The Gulf range of TAG Heuer Monacos began in 2005 and continues through to today, 2018. Few modern TAG Heuer watches have left as much of an impression as the first time that I saw the Monaco Vintage (CW2118), which was released in 2005 as a limited edition of 4000 watches to mark what would have been the 75th birthday of Steve McQueen. It was an outrageous design: a crisp white dial (one of the first times a Monaco has been sold with a white dial) matched with bold blue and red stripes on the right hand-side of the dial and with red sub-dials and hands.
The design of course was based on the driving suit worn by Steve McQueen in the 1971 movie Le Mans, which is the movie that would eventually make the Monaco the iconic watch it is today. The success of the Monaco Vintage meant that a stream of other Gulf-branded TAG Heuer Monacos have followed, each with a slightly different twist on the Gulf theme.
In 2007 the next TAG Heuer Monacos Vintage was released (CAW211A), this time a black-dial watch with the iconic light blue and orange colours of Gulf Oil, the sponsors of the Porsche 917 driven by McQueen in Le Mans. Interestingly, the watch now carried the word “Gulf” above the date window instead of “Monaco”. Why this didn’t appear on the first Vintage model is perhaps because of the complex story behind the ownership of the Gulf Oil brand. Up until its 1985 merger with Standard Oil, Gulf Oil was one of the world’s largest Oil companies. The Gulf brand survived the merger- but only as a shadow of its former self and as a retail-only brand. Today there are two Gulf companies- one in the US and one based in London called Gulf Oil International (“GOI”), which allows independent petrol stations to franchise the Gulf Brand. In exchange for paying their franchise fee, GOI builds awareness of the Gulf brand by sponsoring Motor Sports (Aston Martin at Le Mans) and allowing the logo to be used on clothes- and other products like the Monaco. The complexity behind who owns the name in which country apparently meant that TAG Heuer were unclear whether they’d be able to sell the original White Vintage in the US- a problem that was eventually sorted out.
The Black Vintage Monaco- also a Limited Edition of 4000 watches- is a nice design and a real contrast to the first. In particular, I like the detail orange stitching on the black leather strap and the design of the right-hand sub-dial, harking back to the design of the Calibre 15 Monaco from the 1970s.
And to my mind, that is where the Monaco-with-stripes series should have ended: two distinct models, each highly collectible.
But in 2009, we got another striped Limited Edition Monaco (CAW2113), this time with a Grey/ metallic dial and the new Monaco Calibre 12 case (1mm larger than the previous Monaco; Sapphire Crystal; Clear caseback). As you can see below, the watch is broadly similar to the previous Black Vintage: On its own, the “Grey Vintage” is a lovely watch and if we hadn’t already seen the design in white and black, I suspect I’d feel very different about the watch. But coming on the heels of two “Limited Edition” Striped Monaco series, it feels too derivative, a point made before at Calibre 11.
After a break of almost 8 years, we have a new Gulf Monaco- the 2018 Monaco Gulf Calibre 11- yes, the first of the Gulf Monacos to feature the Calibre 11 with its distinct crown on the left-hand side. In addition to the Gulf logo and Orange/ Blue stripes, the new watch uses a metallic blue dial for the first time (as well as being the first time that we have seen any Calibre 11 Monaco with a metallic blue dial). We also have a Heuer logo- again for the first time in this series. The handset is carried over from the standard Calibre 11 Monaco (CAW211P), which means we have the slightly unusual combination of Orange hour markers and Red hands.Perhaps the ultimate Gulf Watch is the 2010 Monaco Twenty Four Calibre 36, reference CAL5110 (note that its the prototype shown above). The watch takes the design theme of the Gulf watches into a modern take on the Monaco, with its futuristic curved case and suspended movement. At the 2018 Geneva International Motor Show, TAG Heuer and Gulf Oil International announced a new global partnership, which covers “the development of new activities and new editions”. So while we’ve have to wait and see exactly what these “new activities” are, it does seem safe to assume that we will see more Gulf watches launched over the coming years.