Watches

Montblanc Is Channeling 162 Years of Watchmaking Tradition to Inform Its Latest Timepieces

The company's watch division is 22 years old, but thanks to a strategic acquisition, it has a whole lot more history to work with.
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Up above the Swiss city of Neuchâtel in the Jura mountains bordering France is the Vallée de Joux, a long green belt of rolling pasture and cattle farms and also coincidentally some of the greatest watch brands ever. One of those was established as H. & C. Robert in Villeret in 1858. Minerva, as it became known, was a legendary brand known for the quality of the movements it refinished for other makers, and later watches under its own Minerva brand. A new lease on life came with the brand’s purchase by the Richemont Group in 2006 and the handing over of the original 1858 building to Montblanc, which was a relative whippersnapper at watchmaking, having launched just nine years earlier.

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Rather than erasing the name Minerva, however, for Davide Cerrato, who took over as managing director of Montblanc watches in 2015, making best use of the Minerva heritage has been a driving factor in the recent evolution of Montblanc.

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A Minerva watch

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“The way we are doing the integration is quite unique,” says Cerrato. “There have been many experiments of this kind before, but they often ended going in weird directions with two different brand names on the dial. Here, it’s about encapsulating one into the other and using the strengths of both to get the best results. It’s true that the company bought Minerva, but if you truly understand a brand and then use it to influence what you make, then the values resonate. So even if the history of watchmaking in Montblanc is just 22 years—in watchmaking it’s like nothing—we are leveraging 162 years of experience.”

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Most notable in the new crop of Heritage watches are striking aesthetics and nifty functionality like monopusher chronograph controls, both from original Minerva-created watches from the 1940s and '50s and, equally. The Montblanc touch, however, comes in materials and colors strongly inspired by the great outdoors, by forests and mountains.

From left: Montblanc Heritage Manufacture Pulsograph Limited Edition 100; Montblanc Heritage Monopusher Chronograph; Montblanc Heritage Automatic

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“We use colors and textures coming from adventure and the environment to inspire the design” says Cerrato. “For example, using bronze because it patinates to give that lived-in, rugged appeal. We decided to use titanium this year, too, because it’s highly scratch-resistant and lightweight—the perfect material for the outdoors. Our colors are linked to the earth, too—to the colors at the top of the mountains or deep in the sequoia redwood forests or the shades of glaciers or ice caves.”

The brand’s closer focus on the environment and the great outdoors has pushed function and robustness increasingly into the foreground. Mindful of younger generations more interested in experiences and the environment means watches that last. Even if the adventure part for most of us a dream rather than a fact.

The Montblanc Heritage Manufacture Pulsograph Limited Edition 100

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Cerrato’s hero is Hans Wilsdorf, founder, in 1905, of Rolex. “He was one of the first, he had a very clear vision, he was animated by purpose," Cerrato says. "He was really a genius.” In watchmaking, purpose means functionality and strength, which is why the most iconic watches generally do good stuff as well as look good.

“I think watches have to have a purpose," says Cerrato. "There should be a crystal-clear sense in the mind of the designer: What must it do? And that end-purpose should be expressed in the relationship between function and shape.”

The exhibition caseback of the Montblanc Heritage Manufacture Pulsograph Limited Edition 100

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“For sure, how many people are actually diving with a diving watch?” he asks. “Maybe 3 percent of the people who buy one. But when you wear that dive watch, you are wearing a little of the adventure of diving, too. And so details like the unidirectional bezel that makes a particular click becomes a thing to play with, even if you only use it to cook pasta.”

“This is the beauty of great design: It has an emotional component. Even if you work in a boring office, a beautifully designed and functional watch gives you a slice of adventure; you feel like an explorer in the jungle or in the mountains," he says. "The world of the outdoors is very important, and I think the meaning of freedom will become more and more important. Basic freedoms will become adventure.”

This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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