In the past years, Montblanc has treated us to lots of horological sweets. That sweetness came mainly in the shape of chronographs fitted with the old Minerva calibres 16.29 and 13.21, both showcases of how incredibly beautiful old Minerva chronographs can be. It started (again) with the arrival of CEO Jerôme Lambert (now COO of most Richemont watch brands) who launched the Pulsograph into the Heritage Spirit collection back in 2014. This beauty was equipped with the historical Minerva calibre 13.21. In the following years, various iterations of the 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter were introduced, powered by the magnificent large chronograph calibre 16.29.
First, the 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter appeared in a steel case with a blue dial, later in red gold with a matte black dial, a bronze version with a champagne coloured dial, and a bronze pièce unique with a vintage green dial for last year’s Only Watch auction. Now it appears in a limited edition of 100 pieces with the same striking vintage green dial, but with a smaller steel case to house the smaller chronograph calibre 13.21, which is also activated by one pusher, hence its name, Montblanc 1858 Monopusher Chronograph.
Note: the watch I got to photograph was a prototype with (scratched) Plexi crystal on both sides, instead of a sapphire crystal that comes on production models.
The 40mm stainless steel case makes this a very versatile and wearable watch. While the 44mm 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter models of recent years featured the more desirable single push piece in the crown, the larger case was not ideal for smaller wrists. Now with a smaller monopusher chronograph movement in a smaller case, the pusher is positioned at 2 o’clock and the movement, despite being smaller, looks equally impressive and desirable. And that’s the unique selling proposition that Montblanc can offer… an incredibly beautiful chronograph calibre at a very attractive price.
In terms of movement architecture and finishing these are just magnificent and high on wish lists of watch enthusiasts around the world. In recent years, Montblanc has shown us how it is integrating stunning chronograph calibres into various collections, instead of setting them aside for a special collection. Watches with either the 13.21 or 16.29 calibre ticking inside are the pinnacle of the 1858 and TimeWalker collections.
Minerva Calibre 13.21
Today’s calibre 13.21 derives from one of the first chronograph calibres for a wristwatch, namely the Minerva calibre 13.20 that was introduced in 1923. Of course, there have been several chronograph calibres before, but usually, these were much larger and designed to be used in pocket watches, like the larger calibre 16.29. In spite of it being a smaller chronograph calibre, it actually paved the way for the success of mechanical wristwatch chronographs.
Calibre 13.21 is the slightly modernised version of the classic 13.20 calibre. This 13-ligne movement is the 21st calibre developed by Minerva, hence the movement’s name 13.21. The main plate is adorned with circular graining, bridges – including the nice V-shaped chronograph bridge – are adorned with Geneva stripes (Côtes de Genève), and the steel levers and springs feature straight graining. All countersinks are mirror polished and there are plenty of gorgeous roundish polished bevels. All done by hand – of course!
The large screw balance keeps the rhythm at a 2.5Hz pace. Manufactured in-house, it comes with a hairspring that has also been manufactured in-house with a Phillips terminal curve that allows the spring to ‘breathe’ and in turn improve the overall isochronism. This is a rare property, and only a handful of manufacturers have mastered the production of their own hairsprings.
To activate the measurement of a time interval, you have to push the button at 2 o’clock, the same button that is used for stopping and resetting the chronograph. Pushing this button makes the operating lever turn the column wheel, and that sets a variety of functions into action. This can be either starting, stopping or resetting the chrono. This column-wheel activated chronograph features horizontal coupling, meaning a horizontal coupling of the gear train and chronograph wheel. Although horizontal coupling is known for a slightly jerky start of the time measurement, and thus less precision, it looks much nicer than vertical coupling.
Like all Montblanc’s in-house movements, calibre 13.21 is tested for 500 hours before it’s ready to be delivered to a client.
On the wrist
Stainless steel is a great and versatile material for wristwatches; it looks good and is less prone to scratches and dents than precious metals. It’s also lighter than precious metal, and you can finish it in many ways. For the 1858 Monopusher Chronograph, Montblanc chose to keep the finishing in line with the style of the entire watch, being a great “throw-back” to military chronographs of the 1940’s. The dial has a nice vintage spirit, and the beige luminous material on the numerals only adds to that feeling of yesteryear.
The smoked green dial is surrounded by a tachymeter and, going one step further inwards, we see a railway track index matching the tachymeter, followed by a ‘minuterie’ with four tiny baton markers, for the seconds, placed between each minute. This allows for a very precise reading of the recorded time and perfectly matches the style of the watch. The two subsidiary counters are for the running seconds (at 9 o’clock) and the 30-minute chronograph counter, placed at 3 o’clock.
The centre of the dial is a bit lighter, while towards the periphery the green gets a tad darker, and all this adds a lovely vintage feel to the watch. Combine that with the 40mm case size, and you have a strikingly beautiful chronograph that is a modern interpretation of a watch that could have been produced more than half a decade ago. And it comes with a movement that already existed in the times that inspired this watch.
I never thought I would like a green wristwatch, but after wearing this one for some hours, I must admit that the colour grew on me. The green is understated and looks quite restrained. Same goes for the matching green strap. Is green the new black? I can imagine that once a few brands follow suit, 2018 might will be declared the year of ‘green is the new black’.
The elongated cathedral hands (see here for our overview of hand types) sit perfectly with the 1930’s / 1940’s military (aviation) style of the watch. While it’s a new watch, it has a very authentic retro look. That’s also one of the strengths of Montblanc’s Managing Director of Watches, Davide Cerrato, who revamped Tudor before joining Montblanc and was responsible for the immensely popular Black Bay.
While I only had the chance to wear the new Montblanc 1858 Monopusher Chronograph for some hours, during which I also took the photos for this article, I managed to get a good feel of how it sits on the wrist. Lovely. It’s absolutely lovely. The green gradient dial looks great, the white printed tachymeter, the beige Arabic numerals, the cathedral hands, they all work fantastically together. The brushed steel case, with lovely polished bevels on the lugs, and the big crown, all add to the feeling of a vintage-inspired watch that looks fabulous.
Now the big treat is not just the fact that it’s a lovely vintage-inspired watch. The big extra comes when you turn the watch around to have a look at the stunning movement. For me, it’s one of the most beautiful chronograph calibres on the market today, next to chronographs from Lange and Patek. With this movement, and the larger calibre 16.29, Montblanc has something very valuable in its hands, something that watch enthusiasts from around the world will admire and appreciate. More information at www.montblanc.com