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Montblanc's Chronographs and Calendars

Montblanc’s Heritage Chronométrie collection has been a hit since it debuted last year with a tantalizing variety of complicated and vintage-tinged timepieces. You’ll recall that Montblanc featured, among others, several annual calendars, a dual timer, an ultra-thin model and several editions of a stunning Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie ExoTourbillon Minute Chronograph.

While many saw the seasoned hand of then-new Montblanc CEO Jérôme Lambert at the root of the Heritage Chronométrie collection’s particularly Swiss demeanor, equally critical was Montblanc’s careful adaptation of mid-twentieth-century Minerva watch design. Montblanc added a treasure trove of Swiss chronograph history and technical expertise when it added Villeret-based Manufacture Minerva to its portfolio in 2007. Lambert has more closely aligned the two manufacturing facilities (in Le Locle and Villeret) since his arrival at Montblanc almost two years ago—a move that has paid both technical and design dividends.

To inform the look of this Heritage Chronométrie collection, Montblanc has found a favorite design among the many it received with the Minerva legacy: the 1948 Minerva’s Pythagore, made for years with a Minerva caliber 48 with off-center seconds. Montblanc adheres to that model’s refined Arabic numerals, faceted appliqué indexes, distinctive sword hands, slim cases, straight bezels and graceful curved horns when it creates the dial, case and profile of the various models within the Heritage Chronométrie collection.

In 2016 Montblanc will add features that continue the line’s focus on traditional Swiss watch functions. Just prior to the SIHH watch show in Geneva Montblanc offered a look at two new Heritage Chronométrie watches. In addition, Montblanc has toughened its ExoTourbillon Minute Chronograph by placing it into the sporty Timewalker collection, which marks the first time Montblanc has added its very unusual monopusher chronograph to another Montblanc collection.

Heritage Chronométrie Chronograph Quantième Annuel

While much of this collection recalls the design cues of the mid-1940s, this newest example adds a bit of Art Deco (inspired by a 1920s Minerva wristwatch) plus a moonphase display that may remind you of calendar-focused ancient clocks and clock towers. The Heritage Chronométrie Chronograph Quantième Annuel (seen on the cover of this issue) is Montblanc’s first-ever chronograph-annual calendar combination.

Annual calendars by nature provide a great deal of information. They also do this in a manner more convenient than calendar watches that require a date adjustment at the end of most months. In fact, annual calendars need not be adjusted at all during the year except at the end of February when the wearer must change the 28 or 29 to a 1 to account for the shorter month.

Readers who recall last year’s Heritage Chronométrie Quantième Annuel are already aware that Montblanc’s designers were careful to retain a traditional Swiss four-subdial layout that makes it easier to read the multiple calendar and time functions. Even adding a chronograph to the set of functions, as Montblanc has done this year, has not disturbed this same goal. Montblanc designers have blued all the new watch’s chronograph-related hands to retain high visibility while the hands for the hours, minutes, seconds and calendar functions remain distinct in red gold plate. The chronograph seconds are indicated with a central blue hand, the elapsed minutes are displayed in a counter at 9 o’clock (with sectorial scale) and the hours are shown in a counter at 6 o’clock.

The watch’s ancient clock-inspired moonphase display (at 3 o’clock) shows the four principal cycles of the moon via four individual red gold-plated moons—new moon, first quarter, full moon and last quarter—that are identified with a red gold hand. This rarely seen moonphase indication is meant to evoke ancient methods of timekeeping when the moon (and the sun) played the most primary roles in all timekeeping. The remaining calendar functions include days of the week (at 6 o’clock), the date (at 12 o’clock) and the months (at 9 o’clock).

With so much information displayed, annual calendars require a steady and reliable power source, particularly considering the multiple hands the caliber must power. Here ten facetted sword hands point to the calendar and time displays. All are operated by the firm’s automatic caliber MB 25.09, a movement Montblanc designed using a Dubois Depraz module on a Sellita base. The hands are easily set thanks to four individual correctors positioned in the middle-piece of the case and operated by a dedicated Montblanc pin that is delivered with the timepiece.

Montblanc is one of the few watch companies that can also make high-end straps and bracelets. Not surprisingly, this 42mm red gold Heritage Chronométrie Chronograph Quantième Annuel arrives with a Montblanc alligator leather strap made by the Montblanc Pelletteria in Florence. And like all the other timepieces in the collection, this annual calendar is tested by the Montblanc Laboratory 500 Test, which means the watch must survive a battery of challenges to its assembled case, movement and strap.

Date by Hand

Montblanc also debuts the Heritage Chronométrie Date by Hand, a brand new date complication with a module completely developed and manufactured in-house. But rather than a simple aperture date display at 3 o’clock or 6 o’clock, Montblanc here has chosen to indicate the date in a subdial. And to make the date even simpler to read, Montblanc increased the size of that date subdial so that, in combination with an arrowhead-tipped blued steel hand, it allows the wearer to instantly read the date.

