(Opening image: Montblanc 1858 Geosphere in steel.)
Watchmaking’s obsession with heritage is branded deep into the DNA of Swiss manufactures. That poses a problem, as the industry’s other major obsession is novelty (and no amount of persuasion will stop the brands referring to their new watches as novelties). It is possible for the two to mix successfully and at that, no-one seems to have taken on the challenge of creating contemporary watches with a vintage look quite like Montblanc has (though Tudor and Breitling might disagree).
That Montblanc’s heritage came via the acquisition of Minerva is now ancient history itself, but it’s easy to imagine the brand being hyper-vigilant to ensure that nobody internally takes it for granted. Their homage to classic designs includes the 1858 line, which ponders the full, undiluted mid-century experience, while Heritage dials everything back a level, leaving TimeWalker as the more purely contemporary offer. Unsurprisingly, watch enthusiasts get most worked up over the 1858 collection and that’s where Montblanc kept their focus during this digital Watches & Wonders moment.
The 1858 collection also demonstrates how the brand has shifted to offer different levels pricing at which to buy into the collection: from Sellita-based simple movements that allow to sell watches at a little over £2,000, right up to the hand-made chronographs with Minerva movements that will set you back upwards of £20,000. Where most brands would enforce that price disparity through the design, Montblanc don’t believe that’s necessary and it seems the higher-end collectors are quite content – they know the quality of the movement inside justifies the price.
Montblanc’s heritage project has been running full steam since then CEO Jerome Lambert bought Davide Cerrato over from Tudor to be MD of the brand’s watch division. Cerrato and Lambert’s successor, Nicholas Baretzki, have worked hard to preserve the lineage that links the different strands of the Montblanc / Minerva past with the watchmaking concern of today.
This spirit shows through in the additions to the 1858 collection just launched. Pick of the bunch being the 1858 Automatic 24H and two new versions of the 1858 Monopusher Chronograph.
The 24H has a single hand showing the time via a single red-coloured hand coated in SuperLumiNova, which, along with 360 degree scale that allows the timepiece to be used both as a timekeeper, to read hours and minutes, and as a compass (just align the hand with the sun and you can read off the cardinal points from the dial. More importantly, the 24H and the chronographs look the business as the Montblanc design team deliver another masterclass in marshalling detail, tone and texture.