Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Blue Limited Edition 100 - When Minerva ruled the world of watchmaking and started to rule it back again thanks to Montblanc
In 2016 we have witnessed the rebirth of a manual single push-button two-counter chronograph that was originally crafted when the activity of the manufacturing company Minerva was at its peak, the manufacturing company was subsequently acquired in a strategic and smart move by Richemont in 2006 that then transformed it into a manufacturer of high-precision and high-quality calibers for Montblanc. The Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Blue Limited Edition 100 is a single push-button chronograph that means quite a lot to those who have a deep knowledge of watch-making, the figure 1858 corresponds to the exact year when the Swiss movements manufacturer was founded.
Minerva was founded in Villeret and it is famous for crafting calibers of an exceptional standard that can be easily recognizable thanks to innovative solutions like the V-shaped bridge or the chrono hammer built in the so-called “devil’s tail shape”. The Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Blue Limited Edition 100 is the modern re-edition of those military single push-button calibers crafted by Minerva in the mid 20th century and this timepiece’s caliber adopts the general architecture of the Minerva 17.29 caliber.
This translates into the in-house built movement classified as MB M16.29, a code that also appears on the timepiece’s dial where the “M” of the word “Minerva” features the exact same font as the original logo’s. When it comes to Minerva it is quite implicit to talk about manual calibers, in this specific case the caliber is made of 252 components with a balance spring that oscillates at a natural frequency of 2.5Hz, a 30-minute-chronograph-counter located at 3 o’clock, an activation button coaxial with the winding crown, stop and reset chronograph features, a column-wheel, and a horizontal clutch.
In a time when chronographs were work instruments, it is important not to forget that the single push-button chronograph solution represented the only available option and, at the very same time, a big limitation too since it forced manufacturers to stick to the standard “start-stop-reset” sequence that could only be overcome when double push-buttons chronographs were launched. Today, this specific type of architecture is quite sought-after by the collectors of vintage chronographs because it no longer needs to carry out the same function that it had in the past but it is has actually transformed itself into the most appealing and aesthetically valid solution. A Minerva caliber’s design is unmistakeable, the finishing lines are of extremely high-quality and solely hand-made, like the Côtes de Genève and the Perlage decorations. All these decorations can be seen through the ample sapphire-glass-made-case-back since the caliber fills the entire room of the case.
The Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Blue Limited Edition 100 is one of those watches where the option not to make the caliber visible would have been a mistake and despite the fact that this see-through-solution fits both the history and the style of the dial, being able to actually see the movement is definitely more attractive than the view on the dial side. The vintage flavor of this timepiece can be spotted on the dial side too thanks to the presence of cathedral-style hands, the historic MONT-BLANC logo crafted in a retro style and the very round and thin font used on the tachymetric scale, and two chronograph-counters that use two arrow-shaped hands. The touch from 2016 can be seen on the 44mm-steel-made-case, the Arabic indices that are oversize if compared to those present on the older versions, the SuperLuminova coating on the hands, and Arabic numerals.
Crafting a caliber like the MB16.29 is like taking an antique caliber, restore it, then reset it and eventually bring it back to its ancient splendor. A timepiece like the Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Blue Limited Edition 100 is not too different of an operation from what Panerai did when it restored some original Angelus calibers with 8 days of power reserve. It is admirable to see how much energy Montblanc has put into bringing back to life the best that tradition has to offer – and also Minerva’s contribution to Montblanc’s growth in the eyes of watch-enthusiasts -, from the chamfers that only a micro-camera is able to capture all the way through the extremely beautiful swan-neck adjustment system.
Could the manufacturer push it even further? Maybe, possibly by abiding by the aesthetic proportions of those parts on the dial that immediately make an original Minerva chronograph identifiable, some of the credit goes to the romantic logo in italics. It is rewarding but it hasn’t exactly the same vintage flavor that has been reproduced 180 degrees farther. The winding crown is bigger than expected and it tends to interfere a bit with the wrist. The Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Blue Limited Edition 100 is made of stainless steel, it retails at 24,000 euro and it has been released in only 100 samples, all of which have probably been sold already while I am writing this article, together with 100 additional models made of red gold.
(Photo credit: Horbiter's proprietary photo-shooting)
Matteo Bulla @Horbiter