Montblanc’s Bronze Age

Inspired by Minerva’s legitimate history of military timekeeping, Montblanc has reinvigorated bronze as a case material in the maison’s flagship 1858 collection.

1858 is a key number as it was the year that the Minerva Manufacture was founded in Villeret, Switzerland. Montblanc has long been mining Minerva’s exhaustive archives and storied heritage for inspiration, and this year, bronze has come to the forefront.

In these new timepieces, Montblanc uses world-renowned Minerva military watches from the 1930s as the inspiration, reinterpreting them while incorporating distinct design cues and, as always, superlative mechanical watchmaking.

Bronze and Brass
The words “bronze” and “brass” are often used interchangeably, though they do not refer to the same thing. Brass is the name for alloys of copper and zinc, while bronze is an alloy of copper and tin. They share the common element of copper and many characteristics, but they are not the same material, even though some types of brasses are called bronzes, complicating things even further.

Brass is a material that has been used in watchmaking since the dawn of the industry, primarily as movement parts and sometimes for the cases and dials. John Harrison and other master watchmakers in the 17th and 18th centuries worked with brass.

Bronze was also a common case material, with many antique pocket watches cased in bronze or gilded bronze. However, bronze was relatively unused in wristwatches until recently, when new alloys of bronze were introduced and adapted for use in the watch industry.

There is no denying that bronze and brass look very similar, though brass is a bit more golden than bronze. Nevertheless, both materials are equally symbolic of the long and rich history of the craft of watchmaking. And by using bronze in its latest series of watches in the 1858 collection, Montblanc taps into a sacred tradition that harks back to watchmaking in the past. More significantly, it is the maison’s nod to Minerva’s revered watchmaking heritage and its expertise in military watches from the 1930s.

In the new 1858 bronze timepieces, Montblanc uses a special alloy of bronze that is anti-allergenic and that will patina with use over the years, ultimately making each watch unique as the patina is affected by weather, wear and atmospheric conditions.

“Working with bronze reminds us at Montblanc of the movement materials we are using,” explains Jérôme Lambert, CEO of Montblanc. “Brass has quite a long tradition within what we do in the movement collection. Brass is very close to bronze—they are almost the same color—but bronze ages in a particular way. Bronze isn’t a high-end material, but it’s a material for professional use. When you go into the archives of Minerva and you open the cases of vintage watches, you have the same impression of ageing brass elements that are visible in these products. Bronze is a great material to use when remembering the archives of Montblanc—it’s a good way to emulate the antique pocket watches from our past.”

According to Lambert, it will take a good year for the watches to start their ageing process. Then, the watches start to take on their unique patina, depending on where you are in the world. “Here in Hamburg, Germany, it can take slightly less time because of our weather,” Lambert says with a smile.

History of the Minerva Manufacture
Minerva is the movement arm of Montblanc, whose caliber development workshop has been moved to the facilities in Villeret. “Minerva is more and more well-integrated into the maison,” Lambert observes. “Montblanc wanted to treat it with a lot of attention, and we are integrating it more. Our movement development is in the workshop of Minerva. We have an amazing patrimony to perpetuate today.”

Among this rich inheritance is the famous 17.29 movement—a pocket-watch-style movement designed by Minerva for use in pocket watches and wristwatches in the 1930s. The new MB M16.29 movement used in the 1858 collection is directly descended from the caliber 17.29 and, in fact, uses almost the same shape of components as the 17.29, but with different finishing techniques (inside angles, Côtes de Genève stripes and circular graining). To match the bronze material used in the cases and the bezels of the new bronze pieces, for the first time, red-gold-colored components are used in the MB M16.29 movement. Within the M16.29 movement, there is a part that is in the form of the Minerva arrow, paying homage to the vaunted manufacture.

“The Minerva signature movement, the 16.29, is a movement that has more than eight years of history,” Lambert details. “The V-shape of the bridge, the scale inside, the play with colors, the large balance wheel—all these elements combine to make one of the most beautiful movements in the entire industry.

“Minerva is located in the valley of Saint-Imier, and the chronograph is a signature of the valley,” Lambert continues. “Minerva specialized in chronographs, including even a 1,000th of a second chronograph! This was something very important and very strong for the Minerva Manufacture. What is key today is that we have kept this handwork, and we use our own escapement and our particular way of doing the bridges. We manufacture less than 100 of these movements, so they are very rare. It’s not just a question of appearance, as you have the continuity of the movement itself, and we have the opportunity to perpetuate the chronographs and our fine watchmaking.”

Even though the new watches in the 1858 collection are retro-inspired and have many cues to historic models from Minerva, they also continue the spirit of innovation that has imbued Montblanc and Minerva since the very beginning.

“We believe that when we are innovative, we are true to the forward-thinking spirit of our ancestors,” explains Lambert. “We have to meet the promises made to the clients. It starts with the fountain pens and it continues with having a style that is minimalistic and pure, which focuses on precision with cutting-edge solutions. We have very advanced technology with very nice traditional styling.”

