Montblanc has forged a world-class reputation in writing instruments for its highly technical, quality pens. Further adding to its prestige, over recent decades it has developed an exclusive niche segment of handmade pens. Its themed limited editions are also sought-after by collectors. “We intend making a similar move upscale for our watchmaking activities,” Jean-Marc Pontroué, Executive Vice President at Montblanc International, declared. Established in 1997 in Le Locle, Montblanc Montres’ debut offering was a collection of quality Swiss watches that looked to the legendary Meisterstück pens. In just ten years the brand has risen to prominence and is now intent on earning its “letters patent” and acceding to the rank of Manufacture, thereby taking its timepieces to the same level of excellence as its writing instruments. A strategy which the brand is implementing on two levels.
Manufacture Le Locle
First, Montblanc Montres now develops its own movements. The first, unveiled in 2008, takes inspiration from Nicolas Rieussec’s original chronograph, which deposited ink on a dial. A way of “writing time” that sits perfectly with Montblanc’s identity. The Montblanc Nicolas Rieussec Chronograph replicates the original configuration with fixed hands showing chronograph minutes and seconds on rotating discs.
The calibre, portions of which are visible through the dial, has a resolutely modern construction. Montblanc has now equipped its movement with a lever and escape wheel in silicon, an exceptionally hard, light and non-magnetic material. These qualities improve the chronograph’s rate and increase its long-term reliability. Reduced mass also requires less energy, meaning more is available to maintain the balance’s amplitude and extend the power reserve.
Second, in 2007 Montblanc acquired Minerva, a Manufacture established more than 150 years ago in Villeret. Renamed the Institut Minerva de Recherche en Haute Horlogerie in 2008, it produces classically-made calibres in the same vein as its historic creations. These movements equip the Montblanc Villeret 1858 collection. Joining this collection in 2010 is a chronograph with a second time zone and an unprecedented four-minute tourbillon in which the balance is positioned outside the rotating cage, oscillating on a higher plane.
This architecture allows for a traditionally large balance while freeing the tourbillon cage from its weight. Also, because the balance is outside the cage, it is not affected by the cage’s inertia. This results in less energy being consumed and increased precision. As with any other Montblanc Villeret 1858 chronograph, the ExoTourbillon Chronograph is manufactured as a limited edition, with eight pieces in white gold, eight in red gold and one single piece in platinum.
The Institut Minerva de Recherche en Haute Horlogerie is also tasked with fostering young talent and supporting innovative projects. The TimeWriter concept will present a new creation every two years. The first is the astonishing Metamorphosis, a watch with two faces. A first dial displays the hours by Roman numerals at 12 o’clock, retrograde minutes, centre seconds and a hand-type date display at 6 o’clock. The second displays the hours by Arabic numerals at 12 o’clock, a central chronograph seconds hand and a minute counter at 6 o’clock. The mechanism is inspired by those used to animate automata. Operating a slide changes the functions and decor as wings open or close and the chronograph is raised or lowered.
Of course, becoming part of the Richemont group and exhibiting at the SIHH have been important catalysts.
Such innovation forces admiration. The Metamorphosis remains the intellectual property of its inventors, Johnny Girardin and Franck Orny who recently set up their company, Télôs Watch. Montblanc funded the project and made available the resources and expertise of the Minerva Institute. It is also taking charge of production and marketing a limited edition of 28 pieces with a white gold, tear-shaped case.
Montblanc Montres has made a brilliant entry into the circle of authentic Fine Watchmaking, in surprisingly little time. “Of course, becoming part of the Richemont group and exhibiting at the SIHH have been important catalysts,” Jean-Marc Pontroué points out. Meanwhile, Montblanc is cutting back its production of quartz watches which should, in the medium term, become a marginal and even discontinued activity.