Montblanc 2019 Heritage Line: Minerva More Visible Than Ever. And That Is So, So Good
Montblanc’s parent company Richemont took over Minerva in 2006. This 161-year old company, which has produced watches without interruption in Swiss town of Villeret, was primarily known for its chronographs. In the modern era, vintage Minerva chronographs remain revered.
Minerva, which Montblanc promptly renamed Villeret after the takeover in a fit of corporate branding, became the manufacturer of Montblanc’s highest-end watches, outfitted with full manufacture movements, including the difficult-to-produce balance spring, which hardly another brand (except perhaps Bovet and A. Lange & Söhne) goes to the trouble of doing itself. The hand-finishing on these is also fantastic.
Villeret also became the name of this Montblanc line.
Montblanc hardly changed a detail about Minerva’s factory, keeping the impressive files and drawers full of original parts intact, which makes a visit there infinitely interesting.
Since Davide Cerrato joined Montblanc in 2015, he has instituted a number of interesting changes and designs, including once again proudly calling Minerva by its name. This is a move that I applaud, and from all reports the vintage community is also pleased with this reversal of policy.
“We do high-end watches with the Minerva movement of Montblanc; we speak about our history, which is Minerva. That’s it,” he recently confirmed to me. “This was one of the key ingredients to be able to be doing what you are seeing today.”
And what is it we are seeing?
This new collection of watches is so inspired by Minerva’s illustrious past that you may only be able to tell which decade they were produced in by taking them in your hands and feeling the weight of modern stainless steel or 18-karat gold cases.
These dials are so exquisite, so finely tuned to the ongoing public love of vintage style, that they are certain to persuade even the staunchest critic to at least try them on. And once they’ve done that, they might well be lost.
Making the Minerva heritage more visible
“When I look at the history of Minerva, something that really struck me was all this exploration of counter and stopwatches that was done for 50 years at the start of the twentieth century . . . it was always an exploration in how to time performance, and at the end what we call the chronograph was born,” Cerrato explains his brand’s preoccupation with chronographs.
“And the chronograph today is clearly the most important and hottest complication in watchmaking. By far.
“So we have all this incredible heritage, which means our knowledge is the one that allowed the history of watchmaking to bring in what is called today a chronograph,” Cerrato explains. “It’s not just how we did a nice chronograph in 1867. No, we have been an active part in creating what is today considered the most iconic complication in watchmaking. It’s huge.”
Cerrato also reminded me that later on in Minerva’s history, these chronographs took on the shape of higher-end movements as well as monopusher examples. “So if we put all this together, it means Montblanc really should have a number of chronographs – from the more accessible core to the manufacture movement to the Minerva one, in such a way that we can really tell the story of the birth of the chronograph. And how much we are a part of that history.”
A word about trends, in particular the vintage trend
If you watched the BIG interview between The Watches TV and Jean-Claude Biver, you will already know what this watch industry giant thinks about the vintage trend. And his thoughts on it collide with mine: it is a trend that is always in the background of the watch industry somewhere, but it is far more prevalent at certain times than others.
Right now we are in the middle of a certain vintage trend, a fact that Cerrato is fully aware of and admittedly taking full advantage of.
“I’m not really afraid that customers will get quickly bored [with the trend], because I think it’s still mainstream, and it will take years before it leaves the mainstream, I think,” Cerrato admits.
“What scares me is the fact that because vintage is so successful, there are many brands just copying in such a way that I find insane. This is terribly confusing for customers because at some point they don’t get it anymore; all the work behind creating a good vintage reinterpretation like ours . . . if they see a watch next to it that costs 30 percent less, they don’t understand it. And then it’s not even a question of telling them the story of Minerva, they just want to spend a bit less so they buy the other one. And this confusion is going to push to maturity really quickly, which is a pity.”
While Cerrato has been filing away at Montblanc’s vintage-style timepieces with designs like the 2016 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève-winning 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition, which was fantastic – and continues to even improve with every new watch in the line appearing – the 2019 collection of designs nearly hits vintage style perfection.
Cerrato needed these three years to finally fit all the puzzle pieces together to create the whole he had envisaged when he joined the brand. And in the 2019 collection, we finally see one of the most important elements: the full structure.
“This is the best moment for my work, it’s worth all the fights, all the discussion, all the tough moments I had to go through to defend things because I was seeing already at that moment that the elements that we had combined in a good way could give Montblanc completely a different perspective.”
And he was so right.
Montblanc Heritage Pulsograph Limited Edition 100
The top of this line is the Montblanc Heritage Pulsograph Limited Edition 100. And to be very clear: this is in no way a new watch. This is a chronograph that has existed in the Montblanc Minerva line for a very long time. But each new design makes it sharper, more attractive, and more desirable.
In fact, this is quite likely the most attractive edition of this watch I have seen yet. I would wear it in a heartbeat.
