“I'm a man of simple tastes. I'm always satisfied with the best.” ― Oscar Wilde
With Montblanc Milanese Bracelet
Montblanc has been struggling as of late. Its under new management in the Richemont group, looking to revitalise the brand. Montblanc of course is much more then watches, arguably its pens are its most iconic products. Other items including leather goods and aftershaves are surprisingly well known.
In some ways I find it similar to Cartier. Cartier is mostly a jeweller but has a reasonably well selling watch business. Of course its only really iconic watch is the Tank, otherwise it has also been struggling with watches, and the new CEO of Cartier has said he will focus more on women’s watches in the future, their more successful market.
Lets face it, every watch manufacturer has their divers, their pilots, their dress and lately the trend in motorsport/sports watches. Claims to heritage are mostly vacuous with most manufacturers simply presenting the first time they did something, and few actually being an innovator in any area.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some beautiful heritage watches out there. For example, Some of Longines heritage range have really hit the spot recently, Tudor main sales have been a revival of Hans Wilsdorf’s “low cost” submariner range, now named the Black Bay and there are a few iconic watches that can be spotted from a distance, like the Heuer Monaco, the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch or the Rolex Oyster day-date.
Other companies that have never changed their design, now find themselves coming in from the cold, for example the beautiful altneuland designs of Hanhart, Vulcain and others to name but a few.
Montblanc has so far eschewed the “diver, pilot …” shuffle and has ploughed its way with a largely classic range of dress watches. Unexpectedly its sportier TimeWalker series took off a few years ago and this year it was relaunched and redesigned, critical to the company’s long-term success. I quite like the new funky TimeWalker series, especially the metal braceleted time/date series and the leather strapped chronographs.
In fact, I was in a shop looking at the new TimeWalker chronograph when I noticed the 1858 series. To be sure I had glanced at these before, particularly admiring the clear display and the sensational rear, but I had never looked closely ....
With Berfine soft leather strap
In the 1858 series Montblanc is celebrating its acquisition of the storied Minerva brand which it bought in 2006. Minerva started producing pocket watches in 1858 and regularly won awards for its design, including in the 1889 Paris world exhibition.
This new interpretation of Minerva’s classic design is both authentic and honest. Authentic as it shows a very pocket watch type design including using the top-of-the-range 21600 beats version of the ETA 6498 movement, the only mass produced manual movement to survive the quartz crisis. It reaches almost 50-60 hours of reserve and has a beautiful solid wind. You can spot instantly it’s an unusual movement, as the small seconds dial is large and right against the base of the dial in a 44mm watch. Something not possible for most of the automatic watch movements today as they simply don’t have a large enough radius.
Its honesty is displayed in resisting the temptation, quite rightly in my view, to have a pilots’ logo at the top. Although this could be easily mistaken for a super clear example of a pilot type watch, its actually a pocket watch design and therefore no need to pretend to be authorized by the Luftwaffe in the 1930s (aka. Laco, IWC and Hanhart) or be proud to be the only Swiss watch allowed to display the word “Pilot” in the display (Zenith).
The watch feels like what it is, a large bullet proof and beautiful movement sandwiched between two unusually large disks of Sapphire crystal, enclosed by a brushed steel case, with a highly polished segment surrounding the display crystal. The display crystal is domed and rises a good 1.5 mm above the case, providing vintage type reflections on the edges and allowing a delightful dance of lights reacting to exterior conditions.
The dial itself is wonderfully clear, with the super clear font and art-deco hands on a pitch-black surface. The blue version is also very beautiful, as I was torn between the two to be honest. I would say the blue is more beautiful but the black is more tolerant of different strap colours and slightly clearer. A mild criticism is the lume that is being used, it is rather weak to be honest, although the white large font is easy to see in even the dimmest light.
The “large” small second dial originally attracted me to the watch and sets it out from the common or garden automatics. The case is finished off with the oversize onion crown which is not massive but large enough to make winding a breeze. There is the tasteful Montblanc logo minted on the end.
The winding is firm and lovely, again something a bit different, and, the tick-tock noise is much deeper than the automatics I have used to date. It sounds a bit like an old grandfather clock.
Although the trend is now of retreating from the massive sizes of late (except for some brands like U-Boat, 7-day and Breitling etc. that make an art of it) the 44mm actually works very well. Firstly, with a design this clear, bigger is just clearer and secondly, as it’s a pocket watch design, it just makes sense. I have a small wrist but the 1858 looks imposing without looking too big. The watch itself is very slim and easily fits under a shirt cuff.
The Milanese bracelet is very cool, but it does draw attention and is a little bling. One word of caution, for those with very small wrists, even with all its links out the metal Milanese strap may not fit. It just fits me but is a tad loose – try this one out in the shop. Montblanc’s original brown leather strap for the black 1858 is probably the more popular option. I am using a Berfine soft leather strap which closely resembles Montblanc’s own and the thick well made omyzam calf leather crocodile style is very smart for work (both bought on Amazon).
Turning to the back, the sheer size of the crystal Montblanc has achieved, showing the whole movement, is unusual in any watch. And the movement really is a beauty. Of course, there is first a double take, “where is the pendulum !!!”, then there is the taking in of the unusually large size rubies and that lovely flywheel. This really is a movement to savour. The watch can last 2 to 3 days with a single wind, myself winding it every 3rd day.
I actually never considered a manual wind before. To be honest I bought this watch because of the stunning looks and build and decided to take a risk. Would I like a manual wind ? would it worry me ? In a weird way, in real life its actually less of a worry. With an automatic I am always casually shaking my wrist a bit to keep it wound. I worry about taking it off as I have had watches die on me over the weekend after an afternoon nap :). A side advantage of not being concerned about taking a watch off is all the automatics I have scuffed due to keeping them on whilst feeding the rabbits ....
The rear crystal disc is flat and interestingly, when sitting on a table the watch sits on the strap lugs and the rear does not actually touch the surface of the table.
Rarely does a design come together so well. Indeed one suspects that the design team just wanted to do a tribute to Minerva and were not overly concerned with “design by marketing committee”. IMHO these are the fluid designs that tend to work. If anyone is looking for the experience of a super clear design and/or a manual wind, the Montblanc 1858 series is not only worth considering but is a pack leader, for dress, work or just the hell of it