Hands-On: TAG Heuer Only Watch Carbon Monaco

A modern racing chronograph.

A homage to famed Monaco “Dark Lord”, the TAG Heuer Only Watch Carbon Monaco is unique for utilising carbon, or more specifically carbon composites, in almost every aspect of the watch – dial, case, and even the hairspring is carbon. Plus it has a specially finished movement that’s visible through the an extra-wide sapphire case back.

Initial thoughts

The vintage “Dark Lord” is all-black version of the Monaco that’s one of the most desirable of vintage Heuers. It was something of an experimental creation with only a few dozen were made, or perhaps even a hundred depending on the source.

One of the first all-black watches, the “Dark Lord” had a powder-coated case like many early black-coated watches. Consequently, the “Dark Lord” case was fragile and few have survived in pristine condition, explaining its rarity and value, as well as why it’s the inspiration for the Carbon Monaco.

A vintage “Dark Lord” ref. 740.303N

The pleasing black, orange, and cream palette of the Carbon Monaco instantly evoke the “Dark Lord”. And at a distance, the Carbon Monaco even has something of a vintage flavour. But up close it is evidently a modern watch in both style and substance.

Unlike the “Dark Lord”, the Carbon Monaco is fabricated from a material that’s naturally black, or at least a dark grey. The carbon composite case has an indelible finish, while also being extremely lightweight.

The modern material, along with the geometrically open-worked dial, gives the watch an original character despite the vintage-inspired aesthetic.

But the Monaco Carbon is more than just a good mix of materials and colours. The in-house movement inside has a special “scraped” finish on the bridges, along with a carbon-composite hairspring, making it unique both in terms of decoration and technical features.

As a result, the Monaco Carbon is as good looking as it is interesting. And despite the historical design inspiration, the combination of materials and finishing is entirely atypical of TAG Heuer.

And with an estimate of CHF50,000-100,000, the Monaco Carbon is affordable by Only Watch standards, though it will easily cross the high estimate and probably sell for a multiple of that.

Retro forged carbon

The designers of the Monaco Carbon clearly went all-out to create a contemporary aesthetic modelled on the vintage original. The contemporary element is most apparent in the liberal use of forged carbon, or more accurately carbon fibre-reinforced polymer composite.

Characterised by its marbled appearance, forged carbon was developed by a partnership comprised of Lamborgini, Callaway Golf Company, and the University of Washington. It’s essentially tiny fragments of carbon fibre composite mixed with resin and then cured at high temperature and pressure, pressing the fragments together.

The advantage of forged carbon over traditional carbon fibre-reinforced polymers, which rely on large sheets of woven carbon fibre, is its ability to be formed in a range of complex shapes (as well as multi-directional strength).

Forged carbon case isn’t exactly new for TAG Heuer, as the material was first used for the case of the Bamford Watch Department (BWD) Monaco limited edition of 2018.

But on the Monaco Carbon TAG Heuer has utilised the material to its fullest potential. Not only does the square case features sharp angles all round, but the skeletonised dial is even more angular. The dial even incorporates bevelling on its edges, though that is the result of filing and chamfering rather than manufacturing.

An experimental oscillator

The star of the show is on the back, a point made clear with the extra-large sapphire crystal. Instead of  a conventional round window, the display back is panoramic, with the sapphire crystal stretching from end to end, leaving just a narrow border at its edges.

According to TAG Heuer it’s the largest sapphire back ever fitted to a Monaco, which allows for a better view of the movement from different angles, especially from the side.

While the movement is a Heuer 02, an in-house calibre widely used across TAG Heuer’s range, it has been finished to an entirely differently level – and upgraded with a special balance spring.

The Heuer 02 has both a vertical clutch and column wheel, as well as an 80-hour power reserve

The rationale for the wide-open view of the movement is simple: show off the movement finishing, which was done by hand and unusual in style.

Some of the obvious, traditional elements of the decoration is the wide, rounded, and polished bevelling, or anglage, on the bridges. Importantly, the bevelling even incorporates a handful of inward angles, a detail that’s occasionally absent even in movements from prominent haute horlogerie brands.

Now widely seen as a must-have in a high-end movement, such anglage isn’t traditionally associated with TAG Heuer, so it immediately makes this Heuer 02 special.

But most novel is the gratté finish on the bridges. French for “scrape”, gratté was also employed in the movement of the Greubel Forsey Hand Made 1.

While the technique was applied by Greubel Forsey to create random strokes that resemble brushwork, it forms a geometric pattern on the bridges of the Heuer 02. The “scrapes” are neatly laid out in alternating, opposing orientation, creating a chequerboard pattern that evokes a chequered flag, a subtle and clever nod to the Monaco’s auto racing heritage.

