One of the great benefits of horology as a passion is its transparency. From the early days when gold timepieces were hallmarked and signed by the makers behind them through to the endless cavalcade of documents that accompany even the most mundane of releases, the watch community is characterised by its obsessive fixation on the past. So, how does one of the most sought-after pieces ever produced by Swiss icon TAG Heuer remain in the dark? This is the story of the Monaco reference 74033N, a so-called ‘Dark Lord’ that is finally stepping out of the shadows.
Mythical by nature, the black PVD Heuer Monaco Reference 74033N (N for noir – black in French) is somewhat of an enigma. Despite the Monaco launching in 1969 to much interest, only a very limited run of black PVD Monacos were made in the mid 1970s. Perhaps more bizarre, it remains uncertain if they were production pieces or prototypes as they never made it into a catalogue.
While it quietly slipped in and out the rotation, the ‘Dark Lord’ as it was nicknamed, has never been far from mind for collectors. Visually ahead of its time, the straightforward contrast of the black background, white time indication hands and bright orange chronograph function hand transcended modern watch design. In fact, more than 40 years on, the Monaco Reference 74033N looks as if it just left the Heuer ateliers yesterday, and fans are champing at the bit to see one in the flesh.
“The reference 74033N holds a certain mystique because not much is known about it how the model was created, where it was sold, and when it was discontinued, with apparently very few pieces produced and even less surviving, it has held a cult status among enthusiasts for quite some time now,” Nicholas Biebuyck, TAG Heuer heritage director tells us. “The model has always been sought after and prices have been fairly stable for strong unrestored example with clear provenance for a number of years now, but I have been approached by a few new collectors looking for an original since seeing the piece for Only Watch.”
As the TAG Heuer historian rightly points out, the Dark Lord is having a resurgence of sorts, thanks in part to a complete reinvention. For Only Watch 2021, the biennial charity watch auction scheduled to take place in Geneva on 6 November, TAG Heuer unveiled Carbon Monaco, a one-off, high-end, hand-finished version of the Swiss watch company’s iconic square-cased automatic chronograph, never to be recreated.
Forged in black carbon fibre, the new piece features a unique case that was designed explicitly to carry the largest sapphire crystal caseback ever applied to a Monaco. On the front, the stunning dial has been worked from a single piece of carbon fibre, created by milling the basic form to reveal striking structural shapes similar to the struts on a racing car, a reference to the Monaco’s unique history.
“The connection of the Monaco to motorsport is multifaceted: there is the name which immediately makes one think of the tight, twisting street circuit in the principality on the Mediterranean, and there are the iconic images of Steve McQueen wearing a reference 1133B during the filming of his movie Le Mans,” Biebuyck says. “We have encapsulated this theme in the piece for Only Watch through various design elements including the open worked dial that brings to mind the spaceframe construction of a racing car, the specially developed graté finish that has the appearance of a waving chequered flag, and the extensive use of carbon throughout, which is a material key to motorsport today.”
Each of the dial’s intricate skeletonised facets has been finished by hand using the fine-watchmaking technique of anglage, while underneath, a date wheel peeks through. On top, three black galvanised brass plates form the watch’s chronograph and small-seconds subdials with the hands featuring a familiar orange hue.
Playing heritage against innovation, the TAG Heuer Only Fan Carbon Monaco shows the duality of a brand in motion. While elements are shrouded in history, the Swiss icon has added an in-house carbon hairspring for the first time, an addition that Biebuyck says makes the Only Watch ‘special’.
“The movement of the Carbon Monaco is actually the first Heuer 02 calibre which features our proprietary carbon hairspring: until now, this revolutionary component has been reserved only for our Carrera H02T Nanograph with tourbillon, but we were keen to ingrate this important innovation that has been developed by our TAG Heuer Institute into the watch,” he says. “While we wanted to take inspiration from the famed Heuer Monaco reference 74033N, which is a legendary model within our collectors’ community, we also wanted to reimagine it in a respectful way. Aesthetically, the historic piece was very impactful with its full black dial and case which translated nicely to the carbon concept we had in mind for Only Watch 2021.”
The culmination of nine months of hard work replication, revamping and reimagining a hidden gem, the TAG Heuer Only Watch Carbon Monaco has finallyset for a debut appearance. The one-off piece will premiere at the charity watch auction in Geneva on 6 November 2021.
“We have a number of iconic watches in our back catalogue which are much loved by collectors, so when considering a model to produce for an auction initiative such as Only Watch, it is almost inevitable that we will pick one of these stars,” Biebuyck says. “It is really the elegant presentation of historic savoir-faire next to cutting edge design and innovation that is such a perfect summary of all that TAG Heuer stands for, and proves what we can do as a company when we work as a team on unbridled creativity.”