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 3 minutes

A Tale of Two Watches: TAG Heuer Monaco vs. Rolex Daytona

By Hyla Bauer

Two iconic actors: Steve McQueen and Paul Newman. Two iconic car races: the Monaco Grand Prix and Daytona 500. And two iconic watches: the TAG Heuer Monaco and Rolex Daytona. We’re looking at the remarkable similarities and notable differences between two chronographs that have stood the test of time. The Rolex Daytona and TAG Heuer Monaco are high-performance chronographs made for professional car racing, and they’re both the stuff of legends.

Fame and Fortune

Having a face as famous as Steve McQueen’s or Paul Newman’s associated with a watch bestows it an invaluable marketing advantage. Not only were these men two of the world’s most celebrated actors, they also both took up auto racing during their successful careers.

The men were photographed numerous times in their racing gear, wearing their respective watch. These were huge celebrity endorsements for Heuer and Rolex before celebrity endorsements were a thing or even paid for.

But celebrity endorsements they certainly were, and still are to this day. The watches are both chronographs, of course, which were essential tools used by race car drivers to calculate speed. Now, let’s take a look at the two most famous chronographs in the world and their celebrity owners.

The TAG Heuer Monaco

According to Jack Heuer, the Heuer Monaco chronograph’s square case was designed to be avant-garde. The watch was first released in Geneva in 1969, and it was the first square, water-resistant automatic chronograph. The Monaco’s movement, called the Chronomatic/Calibre 11, was the first automatic chronograph caliber with a micro-rotor.

The TAG Heuer Monaco: one of the most iconic watches ever produced
The TAG Heuer Monaco: one of the most iconic watches ever produced.

The Rolex Daytona

The Rolex Daytona was launched a few years before the Monaco, in 1963. The official name upon its release was the Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph. Shortly after its introduction, however, the watch was renamed the Rolex Oyster Cosmograph Daytona. Initially introduced with a manual-winding movement, newer Daytonas are equipped with automatic movements.

Given the plentiful parallels between the two watches, choosing which one to buy can prove a challenge. Many watch enthusiasts have both a Monaco and a Daytona in their collections. The relative rarity of early editions of these timepieces catapulted their prices into the stratosphere (discover three affordable Rolex Daytona references in this article). For example, Newman’s own Daytona sold for $17.75 million at auction in 2017, and the Monaco that McQueen wore on the set of Le Mans fetched $2.208 million in 2020.

Rolex daytona Paul Newman
Paul Newman Daytona ref. 6241

Choosing Between the Monaco and Daytona

So, how does one choose between these two iconic timepieces? If you’re debating about which watch to buy, what should you take into consideration? Here’s a set of pros and cons for each timepiece:

TAG Heuer Monaco

Pros: The Monaco’s unusual square design is eye-catching and stands out from the sea of round dials. The movement is a feat of watchmaking genius, and Monacos generally sell for less than Daytonas.

Cons: Some people don’t like the Monaco’s square shape. While the Monaco is available in different sizes, it may feel too bulky, especially under a shirt cuff.

Rolex Daytona

Pros: The Daytona is a Rolex, which carries incredible prestige worldwide. Rolex’s movements are some of the finest in the world, and this watch has a round case shape, which many people prefer.

Cons: Prices for the Daytona are generally much higher than for the Monaco. Some may feel that the Daytona is a showy watch due to its extreme desirability among collectors.

About the Author

Hyla Bauer

Hyla Bauer's passion for watches was born the first time she traveled to Switzerland for the Basel and Geneva watch shows. For her, a watch is one of the most intimate and precious things a person can wear. They are precious, built to last, and have a personal meaning for their owners.

Read more

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