Montblanc’s decision to move into the watchmaking industry back in 1997 was a brave one but it was also one borne out of deep knowledge of the luxury market and confidence in their abilities within that market. Everyone involved in the original venture must have grown tired of comments such as “Where do put the ink in?”. Being the most successful and highly regarded at what you do can be a poison chalice. Not only can the high end watch market be difficult to get into, with brand loyalty being rife and clients expecting so much from an expensive item that performs the same function as something available for £10, but also all eyes would be on Montblanc because they were so famous. If the population were asked who makes the most exclusive luxury writing instruments on the market there would undoubtedly be only one response: Montblanc. Such is their domination.
The fact that they make leather goods and jewellery was a possible further hindrance to their aspirations of respect from watch lovers and collectors.
So, has Montblanc’s new venture proved worthwhile? Have they garnered respect from those original fans and the high end watch buying fraternity? Do their timepieces reflect their initial aspirations and more importantly, as a watch fan, should you buy one? I truly believe that all of these important questions can be answered in the positive. 100,000 watch sales per year backs up my personal attestation.
The enterprise started out with fairly humble beginnings but has reached heights only reserved for the truly high end manufactures. The most affordable Montblanc watch is almost exactly 100 times less than the least affordable. This is a massive differential, but when we consider that the most expensive timepiece that Montblanc has no paraphernalia or irrelevant embellishments such as diamonds and is all down to the craftsmanship of the master watchmaker it is even more astonishing. Witness the extremely technical and gorgeous Tourbillon Heures Mysterieuses.
Montblanc were able to add this fabulous timepiece, and its other incredibly technical siblings, to their catalogue following the procurement of the Minerva Manufacture, founded 1858 in Villeret, in 2006.
Prior to this Montblanc had started with tried and trusted ETA movements for their beautifully designed watches and later a manufacture calibre was used for the wonderful Rieussec watches.
This is a watch that demands, and will get an article all of its own in the future. A significant timepiece for Montblanc as it is a fitting tribute to the first chrono-graph, which literally translates to time-writer, something integral to their DNA. As I said, look out for a future article that covers the amazing history of this first ever chrono-graph.
Other future articles will cover both the timepieces that represent either end of the watch buyers budgets and the others in between.
I just hope that Andrew, who owns my local Montblanc AD, will agree with me that he needs to get a Tourbillon Heures Mysterieuses into the shop so I can give a true personal evaluation. However, for now I would like to introduce Montblanc’s most popular and identifiable model: The TimeWalker.
Any high-end watch brand can make a classic dress watch for their collection. Design-wise, it is a ,seemingly, simple task to reproduce the basics.
But, why can’t a dress watch have identifiable design elements? Why can’t a dress watch designer be allowed free reign? Why can’t a dress watch be designed with young people in mind as well as the older generation? In short, why does a dress watch have to be generic?
No doubt, fuelled by their deserved confidence in creating desirable and covetable objects the Montblanc designers certainly challenged these questions when they produced their first elegant timepiece.
This is what these experienced and talented artisans created:
What immediately jumps out are the contemporary Arabic numerals used at the hour markers. These are so bold that they are always going to divide opinion. Beyond the question of subjectivity though is the elegance and readability they proffer. These are two attributes that are not easy to amalgamate.
The biggest shame that I realised when being allowed time with the Timewalker timepieces was that my original was based on the face-on only press shots. Despite the original numeral design it seemed that we were left with yet another round, short-lugged, leather strapped dress watch. Big deal! However, these watches really do have an extraordinary character of their own given by fabulous design details uncommon in dress watches. These include the hollowed and sculptured lugs with the detailed strap bars, the concave case, the domed sapphire glass, the thick supple leather strap and the hollowed out and LASER etched clasp. The former two of these elements alone make the Timewalker appear as if it has been painstakingly hand crafted. This is a true reflection of something desirable and covetable, in my opinion. The signature Montblanc white star “cabouchon” adorning the slightly oversized crown certainly helps as well.
Historically prevalent elements of dress watches are also in evidence. Most obvious on this list is the sunburst dial that radiates given any level of illumination. However, get this dial in the sun and effect is absolutely gorgeous.
I’m not a big fan of the hands normally associated with dress watches. Aesthetically they are too thin for my liking. Overdesigned arrow head hands, for example, would look out of place on the Timewalkers. Therefore, I think Montblanc have done a wonderful job with the hands. They are simple and bold and, frankly, suitable. The date display is also, discrete, nicely detailed and functional.
A couple of disappointments I do have with the Timewalker Automatic are the solid caseback, surely an exhibition caseback would have been preferable, and the “Montblanc” script on the dial, which is a little underwhelming. For a company wishing to highlight their excellence in another luxury market, and achieving it in my opinion, I would have thought that a more prominent polished and applied signature would have been more pertinent.