That said, some parts of the movement are a bit industrial, including the perlage on the base plate and more notably the Etachron regulator for the balance. But that is probably inevitable, given that the calibre is a variant of the Heuer 02, which is a workhorse movement produced on an industrial scale.

Mechanically the movement inside is almost identical to the standard except for one major upgrade: a carbon composite hairspring is non-magnetic and impervious to temperature changes. That promises extremely stable timekeeping regardless of external influences.

And because the hairspring is now carbon, the balance wheel has also been replaced. Instead of the Glucydur balance found in the standard movement, this Heuer 02 has what appears to be a two-piece balance wheel with an unusually wide rim riveted to its spokes.

TAG Heuer Only Watch Carbon Monaco
Ref. CBL2191.FC6507

Diameter: 39 mm
Height: 15.56 mm
Material: Carbon
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 30 m

Movement: Heuer Calibre 02
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, chronograph
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 80 hours

Strap: Leather strap

Limited edition: Piece unique
To be sold at Only Watch on November 6, 2021
Estimate: CHF50,000-100,000

For more, visit onlywatch.com.


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In-Depth: F.P. Journe FFC Blue “Francis Ford Coppola”

Exceptional and intriguing.

Francois-Paul Journe’s creation for Only Watch 2021, the F.P. Journe FFC Blue, sticks to a familiar template. Like prior watches conceived for the biennial charity auction – the tourbillon of 2015split-seconds chronograph of 2017, and the Astronomic of 2019 – this year’s timepiece has a tantalum case and blue dial.

But FFC Blue is a strikingly unique watch – the five-fingered time display is a first in watchmaking. Though it has a conventional round case, the FFC Blue is conceptually closer to the unconventional Vagabondage watches than the brand’s round watches.

Short for Francis Ford Coppola, the FFC Blue originated with a question posed to Mr Journe by the director of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now in 2012. Mr Coppola suggested a watch that indicated the time with human hand.

Over the following years Mr Journe worked on the concept, with Mr Coppola suggesting the finger positions to indicate each hour. And now the filmmaker’s idea has been realised as a one-off creation for the charity auction.

Though entirely unique compared with F.P. Journe’s other creations, the FFC is powered by the workhorse cal. 1300 of the Octa series

Initial thoughts

I found the hand-display concept intensely compelling when Mr Journe described it during my visit to Geneva in 2017. In the metal the FFC is equally compelling. It is inventive and appealing.

It’s rather large at 42 mm in diameter, though like nearly all F.P. Journe watches it is unusually thin given the complication. The diameter is a perfect canvas for the arresting dial that immediately captures the attention. There is nothing else like it on the market.

Although the dial is dominated by the blue hand that resembles a metallic glove – the hand based on a 16th century anatomical model – it is densely complex due to the exposed mechanism.

The mass of cams, wheels, and springs that drive the hand, which is essentially an ultra-elaborate jumping hour, are impressive in their complexity. That said, some parts of it aren’t particularly pretty, especially in how the bridges are skeletonised.

The FFC Blue has an estimate of CHF300,000-400,000, but I expect it’ll go for 10 times the estimate. Certainly deserving of the acclaim and value, the FFC Blue will raise a handsome sum for a worthy cause.

But at the same time, the FFC Blue’s value also reflects the frenzied demand for F.P. Journe watches, and a broader, undiscerning fad for independent watchmaking.

Paré’s invention

The display is centred on the blue hand, which is inspired by a mechanical, prosthetic hand invented by Ambroise Paré (1509-1590), a French barber surgeon who pioneered several surgical techniques and battlefield treatments.

Built in 1551, Le Petit Lorrain, as Paré’s hand was known, relied on levers and springs to mimic the movements of a real hand. It was apparently worn by a French cavalry captain into battle, who reported he was able to grip the reins of his horse with the hand.

The hand of the FFC Blue reproduces the joints and rivets of Paré’s invention. And it is also similar conceptually to the surgeon’s prosthetic – the hand of the FFC Blue is a mechanical invention devised to complete a single task.

Here it’s employed to indicate the hours via raised fingers. Five individual fingers extend and retract to indicate the hours from one to 12.

From one to five the display is obvious, and then it gets more creative from six onwards

Because the hand can only display one to 12, the hand runs through the entire cycle twice a day

As an aside, it would be theoretically possible to display up to 32 different digits on a single hand, as five fingers extended or retracted – five binary digits – would make for 2^5=32 combinations. So it would be possible to display up to 24 hours on one hand, but that would be too cumbersome to accomplish, and equally importantly, impractical to read given the need to remember the 24 combinations.

Mechanics explained

Each of the fingers is controlled by the mechanism visible on the left side of the dial, which is connected to the fingers via fine mechanical linkages acting as levers. Though F.P. Journe is tight-lipped as to how exactly the mechanism works, there is enough exposed on the dial to deduce its basic principles.

