This past week brought my favorite Heuer arrival of 2023, the customization of a 1997 Monaco created by master watchmaker Abel Court (called the “AC Signature Monaco”).  In this posting, we will show some photos of the AC Signature Monaco, describe the features of the watch that make it a favorite, and also have a look at some of the “inspirations” for the watch.

The Basics

The AC Signature is Abel Court’s customization of the Reference CS2110 Monaco that TAG Heuer introduced in 1997.  The Monaco had been discontinued by Heuer circa 1977; the Reference CS2110 was TAG Heuer’s very first re-issue of the Monaco. The Reference CS2110 was offered as a limited edition of 5,000 watches.

The Monaco Reference CS2110 was a stainless steel chronograph, with a black dial, polished metal hands and markers, and a running seconds hand at 3 o’clock and a 30 minute chronograph recorder at 9 o’clock.  The CS2110 was powered by the ETA 2894-2 movement, which incorporates the ETA 2892-A2 base movement and a chronograph module.  The ETA 2894-2 uses 37 jewels, operates at 28800 vibrations per hour and has a power reserve of 42 hours. 

For a description of the AC Signature Monaco, see the posting in Fratello, Abel Court Creates The “AC Signature” Based On The TAG Heuer Monaco CS2110.

So Just What is a “Customization”?  

Collectors of vintage watches debate the merits of re-editions, re-issues and homages, as well as modern watches that draw inspiration from a brand’s heritage catalog.  “Collaborations” are a different category, where we might see Fragment Design produce a minimalist version of the Autavia (in a Formula One case) or Rowing Blazers incorporate the colors of a circa 1960 Heuer Yacht Timer into a 2020 version of the Carrera.  Somewhere in this general area of the watch universe we see “customizations.”  Artisans de Geneve allows its clients to modify the dials, hands, bezels and other elements of a range of Rolex watches to create a “Piece Unique”.  Working with Bamford Watch Department, the enthusiast can “build their own” models from TAG Heuer, Zenith and several other brands.  

The AC Signature Monaco is a version of the Monaco CS2110 that has been customized by Abel Court.  Court produced nine pieces of the AC Signature Monaco, all of them being identical except for the serial numbers marked on the case-back and on the date disc.    

Key steps for Court in creating the AC Signature Monaco including coating the case, pushers and crown in PVD and replacing the polished metal hands with bright orange hands that are new old stock from Heuer.  Each movement is inspected by Court and fully overhauled. The AC Signature Monaco is delivered in an leather pouch — black and orange, of course — and comes with a spare leather strap (orange).

First Impressions of the AC Signature Monaco

Over the years, I have owned the usual variety of re-editions and re-issues, watches produced by inspiration and collaboration, and even a few cheap copies of classic watches, but the AC Signature Monaco is my very first “customized” watch.  I believe that Abel Court made brilliant choices in designing and building this watch, with the result that the AC Signature Monaco is a fantastic addition to the Monaco line-up.   

An Important “Donor” Watch – For his customization, Abel started with the TAG Heuer Monaco Reference CS2110, from 1997.  Heuer had introduced the last version of the Monaco in 1977 (the Reference 74033N, often called the “Dark Lord”), and the Reference CS2110 marked the return of the Monaco as part of TAG Heuer’s “Classics” collection.  (The Carrera had been the first model re-issued by TAG Heuer, in 1996.) As such, the Reference CS2110 Monaco paved the way for all the TAG Heuer Monacos that we have seen since 1997. So, yes, the CS2110 was an important watch that is worthy of the spa treatment!

Super bright black / orange colors — Back in 1997, TAG Heuer played it relatively safe with the Monaco Reference CS2110, but after 26 years and hundreds of models of TAG Heuer Monaco chronographs, Abel Court “went for it” with his new model. Abel was also able to draw on his years as collector to give the people the watch they want — a bright version of the Dark Lord that has a vintage look and is comfortable on the wrist. In a sense, in 2023, Abel the natural successor of the “Dark Lord”, showing us what TAG Heuer might have done in 1997, had it wanted to go for broke with its first re-issue of the Monaco.

