‘The first black watch TAG Heuer made was a Monza model, to celebrate Niki Lauda’s victory as F1 World Drivers’ Champion in 1975, with the model launching a year later in 1976.’ Nicholas Biebuyck is TAG Heuer’s heritage director, and a mine of information. Today he’s wearing two Heuer Monaco watches, one on each wrist. Both are vintage pieces, one in steel, the iconic reference 1133B from 1969, and the other, also in steel, but black-coated, whose precise date of origin is something of a mystery. ‘After the black Monza of ’75, we know that Heuer made a black Monaco, but we’re not sure how many or exactly when – probably 1977 or ’78.’ The timepiece he has on his wrist is one of these coveted models, known as the “Dark Lord”, and it has become something of an auction house favourite, worth around 20,000 Swiss Francs (£16,500) in 2010, but more recently going for 130,000 Swiss Francs (£106,500).
I meet Biebuyck on board a boat at the Monaco Grand Prix earlier this month. We are here to see the race, which is sponsored by TAG Heuer, and the Swiss watchmaker is also a sponsor of the Red Bull Racing F1 team. But we have really come to witness a double “unveiling” – of a new watch and a new brand ambassador.
The watch is a contemporary homage to the “Dark Lord”, a matt black Monaco made from Grade 2 titanium with a DLC (diamond-like carbon) coating. It’s a handsome update of the original Monaco design of 1969, which is well-known for achieving a number of firsts: among them, first commercially available automatic chronograph and first square chronograph with water resistance.
Frédéric Arnault, TAG Heuer’s CEO, says that the new watch celebrates a long-standing relationship: ‘So it goes back a long time, more than 50 years: the first Monaco watch was launched in ’69. And its name was inspired by the Monaco GP… It was already at the time the pinnacle race in Formula One but also in the whole world of racing. And we believe it’s still the case today.’
Arnault is here to support Red Bull Racing, whose driver Max Verstappen is the defending world champion. Last year Arnault gave him a special-edition Monaco watch at this race, the only titanium version of the design before the new black model we are here to see. Called the Titan, it was an edition limited to only 500 pieces, and it proved to be the driver’s lucky charm for the F1 World Championship of 2021, which he won. This year, he will be presented with the new black model in the hope that it will bring him similar good fortune. Verstappen is a fan, saying that ‘already the shape, you know, it’s iconic and… you know, last year the Monaco watch I got was amazing and I really wore it a lot just because I really liked it already, and this one is another one that’s really, really cool and really well designed.’
But while Verstappen is, of course, a valued member of TAG Heuer’s family, he is not the new face we are being introduced to. That belongs to Jacob Elordi, the 24-year-old Australian actor who has become hugely popular as a result of his performance in the Gen-Z favourite, HBO series Euphoria.
Elordi enters the deck we are on in a beige leather jacket with blue and red racing stripes and Gulf (Oil) logo, which bring to mind the similarly branded white overalls worn by the most famous Monaco wearer of them all, Steve McQueen. The look is no accident – the jacket even shares the same “Chronograph Heuer” chest patch and US flag shoulder badge as McQueen sported on his race suit overalls in the 1971 film Le Mans, which is where the Monaco made its screen debut, as the chronograph of choice for his Porsche-driving racer character, Michael Delaney. (Pub quiz fact: McQueen modelled his look on that of Swiss racing driver and Heuer ambassador Jo Siffert, who taught him to drive the Le Mans car for his role in the film; McQueen’s character actually wears a suit directly inspired by Siffert’s racing overalls). The optics say that Elordi is effectively taking the baton from Hollywood’s King of Cool for a new generation of Monaco wearers.
These are big shoes to fill, of course, and when I suggest that this is the case, the young Australian is quick to point out that he would never presume to suggest he could supplant the Hollywood icon.
Be that as it may, the fact remains that the Monaco chronograph has not had any other “face” associated with it than that of McQueen. Indeed, Elordi reveals that it was the Hollywood actor who first put the Monaco watch on his own radar. ‘There’s a great photo of Steve McQueen giving the forks to the camera [in Le Mans], and that series of photos from that day was the first time that I had seen the watch.’ And how he did come across those images? ‘I used to make these collages for my workbooks when I was at drama school that had [pictures of] all my favourite actors. So I would have been Googling “Steve McQueen looking cool”!’
