The Grand Tetons rise sharply out of the plain and tower over the valley as I climb up the slope of one of the smaller mountains, the setting sun shining on the Montblanc TimeWalker Manufacture Chronograph on my wrist. I’m here in Jackson Hole, WY, to discover Montblanc’s direction for 2018 and beyond as the brand prepares to celebrate its 160th anniversary.
And it’s fitting that this year’s emphasis is on mountain adventuring, as Montblanc is the only watchmaking company that is named after one of Europe’s highest mountains. If anyone has the legitimacy to focus on the mountain living/exploring lifestyle, it’s Montblanc.
The Montblanc Direction
Since the beginning of the Minerva Villeret saga, professional “tool” watches have been an important part of the story. Montblanc has never stopped focusing on clean designs, sensible complications, with precision, high quality and value as the foundation on which the brand is built.
“The Montblanc is the symbol of the great outdoors and of adventure,” says Davide Cerrato, head of the Montblanc Watch Division. “Through the Minerva history, we have created the perfect tool watches with reliability, robustness and a vintage look, which really matches well with this style. We have decided to focus on the tool watches that were used for exploration. There is a strong heritage in exploration with the Minerva watches.”
For 2018, Montblanc is emphasizing the theme of mountain adventure in all its forms – hiking, climbing, trekking, camping, glamping and more. Indicative of this is the TimeWalker Manufacture “Panda” Chronograph Montblanc introduced this month, with more to come at the Salon Internationale de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH).
“We worked on the upcoming collection thinking about the heritage of the initial Minerva tool watches,” says Nicolas Baretzki, CEO, Montblanc. “At the end, it comes down to exploration. Because of their strong design and character, these pieces are about going to the top, going to the summit. Mountaineering is what we think about for these pieces, and the more we go into this theme of mountain adventure, the more it is obvious, the more natural it is and the more relevant it is.”
Montblanc has two timepiece manufacturing centers, both located in the heart of the watchmaking region in the Swiss Jura mountains: Villeret, which is where the Montblanc Minerva manufacture is located, and Le Locle, which is where the core collection of Montblanc timepieces is manufactured.
Montblanc Minerva is where the complicated, hand-finished timepieces are manufactured, while Le Locle is dedicated to the more modern, serial production. Where in the past the two manufacturers have been separate, Montblanc is making a concerted effort to integrate the two, letting Montblanc Minerva’s spirit of craftsmanship and attention to detail inspire and drive the Le Locle manufacture.
“We share what we have as knowledge and competence and expertise in Villeret with the Le Locle manufacture, and this imbues the watches manufactured in Le Locle with the spirit of Minerva,” says Jens Henning-Koch, Executive Vice President, Marketing, Montblanc. “We don’t separate these two manufactures at all. In our watch offerings, we have lines, and within each line we have Villeret movements in high end pieces, while the core collection pieces are made in Le Locle.”
500 Hour Test
The majority of Montblanc watches undergo the now-famous 500-Hour Test, which is designed to simulate real life on the wrist of a customer. By subjecting each manufacture watch to a three-week-long test, Montblanc does its best to guarantee that no repairs or other maintenance will be necessary from the moment when the watch is purchased until its first routine servicing.
Unlike the COSC certification that only examines and certifies the movement, the Montblanc 500-hour test is performed on the watch after it has been put into the case. Montblanc decided to test complete watches because so much can happen to a movement and its function when it is encased, the dial inserted and the hands assembled. It is important to Montblanc to test the watch exactly as it is delivered to the customer.
A watch is not released to be sold unless it has successfully passed each and every one of these tests. In this way, Montblanc can safely guarantee that their timepieces will function properly for the first three to five years of their “lives” – until the first regular service.
In recent years, Montblanc has made great strides in lowering its average price, and lately the 1858 and TimeWalker collections have put forward incredible value, featuring manufacture movements and high-end attention to detail at a fraction of the price of other brands.