Between seven and nine o’clock on the dial, four cams are visible – but the number of cams is actually double, because each is actually a pair of stacked cams. These stacked cams are geared together, with each pair rotating once every hour.

Each cam is essentially a mechanical programme that encodes the motion of each finger, either extension or retraction, actuating the individual connections to move the fingers. The reason that there are four pairs, instead of five, is because the thumb simply pivots inward or outwards, so no cam is required for its motion.

The cams arranged in a line along the edge of the dial

The cams are located a distance away from the hand – a mechanical necessity as the distance allows for a wider, sweeping motion of the mechanical linkages. That degree of travel is required to extend and retract the fingers. At the same time, the pivots of the linkages are located close to the respective cams to obtain the necessary geometry of the pivoting action.

The cams have to be impulsed within a split second to facilitate an instantaneous jump of the fingers. To achieve this, the cams are driven by a long yoke, essentially a prong with a U-shaped end, which is positioned diagonally across the movement from 12 to ten o’clock.

The end of the yoke is visible just below the index finger

The yoke in turn, is driven via an eccentric cam centred between its prongs. The eccentric cam is driven via a buffer spring that resembles an open-worked mainspring barrel. Energy is stored in the buffer spring and instantaneously released at the top of every hour, which causes the jump of the yoke.

The eccentric cam driving the yoke which impulses the finger cams. A blocker lever releases the mechanism once every hour to facilitate the instantaneous jump.

The buffer spring is driven off the centre wheel at three o’clock, located deep down and just to the right of the blue hand. The centre wheel, which rotates once an hour, is continuously driven by the movement and drives both the buffer spring and the minute ring display that will be explained below.

The eagle-eyed will notice that the centre wheel is exactly at the location of the off-centred, time-display sub-dials on most Octa models. In other words, the hand indicator continues where the time display ends off on the standard Octa models.

And that’s because the FFC is powered by the same cal. 1300 found in the Octa. It is an unconventional automatic movement, because it has an unusually large mainspring barrel. The barrel is wider than the radius of the movement (of half its diameter), which is possible thanks to the off-centred centre wheel.

The off-centred centre wheel allows for a larger than average mainspring barrel

The size of the barrel also explains the cal. 1300’s lengthy five-day power reserve (which was originally envisioned to be eight days by Mr Journe but it was an ambition that proved unfeasible then).

Conveniently, this also means that the mainspring barrel has sufficient power to drive the power-hungry instantaneous jump of the hand display.

Since the hand occupies the entire centre of the dial, a peripheral, rotating disc is called into service to indicate the minutes. This is a continuously rotating ring, which rotates anti-clockwise once every hour – driven via an additional wheel at three o’clock that is secured by a large, wedge-shaped bridge.

An open-worked arrow is fixed at 12 o’clock, and indicates the minutes against the rotating minute ring.

A familiar calibre

The hand display is basically an additional mechanism on top of the cal. 1300 base movement, which is the workhorse calibre found across the Octa range. It is well suited to power the hand display thanks to its large mainspring barrel.

The movement is characterised by its peculiar rotor, which is slightly smaller than the movement diameter and positioned off-centre, closer to the crown. The view of the FFC from the back is identical to a typical Octa model with a red-gold movement, save for the off-centre rotor, which is customised for the FFC Blue.

As with past Only Watch editions, the FFC Blue is a prototype – literally. Consequently, the custom rotor has all the scuffs and scratches one would expect on a prototype that was worked on for a long period of time.

The rotor includes the names of Mr Coppola and Paré, as well as the the years of Paré’s birth and death

The four-armed, free-sprung balance

Size-wise the FFC Blue is identical to a typical 42 mm F.P. Journe wristwatch. And it is equally thin at 10.7 mm high.

And it also feels the same, because the case metal is comparable in density with the precious metals that are standard for F.P. Journe.

The case of the FFC Blue is tantalum, a dense bluish-grey metal that’s better known for being the case material of the Chronometre Bleu.

Paradoxically, and no double intentionally, the Chronometer Bleu was long the entry-level model in the F.P. Journe collection. But Mr Journe used the same metal – and dial colour – for all of his Only Watch creations to date. And the FFC Blue will no doubt become the most expensive F.P. Journe sold publicly once the hammer comes down.

F.P. Journe FFC Blue
Ref. FFC

Diameter: 42 mm
Height: 10.70 mm
Material: Tantalum
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 30 m

Movement: Cal. 1300.3
Functions: Hours, minute
Additional features: Bridges and base plate in rose gold
Winding: Automatic
Frequency: 21,600 beats per hour (3 Hz)
Power reserve: Unavailable

Strap: Alligator strap

Limited edition: Unique piece
To be sold at Only Watch on November 6, 2021
Estimate: 300,000-400,000 Swiss francs

For more, visit Onlywatch.com.


