For those who still think of Montblanc as a pen company with no business in the world of haute horology, the brand’s tier of products made at their Minerva facility should change your mind and the Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition 100 is a good example. Cased in bronze and with an unusual “salmon” colored dial, this is a vintage-styled watch with a very real lineage from the brand’s historic factory in Villeret.
Montblanc has been enjoying a renaissance as a watchmaker since it acquired Minerva in 2006, a manufacture in Villeret, Switzerland, that has been in operation since 1858. Montblanc also have a comparatively young and modern watchmaking factory in Le Locle that has been in operation since 1997. Initially, both factories produced their own styles of watches for the brand; modern and accessible pieces from Le Locle, and hand-finished, haute horology pieces from Villeret.
In 2013, parent company Richemont appointed Jérôme Lambert as CEO of Montblanc, who had formerly held the same position at Jaeger-LeCoultre. He has now passed the reigns on to Nicolas Baretzki, who also comes from a background of high watchmaking at both Jaeger-LeCoultre and Cartier. During his tenure as CEO, Lambert certainly helped elevate Montblanc from the consumer perception as a predominantly writing instruments company into a true maison of horology. The key change he helped implement was the amalgamation of historic watchmaking skills from Minerva in Villeret with the modern production and testing facilities of Montblanc’s Le Locle factory. One result of such a union we see in the new Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition 100 being discussed here.
Vintage is very much in vogue right now, and many brands are releasing watches in deliberately antiquated styles to attract the growing consumer base of all things retro. Generally speaking, these watches are simply redesigns of existing products, using the same modern movements and dial layouts as the rest of the brand’s catalog. Elements like faux patina, gilding, and distressed leather are then added to achieve an old-world look.
The Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition 100 is a much different beast, drawing on the design of Minerva chronographs from the 1930s and employing traditional hand-finishing techniques. This is a big timepiece at 44mm, designed in the pocket-watch style and cased in an undisclosed “special alloy” of bronze. Montblanc claims this alloy is designed to develop a uniform and unique patina over time.
The Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition 100 is a monopusher design, with a single pusher integrated into the large aviation-styled crown to start, stop, or reset the chronograph. The decision to go with a monopusher design rather than the more functional two pushers appears to be one of historical accuracy. The original Minerva chronographs this model is inspired by predate the invention of the dual pusher chronograph in 1934 by Breitling. This isn’t the first Minerva-inspired monopusher chronograph Montblanc has released recently; a more modern version in steel with a blue dial was released in 2016, and a bronze version with a champagne dial followed recently in 2017. This latest limited release brings a new dial color and the addition of blued hands to the mix, improving overall legibility and adding a unique touch.
The dial is sunray-finished in a salmon color, another historically apt Minerva touch. The central hour and minute hands are quite large for a chronograph and feature a “cathedral” design, filled with Super-LumiNova and plated in 18 karat red gold. The use of large cathedral hands here may be an attractive one, but this could also impact chronograph legibility when the hands partially obscure counters between 10-20 minutes past the hour, 40-50 minutes past the hour, and between 2 to 4 o’clock and 8 to 10 o’clock.
The running seconds counter is found at 9 o’clock and features a blued and arrow-tipped hand. The chronograph function makes use of a blued central second hand with red tip and Minerva arrow counterweight, along with a 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock with another blued and arrow-tipped hand. The contrast of the blued hands against the salmon dial should be great for legibility, at least when those cathedral hands aren’t in the way.
Beige Arabic numerals coated in Super-LumiNova and plated in 18 karat red gold fill the rest of the dial, with the historic Montblanc emblem at 12 o’clock and a railway minute track with running tachymetric scale around the perimeter. To complete the vintage aesthetic this watch includes a cognac-aged alligator strap made by the Montblanc Pelletteria in Florence (which is Italian for “leather goods shop”) and fitted with a satin-finish bronze-plated buckle.