Contrary to what many companies have done, Montblanc achieved this by bringing more and more operations in-house. This way, the Maison is able to achieve a stronger value proposition in the long run because Montblanc doesn’t have to depend on suppliers and worry about delivery schedules, quality issues and mistakes. One great example of this is the strap manufacture Montblanc owns, the Pelletteria in Florence, Italy. Most of Montblanc’s straps are produced here, where the brand can be assured of on-time deliveries, pricing without a profit mark-up and superior quality. Now, take this formula and apply it to every step of production and real savings are realized, and passed on to you, the end consumer.
For the upcoming SIHH, Montblanc has introduced four new timepieces, led by the TimeWalker Manufacture Chronograph.
The Montblanc Minerva manufacture has a long history in chronographs. The Manufacture developed stopwatches that could measure 1/5th of a second as early as 1911, increasing to 1/10th of a second. In 1916, Minerva was one of the first to develop a high-frequency movement that could measure the 1/100th of a second, putting Minerva on the map as the specialist of professional watches and stopwatches.
The TimeWalker Manufacture Chronograph continues this legacy, with a vintage feel thanks to its clean lines and the “Panda” dial, but with modern technology in the movement beating inside the 43mm stainless steel case.
The timepiece is powered by the Montblanc Manufacture chronograph caliber MB 25.10, featuring traditional finishing such as Côtes de Genève, circular graining, blued screws and a new monobloc oscillating weight made of black rhodium-plated tungsten and designed in the shape of a steering wheel. The movement is equipped with a traditional column wheel, a horizontal coupling as well as a stop-second mechanism, allowing the precise setting of the time.
“First, we decided to create a new layer in the TimeWalker line,” details Cerrato. “We already had chronographs, but we wanted to develop something new, a manufacture in-house chronograph, positioned under $6,000. To differentiate it from the others, we did counters at three, six and nine o’clock, to make it a Panda dial. There was the recent Paul Newman auction, which will relaunch the trend of Panda dials. There are almost no white Panda dials, so we wanted to be the first brand to introduce a new Panda dial. We also used a ceramic fixed bezel with the tachymeter scale. The watch looks gorgeous, and the price is fantastic, under $6,000 for a manufacture chronograph.
“I like everything about this new manufacture chronograph,” he continues. “I like that it shows that the TimeWalker design is solid, because you can change elements and it still looks good. We changed many things, the layout of the subdials, the fixed bezel, but it still looks fantastic.”
Continuing with the Panda trend, the new pre-SIHH Rally Timer comes with a “reverse” Panda dial with two counters. The Rally Timer is inspired by a stopwatch that Minerva produced in the 1960s but comes with a modern twist – the timepiece can be transformed from a wristwatch into a pocket watch and even a dashboard clock.
Powered by the famous hand-wound Manufacture monopusher chronograph caliber MB M16.29, this 50mm timepiece is made of grade-two titanium that has been satin-finished, while the middle section of the case is coated with black DLC and knurled.
Converting the wristwatch into a pocket watch is easy, simply fold the strap attachments under the case. The pocket watch can then be either placed on a table, thanks to the two arms below the case, used as a stopwatch with the strap as a handle for utmost security, or clipped into a metal plate covered with leather that attaches to a car’s dashboard, offering a functional and legible timepiece when behind the wheel.
The Star Legacy Collection
The Star Legacy collection, first introduced 20 years ago, is inspired by Minerva’s pocket watches from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Distinguished by fine finishing, high legibility and general elegance, the Star Legacy has been one of Montblanc’s most successful collections since its inception.
To celebrate 20 years of the collection, Montblanc has reworked the Star Legacy line, focusing on fine details like new Arabic numterals, new railway minute tracks with dots instead of lines, beautiful guilloché and other finishings and fire-blued leaf-shaped hands.
The first watch to be introduced is the Star Legacy Automatic Chronograph, a manufacture chronograph that combines all these details in a beautifully elegant timepiece.
