Have you always wanted a high-end chronograph without chronograph pushers? Well, the Montblanc 1858 Unveiled Timekeeper Minerva Chronograph might just be the watch you’ve been waiting for. Better still, it’s quirky, exciting, and special for a number of other reasons, too, so let’s check it out hands-on.
Montblanc and Minerva, Montblanc’s ultra-high-end movement manufacture, have been getting into the rhythm of playing with this trademark Minerva complication. This is to say that the Montblanc Minerva chronograph watches have not only been drool-worthy pieces of old-school horology but also displays of novel designs and executions. We saw Rolex integrate a rotating bezel into a chronograph with the Yacht-Master II in 2007 (brought to market a few years later), although that watch used the so-called Ring Command system in conjunction with traditional pushers. Produced in the low hundreds every year, Montblanc’s “Unveiled” series of chronographs have a fluted bezel and present this lateral-clutch-equipped, traditional-looking chronograph movement in various forms. My personal favorite, bar none, is a monopusher piece with a “flipped” movement.
If you wish, you may consider this new-for-2023 Montblanc 1858 Unveiled Timekeeper Minerva Chronograph watch sort of a monopusher, too, because you pass through the start-stop-reset sequence of the chronograph mechanism with the same one (“mono”) impulse. Whereas previous Montblanc Minerva watches used to have a pusher integrated into the crown, or situated at the 2 o’clock position, this time that functionality is built into the bezel. The way it works is that you have to gently press down on the bezel and then rotate it clockwise, et voilà, the chronograph starts, stops, and resets, with every slight turn of the bezel. The bezel does not swing back to zero but rather rotates to a new “notch” with every turn.
The MB13.21 movement, as you can see, does not appear to show any signs of this modification: It looks as fantastic as ever. In fact, this chronograph design might just be among the top three most enticing movement designs — it’s small wonder then that so many historic brands have been using it. What makes it so fascinating is the fact that you have all the chronograph components built on the caseback side of the base caliber, revealing the various cams, arms, wheels, and, at the press of a button (or turn of the bezel) you can witness all these pieces in action. Pro tip: If you don’t want to break the bank, you can get a Poljot 3133 or Seagull ST-19-equipped watch for a fraction and get a similar layout.
Montblanc claims to have the same watchmaker assemble, finish, and re-assemble each of these movements, a feat that is a lot rarer even in the realm of $50-$100,000-dollar watches than many would probably expect. The plates are crafted from German silver, not brass, which is a material that is a lot more difficult to work with — it is basically destroyed if touched with bare skin or breathed upon too heavily. In return, you do get a unique finish and bragging rights. The elaborately hand-finished MB13.21 is a hand-wound caliber that operates at a leisurely 18,000bph (2.5Hz) over a power reserve of 60 hours, and it is based on the MB13.20 caliber that was developed over a hundred years ago, in 1920.
On the wrist, the Montblanc 1858 Unveiled Timekeeper Minerva Chronograph is a wide watch that wears larger than its 42.5mm diameter would suggest, perhaps as a result of the angled and fluted bezel — crafted from 18k white gold even on the stainless steel-cased version seen above. Case thickness is a reasonable 13.85mm considering the additional and bespoke mechanisms in the bezel, which are also responsible for the compromised water resistance rating of 30 meters. Another chronograph with a water resistance rating compromised by a rotating bezel that springs to mind is the Navitimer, which remained rated at 30m even after a comprehensive redesign recently. The difference between both of these chronographs and dive watches with a rotating bezel and strong water resistance is the fact that on both the Navitimer and the Montblanc, the rotating bezel is used to modulate something within the watch head, which is not something that could be said about dive watches.
A fascinating albeit niche exercise in high-end watchmaking, the Montblanc 1858 Unveiled Timekeeper Minerva Chronograph watch is available in two versions, in stainless steel with an 18k white gold bezel and blue dial, priced at €46,900, and a so-called Lime Gold version in a proprietary gold alloy and with a dark green dial priced at €62,500. You can learn more at the brand’s website.