Back To The Future: Road To 1858 With Montblanc25 July 2018
BACK TO THE FUTURE, the famous movie from the 80s, has been a great box-office success: it made us dream and believe that traveling through time was possible. But what if it was really possible?
Just like Doc and Marty McFly in the movie, we took on a journey back in time to discover the story –and the path still to be beaten– of the maison Montblanc and the Manufacture Minerva, to observe the past with eyes fixed on the future.
A unique experience involving BMW as well, which allowed us to test drive two motorcycles from the Heritage and Adventure families: our DeLoreans DMC-12 made us travelled through time and space, back to 1858, roaring by the green mountains and breathtaking landscapes towards Villeret, sweeping past the gorgeous panoramas of the Chasseral regional park.
This year, the Manufacture Minerva is celebrating an important anniversary: 160 years of operations.
The Montblanc watchmaking tradition was established in the Saint-Imier valley in 1858, when Charles-Yvan Robert founded a watch workshop in Villeret. Little by little, the manufacture started raising international attention and acquiring prestige for its fine timepieces, becoming one of the greatest specialists in the watch and professional chronometer manufacturing world.
At Minerva, many movements supporting chronograph functions are produced, such as the legendary caliber 19.09 (19 lines, launched in 1909), featuring the recognizable V-Chrono shaped bridge.
In the 1920s one of the first monopusher chronograph models with manual winding was created, thanks to the reduced dimensions of the movement. In line with the extraordinary Minerva heritage, and to pay tribute to 160 years of fine watchmaking, these horology masterpieces have become the source of inspiration for the creation of the new Montblanc 1858 Collection timepieces.
About 30 people work in the Villeret establishment, and the production reaches 250 watches each years. Here, only high-end horological movements are made; among those, the caliber MB 16.29 for the 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Monopusher LE, the MB 16.24 for the 1858 Pocket Watch LE, and the MB 13.21 for the 1859 Chronograpgh Monopusher LE Green.
Great rarity: the springs are produced internally. The process required 7 years of research and development to create what is known today as the Montblanc spring.
We got off our BMW motorcycles to visit the manufacture, where we could observe old and new machines operate, in all phases of production of the movements: from concept to development, from assembling to finishing. Every single movement is made by one single watchmaker, from the beginning to the end of the process, including some of the decorations like the “Poli Noire.”
We admired the entire 1858 collection, a true journey through time.
The tribute is eminent, referring to the Manufacture’s 160 years of operations. The collection recalls a theme that is dear to the establishment –that of traveling and exploration– and is inspired by the legendary professional Minerva watches of the 20s and 30s, used by the military and in alpine expeditions. Accurate, legible and functional, they were and remain the perfect timepieces to wear in extreme conditions.
The collection includes five models, all different, but all representing the classic spirit reinterpreted in a modern way, giving expression to the revived tendency to seek adventure: 40-mm automatic watches and 42-mm chronographs, a handmade 42-mm Worldtime Geosphere, a fine 40-mm wristwatch with a 13-lines monopusher, and a new multifunction pocket watch displaying 24 hours, integrated with a compass and a 16-line monopusher chronograph movement. The dial colors are contrasting with the luminescent “cathedral” hands, characterized by a “cloisonné” design, slightly rounded, and Arabic numerals filled with white Super-LumiNova, a railway-style minute track and the original Montblanc emblem from the 30s, faithful to the original design featuring the historic image of the Mont Blanc.
Every timepiece is unique, thanks to the use of “living” materials. An example: bronze used for the cases, and antiqued veal leather for the straps, a rarity since only few establishments, like the Montblanc leather workshop in Florence, have the possibility to select and treat the finest leathers and transform them into distinguished straps. To guarantee a high level of performance on the whole product line, all Montblanc 1858 models undergo a 500-hour wear stress test, under extreme conditions as well.
Besides the 1858 collection, we had the opportunity to see some of the establishment’s most important pieces, such as the Montblanc Star Legacy Suspended Exo Tourbillon, the Tourbillon Bi-Cylindrique, the Metamorphosis II, and the Tourbillon Cylindrique Geosphères Vasco Da Gama.
The iconic timepiece which draw our attention and received all our admiration is the Montblanc 1858 Geosphere.
The caliber MB 29.25 features a new manufacture world-time complication developed by the Montblanc watchmakers in Villeret. To highlight the spirit of exploration inspiring the timepiece, the world’s seven summits are marked with red dots on two turning globes and are also engraved on the case back, together with the classic Mont Blanc effigy, a compass and two little crossed pickaxes.
The SuperLumiNova coating was applied on the continents as well for increased visibility and performance at night. The watch features all the design codes preserved from the 1858 Collection, with Arabic numerals and luminescent beige indicators, the original Montblanc logo from the 30s, the resized “cathedral” hands and the railway-style minute track. To celebrate the establishing year of the Manufacture Minerva, the bronze series production is limited to 1858 pieces.
To discover even more about the establishment we enjoyed a lunch with Davide Cerrato, Managing Director Montblanc Watches, and, feather in our cap, an extraordinary Master Class organized especially for us in which we had the chance to work directly on the movements, trying to fix the balance wheel’s internal spring and experimenting firsthand some of the production phases characterizing a master watchmaker’s work.
At the end of the day, after a unique experience that will most certainly remain impressed in our minds forever, we went back home riding our BMW motorcycles, ready to travel through time again. But this time on a journey towards the present to recount the tale of our experience in Villeret, together with Montblanc.
By Valentina Dalla Costa