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  • The Haig Alltounian Heuer Monaco 

    Gifted by Steve McQueen

     

    The 1960s was a period of cultural upheaval, and similar to the societal changes of the era, so too the world of horology was set for radical change. With the rising success of quartz watches from Japan, Swiss manufacturers needed to revive declining sales with new models better suited to a growing, active clientele spending more time outdoors. Introduced in 1969 Heuer’s Monaco was a game changer. It was one of the world’s first self-winding chronograph wristwatches, housing Heuer’s legendary Caliber 11. It was also the world’s first water resistant square-cased watch. Today, the Monaco reference 1133 is an icon amongst chronograph aficionados. The revolutionary design created a new aesthetic, with its large oversized square-shape, blue dial, white subsidiary seconds and red hands and hour markers. Designed by Jack Heuer, the watch was named for the famed Formula One racetrack, and would be chosen by Steve McQueen as the authentic chronograph of choice for his racing character when filming began for Le Mans began exactly 50 years ago, in 1970.

     

    The Monaco’s contemporary style perfectly suited the rugged persona of Steve McQueen’s, character, Michael Delany. McQueen, at the height of his career, sought to make Le Mans the ultimate car racing movie. Using revolutionary technology to film cars while on the race track, with authentic race drivers driving at speed, he wanted viewers to feel as if they were on the track as they sat in their seats. Don Nunley, property master for the film, looked at photos of current race drivers to insure the actors would be seen as genuine. When Nunley showed McQueen a selection of chronograph watches for Delany to wear, McQueen first chose an Omega Speedmaster due to its popularity following the first 1969 moon launch, Nunley however pointed out that McQueen’s racing suit already sported the Heuer logo, and consequently McQueen chose the Heuer Monaco. The most avant-garde of all the chronographs shown, it was the perfect watch to match his “King of Cool” moniker.

     

    Perhaps the most important member amongst the behind the scenes crew was Haig Alltounian – the Chief Mechanic for Le Mans, as well as Steve McQueen’s personal mechanic. McQueen so greatly appreciated Alltounian for the critical role he played keeping everyone on the set safe, that on the final day of filming, the actor gifted him one of the Heuer Monaco chronograph wristwatches used during filming. As told by Alltounian in the 2015 documentary, “Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans,” when he handed Alltouonian the watch, McQueen said “thank you for keeping me alive all these months.” While Alltounian refused to accept it, and suggested McQueen give it to his wife or son, McQueen told him he couldn’t as it already had Haig’s name on it, referencing the case back inscription, “To Haig Le Mans 1970”. This same watch was worn by Steve McQueen driving the Porsche 917 at speeds above 200 MPH through the Mulsanne Straight of the Le Mans racing circuit. Worn by Haig only for approximately two years after receiving it, he placed it in a safety deposit box for nearly 5 decades – admiring it only on rare occasion.

     

    Heuer had long been associated with precision timing instructments, and the Monaco was released at the perfect moment in horology when manufacturers and buyers were looking for a revolution. Due to its association with Steve McQueen and the movie Le Mans, the Monaco will always be associated with the glamour and thrill of auto racing. The present example can certainly be considered as one of the most important Heuer wristwatches of all time. Gifted to friend and mechanic Haig Alltounian by Steve McQueen, consigned by Alltounian himself, and with its perfectly preserved caseback engraving, its provenance is breathtaking. It remains in wonderful, original condition, having never been polished. The factory original condition, superb styling, along with its incredible history make it a trophy watch for a collection of the world’s finest watches.

     

    "As Steve got out of the Porsche 917K, his family rushed to embrace him. He then walked to the back of the car where I was in attendance. He unfastened his watch and handed it to me and said, "I want you to have this. Thank you for keeping me alive all these months." I was reluctant and refused, but Steve grinned and said, "Too late, it already has your name on it"." —Haig Alltounian

    Haig Alltounian

     

    Haig Alltounian served as the Chief Mechanic for the 1970 film, Le Mans, as well as Steve McQueen’s personal mechanic. So appreciated by McQueen for the critical role he played keeping everyone on the set safe, on the final day of filming, McQueen gifted Haig one of the Heuer Monaco chronograph wristwatches used during filming – the present lot. 

     

    Similar to McQueen’s passion for acting and racing, Haig’s love for all things mechanical began at an early age. As a young boy, he worked in a furniture store in Alhambra, California, and the owner introduced Haig to sports cars, allowing him to wash his Alfa Romeo Spider, Austin Healey, Mini Cooper, and Jaguar. He soon began attending races at the Riverside International Race track, and it was at the track where the young Alltounian was further amazed by cars, and attributes his love for sports cars and motor racing to his time at the track.

     

    Alltounian’s career would span more than three decades in motor sports as a professional driver, designer, and mechanic. He participated in the formative years of American racing, working with motorsport legends such as Carroll Shelby, Dan Gurney, and Bruce McLaren. Le Mans was not
    his first association with a Hollywood movie. He consulted on the 1964 thriller, The Killers with Angie Dickinson, and the 1969 racing movie Winning with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Over the years, he worked with some of the biggest names in racing from Ken Miles, Derek Bell and Jo Siffert, however Le Mans remains close to his heart, for the friendship he developed with Steve McQueen.

