibre 11 Monaco case may share its 39mm dimensions with the ‘60s and ‘70s originals, but the current case design is more rounded, complex, and dynamic than the square-cut original. Curving chamfers across the tops and bottoms of the case sides give shape to the squared-off form, while also creating a definitive raised bezel around the tall box sapphire crystal. The original’s octagonal piston-style pushers are gone, replaced by a set of wedge-like angular rectangular pushers that integrate smoothly into the overall design language. Without a mix of brushing, polishing, and brighter surfaces to contend with, the sharpness and nuance of the Monaco Titan’s case form comes more clearly to the fore on the wrist and leaves a markedly different visual impression. The lightness of titanium also helps to improve the wearing experience of the Monaco Titan, making this one of the most comfortable watches in the current Monaco range. This is still a Monaco on the wrist, however, and many of the same characteristics of the stainless steel models shine through in the wearing experience. The square design leads this to carry much more wrist presence than the 39mm diameter might suggest, and thanks to a nearly flat sapphire display caseback, vertical case sides, and a high-rise sapphire crystal, the Monaco Titan feels every iota of its 15mm thickness on the wrist. That said, the Monaco has never been a watch to slide demurely under one’s cuff, and in this way, the Titan carries on the line’s bold and attention-grabbing personality. In keeping with the sporty modern spirit, the Monaco Titan offers a reasonably athletic 100 meters of water resistance.
Like the case, the dial of the TAG Heuer Monaco Titan takes the familiar forms of the standard Calibre 11 model but gives these elements a more futuristic new personality. The core of this new personality largely comes down to the dial surface itself. Sunburst dials are one of the most common dial finishes across the industry, appearing in nearly every imaginable color, finish, and level of quality. The silver sunburst finish that forms the base of the Monaco Titan is a true standout, however, with an impressive level of detail and a dynamic character that invites long, close stares. Transitioning from nearly pure white to a steely medium gray in changing light, the sunburst pattern carries a deep and complex grainy texture that imbues the dial with a myriad of tiny shifting highlights. The black dial printing is also crisp and excellent while establishing a more airy modernist character than the classic white-on-blue Monaco look. The subdials at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock follow the classic Monaco pattern but contrast the complexity of the silver dial surface with a clean matte-black finish. The stark panda dial look is uncommon for the Monaco line but suits the Titan well, subtly reinforcing the visual themes of lightness and simplicity. TAG Heuer keeps the central chronograph seconds hand and the 12 o’clock applied index in vibrant flame red as a visual highlight, but the rest of the colorway is pared back and monochrome. The other great visual departure for the Monaco Titan’s dial comes through its handset and the series’ signature horizontal applied indices. The dark polished titanium used in the dial hardware sets it apart from steel at a glance, appearing almost black from certain angles. The added bit of contrast and novelty here goes an impressive way toward establishing the Monaco Titan’s overall feel and greatly aids legibility over the bright silver dial. Low-light legibility, however, may be the Monaco Titan’s Achilles heel, with small lume plots and a dim glow.
Inside the TAG Heuer Monaco Titan beats the Sellita SW300-1 based Calibre 11 automatic chronograph movement. The current Calibre 11 carries on the modular design legacy of the ‘60s original with a Dubois-Depraz chronograph module, but the architecture of the current design is overall far more conventional than the nearly experimental micro-rotor layout of the original movement. The current Calibre 11 has been a staple of TAG Heuer’s lineup for several years but still offers handsome finishing through the sapphire caseback including a sharply striped rotor and tight perlage across the movement bridges and balance cock. One aspect where the current Calibre 11 feels less than cutting-edge is performance, however. Our test example averaged around +10 seconds per day over the review period, and the power reserve sits at only 40 hours at a 28,800 bph beat rate.
TAG Heuer looks to update the character of the Monaco Titan through its strap choice, as well. The matte-black alligator leather the brand uses here splits the difference between sporty and refined, with an almost rubbery texture that substantially dresses down the otherwise rather formal material. The use of black against the monochrome titanium backdrop works well here, but it’s easy to imagine the Monaco Titan working equally well or better with a black calfskin rally strap or a more contemporary rubber strap.
Although the base design may date back to 1969, the TAG Heuer Monaco Titan’s unique materials, finishes, and monochrome colorway make this one feel truly at home as a luxury statement piece in 2021. While this may only be a limited edition, the possibility of this informing future-production Monaco models is undeniably exciting. Only 500 examples of the TAG Heuer Monaco Titan will be made, and the watch is available now through authorized dealers at an MSRP of $7,900. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.
>Brand: TAG Heuer
>Model: Monaco Titan
>Size: 39mm-wide, 15mm-thick
>When reviewer would personally wear it: As a short-sleeve statement piece or as a companion for automotive events.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: A seasoned Heuer enthusiast, or a luxury watch buyer looking for a big-name design that still stands out in a crowd.
>Best characteristic of watch: Spectacular dial finishing, distinct character from the standard Monaco, lightweight and comfortable titanium case.
>Worst characteristic of watch: The current Calibre 11 movement is starting to show its age in performance, pricing is somewhat dramatic, and the rubbery alligator leather strap is a potential stylistic mismatch.