Globally recognised for its emblematic representation of Western Europe’s highest peak, Montblanc looks to the mountains once again for the 1858 collection
It is late autumn at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a valley situated in the scenic Teton county. Here, the giant snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains loom dramatically over a serene valley floor. The quaint town of Jackson sits on an elevation nearly 2,000m above sea level, surrounded by national parks. Yellowstone and Grand Teton are the most notable. Against this dramatic backdrop, Montblanc unveiled its 1858 timepiece collection to timepiece connoisseurs and watch industry insiders.
The mountainous location makes perfect sense. The 1858 collection harks back to the founding year of the legendary Minerva manufacture. It was birthed in the Swiss Jura mountain range.
“In 2018, we celebrate 160 years of Minerva (which Montblanc acquired in 2006)," said Montblanc’s CEO Nicolas Baretzki. He was speaking at the preview of the 1858 collection. “It’s special for us that in this milestone year, we are able to continue the spirit of classic watchmaking which has been the defining story of the 1858 collection."
Timepieces With Character
Through the successful integration of Minerva and Montblanc as a singular maison, Baretzki’s predecessors and his own team have developed what he calls “timepieces with character".
Baretzki, who hails from a watch-and-jewellery family, learnt early on that product authenticity is earned when the craftsman moves beyond design and mechanics, going into the realms of honest narratives, with great care for every detail.
In the case of this year’s 1858 range, the collection’s narrative stems from the 1920s and 1930s. This was a period of military and aviator timepieces.
Davide Cerrato, managing director of Montblanc International’s watch division, details how the idea for the current 1858 collection took its root. Inspiration came from archival Minerva timepieces, military designs and pocket watches made for early 20th-century gentlemen.
“These design codes of yesteryear and the present-day 1858 concepts reflect a watchmaking continuum between Minerva and Montblanc," Cerrato observed. An example is in the subtle streamlining of the case sizes, from the 44mm cases executed by Minerva to today’s 40mm to 42mm timepieces.
“We worked to ensure cases are a bit more proportioned, changing the crowns on some models and bevelling the lugs," Cerrato pointed out.
On the 1858 collections, the combination of railway minute tracks, slimmed-out cathedral hands and a domed glass box results in a vintage-looking line. This is reminiscent of the early 20th century. Adding to that vintage quality is the use of bronze cases and aged leather. As well, there are caseback engravings of Mont Blanc and crossed ice pickaxes.
The 1858 collection’s top-of-line Monopusher Chronograph Limited Edition (RM136,300, S$44,600) is limited to 100 pieces in 40mm stainless steel. It is equipped with the Calibre MB M13.21, an evolutionary descendant of Minerva’s Calibre 13.20. The latter was conceived for its wristwatches a century ago.
Calibre MB M13.21 is assembled using the same V-shaped chronograph bridge. This design, protected by Minerva since 1912, is its most distinguishing feature. The fact is recognised by Montblanc etching the words ‘Minerva’ and ‘Villeret’ on it.
The Montblanc Pelletteria in Florence – a centre of leatherworking excellence – also contributes to the overall aesthetics. The alligator-skin strap comes in a shade that matches the dial’s smoked green.
The Pelletteria’s proficiency also rewards owners of the Montblanc 1858 Geosphere (RM25,300, S$8,300) with rugged calf leather bund straps and calfskin straps. Calling the Geosphere “a crazy piece", Cerrato explained that the challenge to fully realise its worldtime complication lay in achieving the right kind of white. This was to demarcate meridians on the two domed globes, each representing a hemisphere.
The two half-globes complete a rotation once every 24 hours in opposite directions. Seven red dots mark the highest peaks on each continent. The names of these seven summits are engraved onto the caseback. Puncak Jaya, Vinson, Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, Denali, Everest and Mount Elbrus.
Meanwhile, the Automatic Chronograph – in a choice of 42mm bronze (RM22,800, S$7,500) and stainless steel (RM19,400, S$6,400) – comes with a comfortable and durable NATO strap. The strap material comes from an atelier in Eastern France which has been practising traditional weaving for over 150 years.
Rounding up the 1858 collection are the 40mm automatic pieces (RM12,100, S$3,960) with bronzed bezels and fluted crowns.
There is also the multipurpose 60mm titanium monopusher chronograph pocket watch (S$68,700). Limited to 100 pieces, it sports a dial of blue Dumortierite stone and a compass on its caseback. The natural mineral stone is named after French explorer and geologist Eugene Dumortier (1803 – 1873), famed for his studies of the Alps.
The Face of Adventure
The globetrotting adventurous appeal of the new timepieces demanded a real-life counterpart. This led Montblanc to select one of the world’s leading high-altitude climbers to represent the collection.
The 44-year-old Briton, Kenton Cool, has summited Everest 12 times. In 2013, he became the first person to summit Nuptse (7,861m), Everest and Lhotse (8,516m) in a single push without returning to base camp.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the golden age of mountain exploration which occurred between 1864 and 1965," Cool said. “The 1920s British Mount Everest expeditions had guys pushing the boundaries of what was possible in their time, working without maps, pathways.
“By the time the ’50s rolled in, the 14 peaks of the world that are over 8,000 metres had already been summited. I’m constantly building on the wisdom which these pioneers have passed down, using the same basic principles and better technologies."
Just as Montblanc subjects every piece of its 1858 collection to a 500-hour simulated wear test, Cool too, approaches each climbing expedition with a view to exhausting all the variables for failure.
“Nature teaches you that on a mountain, margins for errors are so small. There is no helicopter rescue, the weather can turn in an instant and you have to invest a lot of hard work. (For example), waking up at 9.30pm to melt water so you have enough resources to reach the summit."
In all this, Cool has understood that there is no quick way to success in his field. In 1996, he fell from a rock face and shattered both heel bones. He was told that he could never again walk without a stick, much less climb.
“That was the impetus for me. I decided that I didn’t want the doctor to take away my dream and ambition. Since then, I’ve continued to subscribe to a philosophy that I should generate the most authentic version of myself on a daily basis."