What if your next watch is a Montblanc timepiece?
Personal thoughts about a watchmaker on the rise.
The appointment of Jerome Lambert to the CEO of Montblanc has definitely pushed the brand's creativity spirit to new heights and it has further enhanced its position on the market and its appeal. Let's take a step back in time and take a quick look at what Montblanc used to stand for in my mind just a few years ago; I was of the idea that its watches' offer across all the different collections was ample but a bit controversial and it was also somehow confusing and not to the point. The low-end line, for instance, was full of interesting luxury sport products but, sometimes, they were not as distinctive and prestigious as its competitors' watches and they weren't exactly what you would expect from a brand like Montblanc. The basic collection was mainly made up of an entry-level line up of watches, while three steps up was the glorious Villeret collection powered by high-end manual wound and hand-assembled Minerva calibers. In between there was nothing (except the Nicholas Rieussec collection) that could bridge this huge gap. This market strategy ended up confusing everybody, since it was somehow hard to understand whether a typical Montblanc watch was a three hands TimeWalker that you could wear everyday or, rather, an exclusive mono-pusher chronograph.
In May 2013 Jerome joined the brand by moving within the Richemont Group, where he used to hold the same position but as the CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre instead. He brought with him his personal style and, thanks to this new addition, Montblanc was able to unveil an unparallaled series of new watches at the SIHH 2015, a clear sign of the acquistion of a new identity and of a newly acquired brand positioning. The Montblanc Timewalker Urban Speed Chronograph is the very first testimony of this regeneration process. The original stainless steel three register chrono has now become an original new chrono featuring an unexpected mixture of a brushed ceramic bezel and a “cold grey” sand-blasted steel case that make this timepiece appear more sporty, more techy and definitely geared towards a whole new audience. The "e-strap" version is the first answer to a smartwatch maker coming from a very traditional manufacturer (in my opinion this is also the proof that watchmaking groups fear Cupertino as much as carmakers fear Apple's Titan project).
I never was and I am still not a big fan of the TimeWalker but I have to admit that the job carried out by the Design Team so far has made it even more attractive and tech-savvy than before. All in all, it is not the kind of watch that I would consider adding to the collection of timepieces that I carefully guard in my safe and this is very true especially when it comes to the price tag (approximately 5,000€). For that price I could get my hands on the glorious 41mm Montblanc Heritage Spirit Orbis Terrarum featuring an eye-catching multilayer dial made of sapphire crystal and depicting a view of the globe as seen from the top of the North Pole, a beautiful worldtimer widely acclaimed as the true game changer for the brand. When it comes to worldtimers, Montblanc’s proposal is a real winner and the complication is interesting and easy to use too, thanks to the "Home time" quick adjuster.
It’s the kind of complication that you could easily find somewhere else (take a look, for instance, at this watch's cousin - the Baume et Mercier Capeland Worldtimer-) but the overall style (hopefully on a leather strap and not the full stainless steel bracelet) that adds a romantic touch and a beautiful deep blue dial that is missing in nearly 100% of its competitors's pieces that are selling at a higher price too.
The Montblanc Heritage Spirit Orbis Terrarum with its dial and with what I call its “Globe” style, reminds me of the Vasco da Gama limited edition timepieces, a collection of hyper-exclusive watches that reached its peak with the release of the Montblanc Villeret Tourbillon Cylindrique Geosphères Vasco da Gama Limited Edition; the first timepiece that I personally reviewed once back from the SIHH 2015.
Actually this timepiece is not the only one that celebrates the great explorer because, if you take a look at the highest complications from Montblanc, there are several models sporting the Vasco de Gama hallmark, such as the Montblanc Heritage Chronomètrie Exo-Tourbillon Minute Chronograph Vasco da Gama, where the brand installed a dial portraying the night sky of the Southern hemisphere made of Aventurine quartz (if I’m not mistaken Montblanc was the second watchmaker to successfully adopt the aventurine quartz, after Omega used it for its Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch Moonphase Aventurine Dial). Created in just 60 pieces in memory of the 60 people making up the crew of the Sao Gabriel ship, which is nicely portrayed on the watch’s case back, it adopts an “Exo-Tourbillon” that deserves a few words by itself. Montblanc designed a tourbillon featuring a cage that is smaller than the balance which oscillates outside the rotating carriage and is placed on a higher plane, thanks to a large screw balance.
On top of all the above features, the Exo-Tourbillon is also part of that restricted club of tourbillons equipped with a stop-second function. This is the second tourbillon (after the Gronefeld Parallax Tourbillon that I reviewed a few weeks ago on here) that features such a nice complication and a technical feature which every watches connoisseur should carefully consider when looking for a new complication. The system designed by Montblanc does not just halt the seconds hand, that might be less efficient, but the balance itself; through a small red arrow hand in the opening at 6, it can track the seconds that have elapsed and it helps the user to set the time in full, and with precision (hour-minute-seconds.)
Conclusion: Montblanc is slowly finding its way to the top, where it sits already thanks to its Villeret and Rieussec collections (whose roots belong to the history of watchmaking.) It is adding a series of interesting new watches and beautiful collections that are becoming the pillars of a renewed and even more classic brand (hopefully over time the brand will also start replacing some of its unpersonal and inexpensive looking watches.) This process is underway and is fostered by a series of watches that, along with new creations such as the Orbis Terrarum, subtly remarks the aesthetical relationship that exists with Jaeger-LeCoultre: a typical example of this is the Montblanc Heritage Chronometre Dual Time, a timepiece that offers the brand a new understated perspective.
(Photo credit: Horbiter®'s proprietary photo-shooting)
Gaetano C. @Horbiter®