So is McQueen a personal hero? ‘Yeah, I mean, he’s an icon in cinema,’ says Elordi. ‘And he’s a versatile performer. There are definitely bits and pieces that I’ve tried to steal from him!’
The appealing thing about Elordi is that he’s candid and honest. For example, he says he likes the new Monaco because it’s restrained: ‘I like that it’s matt. I think that’s kind of super-appealing to me, because it’s not shiny, not out there. It’s quite understated. But it kind of goes with everything as well… It kind of just slides under the radar.’ And that subtlety and the timelessness of TAG Heuer’s aesthetic is something he is drawn to. ‘That’s what I like about TAG Heuer – I don’t like garish watches that are enormous, with dials and diamonds and colours. There’s a place for them, but it’s not on my wrist. And I think that’s what TAG Heuer does so well even with a smart [dress] watch. It’s still simple and elegant, and I appreciate that. I appreciate the dedication to keeping it timeless, just staying classic.’
The Monaco fits that bill too, even though, as Elordi says, it is strikingly unusual: ‘Well, it’s kind of obscure. It’s quite a strange shape for a watch and it’s quite bulky, and I wouldn’t often wear something that’s bulky like this. For some reason it kind of [works].’ And beyond the look and feel, there’s the history: ‘It’s the history, the history behind it and the history behind the brand as well,’ says the actor. ‘I mean, you look at the people that have worked for the brand… Leonardo DiCaprio, you know – these guys are at the top of their game, and I think the watch is a symbol of that… for me it’s a symbol of class. Steve McQueen – it’s a symbol of ruggedness, but also [of] a gentleman.’
Indeed, though today Elordi sports his Monaco with leather jacket and white T-shirt, he has also worn one with a tuxedo, when he presented at the Oscars. The event was an indication that he’s now joined the ranks of the industry that he clearly loves and has studied. At one point he tells me: ‘I mean Stanley Kubrick wore a Monaco when he was making [A] Clockwork Orange… [It’s] really cool – there’s a great picture of him petting a cat with a Monaco on and, you know, it’s Kubrick!’
Elordi admits that he has a fascination with the greats of Hollywood, and certainly Dean, Brando, McQueen – these are the actors who spring to mind when talking to him. There’s an old-school quietness about him, no need to show off, no need to sell himself. And it seems this has its roots in his family background in Australia.
He talks of how he would hear tales of his grandfathers: ‘So I had these stories in my head about these people. And then I think what I learned about them, what I saw was a great vulnerability in these men. Great class. They were gentlemen, you know, the way that they dressed, the way that they seemingly treated people; the way that they held themselves; the way that they spoke about things was with delicacy and great care. To me that’s an appealing way to live my life, and that’s the kind of human being that I would like to be; and I really believe in having a set of morals and having an idea of class and respecting the way that you hold yourself.’
He’s actually in effect just answered my final question. But I ask it anyway: can he explain why someone of his generation – so associated with the rise of digital media and communication – would wear a mechanical watch?
‘I think for me [it’s] because there’s a process to it,’ he says. ‘You know, I have to…’ and here he mimes setting the hands to the correct time. ‘It sounds small because I’m just spinning my fingers, but I have to work for it. I have to get it out of its box, put it on. Set the time… find the exact time, set it. If I did a timer for a minute on my phone it’s very easy, I just tap a button… But there’s just something about that kind of practical movement. It’s hard to explain, but there’s a process to it, which makes it more real.’
This is the old-school actor speaking, the one who sees the profession as a craft you have to learn. Like the screen giants who came before him. One who is in it for the long term. ‘[There’s] something about phones and digital and things like that. It just goes away. It’s like second nature, it disappears. But when you do it, you know, when it’s physical, when it’s tangible and you can touch it, when you can feel it, it sort of stays, it stays forever with you. And I appreciate that a lot more.’
TAG Heuer Monaco Special Edition; two-tone black dial with three counters, 39mm back DLC Grade 2 sandblasted titanium case, Calibre Heuer 02 automatic movement and black alligator leather strap, £6,800; tagheuer.com