Montblanc arrived at SIHH this year with a new collection that takes its design inspiration from Minerva, the esteemed Swiss watchmaker with a specialty in chronographs and stopwatches that Richemont purchased way back in 2006. When Richemont bought Minerva, the group took the unexpected step of folding it into Montblanc. At the time, Montblanc was already one of the largest brands within the Richemont Group, with a category-leading fine writing instruments business and a burgeoning leather goods trade to boot. Montblanc had made recent inroads in watchmaking, opening its first manufacture in a sprawling Art Nouveau mansion in a traditional center of watchmaking – Le Locle, Switzerland – but it lacked the august history in the category that Minerva had. With Minerva now making Montblanc watches, seemingly overnight Montblanc’s watchmaking abilities grew exponentially. Today, we’re looking at two watches that point to a period of watchmaking history that Montblanc inherited through its acquisition of Minerva.
The two watches right here indeed have the look of vintage timepieces of years’ past, but with a contemporary size, sturdiness, and build – including a sapphire crystal and a modern automatic chronograph movement – that one would expect from a modern sport watch. These watches are priced at $5,000 for the bronze (below) with the steel version coming in at $4,300.
One of the first things that I noticed about each of these two new chronographs was their weight and the feeling of quality that it conveyed. I was also surprised by the amount of patina the bronze-cased version had already acquired in the relatively short time that it has been circulating as a press sample. It’s well on its way to looking like an old good thing – which is, I suppose, the main point of making watches from this material that tends to evolve over time. Offering a vintage inspired chronograph like this in a bronze case seems like a good move, and with its price difference of just $700 over the stainless steel version, this is the one that feels like the better value proposition.
In both variations, the dial and hands look to be of very decent quality. In the case of the stainless steel option, we’re looking at a black bi-compax dial with large sub-dials creeping over the 10, eight, two, and four hour numerals, with three and nine being occluded altogether. These frame a Montblanc logo that’s cut in half – “Mont” and “Blanc” – with a snowcapped mountaintop in the center. The large, luminous numerals and vintage-inspired hands make for watch that’s easy-to-read at a glance, and the very nicely articulated minutes/hours chapter is a nod to Minerva’s history as a precision timer. The Bronze 1858’s dial has a patinated metallic look that visually echoes the black dial of the steel version. This watch seems to me to be aimed squarely at the enthusiast market. Oh, and how ’bout that tastefully omitted date window? I’m sure that’s going to win this guy some fans among people reading this story.
Visually, these watches are nice complement to the 1858 line and its Minerva pedigree, but from a cost standpoint, they’re going to set you back a good deal less money than some of the other models in the line. That’s largely because these two variations are powered by an SW500 chronograph movement supplied by Sellita. This movement has been around for several years now, though it remains one of the more recent of the major Sellita movements to come on line. The basic idea with this caliber is that it is a durable, affordable cam-operated chronograph that is essentially interchangeable with the Valjoux/ETA 7750 movement.
When you hold these watches up and give them a shake, you get that familiar whirring sound and sensation that is the hallmark of the 7750, a unidirectionally winding caliber beating at a standard 4 Hz. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this movement from Sellita. It’s a fine option to power a watch in this price range, in my opinion. Still, it has nothing on the beauty of the calibers produced at the erstwhile Minerva manufacture (now Montblanc Villeret), so Montblanc has mercifully closed the casebacks of both variations and instead given each a relief engraving. The caseback of each version, regardless of its case material, is made in steel.
The case work itself is also very nice, and if you look closely, you’ll find details in their finishing that surpass what you might expect from watches in this price range. Take, for example, the stainless steel version’s beveling and the brushed finishing on its surfaces. The cases themselves are a bit large at 42mm in diameter, and they feel large on the wrist, with a thickness approaching 15mm. As you’d expect from a modern interpretation of a vintage chronograph, the sapphire crystal on the 1858 Automatic Chronograph is domed to recall earlier plexiglass crystals.
One area where I do feel these watches could be improved regards the straps, which look quite nice in these images but lacked the supple tactility of a finer quality strap. They look the part, but they don’t necessarily feel it. They also use a deployant clasp, which is actually one of the nicer deployants I have come across in my last several watch reviews, especially if you take cost into account. The clasp features an excellent and easy-to-use fine adjustment setting that lets your wrist have that extra half centimeter of breathing room on warmer days. There is also a striped fabric strap option (not seen here). But if I were buying this watch, I’d probably opt for a replacement strap.
The Montblanc 1858 Automatic Chronograph is a solid nice, reasonably priced automatic chronograph. And in the case of the bronze option, one of the more interesting and appealing timepieces currently out there in the $5,000-and-below price range.