     

    Photo credit: BFA/Alamy Stock Photo 

    Haig Alltounian stands directly behind Steve McQueen next to the iconic Porsche 917K 

     

    In his role as chief mechanic, Haig was responsible for maintenance of the cars, as well as the safety of the drivers. He was the key person responsible for overall safety – making sure everyone was kept alive and avoided accidents during the countless racing scenes. One of the unique qualities of Le Mans was the fact that McQueen wanted filming to capture the action as the drivers saw it, thus filming was done “at speed”, as if during a real race with cars and drivers often at speeds above 200 MPH. Prior to filming, Haig went to England to supervise the installation of camera mounts inside the cars to insure they did not impede the driver nor compromise their safety. Le Mans is today especially appreciated by car and motor racing enthusiasts thanks to the visionary, real-life quality that McQueen brought to the filming. 

     

    Worn for two years then safely stored in a safety deposit box for decades, this Heuer Monaco was treasured by Haig and is a reminder of those heady days. In addition to the Monaco, Steve McQueen also gave Haig a Norton Commando motorcycle used during the filming following Le Mans – another illustration of McQueen’s generosity - which he still owns today. Today he is enjoying retirement while still restoring and repairing vintage and classic motorcycles at his workshop, specializing in Vincent Motorcycles since 1988.

    • Catalogue Essay

      The 1960s was a period of cultural upheaval, and similar to the societal changes of the era, so too the world of horology was set for radical change. With the rising success of quartz watches from Japan, Swiss manufacturers needed to revive declining sales with new models better suited to a growing, active clientele spending more time outdoors. Introduced in 1969 Heuer’s Monaco was a game changer. It was one of the world’s first self-winding chronograph wristwatches, housing Heuer’s legendary Caliber 11. It was also the world’s first water resistant square-cased watch. Today, the Monaco reference 1133 is an icon amongst chronograph aficionados. The revolutionary design created a new aesthetic, with its large oversized square-shape, blue dial, white subsidiary seconds and red hands and hour markers. Designed by Jack Heuer, the watch was named for the famed Formula One racetrack, and would be chosen by Steve McQueen as the authentic chronograph of choice for his racing character when filming began for Le Mans began exactly 50 years ago, in 1970.

      The Monaco’s contemporary style perfectly suited the rugged persona of Steve McQueen’s, character, Michael Delany. McQueen, at the height of his career, sought to make Le Mans the ultimate car racing movie. Using revolutionary technology to film cars while on the race track, with authentic race drivers driving at speed, he wanted viewers to feel as if they were on the track as they sat in their seats. Don Nunley, property master for the film, looked at photos of current race drivers to insure the actors would be seen as genuine. When Nunley showed McQueen a selection of chronograph watches for Delany to wear, McQueen first chose an Omega Speedmaster due to its popularity following the first 1969 moon launch, Nunley however pointed out that McQueen’s racing suit already sported the Heuer logo, and consequently McQueen chose the Heuer Monaco. The most avant-garde of all the chronographs shown, it was the perfect watch to match his “King of Cool” moniker.

      Perhaps the most important member amongst the behind the scenes crew was Haig Alltounian – the Chief Mechanic for Le Mans, as well as Steve McQueen’s personal mechanic. McQueen so greatly appreciated Alltounian for the critical role he played keeping everyone on the set safe, that on the final day of filming, the actor gifted him one of the Heuer Monaco chronograph wristwatches used during filming. As told by Alltounian in the 2015 documentary, “Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans,” when he handed Alltouonian the watch, McQueen said “thank you for keeping me alive all these months.” While Alltounian refused to accept it, and suggested McQueen give it to his wife or son, McQueen told him he couldn’t as it already had Haig’s name on it, referencing the case back inscription, “To Haig Le Mans 1970”. This same watch was worn by Steve McQueen driving the Porsche 917 at speeds above 200 MPH through the Mulsanne Straight of the Le Mans racing circuit. Worn by Haig only for approximately two years after receiving it, he placed it in a safety deposit box for nearly 5 decades – admiring it only on rare occasion.

      Consigned by the Original Owner

    • Artist Biography

      Heuer

      Swiss • 1860

      This iconic chronograph manufacturer has a long tradition of precision timekeeping. As early as 1882, founder Edouard Heuer held a patent for a chronograph watch; in 1887, he received a patent for an oscillating pinion, which is still in use today. These specialized timepieces have been at the heart of the firm's success, enabling the brand to be chosen as early timekeepers for the Olympics. In 1969, the company introduced their first automatic chronograph watch, the Monaco Heuer, which celebrated the Monaco Grand Prix. Other key chronograph models include the Autavia and the Carrera, all of which having become iconic models of the firm.

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Ref. 1133
An historically important, well-preserved, and rare stainless steel chronograph wristwatch with date, gifted by Steve McQueen to Haig Alltounian

1969
39mm Square
Case, dial and movement signed

Full Cataloguing

Estimate On Request

Sold for $2,208,000

Contact Specialist

Paul Boutros
Head of Watches, Americas & International Strategy Advisor
Senior Vice President
+1 212 940 1293
[email protected]

Racing Pulse

New York Auction 12 December 2020