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Tick Talk

Behind Montblanc’s Fine Watches

Why astute collectors should invest in the brand’s well-priced timepieces

By their own admission, watch aficionados are a snobby bunch. And why not? Watchmaking is, give or take a bit, a 500-year-old profession. Art, craft, science, call it what you will, there is an established way to do it – and by the same token, a half-cocked alternative. So when a brand from outside the traditional watch industry wades in and claims its own dial name, it’s usually given short shrift.

But for every rule there is an exception. Montblanc, whose watches we launch on MR PORTER this week, began making timepieces in 1997, some 90 years after it made its first pen and a couple of hundred after the watchmaking old guard made their first watches. Yet horologically speaking, in the space of two decades, it has become a serious player. 

Here’s why. Montblanc, despite the name, is German and makes all those fountain pens in Hamburg. But when it moves into other product categories, it goes where the expertise is. Its leather accessories are made in Italy, for example. So rather than licensing watches made in China (a common route among fashion brands), Montblanc operates a fully-fledged watchmaking programme in Switzerland, the go-to country for proper watches. It makes some exceptional pieces here, some of them with six-figure price tags.

However, Montblanc has really built its core watch business on offering good value for money, following a mantra laid down a few years back, that of “sharing a passion for fine watchmaking”. The idea being to make a solid Swiss watch and sell it at a reasonable price. That’s certainly the case in the five we picked out for the latest in our “Tick Talk” series of watch films (above). And they are:

TimeWalker Chronograph Automatic

Montblanc’s TimeWalker line isn’t new, but the look of this year’s collection is. Where before it was avant-garde and urban, now it’s sporty, the look inspired by a 1960s stopwatch made by the hallowed Minerva watch company, which was itself brought under Montblanc’s wing in 2006. This chronograph model is a particularly fine example – its angular 43mm stainless-steel case and bracelet have a muscular feel in the hand, while its chronograph function is indicated by a racy, red central seconds hand. 

TimeWalker Automatic

Mr Zaim Kamal, Montblanc’s creative director, describes this entry-level automatic version of the TimeWalker as the purest expression of the new collection. The TimeWalker is a sports watch, that much is clear on paper, but as Mr Kamal would point out, it only makes sense when your run your fingertips over it. For example, the edge of the black ceramic bezel is knurled like vintage race car dashboard instruments, while the top side is polished to a high sheen, reminiscent of the streamlined silhouette of a performance car. A perforated rubber strap adds to the feeling of speed.

Heritage Chronométrie Twincounter Date

Montblanc does a tidy line in evergreen daywear watches – such as this beautifully proportioned Heritage Chronométrie Twincounter Date model. This version has a 40mm stainless steel case, offset by rose gold hands and hour markers, but is given its character by those two counters in the centre of the dial. The left of the two shows running seconds; the other the date via a pointer hand. All in all, a sound investment piece, not because it’ll increase in value, but because it has an ageless feel to it that makes it a collection staple.

Heritage Spirit Orbis Terrarum Latin Unicef

At its core, this is a world time watch, telling the time in 24 time zones via place names and 24-hour rings around the dial, and adjusted from zone to zone in one-hour jumps using the pusher. But the clever thing about Montblanc’s in-house developed solution to the world time complication is that the watch’s world map changes colour to show night and day, thanks to a series of discs that rotate below the dial. On top of that, this limited-edition model is made in partnership with Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund. Sometimes, when spending serious money on a watch, it’s nice to know you’re supporting some good in the world. Only 500 will be made.

1858 Automatic

By making the bezel and crown of the 1858 Automatic from bronze, Montblanc has created a watch that fosters the versatility of bi-colour, only without any of the brash associations you get with bi-colour watches made using yellow or rose gold.

Bronze is still an unusual material in watchmaking (although less so with each passing year). It’s important to know that it patinates rather quickly. Some see the darker patinated finish as natural personalisation, others as an imperfection. The calm understated warmth of the watch continues on the dial, which has just the two hands – no need here for the hurried sweep of a central seconds hand. The tan strap lends some extra ballast to the handsome vintage feel.

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