The universe of Montblanc watches is composed of two totally different categories. First are the classic watches, with “accessible luxury” positioning, like this handsome new chronograph. And then, there are the dream machines, the watches that are produced in-house with hand-finished, historical Minerva chronograph movements, like this 1858 Monopusher. Certainly, the design codes are shared but under the hood, it’s just another story. And today, the brand introduces a new desirable piece… Monopusher rattrapante, enamel dial and titanium case, all combined in the new Montblanc 1858 Split Second Chronograph Limited Edition 100.
If you’re really into watches, this new model should actually ring a bell and feel familiar. Indeed, the 1858 Split Second was already available in 2019 with a bronze case and black dial. The advent of this blue version could have been foreseen with a unique piece created for Only Watch 2019, equipped with the same movement, a titanium case and a blue dial – which was then made of degraded blue Agate, a natural stone – with red accents. Based on this very handsome watch, the brand has decided to create a new 100-piece limited edition, with a blue dial with orange accents, made of grand feu enamel.
A lightweight, darker titanium case
The first thing that makes this Montblanc 1858 Split Second Chronograph special is its case. Montblanc has been using several “exotic” materials in the past for these Minerva-based watches. Apart from the traditional gold cases, expected in such high-end watches, the brand has used stainless steel as well as bronze. Now, for the first time (with the exception of the Only Watch piece), Montblanc presents a titanium case. It is executed in Grade 5 alloy allowing for polished accents over the brushed surfaces.
This metal results in a cold looking watch, with darker tones than white gold or stainless steel, somehow contrasting with the high-end vocation of this piece. In addition to that, despite the imposing dimensions – 44mm in diameter and 14.55mm in thickness, due to the massive pocket watch movement that ticks inside – the case is very light. It is combined with a blue Sfumato alligator strap with a titanium pin buckle.
Blue, gradient enamel dial
Special attention has been paid to the dial of this new Montblanc 1858 Split Second Chronograph. While the overall design is typically Montblanc, with classic 1930s Minerva-inspired elements, the dial is made of solid gold with a gradient blue grand feu enamel finish. This technique, one of the oldest in watchmaking, requires specific skills and is only mastered by a handful of dial makers.
Grand feu enamel starts with dusting enamel powder onto the gold disc, briefly fired at 800 degrees Celsius, before removing it and allowing it to cool, setting the enamel. The heating of the surface is done in layers and each layer is heated at very high temperatures. The 1858 Split Second adds to the complexity, with a gradient colour achieved by carefully playing with the height of the different layers of enamel. The result is a deep blue glossy dial with uneven texture, reflecting the work of the artisan.
In addition to the large, pilot-inspired Arabic numerals and cathedral hands, the dial comprises multiple tracks and indications. First are the two chronograph sub-counters, a small seconds at 9 o’clock and a 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock. In the centre, there’s a base-1000 tachymeter colimaçon (snail-shaped) track used to measure average speeds. Its unusual snail pattern allows measurements of up to three minutes instead of one minute when the scale is placed around the dial.
On the periphery of the dial are three other scales – minutes, seconds and telemeter. The latter was often seen in vintage Minerva chronographs and can measure the distance of a phenomenon which is both visible and audible, like lightning and thunder in a storm. The chronograph hand starts the instant the phenomenon is seen (lightning) and is stopped when the sound is heard (thunder). The position on the scale shows the distance in kilometres.
Minerva Split Second Movement
Apart from the beautiful enamel dial, the real value of this Montblanc 1858 Split Second Chronograph lies in its superbly finished, historically relevant hand-wound MB M16.31 movement, a large (very large) movement that is an evolution of the MB M16.29 which takes its inspiration from the original Minerva calibre 17.29 developed in the 1930s that was used for both pocket watches and wristwatches.
This movement, in its non-rattrapante version, has been used in multiple MB watches recently – always in limited runs – such as this steel/blue chronograph or this bronze/salmon version. But today, there’s something extra on top of the base movement, the most refined complication you can think of when it comes to a chronograph: the split-second, rattrapante or doppelchronograph. Such a function allows the measurement of intermediate times without interrupting the ongoing measurement of a longer elapsed time – for instance, simultaneously recording the duration of a race and the intermediate laps. This kind of chronograph features two seconds hands. When launched, these two hands move jointly. When the pusher at 2 o’clock is pressed, one of the two hands stops to indicate the intermediate time, while the other one continues its journey. Press the pusher again and the additional hand “catches” the main one (rattraper in French).
To achieve that, some additional parts are required on top of the movement, including a second column wheel and set of levers, as well as a pair of clamps that stop the additional seconds hand, and a second hammer to reset the hand. These parts are clearly visible on the movement and add to the complexity of the adjustment and assembly.
The movement itself, this calibre MB M16.31, is a very large pocket watch-inspired engine measuring 38mm in diameter, constructed in the most classic way, with horizontal coupling, V-shaped bridge (its design was patented in 1912) and a large balance wheel with 18 screws beating a slow frequency of 2.5Hz.
The movement’s bridges and mainplate are made of rhodium-plated Maillechort (German silver), produced and hand-decorated in-house in the old Minerva manufacture in Villeret. The decoration includes anglages, perlage, Geneva stripes, levers and wheels with polished bevels, polished screw heads… True Haute Horlogerie.
Thoughts, availability and price
The Montblanc 1858 Split Second Chronograph Limited Edition 100 in Titanium is another demonstration of the savoir-faire of the Villeret-based manufacture, with an exquisite movement, impeccable credentials and superb decoration. It is also visually impressive and makes a statement with its blue enamel dial and titanium case. At USD 36,000, it is an expensive watch, however, knowing the content you’ll get, it is superb value for the money.
The Montblanc 1858 Split Second Chronograph Limited Edition 100 in Titanium will be produced in 100 pieces, available in September 2020. More details at www.montblanc.com.