Montblanc Interview with Davide Cerrato
The Managing Director of Montblanc Watches talks about the 160th anniversary of Minerva, the 1858 collection and smart watches.
The first collection that you worked on for Montblanc was the TimeWalker. We saw some new models again this year. How has the collection evolved over the past couple of years?
In effect 2017 was a seminal year for the launch of sport watches and we worked in detail to look into the history of Minerva to find links with motorsport and performance. An incredible exploration in timekeeping took place in Minerva during the first half of the 20th century with counters that were either tools to measure performance, in particular short time frames (from 1/5th of a second down to 1/100th of a second in 1936), or that were specific to particular sports, such rally, football, rowing and horse riding. Leveraging this unique heritage we created the concept of “spirit of racing” to support and inspire the relaunch and re-design of the TimeWalker collection.
TimeWalker Manufacture Chronograph © Montblanc
This communication platform was also enriched by a five-year partnership with the Goodwood Festival of Speed, which is one of the top three events in the world for car fans and allows us to get in contact with true car enthusiasts. This year we will actually present some new models at the Festival of Speed in the TimeWalker product line to celebrate this partnership. Then in September the “panda” chronograph with the new MB 29.25 in-house chronograph movement will arrive in stores. We will also have the reverse-panda version of the rally timer with the cognac calfskin strap for a more vintage look.
You have also presented the 1858 collection this year at the same time as the celebration of the 160th anniversary of Minerva. Was this planned from the start?
When we looked at the history of Minerva we decided that we didn’t want to celebrate it in a banal way with old photos of the factory and watchmakers but instead look into the products of the time. We ended up with three key periods in the company’s history: first, from 1858 until the early 1920s there were a lot of classical timepieces as trends shifted from pocket watches to wristwatches (this is the spirit behind the new Star Legacy models we presented this year); second, there is the period from 1920s up until the end of the 1950s, when we saw all the counters that have inspired the TimeWalker and the Rally Timer in particular; finally from the 1930s and 1940s there is the period of military watches where we find some of the most sought-after Minerva watches among collectors. We decided to take this third chapter to look at famous explorers in the past, who quite naturally took to military watches because they were robust, resistant and easy to read. This led to the 1858 collection with a wide variety of models from 2,500 Swiss francs up to 50,000 and a wide choice of materials such as steel, bronze and combinations of the two with hand-crafted NATO straps.
TimeWalker Rally Timer Chronograph © Montblanc
In an earlier interview with WorldTempus you mentioned the possibility of a museum for Minerva. Is this likely in the near future?
We took several years to catalogue all the historical pieces at Minerva and we have a huge collection. Unfortunately, what is lacking at the moment is the space to display them. We take them to events and show them off on factory visits to Minerva but we don’t yet have an empty space that would allow us to show them off on a permanent basis. But it is definitely one of our projects.
Is the use of NATO straps and bronze intended to attract a younger customer?
Yes definitely. There is a notion of “recruitment” during the development of Montblanc timepieces, since there is still a number of watch fans who don’t know that Montblanc makes watches. As far as the designs and materials are concerned, we wanted a fresh and more playful approach because this segment is so competitive and customers are very demanding. The bronze we use, for example, is a little different, because we use an alloy of bronze and aluminium that will get a very nice and homogeneous patina. We have also introduced a two-tone steel and bronze watch, which is quite unique on the market. We were one of the first watch brands, for example, to introduce a green watch – now this year everyone is doing it.
1858 Automatic Chronograph with NATO strap © Montblanc
The Geosphere model is arriving in stores now. Is this the perfect bridge between Montblanc’s aggressively priced entry-level models and those with the Minerva movements, which are much more expensive?
Minerva and Montblanc are quite an unusual phenomenon in the industry because we have two separate factories, one of which was historically specialized in high-end hand-finished movements. One of the challenges we faced was how to operate these in parallel and ensure that the history and legacy of Minerva is integrated into the Montblanc collection. The way we have done this is to incorporate both when we are designing around a theme such as exploration for the 1858 collection.
1858 collection © Montblanc
The Geosphere is indeed the perfect expression of the new Montblanc watchmaking offer. It has a unique vintage sport design with a timeless look that seems to have been around forever and will stand the test of time. Furthermore, its unique technical movement was developed in-house to provide a unique and easy to manipulate multiple time zone indication.
1858 Geosphere © Montblanc
It is very interesting to see how the different models fit so well into the overall 1858 product line. The theme of mountain exploration and a clear vintage outdoor tool watch expression is apparent from the entry models, which already have a unique design and materials, to automatic chronographs in steel or bronze, the Geosphere with in-house movement right up to the stunning Minerva equipped monopusher chronograph in British Racing Green. The collection is crowned with the two exploration pocket watches in limited editions in titanium or bronze with stone dials, Minerva movements and a hunter case back with a real compass. They tell a story with a very rich language that speaks to every watch connoisseur and every budget.
Montblanc was among the first luxury brands to launch a smartwatch, which is cheaper than its competitors. How do you see the development of this segment? Is it still promising?
It’s an interesting segment because it’s still developing. But at the same time it’s also very competitive and there are strong entry barriers that depend on the partnerships with the technology providers, who very smartly limited the number of brands that they would work with. Montblanc was also smart to enter the adventure relatively early to avoid missing the train or even being excluded from this business. It was foolish to think at the outset that this could kill the mechanical offer. It’s simply a new product category that exists in parallel to the existing ones. You wear them on your wrist like a watch and you have the aesthetics of a watch, but they are consumer electronic devices.