Review: Heuer Monza Calibre 17

Tag Heuer announced the 2016 Heuer Monza Calibre 17 at BaselWorld this year, to mark and celebrate the Monza’s 40th anniversary. It’s a watch that we’ve been itching to get our hands on ever since we saw pictures of it, and thankfully the opportunity came knocking just a few weeks ago.

We wore the Monza so much, we had to pull the crown out to stop the running seconds, so we could avoid blurry hands in our photographs.

Before we get into this new Tag Heuer timepiece, lets take a quick look back at the origins of the Monza. The original Monza (ref. 150.501) chronograph was released in 1976, to celebrate Niki Lauda’s first Formula 1 world championship title with Scuderia Ferrari – a title he secured thanks to a third-place finish at the Italian Grand Prix at – you guessed it – Monza.

The Heuer Monza came to fruition thanks to Mr. Jack Heuer who – in the early 70s – personally negotiated a multi-year deal with Mr. Enzo Ferrari, to help the Scuderia Ferrari team with timing. In fact the release of the Monza in 1976 marked the first time that the ‘Monza’ name appeared on a dial of a watch.

The ref 150.501 is the most well known Monza. Picture credit: Calibre11.com.

The ref 150.501 is the most well known Monza. Picture credit: Calibre11.com.

When it was released, the Monza was unlike anything on the market. It featured an all black design, which was achieved by applying a PVD coating to the 39mm brass case. Brass was used because it was less expensive than steel, which made sense since the Monza sat below the flagship Carrera within Heuer’s lineup. However, since brass is softer than steel and because the hardness of the case affects the properties of the coating, and thus everyday wearability, the Monza was easy to scratch and ding. This is why today, if you’re looking for a vintage Monza, it’s quite hard to find clean examples, and those that are clean command a bit of a premium.

Early Monza timepieces featured the Calibre 15 automatic movement, which was introduced in 1972. The calibre was developed since Heuer needed a less expensive movement to offer chronographs in what was a competitive market. This calibre offered a running seconds hand at the 10 o’clock position, the crown at the nine o’clock position, and did not feature a 12-hour chronograph register. The 30-minute chronograph register sat at the three o’clock position, while the date window could be found at the six o’clock position. The unusual position of the crown and running seconds, the case material, and color of the dial gave the Monza serious character. With that, lets jump back to the new Monza and its modern movement.

There’s no exhibition caseback, just like the original.

The 2016 Heuer Monza (ref. CR2080) is powered by the Calibre 17, a modular movement based on the robust ETA 2894-2. Tag Heuer has used the Calibre 17 in dozens of its other timepieces – it is a reliable workhorse.

The automatic calibre runs at 4Hz, features a power reserve of 38-hours and offers time, running seconds, date, and chronograph complications. The chronograph mechanism is cam-actuated, which becomes obvious when you start the chronograph. In case you’re wondering, the Calibre 15 on the original was also cam-actuated.

Tell-tale signs of a modular chronograph calibre – the crown sits lower than the chronograph pushers since the chronograph module sits above the base movement.

Before you throw your hands up and ask why this new Monza doesn’t feature an in-house calibre with an integrated column-wheel chronograph (thanks for terms without context Instagram…), keep in mind that the Monza re-edition does not carry a high retail price, nor is it meant to be the technical and/or aesthetic flagship in Tag Heuer’s current line-up. For that you’ll have to look at the Carrera Calibre Heuer 01 (read about it here). Instead, this timepiece was designed to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Monza – Tag Heuer’s Olivier Romang tells us, “We wanted to celebrate the 40th anniversary by coming back to the very original look of the 1976 Monza: it was black, with this look on the dial. We adapted this look to the Calibre 17”.

Thanks to the architecture of the Calibre 17, the aesthetics and design of the case and dial of the 2016 Monza are slightly different when compared to the 1976 Monza. If you’re wondering why, it’s because the design of the movement ultimately determines where elements like the pushers, crown and hands end-up on a watch.

Considering the retail price, it’s pretty impressive that you get a Grade 5 Titanium case.

Before we delve into that, lets discuss the case. On the 2016 Heuer Monza the case is comprised of three parts (bezel, case, caseback), each crafted from Grade 5 titanium, and then coated with titanium carbide to give the deep black finish. The top of the bezel and the entire case carry a brushed finish, while the sides of the bezel have a high polish (mirror) finish.

Tag Heuer says they used titanium because of its lightweight and hardness, and because they wanted to discreetly add a “high-tech and avant-garde” touch to the vintage looks and design. As we said earlier, the hardness of the case affects how durable the coating is, which means the titanium carbide coating on this watch should stand up to most of the challenges of daily wear. The proof is the very sample we had on hand for this review – it has been used and abused at BaselWorld, has been around the world, and while it could do with a bit of time at the watch-spa, we didn’t see any serious dents in the case or chips in the coating.

You get brushed finish on the case, as well as brushed and mirror finishing on the bezel.

The case measures 42mm in diameter, which means it is noticeably larger than the original but we don’t think that this has done anything to upset the oh-so-cool vintage look. It’s also worth noting that 42mm is the norm for sports chronographs today. The dial is protected by domed sapphire crystal, which has anti-reflective coatings on both sides, and the watch is said to be good for water resistance up to 100m.

