October 14, 2015
by Rob Nudds
You can tell by the title that this watch has a lot going for it. The Montblanc Heritage Spirit Perpetual Calendar Skeleton Sapphire Dial watch is an aesthetic tour de force, but is it all that it appears to be at first glance? It has the name, the look, the complication-clout, but does it tickle the purists’ collective fancy, or fall short because of one highly contentious fact: The movement is not an in-house product.
What you can see through the sapphire display back above is the movement-side of a Sellita SW300 calibre (basically an ETA 2892 equivalent). With this reliable workhorse as a base, the Montblanc Heritage Spirit Perpetual Calendar Skeleton Sapphire Dial watch utilises a complicated dial-side module from Dubois Depraz. Both Sellita and Dubois Depraz have a long history of providing proprietary products for luxury brands, with many of the non-Swatch Group conglomerates and independents relying on their expertise and willingness to do business. Classics such as the old Breitling Navitimer used Dubois Depraz modules, and industry stalwarts like TAG Heuer are happy to use Sellita-made movements in their more affordable pieces. And so I think it’s fair to say that watch collectors and aficionados alike would be comfortable buying a three-hander or a chronograph for a few thousand if it featured this combination of calibre creators, but does that translate directly into the realms of high-end complications?
At 12 o’clock, we can see the month and leap year displayed; at 3, we have the date; at 9, the day; and at 6 o’clock, there’s a lovely moonphase that makes the most of the moon-disc by using concentric lines to obscure the area of the wheel that would normally be covered entirely. It’s a nice trick I’ve not seen before and, given that the moonphase is my favorite complication to look at, I find it incredibly positive.
Ignoring for a moment the aesthetic merits (or demerits if you object to sapphire dials) of this watch, perpetual calenders tend to be the fodder of the very upmost levels of haute horlogerie. The justifiable reason for this is clearly the fact that a perpetual calendar is an exceptionally difficult thing to make, not because the the watches that feature perpetual calendars are expensive. What I mean by this is that the complication should justify the price of a watch; the price should not justify the complication.
Therefore, if a perpetual calendar can be made at a lower cost to the brand by utilising a new manufacturing process, by outsourcing the more esoteric elements of creation, or by any other means available to it, it should be acceptable for that brand to offer the watch to customers at a lower retail price. That’s what we’re seeing here with the Montblanc Heritage Spirit Perpetual Calendar Skeleton Sapphire Dial Watch. It’s not cheap, per se, but it is a lot cheaper than one might expect for a watch featuring so many saleable quirks.
At 39mm, this watch is very wearable. Amazingly for a perpetual calendar, this watch is just 10.27mm thick! Its 18 karat red gold exterior marks it a luxury piece, but its styling is so timeless and versatile, it has the potential to mix well with a variety of outfits. It addition to the high price of most perpetual calendars, there is sometimes a tendency to “jazz them up.” There’s nothing particularly in-your-face about this watch. The growing trend for sapphire dials has been taken and run with in the design process of this piece. I really like the “floating” sub-dials, that maintain the overall clarity of this timepiece without detracting from the movement.
On a personal note, I’ve never been a big fan of skeletonized watches. As a watchmaker, I’ve seen too many uninspiring dial-sides to get excited. But modular movements are a different kettle of fish. Because of their separate and very specific function, they can be designed to be much more visually interesting without restricting the base calibre to one purpose. Another thing I never liked about skeleton watches was the plainness of the functions available to them. Without the possibility of sub-dials, there was little but the movement itself to entertain the eye. By employing sapphire as an invisible base-layer, as much or as little of the movement can be revealed without having to sacrifice any of the functionality. Additionally, this technique would enable designers to hide less attractive parts of the movement, even if they are isolated and would have previously been difficult to obscure.
I like the Montblanc Heritage Spirit Perpetual Calendar Skeleton Sapphire Dial Watch. I think it does a lot to justify its price tag of $20,800. What it does in addition to that is throw-down a gauntlet to other brands producing similarly complicated watches at a very different price point. I’m still a massive supporter of in-house production, and would like to see an in-house movement of this complexity at this price, but I doubt it is a realistic wish. It’s an interesting piece that sits somewhat awkwardly in the pantheon of perpetual calendars, but I think it is likely to find some success even if that success is based on its aesthetic appeal alone. montblanc.com