April 29, 2023
by David Bredan
One of the standout pieces introduced at Watches & Wonders 2023 certainly is the Montblanc 1858 “Unveiled Secret” Minerva Monopusher Chronograph. Hot on the heels of last year’s duo of “Unveiled Secret” watches — named as such to imply that the stunning Minerva chronograph mechanism is now facing the dial side — is this year’s single reference with a distressed look.
We’ll start with the fundamentals because it is only right that we began with a movement as glorious as this, and soon after we’ll reveal why this new reference stood out quite so much at Watches & Wonders 2023. The Montblanc Manufacture Calibre MB M16.26 is designed as a reversed movement with its regulating organ, going train, bridges, and plates — in rhodium-plated German silver — all visible through the dial. Chronographs with such a traditional layout have forever had their stopwatch mechanisms engineered onto their caseback side, the logical place for such a high number of relatively large and interconnected parts when the dial side is reserved for components of the regular time display.
What’s special here is that Montblanc Minerva has re-engineered this monopusher chronograph in a way that many watch enthusiasts likely always would have preferred: with the wheels, cams, levers, and even the column wheel all installed back-to-front. This hand-wound, hand-built, and hand-finished chronograph caliber has been a Minerva staple and arguably the main attraction of the boutique watchmaker that Montblanc took over in 2007.
The Montblanc 1858 “Unveiled Secret” Minerva Monopusher Chronograph watch truly offers one of the nicest and, indeed, largest displays of a traditional chronograph available today. What makes it traditional is its lateral clutch system that’s been replaced by vertical clutches in many modern chronographs. The latter is hidden deep inside the center of a movement while the former, as seen here, is spread out over the entire width of the movement. At every press of the pusher integrated into the crown, the column wheel is grabbed and pulled, or pushed, by levers, hence switching between starting, stopping, and resetting the chronograph — in that order, again and again, as is customary in a monopusher chronograph.
This ingenious layout is an invitation to look closer, although the complete picture isn’t one that’s likely to get boring anytime soon, either. Levers and plates and bridges wear their traditional decorations with pride, clearly refined by hand, as opposed to just being done by machines. And before you thought this was to be expected on a 36,500-dollar watch, we must stress, hand-chamfered edges are everything but the norm on big-brand watches at this price point, and even well beyond. Polished screw-heads, polished countersinks, hand-polished bevels — it really is a feast for the eyes. Another plus is that this is a complex-looking movement that is often in action unlike, say, complicated calendars that are a very static mechanism in an overwhelming majority of the time.
Another trait to please blue-blooded watch connoisseurs is the huge balance wheel, 14.50mm in diameter, a dying breed in the age of 4Hz and 5Hz movements that need smaller balance wheels with less inertia to allow for these increased operating frequencies. By contrast, the Montblanc 1858 “Unveiled Secret” Minerva Monopusher Chronograph watch operates at an old-school 2.5Hz, i.e. 18’000 A/h, allowing for an absolutely massive balance wheel with a beautiful, relaxed motion that is a treat to see on display on the dial side. As cheesy as it sounds, this well and truly is the beating heart of every mechanical watch and some might find this installation a calming and soothing change of pace. Power reserve is about 50 hours.
The Montblanc Manufacture Calibre MB M16.26 measures a whopping 37.5mm-wide. That’s about a third larger than other chronographs, and in the microscopic world of mechanical watches, it’s extremely rare to see variations of that scale. It is 7.05mm-thick, hefty for a movement without self-winding or a date, but more than validated by the stunning multi-layered depth of the construction. Speaking of construction, the flipside of the movement is covered up entirely by an engraved caseback — not much of a loss given that just about all the eye candy is now on the dial side.
What’s really cool about the Montblanc 1858 “Unveiled Secret” Minerva Monopusher Chronograph watch, though, and we’ll say this quietly, is that it has sort of an explorer vibe to it. The stainless steel case was black coated first and then stone-washed — sort of how jeans are — to create a distressed, worn look, making it look rough around its edges. Although fake patina on luxury and non-luxury watches is known to have sparked heated debates in the community, we must say that it works exceptionally well when combined with this old-school movement powering cathedral hands. The bezel is in solid 18k white gold with a fluted execution, satinated and polished. The fluted bezel on a Rolex Datejust, or even a Tissot PRX, is on a completely different level in terms of execution and refinement, but this vintage-looking component could be justified by the way it goes with the overall theme.
On the wrist, this 43mm-wide and 14.18mm-thick Montblanc Minerva chronograph has a presence like few other watches out there today. Again, the distressed look may not be destined for mass appeal, but the way it combines with the exposed, pocket watch-like movement, the wide and bulky black nubuck alligator leather strap, and the half-matt half-shiny 18k white gold bezel is genuinely entertaining. It looks and feels like a watch that’s been around for a hundred years and not as family heirloom, but as a timekeeper that’s outlived multiple owners — as well as trends.
Limited to 88 pieces, the Montblanc 1858 “Unveiled Secret” Minerva Monopusher Chronograph watch is priced at $36,500 and while that is a lot of money, it still makes this a strong value proposition in a world full of machine-finished, dime-a-dozen luxury chronographs. Who knows, it might just be the perfect cure for those burned out from having already owned every last ordinary luxury chronograph. You can learn more at the brand’s website.