In today’s age of knowing everything about anything, there is something rather appealing about the relatively hidden and unknown. One good example is the Heuer Montreal: an often-overlooked sibling to the much more famous Monaco and Silverstone. In fact, pretty much all of Heuer’s motorsport watches, starting with the Carrera and Autavia, are celebrated now – apart from this one.
So where did it come from? And why is there so little love for it? Heuer has a rich history in motorsport of course, especially in Formula 1, where it has supplied a litany of personalities with watches, most notably Jo Siffert, Derek Bell and Colin Chapman.
Canada, although only boasting one world champion – Jacques Villeneuve in 1997 – has enjoyed a similar love affair with Formula 1, hosting its first Grand Prix in 1967 at a specially-built circuit that was appropriately enough called Mosport, close to Toronto.
The Heuer Montreal ref.110.503W - Image credit ClassicHeuer.
But the Heuer Montreal wasn’t actually created to commemorate the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal in 1978. In fact, it first appeared in catalogues at the start of the decade, possibly to celebrate the city’s selection as the host venue for the 1976 Olympic Games. Whatever the real reason, though, it’s clear that the Heuer Montreal was designed with the racer in mind. And a pretty eclectic racer too.
The design is a striking one, with an oversized dial, bright and contrasting colours, as well as brushed and polished finishes. As a result, some people think that it’s just too much, and it’s true that there’s a lot going on. But the Montreal aimed to capture a zeitgeist, as the Canadian city had hosted the world fair in 1967 – and in a curious case of life imitating art, that very same Expo Park on the Notre Dame island would go on to host the city’s Formula 1 circuit. The point being, back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, that Montreal was an emerging city, renowned for culture, art and excitement. The perfect inspiration for an avant-garde watch.
Image credit: Analog Shift
The watch initially ran with the in-house calibre 12 movement for four years before being moved to the 7750 Valjoux movement. These days, the calibre 12 movements are the most sought-after.
Part of the allure surrounding the Heuer Montreal – despite the fact that it hardly gets a mention among watch aficionados – is that it’s definitely a rarity now, given how relatively short its lifespan was. It was sold for only 11 years, first appearing in 1972 before production stopped in 1983: a mere qualifying lap in the race to the top of the mainstream racing watch world.
But what of the Heuer Montreal’s legacy, with the benefit of hindsight? On the one hand, it’s right up there with similar rarities; a child of its time and very much a collector’s product today. On the other hand, it’s also been lost in translation by people who don’t ‘get’ it, as better known Heuer timepieces take the limelight. Which is a shame, as the Montreal is actually one of the most stylish, practical and classy racing-themed watches out there. A proper collector’s item, in the true sense of the word.
Image credit: https://www.matthewbaininc.com/
Just take a look at it. This was – and still is – the most colourful watch that Heuer ever produced, reinforcing the company’s reputation for not being afraid to take new and completely different design directions whenever needed (the Monaco being a case in point). Heuer produced the Montreal to make a statement and the oversized case makes it stand out even more, along with the alluring combination of brushed and polished surfaces.
The bi-compax layout is perhaps the most traditional thing about it, but everything else broke the mould, without compromising legibility or utility. This approach is particularly clear to see in the most popular white dial Montreal (blue and black were also originally available) that really makes the colours pop but is eminently readable. The most outrageous version however was the gold-plated one, complete with champagne dial. It won’t be to everyone’s taste – even I think it was a step too far – but it’s the true unicorn of Montreals and a glorious tribute to the early 1970s.
Image credit: https://www.matthewbaininc.com/
As time went on, a more restrained look was introduced from 1974 onwards. But that misses the point slightly. The Montreal is inspirational because of its iconoclasm, showing that a true driving chronograph doesn’t necessarily have to be always rooted in the classic design language of the 1960s.