The creations that come out of the design department of Davide Cerrato (Managing Director of Montblanc Watches) are spread out on a very wide scale. Some are affordable and modest. Others are complicated both in terms of watchmaking. All I’m saying is, that we should not jump to a conclusion when judging Montblanc and categorize them in one way or the other. Having said that, today we will have a closer look at the simplest SIHH 2019 release, the Montblanc 1858 Automatic Limited Edition. Simple in terms of complications, nothing else.
Before we talk about the watch itself let’s first position the 1858 pieces, into the Montblanc collection. Basically, the brand has two main design focuses; contemporary and vintage. Within both categories, we find three trends; sport, classic and lady. Based on this analogy the contemporary and sporty pieces are the Timewalker models. The contemporary and classic are the Star Legacy (like the moonphase we talked about here) and the contemporary ladies are the Bohéme – and some Star Legacy – watches. Now comes the vintage part. Montblanc offers no vintage lady’s models – for now. The vintage classic timepieces are the ones from the Heritage collection. Lastly, the vintage sporty pieces are the Montblanc 1858 watches, like the topic of our article. While the contemporary models sport Montblanc’s new type of logo, the vintage pieces all have the old-style logo with the mountain peak in the middle.
I feel that the SIHH 2019 Montblanc 1858 novelties were a bit overlooked by many during the show. Not because they were not great watches, on the contrary. This has more to do with the Heritage models and especially the Monopusher and Pulsograph pieces. Though the Montblanc 1858 chronograph and automatic, not to mention the Geosphere are all fascinating watches. To start with, all 3 are limited editions – you guessed it – to 1858 pieces. They all come in khaki green, not your average watch color unless you’re aiming for military-inspired pieces. Yet, the Montblanc 1858 Automatic (just like the other 2 models) are anything but military. To finish off the comparison, all 3 new models have bronze cases. According to the brand with these timepieces, they’re aiming at the explorers, the outdoorsmen, and women. After all, nomen est omen (the name speaks for itself ), right?
The Montblanc 1858 Automatic Limited Edition has a bronze case with titanium case back that has a bronze color coating. the shape is classical too, large round face and short thin and curved lugs. The overall finish is brushed with some polished bevels on the lugs and around the bezel of the watch as well as the case back. When it comes to sizes the Montblanc 1858 Automatic has a contemporary size at 40mm. The height is only 11.07mm, making it rather thin especially when on the wrist and under a jacket cuff. Large vintage style fluted crown, adding more to the heritage look. Scratch resistant, box crystal domes over the dial, something you’d seen on pieces from the ‘30s and ‘40s. as per modern standards with anti-reflective coating though. The case back is highly decorated albeit it’s somewhat “useless” thanks to the NATO strap covering most of it.
Although the khaki green dial did not make it to the selection of our Top 5 Colorful Dials from SIHH 2019 article it’s a thing of beauty for sure. Luckily brands venture out more and more regularly these days, often daring to come up with a bold case shape or dial color. As the Montblanc 1858 Automatic is supposed to be a mountain explorer’s watch this shade of green on the dial is just the perfect match. Design-wise the dial is pretty simple. Large, beige Arabic numerals all around with Superluminova coating, rhodium plated cathedral hands (remember, vintage touch) with the same luminescence material. My least favorite part is the old-style logo under the 12 in white. Nothing against the placement or the color, this logo is just not my thing. The watch is easy to read and the lume glows like crazy in the dark. Great usability.
It’s not easy to talk about the movement of a time-only watch. Mostly that’s nothing spectacular. Unless it’s a minute repeater but this time this is hardly the case. Inside the Montblanc 1858 Automatic, you find the MB 24.15 caliber. A Sellita SW200 based mechanical, self-winding movement with 38 hours of power reserve and 26 jewels. The MB 24.15 has a Vph of 28,800 (4 Hz). No date or sub-second function, it’s a simple time-only movement. Many times brands ruin watches with odd date aperture placements – actually more often than not having the date on the watch at all. Luckily, staying true to the heritage idea, this Montblanc 1858 Automatic (or its chronograph version) does not offer this complication. Not a loss at all these days, you find the date all over around you.
The Montblanc 1858 Automatic Limited Edition comes in 1858 pieces only. There will be a steel version, regular production with a black dial as well. That one (reference 119907) has a khaki green nubuck calf leather strap. While the Montblanc 1858 Automatic has a khaki green NATO strap with steel pin buckle. The price will be $2,410 for the steel version and a little over $3,000 for the limited bronze case Montblanc 1858 Automatic. When it comes to the price, the watch really plays in the affordable segment. Whether you are a fan of bronze cases and green dials is, of course, a different question. While this combo is clearly not the most versatile look, if that does not bother you, or you are looking for a second (third, fourth etc.) watch, the 1858 Automatic might be something to consider.