The Montblanc 1858 Collection Shines Spotlight On Minerva Manufacture
Founded in 1858, Minerva Manufacture in Villeret made its name as a specialist of chronograph watches and stopwatches.
Among its most notable creations were the 19.09 chronograph calibre with a V-shaped bridge in 1909 and a high-frequency movement that measured 1/100th of a second in 1916. Minerva was also one of the earliest manufactures to succeed in producing a manual monopusher chronograph for wristwatches in the 1920s.
It was this incredible wealth of technical know-how that attracted the attention of the Richemont Group who acquired the manufacture (known officially as Fabrique d’Horlogerie Minerva SA) in 2006. The company assigned the manufacture to Montblanc, bolstering the latter’s Swiss watchmaking competence hitherto provided only by a facility in Le Locle, which was acquired in 1997.
In a short period of time, the Hamburg-originated brand, better known for making fine writing instruments, astutely harnessed the horological resources at hand and turned initial sniggers about its watchmaking ambition into one of genuine admiration.
“We aim to compete with the best,” asserts Matthieu Dupont, Montblanc’s president of Southeast Asia. “Every year we try to demonstrate how good we are at making watches. As such, the technical component is an absolute must in order for us to have that legitimacy.”
Climb every mountain
For the 160th anniversary of Minerva Manufacture this year, Montblanc has created a new range of watches for the 1858 collection inspired by the spirit of mountaineering in what is perhaps a not-so-subtle allusion to the Mont Blanc peak the brand takes its name from.
Adopting design codes from military watches of the 1920s and 30s, they achieve that balance of ruggedness and elegance thanks to satin-finished cases, fluted crowns and domed crystals.
Bronze and aged calfskin leather from Montblanc’s very own Italian tannery as well as the cathedral-shaped hands with cloisonné design and the old Montblanc logo only enhances its vintage charm.
Comprising a total of five watches including a simple automatic and an automatic chronograph, the talking piece, however, is the 1858 Pocket Watch Limited Edition 100 with a compass integrated into the sapphire caseback.
With a design that recalls the first historical wristwatches by Minerva, it has a magnificent dial crafted from Dumortierite stone, a blue-hued natural mineral. The level of craftsmanship is simply exquisite, with the chronograph counters cut directly into the stone itself.
Open it up and you will discover the compass as well as the lavishly decorated MB M16.24 movement that includes the V-shaped chronograph bridge with Minerva arrow tip.
Another highlight is the 1858 Geosphere that features a worldtime complication complete with two globes representing two hemispheres – the northern hemisphere at ‘12’ and the southern at ‘6’. The globes make one full rotation every 24 hours, which can be tracked via the 24-hour scale around them.
The red dots on the globes indicate the locations of the Seven Summits of mountaineering including Everest, Kilimanjaro and, of course, Mont Blanc. There is also a second time zone display at ‘3’.
Although there is a version in steel, we have a soft spot for the bronze case, which is limited to 1,858 pieces. It is ideally paired with a cognac aged calfskin strap with beige stitching.
Then there is the 1858 Monopusher Chronograph Limited Edition 100, its most striking feature being the smoked green dial paired with green alligator strap that only reinforces the vintage appeal of the timepiece.
Honouring the legacy of Minerva
“Minerva always comes up with fantastic movements, which provide a great source of inspiration for Montblanc,” enthuses Dupont, who also points out that Minerva is a completely independent facility with its own research and development team.
“The 1858 Collection is a fantastic way for us to pay tribute to that. For instance, the finishing whether it is on the exterior or on the movement is top-notch. Technically, the watches are well thought-out right down to the way we treat the transparent glass on the caseback of the pocket watch to shield the movement from magnetic interference brought on by the compass. Everything about the collection is just extraordinary.”
Even though it has only been about 13 years since Minerva came under Montblanc, the output so far has been nothing short of impressive. Tasked with making limited edition chronographs and novel complications such as the Metamorphosis, one has come to expect nothing less than superlative releases from Minerva.
Dupont says: “When you talk to enthusiasts about Minerva, they have stars in their eyes. That is an advantage and a source of great pride for Montblanc. We already have that savoir-faire for our writing instruments and leather goods, and what Minerva brings to the table is a complementary aspect of high-end watchmaking. It helps us to do what we weren’t able to do in the past (with our watches).”
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