Another difference, which is thanks to the design of the Calibre 17 (as we mentioned earlier), is the positioning of the crown and pushers – on this 2016 Monza both sit on the right side of the case. On the dial too, things have changed. This new Monza has a perfectly symmetrical dial (which we love), the running seconds register is at three o’clock, while the 30-minute chronograph counter is at nine o’clock. It’s a logical and functional layout that while different from the original, doesn’t really affect the vintage character of this piece.

You won’t find ‘Tag Heuer’ branding anywhere, just ‘Heuer’. That adds serious vintage charm.

Speaking of character, this timepiece has bags of it and it’s mostly down to the dial and its various elements. The dial is made from brass, and is subjected to a black galvanic treatment, after which it is given a sunburst finish. The hour indexes boast orange luminescent material, which can also be found on the black and white hour and minute hands.

The main chronograph and running second’s hands are finished in red, while the 30-minute chronograph hand is finished in white, with red accents sitting within the register. There’s even a ‘Tachymeter’ and ‘Pulsometer’ scale, and Tag Heuer have used the same font style as was used on the original. Last but not least, the chronograph pushers and crown are all crafted from stainless steel – just like the original.

There are a lot of throwbacks to the original Monza, including the design of the 30-minute chronograph register. Note the sunburst finish on the dial.

We can quickly summarise our wearing experience by telling you two things: 1) We wore it without fail every day we had it 2) We really didn’t want to give it back…

We reckon Tag Heuer made a fair call when they up-sized the case to 42mm because this piece manages to pull off one heck of a vintage/modern juggling act. Had Tag Heuer opted for a smaller case (say the same size as the original), we think it would look just a bit out of place if you consider modern tastes and preferences. We’d also like to point out that despite the black finish, this watch does look, wear and feel like a 42mm timepiece but more importantly – it looks fantastic on the wrist.

The word you’re looking for is ‘Amazing’.

In terms of comfort, we had nothing to complain about. The Heuer Monza sat well on our wrist, and the ‘super racing’ full-grain black calfskin strap proved to be uber-comfortable through a full work day, and beyond. Adjusting the strap to fit your wrist is also simple as it employs the same sort of clasp design and adjustment system as we’ve seen on other Tag Heuer timepieces.

As we said earlier, the dial is symmetrical but also extremely legible, and easy to read. As a matter of fact it took just two hours of wrist-time for us to feel like we’d had the watch in our regular rotation for months. That said, we still found ourselves staring at the beautifully balanced and colorful dial at every opportunity because of its attractive design. Tag Heuer has applied lume to the hour indexes, as well as the black and white hour and minute hands, which means that working out the time in low light won’t be a problem. And, thanks to the orange color of the lume material, it really does look like the lume has patina’d (adding yet more vintage charm).

The ‘super-racing’ strap suits the Heuer Monza perfectly, and it’s super comfortable.

On the usability front the Heuer Monza is without fault. The Calibre 17 features a hacking seconds function, so you can precisely set the time on the watch, and there’s a quick date-set function too. The latter is something we think everyone, particularly collectors, appreciate because it makes getting the watch ready to wear so much easier.

The limited power reserve is actually the only issue we had with the Heuer Monza. You see a 38-hour power reserve means that if you take the Monza off your wrist on a Thursday night or Friday early morning, and don’t wear it again until Sunday morning, you will have to set the time and date before you put it back on your wrist.

The clasp is made from titanium, and sports a black PVD coating.

The Heuer Monza Calibre 17 is expected to hit the Middle East and global markets in the next two months, and the retail price is expected to be about US $5,000. That is incredible value-for-money whether you consider the individual components that comprise this piece or look at the watch as a complete package.

Simply put, you get oodles of character, brilliant vintage touches and sprinklings of modernity. We thoroughly enjoyed wearing the Heuer Monza, and smiled each time we looked down at our wrist. The perfectly symmetrical and colorful dial, and the black styling is just gorgeous whether you’re observing the watch during the day (in natural light) or when you’re indoors.

For once we don’t mind a date window making an appearance on a re-edition watch.

Of course if you’re a fan or collector of Heuer/Tag Heuer timepieces, the other element to consider is that this is a commemorative piece that celebrates one of Heuer’s best known watches from the 70s. Make no mistake, the Monza 150.501 that we showed you at the start of the article is the Monza that most people will think of, if you say ‘Monza’, and Tag Heuer has captured the essence of that piece with its 2016 reissue.

You should also bear in mind that there is a bit of a time limit on the availability of the 2016 Heuer Monza. This is numbered edition – each watch will have a number stamped on the caseback – rather than a limited edition with a known production run (limited editions have the watch’s number + total number i.e. 1/2000), and Tag Heuer isn’t going to keep producing this watch. The official word is that Tag Heuer will produce the Monza to fill orders it receives from its global boutiques and stores, but that is only for this year. So although we don’t know the total production run, this is still – technically – a limited edition timepiece because at some point in the near future, Tag Heuer will stop producing it.

The running seconds counter now lives at the three o’clock position.

Overall, this is a fantastic timepiece that we think will score serious desirability points well beyond Heuer/Tag Heuer brand aficionados. It packs loads of character, it’s functional, wears well, and it’s priced attractively. Regardless of what you’re in the market for at the moment, you owe it to yourself to checkout the 2016 Heuer Monza.

If you missed our initial impressions of the Heuer Monza, check out the YouTube video below. We’ve also got additional pictures of the Monza below, just scroll down.

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To learn more about Tag Heuer, click here.

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