“That’s how you create an icon, you know,” Cerrato explains. “You sharpen, you improve, you improve, you improve, you improve, and then after a number of years there’s nothing that you can do better. You get these continuous technical, aesthetic, functional updates. This is really part of how to keep relevant products alive.”
The Pulsograph is inspired by early 1920s chronographs that were dubbed “doctor’s watches” because they were used to take pulses.
Quick Facts Montblanc Heritage Pulsograph Limited Edition 100
Case: stainless steel, 40 x 12.65 mm
Movement: manually wound Montblanc/Minerva Caliber MB M13.21, 2.5 Hz/18,000 vph frequency, monopusher column wheel chronograph, 55-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; chronograph, pulsometer scale
Limitation: 100 pieces
Price: $30,000, available June 2019
Montblanc Heritage Perpetual Calendar Limited Edition 100
Way back in 2014 I wrote an article about the revamped Heritage collection under Jérôme Lambert (now CEO of the Richemont Group) as his first task. I was impressed with the way that the brand had made these products clearer, more attractive, and more affordable. These have included both the Heritage Pulsograph and the Heritage Perpetual Calendar.
But I dare say they are beyond attractive now. And for what they are also fairly priced at various levels, which is part of the new structuring strategy being implemented.
This new version of the Heritage Perpetual Calendar is powered by a new manufacture movement that features more wheels and less levers, which allows the wearer to set all the displays by the crown (rather than correctors) – and in both directions!
It also includes a new safety feature that prevents the wearer from adjusting anything during the all-important 8:00-12:00 pm time period when components are shifting in preparation for the new day.
Quick Facts Montblanc Heritage Perpetual Calendar Limited Edition 100
Case: red gold, 40 x 12.3 mm
Movement: automatic Caliber MB 29.22, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, 48-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; second time zone, 24-hour display, perpetual calendar with date, month, leap year, moon phase
Limitation: 100 pieces
Price: $26,240, available September 2019
Montblanc Heritage Monopusher Chronograph
An accessibly priced monopusher chronograph is also included among the new models that is as inspired by Minerva’s past as the above-mentioned Heritage Pulsograph Limited Edition 100, even if its movement was not crafted in Villeret by hand.
The choice of a “Sfumato” (gradient-colored) alligator-skin strap from Montblanc’s own pelleteria in Florence or stainless steel mesh (Milanese) bracelet emphasize the beauty of the vintage-inspired dial.
Learn much more about mesh bracelets in Milanaise Mesh Watch Bracelets: What’s The Attraction?
Quick Facts Montblanc Heritage Monopusher Chronograph
Case: stainless steel, 42 x 14.65 mm
Movement: automatic Caliber MB 25.12, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, 48-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; chronograph
Price: $4,950 (grey Sfumato Montblanc alligator strap); $5,160 (stainless steel Milanese bracelet)
Montblanc Heritage GMT
This well-priced dual time zone watch is available on the Sfumato strap or the mesh bracelet described above, and it comes with two dial variations: one in the lovely salmon color that has become emblematic of this line in 2019 and the other a silvery-white version.
As Martin Green remarked in Serving Up Salmon: Watches With Sublime Salmon-Colored Dials And Why They Remain Rare, the use of this color for a dial is relatively rare and generally elevates a watch to a higher plane.
The appeal of them can be limited, which is surely why Montblanc also offers these watches with dials in another color, but I think upon seeing the exact tone and finishing of this particular salmon-colored dial, it will become hard to resist – especially with the blue accents that just pop.
Quick Facts Montblanc Heritage GMT
Case: stainless steel, 40 x 11.8 mm
Movement: automatic Caliber MB 24.05 (base ETA 2892-2), 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, 42-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; second time zone/24-hour indication
Price: $2,850 (grey Sfumato Montblanc alligator strap); $3,060 (stainless steel Milanese bracelet)
Montblanc Heritage Automatic Day-Date
Part of the Heritage line’s core collection, the stainless steel Day-Date and Automatic watches are beautiful, affordable everyday watches that exude their own sophisticated elegance.
Quick Facts Montblanc Heritage Automatic Day-Date
Case: stainless steel, 40 x 11.8 mm
Movement: automatic Caliber MB 24.18(base Sellita SW240-1), 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, 38-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, day
While the stainless steel version of the new Heritage Automatic is incredibly well-priced and attractive, the red gold version really kicks up a notch in design with a dial so well done, you really have to look twice to know if it’s modern or vintage.
Quick Facts Montblanc Heritage Automatic
Case: stainless steel or red gold, 40 x 11.8 mm
Movement: automatic Caliber MB 24.18 (base Sellita SW240-1), 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, 38-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: $2,270 (grey Sfumato Montblanc alligator strap); $2,480 (stainless steel Milanese bracelet); $8,320 (red gold with brown Sfumato Montblanc alligator strap)