As with most dress watches on the market the lume allows the time to be read in low light conditions but will not dazzle, literally or metaphorically.
TimeWalker Chronograph Automatic:
The chronograph version shares all of the wondrous detailing of its simpler brethren but adds further functionality.
Chronograph models can easily loose what dress designs intentions the designers are seeking due to the busier nature of the dials. Montblanc have once again been clever in the fact that they have introduced silver subdials with silver hands onto a silver dial. Rather than becoming illegible the Timewalker Chronograph achieves usability due to the fact that the sunburst effect is not repeated within the subdials, creating a slightly different hue, and the hands are highly polished affording them high levels of reflection allowing them to stand out against the satin finish dial.
Another nice feature that has been included to aid practicality is the discrete push button for the date change. This results in no more false time changes when trying to locate the exact position of the crown when the date needs adjusting. To perform this tactile task Montblanc have included a push pin with the detailing and quality they are renowned for.
The hands, luminosity, Arabic numerals and date display are all carried over from the TimeWalker Automatic.
The crown design is the same across the whole range of Timewalker models. The pushbuttons are fairly simple in design but still beautifully finished and perfectly useable.
Thankfully, one upgrade over the Timewalker Automatic is the sapphire glass exhibition caseback which highlights the finely finished Caliber 4810/502, which utilises the highly regarded ETA 7750 movement as its base.
Both of these Timewalker models are 43mm in diameter. This fits perfectly into the size that befits both sports and dress watches. The comfort is further aided by the afrorementioned clever design of the case and lugs. The Timewalkers sit very nicely on the wrist being one of those rare watches that offer substantial tool watch size with dress watch ergonomics. The contemporary and classic crossover design allows these timepieces to look superb alongside a t-shirt or a dress shirt.
Further to these two models featured here the Timewalker collection also includes the TwinFly Chronograph, the Dual Time Automatic, the Retrograde Automatic, the GMT Automatic and this fabulous Ceramic Chronograph Automatic:
This turns a classy looking dress watch with contemporary sports watch detailing into a contemporary sports watch with dress watch detailing. The purity of the ceramic bezel and bracelet inserts adds warmth to the design. The black dial, with subtle sunburst effect, contrasts perfectly against the polished hands and the hand applied numerals, etc, to create a monochromatic look with high levels of legibility. This is a stunning addition to the collection which adds, at once, further class and utility to the exquisite detailing and finishing of the dress watches above.
Presenting this special model also allows the opportunity to enjoy the design of the very comfortable and flexible bracelet. There again a wonderful contrast is realised with the highly polished links and black ceramic inserts.
Conclusion: I am so delighted that these beautifully crafted, classic, contemporary, bold and elegant timepieces have disproved my misgivings about what I originally perceived to be a brand cashing in on its (well earnt I must admit) fame and respect in the luxury sector. If Montblanc had started their horoligical business (because let’s face it, that’s what it is) as an unknown I believe they would have still have had the same success. The cream always rises to the top. I believe that Montblanc have been aided less by their established name and more by their unending desire to create luxury and covetable items. People will always aspire to and admire high quality beautifully crafted objects. I bought my Mum a Montblanc pen for her 60th birthday. I knew it was something that she would and could cherish for the rest of her life. Montblanc’s ex-CEO Norbett A. Platt often stated that his company could be compared to Patek Phillipe. Not because of their technicality, he was quick to clarify, but because of their ideals. Montblanc writing instruments are of a quality that could last several lifetimes, being handed down from generation to generation. The complete range of timepieces created by Montblanc accompanies this philosophy. The design of the Timewalker is at once classic and contemporary. They are timeless in the fact that they will still look relevant in many years to come. They benefit from well conceived design elements and meticulous attention to detail that befits any object that has luxury aspirations. The only negativity worth contemplating boils down to: The Montblanc script on the dial could have been more elaborate. The dial numbers are always going to divide opinions, as all noteworthy designs do, I suppose. It will take Montblanc a few years yet to move on from the two-edged-sword that is a result of them being simply regarded as the most successful and well known luxury writing instrument manufacturer in the world into a watch muanufacturer that garners the true respect they deserve. Cartier and Chopard managed it and I believe that Montblanc’s catalogue is as pertinent in its depth and strength.
I would just like to postscript by verbalising that I am in the fortunate position to be leant high end watches on a regular basis. Sometimes I wear them on a professional basis to determine their real world strengths and weaknesses and can’t wait to get back to my own collection. Sometimes I wear them out of sheer pleasure and my own collection gets temporarily forgotten. The latter was most definitely my reason for spending time with these two exquisite Timewalkers and I was most definitely at pains return them.
My many thanks go to the Authorised Dealer who loaned me these three watches for this review.
All words and images by Rick Atkins. This article may not be reproduced in part or in whole without the permission of the author.