For a long time, we have been seeing some of the brightest engineers and designers of the watch industry come up with ever crazier complications, functions, and movements – impressive stuff that we never get bored of, sure, but it really was about time someone put them to work on making high complications considerably more affordable. Well, pulling off this impressive feat (and stepping on basically everyone else’s toes) has been none other than Montblanc. Their latest leap forward, leaving most everyone else behind in the game of more attainable complications, is the Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie Chronograph Quantième Annuel – in other words, an annual calendar chronograph timepiece with a price tag of $10,450 in steel and $20,700 in 18k red gold.
Wrapped in a 42-millimeter-wide and a manageable 13.83-millimeter-thick case is the MB 25.09 caliber, with automatic winding, an annual calendar (that needs to be adjusted only once a year, at the end of February), a 12-hour chronograph, and a phase-of-the-moon display. So how can Montblanc bring down what were considered to be rather solid barriers to entry in terms of the pricing of high-complication watches (which this one certainly qualifies as)?
Well, as we saw in 2014 with the Heritage Meisterstück Perpetual (hands-on here), they rely on Sellita base movements – basically clones of reliable ETA workhorse calibers – and build custom modules on top, either developed in-house or by suppliers like Dubois-Depraz. In this way, they are able to keep production costs down considerably, which in turn allows for much more competitive pricing.
The tactic is the same with the Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie Chronograph Quantième Annuel, as the SW-300 base caliber is equipped with a module that carries all the bits and pieces of both the annual calendar and chronograph functions. Compromises? Well, the SW-300 is a solid movement but clearly cannot provide the same eye-candy as do more complicated – and much more expensive – in-house calibers; just check the perpetual calendar piece we linked to above to see a case-back shot (no such image is made available for this Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie Chronograph Quantième Annuel release just yet).
Furthermore, the indications of the calendar can be set through corrector pushers set into the side of the case, which isn’t as elegant a solution when compared to some manufacture movements that allow for all adjustments to be made via the crown. Last but not least, the movement offers a mere 42 hours of power reserve which is a limitation of the base movement that now has to carry a large number of indications – a total of ten hands! – which cause a lot of drag and require a lot of torque to be moved around.
Montblanc went for the smart hand-design of separating the ones for the chronograph function by coloring them blue, while the hands of all other time indications are plated in red gold – leaving no room for confusion on what actually are some relatively small sub-dials with two layers to them. The day of the week and the chronograph 12-hour counters are at 6, month and chronograph 30-minute counters are at 9, date and running seconds are at 12, and the phase-of-the-moon display is at the 3 o’clock position, while the hours, minutes and chronograph seconds are displayed by hands mounted in the center of the dial.
Montblanc also submits the Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie Chronograph Quantième Annuel to their Montblanc Laboratory 500 Test, a 500-hour-long trial that simulates most effects the watch will be subjected to throughout its lifetime. Montblanc sends its in-house movement-equipped watches and all pieces from the Heritage collection to these in-house-performed tests. Notably, this is a system reminiscent of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s 1000-Hour Tests – possibly not a coincidence, as it is JLC’s ex-CEO Jerome Lambert who’s been at the helm of Montblanc since 2013.
Montblanc has set itself on a course that is rather unique in the watch industry, not necessarily because of the techniques involved but rather because of its persistency to pursue its goals. With a retail price just above the $10,000 mark, Montblanc has opened yet another door for watch enthusiasts to own a watch from a major Swiss brand with a combination of features that render it high-complication grade.
The packaging of the Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie Chronograph Quantième Annuel remains rather conservative, with a round case and – obligatory number of indications notwithstanding – simple dial. This brings a car industry-related analogy to mind: with the latest iterations of the Porsche Cayman, the brand had to be careful not to beat the big brother, the 911, in performance and overall value… Here, it is a bit as though Montblanc had to tune the Heritage down ever so slightly to leave room for its elder siblings within the Richemont Group that rank higher in the horological food chain. It should be only a question of time, though, that we will start seeing such impressive technical achievements and value propositions from Montblanc in a wrapping that has a tad more personality to it – styling shouldn’t affect pricing that much, after all.
Price for the Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie Chronograph Quantième Annuel in steel is $10,450, or €9,500; while price for the 18k red gold version will be $20,700, or €18,900. montblanc.com