The rounded 42mm stainless steel case houses the automatic Caliber MB 25.02, and the case has curved horns and steps on the side, an onion-shaped crown with the Montblanc emblem, and a curved finish on the side of the case itself, giving a refined pebble effect, very evocative of those early pocket watches.
The new Star Legacy Automatic Chronograph comes on a new blue Sfumato alligator leather strap hand-crafted by the Montblanc Pelletteria in Florence, Italy. The silvery-white dial contrasts with the blue hands and the blue strap in a very attractive way.
The second timepiece in the revamped Star Legacy collection launched this month is the Montblanc Star Legacy Rieussec Chronograph. The first Rieussec monopusher chronograph Montblanc introduced was in 2008, and this year the brand revisits this iconic watch, redesigning the case and dial while keeping the chronograph’s signature turning discs and off-centered dial. The Rieussec timepieces pay homage to French watchmaker Nicolas Rieussec, who invented the first inking chronograph in 1821.
The dial of this new chronograph has been reworked, focusing on the proportions and aesthetics, resulting in better legibility. Also, highlights of guilloché patterns have been included, as well as azuré finishing in the center of the hour-circle. Paying tribute to the famous chronograph’s inventor, a ring with the Nicolas Rieussec inscription has been applied on the outer part of the dial.
A special feature is that a second-time zone is displayed via a skeletonized second hour hand that can be hidden under the main hour hand when not traveling.
The pebble effect used in the first Star Legacy model has been repeated here, with curved finishing on the sides of the case and new reworked horns and a domed sapphire crystal.
Towards the Future
As Montblanc heads into 2018 and its 160th anniversary, the Maison is going to be focusing on its 1858 collection, a hint given by the 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter watch the brand produced for the Only Watch auction held in Monaco this year.
The Only Watch unique piece has a bronze case and a vintage green dial, which perfectly captures the vintage sense of adventure the brand is bringing into its 2018 collections. Look for more like this in the future from Montblanc.
“The emblem of Montblanc was chosen by our founders as a symbol for always striving for the highest quality,” explains Henning-Koch. “Our strategy is just as Hugh Jackman once said, ‘Montblanc is always looking with one eye to the future and one eye to the past.’ Our unique manufacture is Minerva, which has a complete heritage with chronographs and other pieces, from pocket watches to chronographs. They had superb watches in the 1920s and 1930s, and they were military and/or tool watches, they were very precise, they were highly legible, and they were super robust. We wanted to bring this heritage into the future, where we create a contemporary reference for outdoor-adventure inspired timepieces that combine a feeling of the past with contemporary watchmaking, all at a price offering real value. It’s all about pushing harder, going further.”
The Importance of the USA
The US market is key for Montblanc, as, like Sinatra’s New York City, any watchmaker that can make it here can make it anywhere.
“The US is the number one country in the world for luxury goods and definitively a key market for our brand,” says Costof. “We feel a growing appetite for Montblanc across all regions and product categories thanks to its unique positioning of sophisticated luxury lifestyle. Something you can experience and feel in our new collections and that is fully expressed in our new boutique concept that is currently being rolled-out.
“When your name is Montblanc with the brand motto ‘Creating New Heights,’ the link to exploration, adventure and the outdoors is very natural and deeply rooted in the brand DNA,” Costof continues. “This spirit of mountaineering will be incarnated first in the new watch collections and of course across all touchpoints of the customer journey including point of sales, communication and events.”
Montblanc exemplifies the best that watchmaking has to offer – heritage driven by innovation, all at a value that is undeniable.
I’ve just finished climbing up the mountainside to just above 9,000 feet to get a sweeping view of the Jackson Hole Valley and the mountains ringing it. While I catch my breath from the arduous climb, it hits me.
Montblanc’s professional timepieces with their clean designs, robustness, precision and high quality are perfect for any adventure – mountaineering, hiking, nature exploration and more.
The adventure has just begun, and Revolution can’t wait to see what’s next.
Fashion Stylist: Marie Lee
Photography Assistant: Long Fei
Grooming: Andrea Razali
Model: Liam Boswell / AVE