March 21, 2010
by Ariel Adams
There was a lot of excitement at Montblanc in Geneva for this watch. They only had one of them at SIHH and it was in a case. Still a prototype but I got to check it out a bit. In a nutshell, you press down on a lever on the left side of the case and the watch dial magically transforms into something else. Not only does the look change, but more importantly the functions do as well. One face shows the time (regulator style with retrograde minutes) and the date, while the second style is a chronograph.
In the included video you can wait through most of it or skip ahead near the end when they discuss and show some rather funtastic special effects of the TimeWriter 1 Metamorphosis watch. You not only get a good idea of how it works, but of how complex it is. They put all this effort into the video and it isn’t even in English – the bastards. The TimeWriter watches will be a growing collection from Montblanc magical workshop in Villeret. The plan is to give the young and eager watch makers the ability to make crazy things. As such, the names of the two gentlemen who made this watch are on the dial. They are Johnny Girardin and Franck Orny. They needed to make their creation in Montblanc form, so you see the reverse teardrop style case that other Montblanc Villeret branded watches arrived in.
At 47mm wide and 15mm thick the watch is pretty small given its complexities. The specially made MBM16.29 manually wound movement has 567 parts and a power reserve of 55 hours. The case is done in 18k white gold and has a real nice finishing to it. Montblanc has come a long way and really asserted themselves as a serious powerhouse of complex mechanical expertise. So on that end the watch is pretty exciting. Style of the case and dial(s) doesn’t really do it for me. I mean it is cool, but I don’t exactly have any lust for it. A neat item I would gladly tote around, but it would be for the mechanics, not the design. The spirit of “be different” in the watch world when it comes to case and dial design isn’t always a good thing. I would have preferred to see a modified version of one of Montblancs more attractive mainstream designs. To be honest the Timewriter 1 Metamorphosis gives me a bit of a headache after prolonged viewing. I’ve nick named it the Montblanc Seasickness.
So let’s chat about what the watch does. The default view of the dial (see above) has a centrally mounted seconds hand and retrograde minute hands. The hours are told via the upper subsidiary dial. This is a variation on the regulator style dial, but with a retrograde hand. The lower part of the dial is a date indicator. Good luck reading that one. Over the date dial is a transparent bridge made out of synthetic sapphire. When you get bored of this, you can transform the watch into chronograph mode.
Montblanc was wise to use the metamorphosis name for the watch. While in a sense it does transform, much of the detail is internal. So while the timepiece change is anything but Kafkaesque it is more of a change of face and function than a serious transformation making you feel like you have something totally new on your wrist. The process of changing the watch is longer than you would expect. First you need to press the monopusher chronograph button in the crown, then slide the lever on the left side of the case. The process actually takes about 15 seconds. So much of what you get is watching the process take action. There are two hidden plates in the watch that act like a double scissors. These “close” and the upper and lower dials are covered over with grayish plates. At the same time the lower dial actually moves down like a little elevator. Internally the watch is going mad with gears and changes to make sure everything works properly. This is not a sport watch my friends, something that you are wise to be delicate with.
After the change is complete the Arabic numeral dial for the hours is now replaced with Roman numerals. This dial and the minute hand still tell the time. The seconds hand is now a seconds hand for the chronograph, and the date display is now used for the chronograph minutes – which is quirkily labeled 1-31 for obvious reasons. I must admit that the chronograph minutes dial gives me the biggest problem visually as it feels like an Escher painting to my eyes. The chronograph is operated of course by the monopusher button in the crown.
Don’t forget that while the watch is not showing the date, the movement recalls it, as well as the seconds for the time. This is all part of the mechanical wonder. As a novelty the Montblanc TimeWriter 1 Metamorphosis is cool. The watch however is a gimmick, a fun and complex gimmick, but a gimmick nonetheless. There is almost no utility in the complication, and I have a feeling it is quite fragile. Like the image I posted of MASK (from the 80’s cartoon about vehicles that transform in to arguably less useful vehicles), the watch has a lot of initial amusement but remains a toy. Only the Transformers where able to hold our imagination’s attention for decades. Plus, you can have all the same functionality that the TimeWriter 1 Metamorphosis has in a Valjoux 7750 movement (and them some). The 28 people who invest in this limited edition watch are doing so for the sheer addictiveness some uber-wealthy people have for a “no one else can do this” pieces of machinery. Buying that feeling knowing that no one else is going to make just such a watch. I really don’t think anyone else will have a desire to do so. The mechanical complexity of the Metamorphosis can’t be denied, but the lasting appeal of its exclusiveness might.
See Montblanc and Minerva watches on eBay here.See Montblanc items on Amazon here. [phpbay]montblanc | minerva, num, “14324”, “”[/phpbay]