Chronograph Perfection
Montblanc is committed to continuing the tradition of excellent and class-leading chronographs. As an example, the monopusher chronograph developed by the Minerva Manufacture during the 1930s has served as a guide for developing the new Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition, the flagship piece in the 1858 collection watches.

“The success of Minerva chronographs is linked to the escapement,” Lambert explains. “We do our own escapement—if you master the escapement, you master the elapsed time. The manufacture was expert at measuring the time of sporting events, which means they had to be precise, so they had a very good mastery of the function. Having the technical specificity and the commitment to measuring time accurately are two strong elements that brought Minerva to the forefront.

“Many people would be surprised to know that Minerva was the official timekeeper of the 1936 Winter Olympic Games,” Lambert continues. “Measuring the time for a snow race meant that they had to be very precise and very strong. When you visit Villeret, you can see a number of different timers—even a timer for snooker! They had tons of timepieces measuring the time for many different events.”

The 1858 Bronze
The 1858 collection is inspired by the legendary status of Minerva as one of Switzerland’s timekeeping specialists. With this collection, Montblanc revives the spirit of the legendary watches Minerva has been creating since 1858—and gives them a new, contemporary expression with a vintage feel and look.

“These new 1858 pieces come directly from the historic DNA of our Minerva chronographs—they are 1930s watches reincarnated,” Lambert says. “These new introductions were a natural way to bring them back to life. The 1858 collection is a beautiful, strong expression of the past, and it is getting a lot of attention all around the world. The use of different materials is a way to give us the opportunity to reinterpret. The first introductions were in steel, which was very close to the original watches, but now we use bronze which is a second step.”

The historical design codes taken from the original 1930s Minerva chronograph include large cathedral hands, with their cloisonné design filled with beige Super-LumiNova®, luminescent Arabic numerals, vintage-shaped crowns and classic minute railway tracks that encircle the dials. Also, the watches use the original Montblanc emblem from the 1930s era with its historical font and the Mont Blanc Mountain in the center. The watches come on new cognac-colored calfskin or alligator straps that have been given an aged look by the artisans at the Montblanc Pelletteria in Florence, Italy.

Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition 100
This traditional manually wound monopusher chronograph comes with a retro-vintage champagne dial, which matches the bronze color of the 44mm bronze satinated case. The caseback is bronze-colored titanium (to avoid allergies), and the cognac alligator leather straps have satinated bronze-plated buckles that complement the overall design.

Powered by the MB M16.29, which includes a column-wheel mechanism, horizontal coupling, chronograph bridge in a “V” shape, a large screwed balance wheel with a frequency of 18,000 semi-oscillations per hour, and a power reserve of 50 hours, and designed in a large pocket-watch-style, the Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition 100 is an extraordinary piece that puts everything the 1858 collection stands for—tradition, commitment to high watchmaking, heritage and innovation—in an extremely attractive package. The watch is limited to 100 pieces.

Montblanc 1858 Automatic Dual Time
A dual time is a must-have in a watch collection, and the new Montblanc 1858 Automatic Dual Time displays two timezones with a vintage spirit that harks back to Minerva timepieces from the 1930s. Featuring black dials, cathedral-shaped hands and beige Super-LumiNova® Arabic numerals, the Dual Time comes in a 44mm satinated stainless-steel case with a bronze bezel and crown.

Powered by the automatic caliber MB 29.19, the dual-time complication was entirely developed and assembled in-house, and includes a home-time indication and a day/night display. A skeletonized home-time hand is positioned in the center with a touch of Super-LumiNova® on its tip to distinguish it from the hour hand, which is completely filled with Super-LumiNova®. The dual-time complication allows you to set the local time hour hand to the new destination timezone without affecting the home-time hour hand. The minute hand and the second hand also both continue to run uninterruptedly during this setting process, thus preserving the exact time. A day/night indicator, which is connected to the central home-time hand, is visible in a small aperture at 12 o’clock. At six o’clock, a subdial indicates the small seconds and the date, both linked to the local time.

Montblanc 1858 Automatic Timepiece
Looking for a pure, clean vintage look? The Montblanc 1858 Automatic might be just what you are looking for. The deep black dial is in stark contrast to the cathedral-shaped hands and Arabic numerals that have been enhanced with beige Super-LumiNova® for excellent readability at night, and a great vintage look. The 44mm case is in satinated stainless steel, while the bezel and crown have been produced in bronze. An engraving of the Minerva Manufacture in Villeret, with the Jura Mountains in the background, graces the caseback, along with the Roberts Frères Villeret logo, the historic Minerva emblem, the Montblanc name and the arrow from the Goddess Minerva’s spear.

All the 1858 bronze timepieces use the historic Montblanc emblem on the dial‑side, with the mountain itself splitting the name Montblanc into two.

Photographer: Sidney Teo
Fashion stylist: Marie Lee
Fashion assistant: Sebelle Sharmine Ho
Grooming: Rina Sim using Dior & Young Living
Male Model: Chris V / Ave Management

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