How the TAG Heuer Monaco replica was chosen
Nunley told me that he contacted Jack Heuer to see if he might have an interest in providing some pieces for the film. His shopping list included stopwatches, timing boards, logo patches (for wardrobe), and several chronographs.
Back in 1970, the blue-dialed fake TAG Heuer Monaco with its two subdials and date window retailed for $400. Certainly it wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today with its bulky 39 x 39 mm square case.
That is until McQueen strapped it to his wrist, climbed into his Porsche 917, and roared into history. Today’s retail price for a new Monaco is $5,900.
Nunley’s story goes that he gathered watches from five possible brands for use on the film that he thought would work and that McQueen would like: Tissot, Omega, Bulova, Rolex, and Heuer. Each brand had three or four different models represented in this beauty contest.
Nunley writes in his book, Le Mans in the Rearview Mirror: “Steve looked over all the watches on the table. He did not say anything at first. He was drawn to the Omega. He picked it up and said, ‘I’d like to wear this’.”
Then Nunley pointed out the Heuer patch on the white Nomex driver’s suit McQueen had already chosen and told the actor that Michael Delaney probably wouldn’t wear an Omega watch when his suit said Heuer.
This pretty much eliminated all other watches but the Heuers.
Jack Heuer had submitted four chronograph models, three of which looked similar to the other watches. McQueen looked over all the Heuers, picking the Monaco even over the Autavia that was more the racer’s watch with its highly legible dial and outer rotating tachymeter scale on the bezel.
What a surprise, since McQueen wanted his character’s costume to be as nondescript as possible. Instead he chose the most unusual piece in the entire collection with its oversized, oddly shaped case and colorful dial.
How many Swiss movement Heuer Monaco replica watches were used?
Movie props suffer from hard use; this is an industry where time is money.
Often the props – such as wardrobe and personal items like watches – are provided by the manufacturer gratis in exchange for the possibility of a close-up or two in the film.
Today, of course, there are substantial fees paid by manufacturers for the privilege of having their products appear in a film. Not to mention the advertising tie-ins, endorsements, and all the rest that make Hollywood such a lucrative business apart from theatrical ticket sales.
The exact number of Monacos used in Le Mans is important because of the tremendous value attached to so few pieces. It’s a matter of supply and demand.
Nunley needed six watches. One immediately went missing, its whereabouts unknown.
Of the five remaining Monacos, one was designated for McQueen to wear on set. Nunley saved the final four as backup reserves in the event that the primaries were damaged or somehow also disappeared. Of these four, Nunley kept one as untouched and unblemished, for use only in close-up photography and PR stills.
In the propmaster’s lexicon this is called the hero piece.
Where did the steel case copy TAG Heuer Monacos go after filming?
My friend is truly an authority on the subject of films and the film industry, and Le Mans is no exception. So I asked him where the remaining Monacos went after the film was released.
“Knowing Steve’s reputation for having sticky fingers,” Nunley said, “I detailed one of my prop assistants to shadow him on the set and retrieve the watch whenever McQueen finished a scene. Even so, somehow one of the five remaining Monacos still managed to go missing – probably to Steve.”
And then there were four.
Nunley bought all the timing equipment and the watches from Heuer for somewhere between $400 and $1,000 so they were his to do with as he chose.
Of the remaining four Monacos Nunley gave one to a dear friend. After the friend’s death, his son (Nunley’s godson) wanted to sell the Monaco, so Nunley connected him with collector and real estate investor Michael Isenberg in Beverly Hills.
The sale price for the number four Monaco was somewhere between $40,000 and $50,000.
Nunley sold Monaco numbers two and three on eBay. Here’s what he told me.
“The Heuer company contacted me and made an offer to buy one of the remaining Monacos for $5,000. I wasn’t sure what the fair market value actually was, but I imagined it to be a little more than that. So I offered two of the watches on eBay.
There was vigorous bidding, moving into the $9,000 range. Heuer replica called again and asked if they could buy the watch for their original offer of $5,000. I told them that they’d have to outbid the high-water mark on eBay of $9,000, but they’d better hurry since bidding would be closing soon.”
It turns out that a husband and wife who didn’t know the other was even bidding purchased both watches for a little over the $9,000 bids each.
What about the last Monaco?
Nunley gave the final Monaco to his dad, who wore it until he died some years later. “This was the actual watch that McQueen wore in the film. It was well used, both by McQueen and my dad.” So the final Monaco came back to Nunley.
“I got a call from a billionaire, one of the Forbes 400,” he said. “He knew I had the watch and he wanted to buy it. We decided to meet at his estate. We hadn’t talked price yet. He wanted to know if I had any other watches – of historic significance or not – that I might be willing to sell. I did: the last Monaco, a gold Rolex Submariner, a Heuer Carrera, another Heuer chronograph, and three stopwatches used in the film.
“Over coffee we talked about Hollywood, actors, Le Mans, and Steve McQueen. I had a number in mind for all the pieces I had brought. He must have read my mind because he handed me a cashier’s check for that exact amount. But after seeing the Monaco and the other watches, he told me that he didn’t think it was enough. So he had his accountant, who was working in the next room, bring in his personal checkbook while I argued that the first check was more than fair. I told him that if I took any more money I’d just put it into my grandkid’s education fund.
“’How many grandkids you got?’ he asked.
“He proceeded to write a check for a very generous amount intended for each of my seven grandkids. What a gentleman. Who knows, he just might still have the Monaco.”
One of the Monacos surfaced in 2012 at Profiles In History’s “Hollywood Auction, hammering for $650,000 with a 23 percent buyer’s premium, bringing the sale price up to $799,500.
Here’s how the auction house described the watch in its catalog:
This is the actual wristwatch worn by Steve McQueen during Le Mans production and in related images. In 1970, Jack Heuer himself delivered a variety of his chronograph timepieces to Donald Nunley, prop master on the set of Le Mans in France. From this selection, Steve McQueen himself chose this specific watch to wear as his character “Michael Delaney” during production and in publicity photos. In an early example of product placement, this watch is visible on the arm of McQueen in countless photos and the ultimate film. In fact, his sleeve is often conspicuously pushed up to reveal the watch for the cameras.
In 1969 Heuer released the first automatic chronograph and broke with tradition by creating a square waterproof case to house it. A buckled, black leather vented strap completes the handsome piece. Housed in a red, spring-hinged case sporting the Heuer logo and a checkered flag motif. The watch is seated in a red felt base. The watch is in exceptional condition and comes with its original manual of operation containing a factory typed notation that the aaa quality fake watch was sold to “24 h at Le Mans 1970.” An orange sticker on the back of the watch bears the reference number 1133b (the sticker is rubbed from wear, as McQueen wore the watch extensively in production) and a notarized letter of authenticity from Le Mans prop master Donald Nunley.
While researching this article I came across a single reference that McQueen gave his Monaco to his financial advisor. This watch could be the one auctioned.
However, prop pieces used in films are generally treated roughly, yet this watch was described as being in “exceptional condition.” There’s the conundrum.
Earlier I described the hero watch, which was kept in reserve and in mint condition for close-ups and publicity photos. Nunley thinks the watch that was the subject of this auction probably was the hero watch of Le Mans. It seems that way.
So if my accounting is right, I’ve identified where five of the six zf factory replica watches Monacos went.
Where’s the sixth? It could have been privately sold to a collector and/or have been the subject of one or more private sales since then. We’ll probably never know until it surfaces publicly.