Good Old Steel and PVD – In today’s era of ceramics, carbon fiber, silicon, titanium and many other “advanced materials”, Abel sticks with two materials that Heuer has used for the past 40 years and that are likely to age well over the next 40 years — PVD coating on a stainless steel case. The PVD offers a softer look than more modern materials like DLC, and Court embraces the fact that, over the years, the coating will show some signs of being worn. The stainless steel case gives the watch some heft on the wrist.

Symmetry is for Squares – During the 1960s and 70s, Heuer seemed to be fond of asymmetry in its chronographs. The Carrera 45 Dato from 1967 had a unique “cyclops” look, with the chronograph minutes recorder at 3 o’clock and the date at 9 o’clock.

In 1972, Heuer modified the Calibre 12 movement to delete the chronograph hour recorder, resulting in versions of the Autavia, Carrera and Monaco that had the chronograph minutes recorder at 3 o’clock, a running seconds hand at 9 o’clock and a date at 6 o’clock.

A Very Wearable Monaco – At just over 38 mm across the dial and 13 mm thick, the Reference CS2110 is one of the more easily “wearable” versions of the TAG Heuer Monaco. The fine quality straps included with the AC Signature Monaco also enhance the comfort of wearing the watch.

The Inspirations — Black / Orange Autavias and the Monaco “Dark Lord”

The Black / Orange Autavias. One of the most distinctive color schemes used by Heuer in the 1970s was the black / orange of the Autavia. All the 1960s Autavias were all black with white registers; around 1969, Heuer introduced the red accents that we see on the “Viceroy” Autavia; by 1972, Heuer was using a bright orange for hands and the “racing stripes” on the chronograph minute recorder.

Many versions of the Autavia incorporated this black / orange color scheme, including models powered by the Calibre 12 movement, models powered by the Calibre 15 movement and models powered by the Valjoux 77xx series of movements. Shown below are the Autavia Reference 1563 MH and the Autavia Reference 73663; click on either link to see many additional photos of these chronographs.

The Monaco “Dark Lord”. The Monaco was introduced in 1969 with its distinctive red / white / blue color scheme, and Heuer soon offered models with gray dials as a more restrained alternative. During the 1970s, chronographs with black-coated cases became popular and perhaps as a last-ditch effort to maintain the Monaco in its catalog, Heuer offered a black-coated version of the Monaco circa 1977 (Reference 74033N). The main time-of-day hands were bright white, with an orange-red shade used for all three chronograph hands.

While the coating of the “Dark Lord” is often described as being PVD (physical vapor deposition), in fact PVD coatings were not being used in the Swiss watch industry at this time, and the coating on the Dark Lord is most likely chemical vapor deposition (“CVD”). For a history of the Monaco “Dark Lord”, see my posting on Hodinkee — The Heuer Black-Coated Monaco Captures The Darkness and Mystery Of The 1970s.

For additional photos of several Monaco “Dark Lord” chronographs, see our Gallery HERE.

Made by a Friend

While we can make the case for the AC Signature Monaco based on the history of Heuer’s chronographs of past decades and the excellent design of the watch, for me the most compelling aspect of the newest Monaco is that it was made by my good friend, Abel Court. Abel has been a mainstay of the vintage Heuer community for almost 20 years, being recognized as the most skilled and reliable watchmaker who works on the vintage Heuer chronographs. But more than a watchmaker who has the eyes and hands to work with the old watches, Abel demonstrates the vision to create a new watch, a watch that embodies the style and look of Heuer’s heritage portfolio.

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Beyond telling us the time of day or reminding us when it’s time to take the brownies out of the oven, perhaps the most that any watch — vintage or modern — can do is to make us a bit happier when we see it on our wrist.  Sometimes it’s the style of the watch itself; sometimes it might remind us of a memory or a moment; sometimes it reflects a friendship.  I look at the AC Signature Monaco and see a fantastic homage to some of the great watches in the Heuer heritage portfolio.  More than that, I see a watch that  a good friend has created and — yes — it makes me happy, every time I look at it.

Jeff Stein
December 25, 2023