Montblanc “Minerva is a real gold mine”
We met up with Davide Cerrato, Managing Director of Montblanc Watches, at the Minerva factory in Villeret, where he told us how important Minerva is to Montblanc.
Founded in 1858 in the village of Villeret in the Saint-Imier valley, some twenty kilometres from La Chaux-de-Fonds, the Minerva manufacture has made watches for 161 years without interruption. In the first half of the 20th century the company built its reputation on mechanical stopwatches, which were used for timing sports events. Its 1916 chronometer, for instance, was accurate to within 1/100th of a second. Today, Minerva is part of the Richemont group.
The Richemont group bought Minerva in 2006, but it’s only in the last few years that Montblanc has begun to exploit Minerva’s heritage. Was that your doing?
Absolutely. When I arrived at Montblanc, Jérôme Lambert was the CEO. He’d already begun to overhaul the more classic collections. I had a sportier outlook, and it was obvious to me that Montblanc should also have a good sports watch offering. Minerva’s history is firmly anchored in performance and timekeeping. We wanted to fully integrate Minerva, use it to inspire new designs and, above all, to communicate around its 161-year history. In parallel, we decided to streamline the Montblanc collection and rebuild its watchmaking identity.
Heritage Manufacture Perpetual Calendar and Heritage Automatic models © Montblanc
When Richemont bought Minerva, were there already plans to associate it with Montblanc?
At the time, everyone was trying to get hold of manufacturing facilities, in order to become independent, and Minerva was a manufacturer. The decision was made to assign Minerva to one specific brand where it could be useful. Happily, Montblanc was chosen.
Does Minerva represent an infinite source of inspiration for Montblanc?
Yes, absolutely. It’s a real gold mine. The heritage is so rich that we still haven’t had time to explore it fully. Of course, there were certain salient elements that we made it a priority to use in the beginning. But every time I take myself off to the archives, I find a dial with some interesting elements, a movement with a specific finish, hour markers in unusual shapes or colours, or even documents that we can use.
Minerva's archives, at the Minerva factory, in VilleretVilleret © WorldTempus / Michèle Brunner
Are you intending to use the Minerva inspiration for women’s watches?
Yes, I think so. When we launched the 1858 collection we found that the Montblanc / Minerva / vintage association worked very well. We took Minerva’s military watches, which have always been linked with exploration, as our starting point for creating a vintage line. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t give a more vintage dimension to our women’s ranges in the near future. The Bohème and Star Legacy models have a more contemporary appeal, but we could add a little vintage texture, which would make them even more special.
This year’s 1858 models combine vintage, bronze and the colour green with an outdoors Alpine vibe. Is this a winning combination for attracting a younger clientele?
Absolutely. Expanding into sports watches already broadened our appeal with a younger customer base. The brand name is Montblanc; the mountain is its symbol, and the star represents Mont Blanc’s six glaciers. This all has a powerful emotional appeal. It’s in keeping with the spirit of our times, with environmental awareness and a return to nature. We have all the ingredients to create something quite unique with Montblanc, which is the most legitimate brand in this universe, as well as with Minerva and its high-performance timekeeping heritage. We started out with an offering of black dials and steel and bronze cases, then we brought in green, bronze, sunburst dials, straps made of aged leather, or leather cuffs, and the explorer’s pocket watch.
1858 Geosphere Limited Edition © Montblanc
1858 Chronograph Automatic and 1858 Automatic models © Montblanc
Do the two manufactures in Villeret and Le Locle work together?
Yes. They work together, and they’re highly integrated. Villeret is where all the high-end activity happens – the handmade watches and handcrafted finishes – while the remainder of our ranges are developed in Le Locle. The Villeret factory is also where we do the “500 hours test”, and we’re also starting to use it for making some movement components. The integration also filters down to our staff, who frequently move from one site to the other to increase their versatility.
Montblanc has signed a 5-year partnership with the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Is that another Minerva influence?
Yes. It’s a similar approach to the mountain exploration concept, but this time with the TimeWalker, which was our first sports range. In the 1950s, Minerva stopwatches were associated with the motor racing world. We decided to take the Minerva Rally Timer as inspiration for the entire product line. But we also needed something around which we could build a story and bring it all to life. So we approached Goodwood, which is one of the top three or four global motor racing events. The TimeWalker was conceived as an “Instrument of Glory” to accompany this incredible success. Every year we produce a special watch for the competition, which we unveil at the event in London.
TimeWalker Manufacture Chronograph Limited Edition © Montblanc