I'll admit it, SIHH was never exactly the trade show I'd religiously tune into as a watch enthusiast and not once did I feel any kind of remorse about my mental absence – work obligations aside, of course. This year, however, you can't deny that we saw the industry shift slightly as brands explored new price brackets, pivoted their marketing efforts, and moved to restructure their approach to developing the latest and greatest products for the new year. Don't get me wrong, the 35 participating companies still put plenty of the haute in haute horlogerie but this year, I felt less like an armchair horologist spectator and more like a potential buyer, which is exactly the result these brands need to shoot for. One brand that made this possible was Montblanc with the introduction of their newest Montblanc 1858 Automatic Chronograph. And, while it's true that we can be generally unforgiving when it comes to vintage reissues, this watch does such a great job of filling a void in Montblanc's product line-up that we had to tip our hats to it.
Until now, the latest renditions of the Minerva-style 1858 Chronograph have been generally inaccessible for the majority of collectors. That's explicitly clear when you look at pricing for watches like the Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition and its bronze counterpart revealed at SIHH 2017. This year's version – offered in both bronze and stainless steel – simplifies the design and ditches the monopusher approach for a more rudimentary automatic chronograph movement. The result is a back-to-basics timepiece that's actually worthy of the overused term, "tool watch." The best part? Both versions fall within the $5,000 price range and show us that Montblanc still has plenty of inspiration to tap into after purchasing Fabrique d'Horlogerie Minerva SA back in 2006.
Modestly sized at 42mm, the Montblanc 1858 Automatic Chronograph has plenty to offer for fans seeking a watch that's modern with a vintage touch. While many of the old Valjoux 69-based Minerva chronographs came in at around 36mm, I wan't fault Montblanc for keeping things relevant in today's market. Besides, most would probably agree that 42mm is perfectly substantial without feeling silly or unwieldy. The black dial version, with its basic two-register layout and utilitarian design approach, teeters on the brink of cool "dad watch" territory. That's because it's essentially everything a sporty chronograph should be – black dial, legible display, automatic movement, and plenty of water resistance. The watch is also quite thick at 14.55mm but to me, this balances out with the 42mm case diameter.
One thing that'll really set off a few potential buyers is the use of beige Super-LumiNova on the hour numerals and central hour and minute hands. Love it or hate it, for now, this kind of faux patina look is here to stay. I for one have never been bothered by it but here, I just can't help but realize that it doesn't exactly match with the hands in the subsidiary dials and the central chronograph seconds hand. It probably won't be an issue during day-to-day use but it does make for a lack of continuity when observing the dial closely. With that said, I feel like the bronze version makes better use of the beige Super-LumiNova since it manages to blend nicely with the smoked champagne dial and matching sub-dial hands.
Other features of the case include straightforward brushed finishing with polished details along the caseband, 100m of water resistance, stout pump pushers, and a curved lug structure that makes the 42mm size feel slightly smaller. A closer look at the dial also reveals how the watch could really appeal to a subset of hardcore collectors. For one, there is no date window – and I'm happy to see Montblanc show the kind of guts it takes to really pull that off. Text is also limited with the exception of the old-school Montblanc logo and the required "Swiss Made" just under 6 o'clock. Finally, I love the absence of the tachymeter scale, which has proven to be categorically useless in most circumstances and abused by several brands as a textbook afterthought.
Driving the clean display is Montblanc's calibre MB 25.11, which is based off a Sellita SW-510 and modified to run only a 30-minute totalizer and running seconds sub-dial. The sub-dials themselves are also quite legible and if you can ignore the fact that they cut into four of the hour Arabics, I'd say that it's one of the more balanced designs you can get from Montblanc these days. Speaking of the sub-dials, each of them features a nice railroad style track for increased legibility and smaller alpha hands that compliment the bold and well-sized cathedral handset for the main time display. On the technical side of things, Montblanc's MB 25.11 delivers 48 hours of power reserve, operates at 28,800 bph, and provides the convenience of an automatic winding sports chronograph.
While we get a nice domed sapphire crystal over the dial itself, the caseback doesn't reveal much more than an embossed mountain motif, a simplified compass rose, and a pair of ice axes meant to evoke the sense of adventure one would feel with the Montblanc 1858 Automatic Chronograph on wrist. It's cool, fun to look at, and probably appropriate considering the base movement within. Both the stainless steel and bronze versions of the watch come with a sort of aged cognac-colored leather strap while a black & grey "Bond-style" NATO is included with the stainless steel version. Both the nylon and leather straps appear to be high in quality and while I'm not a huge fan of leather straps, I just love the way the cognac color tone pairs with the bronze cased version of the watch.
With the Montblanc 1858 Automatic Chronograph in stainless steel and bronze out this year, I think we finally have a watch that's going to attract a new set of buyers for the brand. This is especially important for Montblanc, whose name might often be associated with a slew of unrelated products in the eyes of casual consumers. However, considering watches like the 1858 and the revamped Montblanc Timewalker Manufacture Chronograph, I think Montblanc has demonstrated one of the strongest starts to 2018 we've seen from any watch company – especially when you consider the potential these watches have for attracting new consumers. After all, speaking candidly, I never really paid much attention to Montblanc until SIHH 2018, and that's saying something. Price for the Montblanc 1858 Automatic Chronograph in stainless steel is $4,300 while the bronze version with the smoked champagne dial is priced at $5,000. montblanc.com