As anyone who’s been interested in watches on just about any level in recent years knows, Montblanc’s been steadily bumping up its game in the range, complexity, and technical sophistication of its watchmaking offerings from its tentative beginnings in 1997. One of its greatest assets in connecting to very traditional Swiss watchmaking, is the Minerva Manufacture, the acquisition of which by the Richemont Group, and Montblanc, in 2006 both revitalized Minerva, and gave Montblanc access to a stable of classic movements unlike anything else being offered by its competition. (2006, by the way, was also Montblanc’s 100th anniversary).Â
In particular, Minerva had in its portfolio some very beautiful, column wheel controlled, lateral clutch chronograph movements, and variations on these in the ten years since Minerva became part of Montblanc, have been quite spectacular. This year, Montblanc’s launching a new bronze-cased chronograph in its 1858 Collection: the 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition. The watch is a monopusher chronograph in a 44mm x 13.15mm bronze case.
This is the first time that bronze has been used in a case by Montblanc/Minerva, although of course, it’s become more common (if not ubiquitous) in recent years, as bronzes better capable of acquiring a patina but not corroding to an undesirable degree, have entered the market from companies as diverse as Oris, Panerai, and Tudor.Â In those three instances the use of marine-grade bronzes is a connection to a heritage of manufacturing dive watches; for the Montblanc Chrono Tachy LE it’s not so much a link to a functional aspect of either Minerva’s or Montblanc’s past, as a design decision; the warmth of the bronze as well as its tendency to acquire a patina are intended as a visible connection to the passage of time and the depth of history of the movement.
The general look and feel of the Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition’s derived from a vintage monopusher wrist chronograph in a stainless steel case that was discovered, new old stock, in the Minerva archives. This particular watch was assembled at Minerva but never sold (as you can see from its general condition it’s been handled little if at all).Â
Other than case material, the inclusion of a tachymeter scale on the new watch, dial color and shape of the chronograph hands, the two watches are basically identical including the overall case shape, shape of the crown and monopusher, and of course, the use in the new watch of a display back that lets you see the absolutely drop-dead beautiful, very large chronograph caliber, which has plates and bridges in red gold-plated German silver. This is one of those movements that if you’re a watch lover, you can hardly look at without your pulse beating faster â as much as we like to resist editorializing too much in introductory stories, we have to say that if a truly great watch is one that’s most beautiful from the inside out, this is about as good as it gets.
The movement is Montblanc Manufacture caliber MB M16.29, and it’s based on the original Minerva caliber 17.29 pocket chronograph caliber from the 1930s.
The movement is 38.4mm x 6.3mm (and one thing no one is going to complain about with this watch is the movement not fitting the case). There’s a 50 hour power reserve; she’s hand-wound (obviously) and beats at a classic pocket watch frequency of 18,000 vph. The overcoil balance spring has a mathematically correct Phillips terminal curve (Edouard Phillips was a French mathematician and physicist, who took the empirical success of Breguet’s overcoil balance spring invention and put it on a solid theoretical footing in the mid-19th century). Â
There is a lot of eye candy here, to put it mildly. One especially nice touch is the beautifully finished stud to which the terminal coil of the balance spring is attached, which is red gold plated, with beveled edges, beautiful sharp corners, and a brush finished upper surface. It’s a small detail but so nicely done it really deserves to be called out. This level of attention to detail in such a small, easily overlooked part, is what distinguishes really great watchmaking from merely very good, and it’s absent in a lot of watches where it shouldn’t be.Â
The case-back (such as it is) is not actually bronze; it’s titanium with a bronze colored coating (titanium nitride, possibly, which has the right color and is very scratch resistant, as well as corrosion resistant) so the watch doesn’t turn your wrist green.
Just in the time this particular example was in the field, it had already begun to acquire a patina and the overall effect of the watch is pretty powerful. The size, palette of colors, and of course, the impression created by that movement (if it could talk, it would say, “drop dead”) combine to give you a dressed-to-impress watch that I can’t imagine ever getting boring. It’s really a joy to have on the wrist as well; sure, it’s big but the size is completely organic to the mechanics so it doesn’t feel big just for the sake of size alone.
This is a limited edition of 50 pieces, and price at launch is â¬27,500 (about $29,578 at the time of publication). Easily one of the most impressive pre-SIHH releases we’ve seen so far, and we’re very eager to see what else Montblanc has up its sleeve in just a few weeks, at the 2017 Salon.
The Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition 100: case, bronze with titanium back ring and inset sapphire display window; bronze crown and monopusher; water resistance, 3 bar. 44mm x 15.15mm. Movement, caliber MB M16.29, hand wound monopusher chronograph; 38.4mm x 6.3mm; 14.5mm screw balance with Phillips overcoil, beating at 18,000 vph; column wheel chronograph with lateral clutch. Plates and bridges in maillechort (German silver) plated with 4N red gold. Center seconds chronograph hand with 30 minute sub-dial.
Visit Montblanc’s watch collections at Montblanc.com.