To be fair, this is hardly the first watch to emphasize the date with an extra hand. But making that hand so prominent, and placing it near the crown as part of a dual-subdial design, is Montblanc’s modern and highly practical ode to classic dial layouts. In fact, Montblanc says the dial of this Heritage Chronométrie Date by Hand was inspired by the vintage double counter design of several Minerva chronographs from the 1950s.

This new watch also complements the classic look of the Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie Dual Time first seen last year, though with dual-counters rotated 90 degrees. Here, Montblanc shaved a tenth of a millimeter from the same case for a thinner feel, but retained the polished steel, curved lugs and internal satin-finishing—all codes within the Heritage collection. The dial is silvery-white and sunray finished with facetted sword hands and red gold-plated applied indexes and prominent Arabic 12 and 6 numerals.

Comparing the Heritage Chronométrie Date by Hand to the existing Heritage dual time model is also apt from a caliber perspective. That earlier model also featured a new Montblanc-developed module atop a Sellita base caliber, a procedure that enhances the unique nature of the watch while allowing Montblanc to maintain its strong value. In steel, the watch is priced at just under $3,000.

TimeWalker

For the TimeWalker ExoTourbillon Minute Chronograph Limited Edition 100, Montblanc for the first time has placed its proprietary ExoTourbillon complication into another collection. The idea is to offer a more contemporary setting for the much-heralded ExoTourbillon Minute Chronograph, a highly complex chronograph with a host of features not seen elsewhere.

The movement last year graced several dressier Heritage Chronométrie watches. In the almost six years since the original ExoTourbillon was developed in the former Minerva facilities, Montblanc has created several different and exceptional settings for it, including pairing it with a chronograph monopusher, a rattrapante chronograph and even a nautical-themed regulator chronograph.

All those earlier releases are high-end dress models offered in strictly gold cases with traditional Swiss indications, fonts and finishes. With this newest model, however, Montblanc emphasizes case, dial and movement materials likely not even considered when Swiss watchmakers were defining Swiss horological traditions. These materials, which today define much of Montblanc’s TimeWalker collection, include titanium, carbon fiber and blackened DLC.

But TimeWalker is more than the sum of its materials. Montblanc develops this lightweight, sporty collection with large dial openings that minimize the bezels, with distinctive fonts, lancet-shaped hands and Montblanc’s now-emblematic skeletonized horns. These design cues, in concert with a choice of single-focus features like chronographs, dual-timer indication and simple dates, have made the collection one of Montblanc’s best sellers.

But Montblanc likes to spice up even a sporty collection like TimeWalker. Consider the E-Strap Urban Speed UTC, a dual-timer with smartwatch functionality on its bracelet, which Montblanc added to the TimeWalker collection last year. Like the 2014 high-speed, dual-escapement Montblanc TimeWalker Chronograph 100, this new watch is also a specialized 100-piece limited edition with a titanium-carbon fiber case. The new watch’s features, however, are very different.

The Exo features

With this TimeWalker ExoTourbillon Minute Chronograph Limited Edition 100 Montblanc pairs the ExoTourbillon itself with a Montblanc-developed chronograph mechanism, also used in its Nicolas Rieussec collection, to create Caliber MB R230. It combines the ExoTourbillon with all the elements of a traditional chronograph but adds a high-end monopusher with column wheel, vertical coupling and double-barrel automatic winding.

The Exo in this watch’s name comes from the Greek word for external (think exoskeleton). While no components on this watch are operating outside the case, the tourbillon’s screw balance with its hairspring is positioned outside of the tourbillon’s rotating cage. Why? To conserve energy.

This very original (and patented) design allows Montblanc to make a smaller tourbillon cage that is also not carrying the weight of the balance itself. This means the entire tourbillon regulator mechanism saves thirty percent more energy when compared to a standard tourbillon. It’s more efficient, and efficiency is critical to precision, especially at micro levels.

There are more advantages to placing the balance outside the tourbillon cage. The balance isn’t affected by the inertia of the cage as are all other standard tourbillons, again improving precision.

Other features Montblanc has built into this already singular caliber include a stop-second mechanism that directly halts the screw balance with a tiny spring. This means the user can more precisely set the seconds. Then there’s the very practical hour setting procedure, which here allows the user to advance the hours in hourly increments to help ensure quick time setting. As this function is also linked to the date, setting the timepiece while travelling is also simple. To set the date display, the user advances or retreats the hour hand through 24 hours. Whenever this hand’s tip passes the twenty-fourth hour, the hand of the date display either advances or retreats accordingly.

This 44mm watch features a three-part case made with a mixture of titanium, carbon fiber and Diamond Like Carbon (DLC). Its time is displayed in an-off-center red and black dial at 12 o’clock with luminescent red and white Arabic numerals. The lower section of the dial showcases the ExoTourbillon and features two semi-circular double-indication counters. At left is the elapsed-seconds and the right is the elapsed-minutes indicator.

While this ExoTourbillon Minute Chronograph Limited Edition 100 isn’t the first complicated watch in the sporty TimeWalker collection, it may just be the Montblanc debut of 2016 that best combines the company’s Minerva and Le Locle legacies.

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