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Heuer 844 Monnin

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Heuer 844 Monnin, Automatic (France Ebauche) FE 4611A. 42mm case. c1979

The legendary Monnin, the first dedicated divers watch from Heuer. The Daddy…
Back in the mid-late 70’s, Heuer received numerous requests at various trade shows for a (moderately) affordable high quality divers watch. Heuer took note, and saw an opportunity – something welcomed during the quartz crisis, when many Swiss watch companies were disappearing down the pan. Heuer too were in trouble, so they decided to dip their toe into the divers market. Not really knowing how they would sell, Heuer outsourced prototype production to G. Monnin in France, saving the expense of tooling up. They quickly realized that they were proving a hit, so production was swiftly moved to Switzerland, and the rest, as they say, is history.

There were several (844) designs, the first having different bezel markings and a cathedral hour hand, then came the ‘Submariner-esk’ bezel with cathedral hands, then finally the version you see here, with the iconic Sub style bezel insert and Mercedes hands.  Also note that the bezel does not have an inner steel surround, like the later Swiss models. (There were also some Monnin Quartz models in varying case sizes, but I’ll leave those to another day).

This example has been on quite a journey, I acquired it a long time ago from a collector in the US, as an incomplete watch. It has take considerable time to finally collect all the parts I needed to put it back to factory condition. The dial is truly stunning, the finish is a satin deep charcoal, with the most gorgeous rich cream patina to the lume, the nicest I’ve ever seen. Note the French spelling of ‘Professionel’ and ‘Made in France’ script. The deep gloss red 24hr numerals are beautifully delicate, and lift the design. It’s a shame these indices were dropped on all the later Swiss made models. There is something pleasing about red script on a monotone divers dial. (Just ask the Rolex guys). All housed in that iconic 42mm oversized case design, which graced the Heuer range for many years, and survived (in a slightly thinner form) until the early 1990s, when TAG Heuer finally dropped the design. The general case design has lived on, and can be seen in other small watch company offerings. I presume the rights to the design were sold off, or were openly available. (I’m not sure these are identical, they look similar).

Update: Movement is ‘France Ebauche’ FE 4611A – Not Felsa
Thanks to Thomas Moeller for the correction on this, I, and quite a bit of info online too, wrongly presumed this is a Felsa movement – from the FE, but Thomas has set me straight! The FE stands for French Ebauche, and was (obviously) a French made movement, whereas Felsa was a Swiss made movement – Thanks Thomas. (You can read Thomas’ comments below).

The Divers saved Heuer
This is essentially the watch that saved Heuer. That isn’t a statement made without foundation… an interview conducted by David from Cal. 11 with Jack Heuer himself saw the subject brought up… Jack saying (in reference to the Monnin and the later Swiss divers during the time of the ‘quartz crisis’)

“…would you believe it, these watches started selling like crazy. The company came out of trouble because of these watches. You know, Bo Derek wore one; we have it now in the museum” – Jack Heuer.

Military Connection
As with many watches from this period, there is some information kicking around online that can be taken out of context. One such common belief is that this model was military issue for the French Foreign Legion (FFL), and some suggestion that it was associated with DINOPS, the FFL’s combat diver unit.

There is certainly no solid evidence that this was specifically DINOPS issued, but the initial reference to the FFL came in mid 2008 from collector Jim Poseidon (SCWF) who acquired a Monnin from a retired FFL soldier, who claimed the watch was supplied as military issue by the FFL. This is the only reference I’m aware of that directly links the Monnin and military use. Maybe it was on test, or freebies from Heuer to the FFL, I don’t think anyone knows for certain. But right now, there is insufficient collective knowledge to say that it was official issue, in the sense of a wide distribution across the various FFL units.  I’m inclined to err on the side of caution with this military connection, but I have no reason to doubt any of the facts that Jim openly discussed on the Heuer forum.
On a side note, Jim spoke to Chuck Maddox, shortly before he past away, and Jim recalls that they both agreed that “this watch may be about the most collectible and historically significant Diver’s watch that Heuer ever made.

Who is/was/are Monnin?
Strangely, I can’t find a definitive answer, maybe readers can set me straight.

There are three ‘Monnins’ I’ve found whilst doing my research,  the first is ‘Gaston Monnin’, a French watchmaker from Charquemont in the French alps, near the Swiss border. Very little information is to be found, and he appears to be a sole trader, so unlikely. The second reference is the ‘Phenix Watch Co.’ founded in 1873 by Dubail, Monnin, Frossard & Co., but there is no reference to this company surviving into the 20th century. The third, and most promising reference is ‘Monnin Holding AG’ …

The house MONNIN was founded in 1946 by Gerald Monnin and MM.Valéry.
Taken from their website: “In 2001, Monnin Holding AG is acquired by three shareholders well known in the watchmaking world. (Patek Philippe, Richemont Group and Rolex)”.
They appear to be a precision lathe/tooling specialist for the Swiss watch industry, which would fit the bill. I did email them, but so far I’ve not received a response.

See the cathedral hand version in the 1979 catalogue on Heuerboy.com.

Written by Heuerville

October 17, 2011 at 5:19 pm