Let’s rewind the tape… In late 2015, Montblanc introduced to us a watch (a superb, exquisite, fascinating watch… sometimes words are hard to find) that we simply loved: the Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter, with Villeret monopusher movement. Seriously, having a watch of this quality, with a movement comping from vintage chronographs, with finishing to die for, with such a great design for a price of €30k, that was a bargain. Well, there’s even better now, as the Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter is also available in steel, with a great blue dial and for a price even lower. The best possible deal for a high-end chronograph? Possibly.
When Montblanc showed us this 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter in pink gold with a dark grey dial, we’ve been quite enthusiastic, to say the least. As watch journalists, we always tend to keep things objective and, well, professional. However, before being watch journalists, we were all watch collectors and aficionados. We couldn’t help ourselves with this Montblanc. It has the movement, the looks, the vintage-inspiration, the mix of class and sporty attitude, the haute-horlogerie finishing, the link with one of the greatest manufactures (Minerva). It was stunning, and every professional feelings we tended to have were just inefficient. And you won’t be surprised to know that the same is about to happen now, as Montblanc also have a steel version of this watch, with a stunning blue dial, and of course for a price that is even lower. This watch, for what it is, is cheap – relatively speaking, I know the mean of this word, no worries…
What differs in this steel edition, compared to the pink gold version? Well, basically, we just talk materials and colors. The dial, its printings, the hands, the shape of the case and the movement are all identical. And that’s fine. This watch has all the attributes of old Minerva watches, especially the military pieces the manufacture did in the 1940s. However, you might ask why “Villeret” and “Minerva” in a Montblanc watch? In 2007, the Richmont Group acquired the Minerva manufacture, based in Villeret, Switzerland, a manufacture of high-end movements, known for their capacity of creating complex chronographs and tourbillons. Quickly, Richemont allocated this manufacture to Montblanc, which, at that time, had not yet a real production tool. Even if Minerva did a few movements for Panerai (same group as Montblanc), the manufacture quickly designed and built the most complex Montblanc watches, in the Villeret collection – like for instance the Montblanc Collection Villeret 1858 Vintage Chronograph or the Meisterstück Heritage Pulsograph.
Then, when Jérome Lambert arrived as CEO of Montblanc in 2013, the idea has clearly been to look deeply in the rich (that’s really an understatement) history of the Minerva / Montblanc Villeret manufacture. And as a result, here is this stunning homage watch, the Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter. It has everything from antique 1930s and 1940s pilot chronographs made by Minerva, for military use – like this watch for example. It has the same kind of dial layout, the same kind of cathedral hands, the same arrow hands for the sub-counters, the onion crown and, mostly, the same movement than old Minerva chronographs. Yes, the same (almost…).
Like old military chronographs, this Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter is large, at 44mm. That’s a modern size – but antique watches were extremely big too – and that’s all because of the movement, but we’ll get back on this later. The good point is that, in the end, these 44mm are not too difficult on the wrist. Lugs are short, the watch remains relatively thin. First introduced in a limited edition of 100 pieces in rose gold, Montblanc also now has this watch in the catalogue with a stainless steel case – but don’t be too enthusiastic, it is also limited to 100 pieces. No differences with the rose gold edition, the case has the same shape and the same finishings, meaning polished flat surfaces and brushed flanks. The crown, which serves for winding and setting, as well as activating the chronograph (monopusher construction), has the same onion design.
The second modification, which goes along the steel case, is the presence of a new dial color, matched with a new strap. While the rose gold edition has a matte grey dial with inscriptions slightly patinated, this steel edition features a blue dial, with lively sub-ray pattern. The numerals are still the same but are now printed in bright white, while the cathedral hands are filled with white lumina paint. The Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter retain its bi-compax layout, with small second at 9 and 30-minute sub-counter at 3, and a tachymeter scale on the periphery of the dial – all of that is very faithful to antique pilot watches. A nice feature is of course the place of the sub-counters. Even if the watch is large, they are placed far way from the center of the watch, again indicating a rather specific movement.
Visually, this steel edition, with its new colors, colder and less vintage than the pink gold version, looks rather different. It is more modern, less traditional and more catchy at the same time, as the dial plays with light reflections and offers a great contrast with the steel case. Being in steel and having mainly tones of blue and white, it looks slightly less dressed and will be more casual – and more comfortable too, as being lighter.
Then comes the movement, that superb, huge, vintage chronograph movement. What you’ll find in the Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter is not a modern, integrated, automatic calibre but a real, authentic, old-fashioned manual movement, the Calibre MB M16.29, so to say, a modern, haute-horlogerie finished version of the Minerva 17.29 – a movement designed in the 1920s. This movement was used in pocket watches, which explains its 38.4mm diameter (that’s the size of your average dress watch) and thus the reason wy this watch is 44mm. This movement is a beauty, in terms of construction and execution. Being old-school, we can enjoy a view on all the levers, gears and springs that serves the chronograph functions, including the column-wheel or the brakes. One detail that is always enjoyable with Montblanc Villeret chronographs is the signature arrow, so-called “devil’s tail” by collectors. The balance wheel is, like the rest of the movement, is old-school; huge and screwed.
As you can see, the finishing is just exquisite, with polished beveled angles, done by hand, gold chatons, levers that are straight brushed and then chamfered, a main plate entirely circular grained (even the hidden parts), Geneva stripes on the bridges, internal angles… impressive. Technically, this movement is not the most advanced possible, that’s for sure. It runs at a slow 18,800vph frequency, it has an horizontal clutch and it only has 50h of power reserve. However, the point is not there. The joy comes from the respect to an antique calibre, integrated in a “tribute watch”. Then, don’t forget the fact that it is a single pusher chronograph, which requires a complex set of levers and a strong adjustment to be perfectly accurate. Overall, this movement is a jump in the past and that’s exactly what we wanted to see here.
Now comes the best part… While the gold version, with its 30,000 Euros (retail price) was already a bargain, this steel edition comes for an even lower price, at 24,000 Euros (retail, all taxes, coffee in the boutique, box, papers, smile of the hostess included…). Now, look at the rest of the production and try to find a watch, with a movement with such a finish, with a case and a dial of such execution, from a brand with the same kind of aura and heritage. You’ll probably end up to a watch priced over 50,000 Euros. We told you, with these looks and this movement, this Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter in steel could well be the best possible deal for a high-end chronograph. Just like with the gold edition, our advice: RUN to the closest Montblanc boutique www.montblanc.com.
Specifications of the Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter steel
- Case: 44mm large x 13.15mm thick – stainless steel – Plexiglas crystal on front and sapphire on the back – 30m water resistant
- Movement: Calibre MB M16.29, Minerva based – manual winding – 50h power reserve – 18,000 vibrations/h – hours, minutes, small seconds, chronograph
- Strap: blue alligator strap with steel pin-buckle