The latest iteration of the TAG Heuer Monaco Gulf watch was introduced last year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the relationship between the brand and Gulf racing. My time with the watch led to the realization that it very well may be my favorite Monaco of all. I spent a few weeks with the awesome, classic blue dial Monaco last year at the eponymous Grand Prix. A decade since the last Monaco Gulf and the design plus calibre 11 movement is a winner. TAG Heuer charges no premium for the Gulf edition over the standard calibre 11 ($5,900) which further affirmed my adoration.
I have to say that while I’d definitely personally prefer this TAG Heuer Monaco x Gulf Chronograph Calibre 11, I was really happy to see the forged carbon Bamford edition (haters to the left) released earlier this year at Baselworld. TAG’s confidence in the versatility of the Monaco style comes through in the coexistence of these very different interpretations.
Since this newest Monaco Gulf watch is only stylistically different from the standard TAG Heuer Monaco calibre 11, I want to spend some time going through the evolution of the Gulf Monaco so everyone can understand its context, evolution, and history. Special thanks to TAG Heuer history aficionados Calibre 11 who outlined the history of these watches which you can check out here.
This TAG Heuer Monaco Gulf Special Edition Watch celebrates the 50th anniversary between TAG and Gulf, the first Gulf Monaco came out in 2005. The TAG Heuer ‘Vintage’ Monaco reference CW2118 was a limited edition run of 4,000 watches with a white dial featuring red and blue stripes. These were inspired by the colors of Steve McQueen’s racing suit in Le Mans. The release in 2005 also coincided with McQueen’s 75th birthday.
Like with all Gulf Monacos before this latest model, the crown is on the case left alongside the chronograph pushers. It was, the only Monaco without “Gulf” on the dial (read the Calibre 11 article for details). This model has the modified-ETA calibre 17 movement housed in the smaller 38mm x 38mm, 13mm thick case. While it was a limited edition run, it’s not super difficult to find one of these on the secondary market (here are the current listings on Chrono24) ranging between around $3,500-$6,000 depending on condition, box, and papers.
The second iteration was the Gulf II Monaco ref. CW211A which was technically the same as its predecessor but with a new dial. Now black with orange and blue, it was an homage to McQueen’s Gulf Oil Porsche 911 in Le Mans. It also features the Gulf logo on the dial, with the ‘Monaco’ text moved to 12 o’clock. As with the CW2118, this Gulf II Monaco came in a limited edition run of 4,000 units. These are harder to find than the white-dialed version, likely because the black dial just looks better. There are a few units available (current listings here) ranging between $3,500- $6,500.
Two years later saw the limited edition Monaco Gulf ref. CAW2113 with some aesthetic changes as well as a new case and new movement.
The new dial swapped out the black dial for a metallic grey with blue/orange stripes while quizzically also replacing the black date window. They replaced the matching black dial with a white date window rather than having it match the grey dial. The change from the calibre 17 to the calibre 12 wasn’t really that big of a deal. It did mark the use of a Dubois-Depraz chronograph module rather than an ETA chronograph module.
The new case size here grew by 1mm to 39mm x 39mm and 14mm thick with an exhibition caseback. Another limited edition run of 4,000 units, the then-updated CAW2113 seems to fetch around the same prices as the first two Gulf Monacos (listings right here) with about a dozen available units between $4,000-$6,500.
After 9 years, we reach the watch I discuss now. There are a few refinements that I think make this the most wearable and best looking modern Monaco (alongside its classic blue cousin). The square case of the Monaco has always been its most easily identifiable and noticeable feature. It’s actually pretty impressive how a square watch, with the crown on the right side of the case and chronograph pushers on the left side, a high raised box sapphire crystal, and a blue/orange dial manages to not at all feel like it’s “too much” in any way.
The 39mm x 39mm case is a perfect square, with short lugs and 47mm lug to lug. When you factor in the crystal, the case thickness is right around 15mm. There are straight lines but the slightly cushioned case shape goes a long way. Mostly, in not making it feel like there is a box on your wrist.
The dial is laid out like the standard Monaco Calibre 11, albeit with the Gulf color scheme. At 9 o’clock is the 30-minute chronograph counter and at 3 o’clock is the running seconds sub-dial. I won’t get into detailing each aspect of the sunray brushed dial here since there is so much content already written about the Monaco. It really comes down to loving the case and the Gulf Oil color scheme in this watch.
What I do think ties the whole package together here is the strap. A simple perforated blue calfskin strap with orange stitching, I can’t imagine a better choice here. The leather on the strap is firm without being rigid, feels and looks high-end but still sporty, and is easily adjusted by way of the double safety push buttons on the folding clasp. It’s very similar to the strap on the standard Monaco Calibre 11, but I do want to give TAG Heuer credit for abandoning the alligator straps that all the previous Gulf Monaco watches came on. They just didn’t match the watch at all, in my opinion.
It’s not news at this point, but I want to touch on the Calibre 11 movement. This is because the original 1969 Calibre 11 is a classic movement, which was a joint effort between Heuer, Breitling, Büren, and Dubois-Dupraz. Most people will know it as being one of the first automatic chronographs, an honor that watch enthusiasts can’t quite find consensus on between the Heuer Calibre 11, the Zenith El Primero, and Seiko’s 6139A.
