Montblanc ushers in the second bronze age with a showstopping chronograph and the kind of business strategy that could help the watch industry weather tough times. James Buttery looks at the 1858 bronze
Montblanc’s SIHH presentations have been bursting at the seams with interesting watches for the past couples of years and given the strength of the watches they’ve just announced as a teaser to the January show, you can be assured they’ve got plenty left to talk about in 2017.
The star of the trio that Montblanc’s managing director of watches Davide Cerrato showed us is undoubtedly the bronze 1858 Chronometer Tachymeter Limited Edition 100 (a bit of a mouthful, but a lot of a watch).
This is a small run of 100 bronze-cased 1858 chronometers, the watch that celebrates Minerva’s chronographs of the 1930s and 40s and the watch that, quite rightly, just scooped a GPHG for best chronograph last month. It’s a reimagining of the original 1858 which launched at the end of 2015 – it was our cover watch on QP Magazine at the time, and you can read our full story here, complete with pictures from our visit to the Minerva manufacture.
If this were any other watch it would be all too easy to suggest Montblanc were a little late to the bronze party, but quite frankly it has been so deliciously executed as to be beyond such petty criticism. I’d even offer that it’s so good, it has breathed new life into the trend for bronze watches, which was in danger of stalling for want of new product.
The bronze alloy selected appears to be an aluminium-heavy mix, similar to that used on Tudor’s Black Bay Bronze, which is not only a lighter, more subtle hue but will develop a more reserved patina. No grubby green for this handsome 44mm monopusher chrono. The lighter shade of bronze has been matched with the utmost care to a sunray-brushed, champagne dial.
Inside is the same incredible Calibre MB M16.29 that powers its predecessor. Crafted entirely in Montblanc Manufacture in Villeret [aka Minerva] it’s the kind of three-dimensional, labyrinthine movement architecture that makes one’s heart skip a beat. On this new watch, the movement has been re-worked with rose gold bridges (including that classic curved V-shaped chronograph bridge) and rose gold baseplate.
You might think that a chronograph in bronze makes little sense; it is, after all, a material more associated with maritime endeavours and a natural partner for dive watches. But Montblanc has been very, very clever here. Given the current retail environment for watches around the globe, which might best be described as challenging, many brands have raced to produce competitively priced steel watches to keep inventories moving out of the door.
However there is not as much profit to be made in steel watches as in those cased in gold or platinum. But, if precious metal watches are more challenging to sell, what’s the point in producing them? So it would appear, for the time being at least, that bronze could be the new gold.
The use of a material that is still niche and interesting allows for a modest premium over steel at retail but not enough to deter customers, who walk away with a seriously impressive watch. Bronze even has some of the same aesthetic traits of gold. It also allows brands to keep their precious metal pricing structures intact for brighter days. And the best thing about this shrewd business strategy? Everyone wins.
But the 1858 Chronometer Tachymeter Limited Edition 100 [the clunky name is the watch’s Achilles heel] is not the only watch Montblanc has revealed ahead of SIHH.
It has also paved the way for an entirely new trend for steel/bronze bimetal watches through the 1858 Automatic Dual Time and 1858 Automatic which both feature bronze bezels and crowns as well as colour matched Super-LumiNova numerals.
The former features a skeletonised home-time hour hand with day-night indicator, which allows the hour hand to be independently set to a local time. The watch is completed with a small seconds and date window at the six o’clock.
The 1858 Automatic is a stripped back, time-only variant using a Sellita-derived MB24.16 calibre which really lets the bronze/steel bimetal concept shine. We’ll have more information, UK prices and hands-on pictures with all of the watches in the near future.