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Hands-On: Breguet Type XX Only Watch 2021

An old-school pilot's instrument.

The upcoming Only Watch auction is an impressive catalogue of 53 one-off timepieces, a good number of which – more than a quarter of the total – are chronographs. Among the dozen chronographs, a couple caught my eye.

One is the Breguet Type XX Only Watch 2021. It’s essentially an evolution of the Breguet Type 20 created for Only Watch 2019, simple in design and execution but attractive in that simplicity.

The Breguet Type XX Only Watch 2021

Initial thoughts

Like another notable chronograph in the sale, the TAG Heuer Monaco, the Type XX is reinterpretation of an iconic model of the brand. But the Type XX Only Watch 2021 is a nostalgic reinterpretation with a chocolate-brown dial that evokes the aged, “tropical” effect found on vintage examples.

That said, the vintage styling is its only weakness. The Type XX is almost identical to the Type 20 Only Watch 2019 – right down to the strap – though the point can be made that the two make a perfect pair.

The Type XX (left), and Type 20

They are each inspired by historical aviator’s watches made for the military and civilian markets respectively (the vintage Type XX was marketed to civilians, while the Type 20 was supplied to the French military). So this year’s Type XX should go home with the owner of the Type 20 from 2019.

Almost a doppelgänger – the Type 20 Only Watch 2019

Notably, the Type XX is powered by a vintage movement, though one that is from a later period from an actual vintage Type XX. Still, given Breguet’s impressive manufacturing prowess, one would have hoped for something more technically interesting than a Valjoux 235 from the 1970s.

Still, I gravitate towards the clean simplicity of the Type XX. And Breguet almost never does such vintage-inspired watches, none at all in recent years in fact, which makes the Type XX even more special.

The case back is engraved in exactly the same manner as the Type 20 for Only Watch 2019, making the two chronographs even more of a matched pair

Milk-chocolate aviation

The Type XX is very much traditional in style. That means a restrained, 38.5 mm case containing hand-wind movement, with a minimalist dial that’s made livelier because of its colour.

It could, in fact, pass for a vintage watch, but paradoxically the Type XX is not a one-to-one remake of a past model.

Instead the Type XX is an amalgamation of features from several variants of the vintage Type XX/20, like the bezel and “Big Eye” sub-dial. Despite not being a pure remake, the Type XX stands out from the brand’s current pilot chronographs offerings – and is a lot more attractive in its vintage style.

The Type XX has the same wide, polished bevels on its lugs found on the Type 20, which are also found on certain vintage examples

Because the Type XX shares the same milk-chocolate dial colour with the Type 20 Only Watch 2019, they appear similar at a distance. But there are obvious differences between the two, though they lie in the subtle details, such as the bezel and dial layout.

The biggest distinction between the consecutive pair of Only Watch chronographs is the “Big Eye” counter at three on the Type XX, which contrasts with the equally sized sub-dials on the Type 20.

Used on some vintage chronographs to aid the reading of elapsed minutes, the “Big Eye” is an appealing feature though its scale graduated in three-minute segments is less intuitive to read and ironically diminishes the legibility. But the “Big Eye” register is attractive because it very much evokes the vintage originals.

At the same time, the Type XX gets a bi-directional bezel that’s engraved with a 12-hour scale, allowing it to measure elapsed hours, by zeroing it against the hour hand.

The “syringe” hands are another appealing, vintage-style detail

Inside the Type 20 is a Valjoux 235, a hand-wind movement with flyback chronograph dating to the 1970s. According to Breguet, the Valjoux 235 has been restored, but probably not finished fancily since the case back is solid.

Interestingly, while the Valjoux 235 is not the same movement found in the vintage Type 20, it is a relative of the Valjoux 222 found in the vintage originals.

The 235 is part of the Valjoux 23 family of movements, which was a scaled-down version of the Valjoux 22, to which the 222 was a part of.

And the Valjoux 23 family is best known for having supplied the movements found in several landmark watches of the 20th century, including a variety of Patek Philippe chronographs. The Geneva watchmaker transformed the Valjoux 23 ebauche into its own cal. 13-130 that was found inside models like the refs. 130, 1463, 1518, and 2499. Another member of the Valjoux 23 family was the Valjoux 72, the movement found inside the hand-wound Rolex Daytona.

Key facts and price

Breguet Type XX Only Watch 2021
Ref. 2065ST/Z5/398

Diameter: 38.3 mm
Height: 13.9 mm
Material: Steel
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 30 m

Movement: Valjoux 235
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, and flyback chronograph
Frequency: 21,600 beats per hour (3 Hz)
Winding: Hand-wind
Power reserve: 45 hours

Strap: Calfskin strap

Limited edition: Piece unique
To be sold at Only Watch on November 6, 2021
Estimate: CHF35,000-50,000

For more, visit onlywatch.com.


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