The original Monaco used the original Caliber 11, which just happened to be the first square-cased automatic chronograph. Oddly, TAG Heuer used the same name for the Calibre 11 used in the Monaco Gulf. Putting aside nomenclature wisdom, the Calibre 11 is visible through the exhibition caseback. It’s a good looking movement and one that has proven itself worthy of the name in the few years it’s been around. It’s a modified Sellita base movement with a Dubois-Depraz module resulting in a movement that operates at 28,800 vph, has a 40-hour power reserve, and of course, allows for the crown on the left side of the case.
Gulf Oil’s relationship with racing, Steve McQueen, and TAG Heuer has had thousands of words dedicated to it. However, I don’t think that association fully explains why the design is just so appealing in an almost naively nostalgic way. At least, it always has been for me, personally.
First off, I think it’s a miracle of modern branding that an association with an oil company leaves no negative implications in people’s minds. This is likely due to the fact that the company peaked during the middle of the 20th century. This is when the concept of automobile ownership and the American highway system became symbols of national prosperity. These were years far before issues like climate change. It was also before industry PR nightmares like the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon oil spills, and worries of over-dependence on foreign oil marked by the 1973 Oil Crisis. Also worth mentioning is the Gulf logo’s orange and blue color scheme. These colors were prevalent among mid-century modern design, which has certainly been ‘in’ for the past several years. (What Los Angeles resident hasn’t lustfully browsed Sunbeam Vintage?) As ubiquitous as Rudolph de Harak book covers are the almost-sherbet like oranges seen in old interior design photos or on episodes of Mad Men.
Starting in the 1960s, Gulf Oil chief Charles Whiteford and NBC chief Robert Kintner struck a deal in which Gulf would sponsor primetime “instant news specials. This agreement lasted the decade, all the way through 1973. The association of the Apollo 11 space mission and the Omega Speedmaster is one watch enthusiasts are very familiar with (understatement of the year?) but Gulf Oil was another brand to become indelibly tied to the moon mission… along with powdered astronaut juice, Tang.
Gulf Oil “presented” the news special, Gulf Oil ads ran during ABC’s coverage of the launch, and some anchor desks even had the Gulf Oil logo on them. The video above is a typical example of what I’m talking about. From 1963 to 1980, Gulf Oil had an agreement with Holiday Inn which was America’s biggest hotel chain. They agreed so the hotel accepted Gulf credit cards and Gulf set up gas stations at the hotels. I know this isn’t the sexiest branding tale, but these Holiday Inn/Gulf Oil locations were everywhere. They really dotted the entirety of the US Highway system. It would be near impossible to not associate road trips, vacations, and long drives with these two iconic brands. These fell in popularity near the end of their lifespan, but Gulf Oil garnered goodwill during these years. Most watch enthusiasts and brands rightfully focus on Gulf racing. However, I did want to discuss how the Gulf Oil brand transcended the Oil business. The result of this made for lasting and quirky partnerships.
I had this watch during Summer, so making an outfit work with it wasn’t hard. You’re really good to go with any short sleeve shirt, polo, or a cuffed long-sleeve shirt.
I really wouldn’t wear it with a standard business suit, though. However, the right dressed down or summer suit works well with this. In fact, I did wear it with an unstructured light blue cotton-linen suit (no tie, casual button-down shirt) and it looked great. I wish I had matched my socks with the watch, in retrospect. I wore the watch while I was at the Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado Spring where I really was bested in the matching fashion department by a fellow writer who had a vintage leather Heuer jacket that really just put most others to shame. That won’t count that as an everyday pairing though.
*This is a new review feature that I am considering adding to my reviews. The idea came to me once I had sent the Monaco Gulf back to TAG Heuer, but I’ll incorporate photos hereafter. Let me know what you think.
The Monaco Gulf edition is an unusual piece to think of exact comparisons to. The first would just be to the standard Monaco, so the scope covers competition to the Monaco line altogether. I have to say that at $5,900 the Monaco is a lot of bang for the buck. I know there are a ton of incredible and formidable chronographs out there (Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch & Zenith El Primero to name some obvious ones in this price range) but personally, I’d rather have the Monaco Gulf be my go-to chronograph since it just can’t be beaten in terms of pure character. There are many Speedys and Zeniths out there that will please chronograph lovers. However, the closest competitor for the Monaco could be another TAG Heuer. The TAG Heuer Monza was re-released as a 40th-anniversary reissue back in 2016 and it was nothing short of a black PVD stunner. We covered the Monza quite a bit when it was first released, but it still flies under the radar. The color of the Monaco Gulf is the visual opposite of the dark style of the Monza, though. Then again, the $5,450 price makes it a tiny bit of a better deal than the Monaco.
Named after the eponymous Italian “Thousand Mile” race, the Chopard Mille Miglia has been a quirky chronograph that’s been a surprisingly affordable entry to Chopard. Funnily, Chopard does have their own “Monaco” in the form of the Grand Prix De Monaco Historique watch, which evokes similar racing-inspired aesthetics but in an overall more refined racing chronograph package. At $6,000, the Mille Miglia and $7,390 for the Grand Prix De Monaco Historiques, both cost more than the TAG. The Chopard has a more “European” feel over the TAG, in my opinion. Then of course, the classic round case shape brings it back to a matter of taste. While not similar, I think these Chopard watches tap the same deep relationship between watches and racing.
In terms of style, TAG Heuer and Glashutte Original are nothing like each other. I immediately thought of the Original Sixties Iconic Square Watches as competition for the Tag Heuer Monaco. These retro-inspired cushion-shaped chronographs camee in a variety of colors though in limited numbers. This goes to show how difficult it really is to find truly originally designed, fun, square/cushion shaped chronographs. Price is significantly more, though the second-hand market appears to have some healthy discounts on the retail price of $9,700.