Back in the Race: An Interview with Montblanc’s Managing Director of Watchmaking Laurent Lecamp at W&W 2022
I’ve been fortunate enough to observe Montblanc, one of the fastest-growing brands, up close for the past few years. And it seems that after Watches & Wonders 2022, we can truly recognize how far the Montblanc Watch Division has come, making breakthroughs in the brand’s horological pursuits and strategic approach to the historical Maison of Minerva.
“I started in January 2022 in my new position at Montblanc, and I’ve put a huge amount of energy into this company. I changed a few things that were a bit classical for me, and we are putting the brand back in the race,” stated Laurent Lecamp.
I sat down with Laurent to discuss some advanced product developments, successful partnerships with renowned mark makers, and his take on sustainability.
Montblanc’s First Diver
For the first time since the watchmaking division’s inaugural model in 1997, the historically mountaineering brand has introduced a true dive watch: the 1858 Iced Sea Automatic Date. It’s especially intriguing for its impressive value proposition ($2,975 on a rubber strap and $3,190 on a stainless steel bracelet).
Apart from being ISO 6425 certified, which is the norm for dive watches, the new Montblanc 1858 Iced Sea Automatic Date presents quite a striking dial. “The concept of this unique design of the dial will now be with Montblanc for many years to come,” Laurent told Watchonista.
To make a long story short, the new diver’s dial reproduces the pattern of the glacial lake of the Mont-Blanc Massif. Ascending via the Chamonix Valley to the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice), the maison’s designers were captivated by the texture of the glacial ice and its interlocking network of crystals that have been frozen in time for millennia.
And fittingly, the common thread of my discussion with Laurent was sustainability: “While elaborating this timepiece, we clearly asked to have somehow an ‘organic’ dial. All the products we are using are organic, so there are no issues with pollution,” noted Laurent.
Nirmal Purja & the 0 Oxygen Timepiece
If you don’t know who Nirmal (also called Nimsdai) Purja is, he is one of the most ground-breaking mountaineers of our generation. Born in Nepal in 1983, the man summited the world’s 14 highest 8,000-meter peaks in an astonishingly scant seven months, smashing the previous record for the fastest ascent (which was eight years). Now, Purja has become the new mark maker of the maison.
“I met Nimsdai for the first time at the Everest Summit, and Nimsdai suggested we should work together. Sometime later, I had dinner with our own mark maker, the legendary alpinist Reinhold Messner, asking him if he would be able to collaborate with Montblanc on a project. The goal would be the ascent of Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen while wearing another novelty that we present here at Watches & Wonders 2022. That novelty is the Montblanc 1858 Geosphere Chronograph 0 Oxygen Limited Edition. Without hesitation, Reinhold put forward the name of Nimsdai,” Laurent told Watchonista.
Continuing, he said: “So, in May 2022, Nimsdai will undertake the expedition to the summit of Mount Everest, and moreover, what he is doing in the next 2-3 years will be mind-blowing. No one will expect what comes next.”
There are quite a few impressive things about the 1858 Geosphere Chronograph 0 Oxygen Limited Edition. First of all, as its name suggests, there is zero oxygen inside the case. Instead, it has been replaced by nitrogen. And this is only made possible via one method – if the watchmaker assembles the timepiece in a chamber with zero oxygen.
And that is precisely what Montblanc has done.
Another first for the Montblanc 1858 Geosphere line is the arrival of a chronograph function that can be used to record elapsed time of various operations on the mountain. But what about the zero-oxygen environment of the watch? Isn’t that compromised the first time you engage the chronograph function? As Laurent assured me, “Even when you click on the pushers, a special system protects oxygen from penetrating into the watch.”
The new complication is powered by Montblanc’s brand-new MB 29.27 automatic chronograph movement. Thus, the new model comes with a central chronograph seconds hand, a 30-minute chronograph sub-dial at three o’clock, and a chronograph hour at nine o’clock.
Back to Basics with Minerva
Besides Montblanc branching out into new categories of timepieces with its new divers, Laurent Lecamp has resolved to make the historical manufacture of Minerva, known for its stopwatches, shine again.
“We discovered that in 1927, the Minerva Manufacture in Villeret was among the very first manufactures to make a fluted bezel and an internal count down,” he told me. “So this year, we introduce the new 1858 Minerva Monopusher Chronograph Red Arrow Limited Edition. And just to give you fair warning, this fluted bezel will be the new signature of Minerva. We will be bringing this concept to all of our new creations.”
So, the key elements from the past highlighted in this limited edition of 88 pieces include an 18K white gold fluted bezel, which was easy to use with pilots gloves, and the maison’s signature red arrow, which allowed for quick and easy reading of elapsed time. Finally, the red arrow is a nod to the Roman Goddess Minerva, the goddess of craftsmanship, who carried a spear with an arrow at its tip.
“If I bring something from the past, I have to understand how this tool or that watch was used at the time in order to respect every single detail,” explained Laurent. “Another important and astonishing detail is that all the pieces are hand-made as there are no machines in the Villeret manufacture.”
While this timepiece definitely represents the Montblanc of today, it does so in a vintage way, leaving more space and attention to the Minerva logo and codes of the manufacture.
Montblanc & Sustainability
Laurent also took some time to explain his approach to sustainability within the walls of Montblanc and Minerva, saying: “How many years of warranty should we offer for a watch so that it remains sustainable? That is a good question.
“So, our longtime vision of sustainability lies in the fact that we can repair a watch that dates as far back as 1905, as was the case with one of our clients a few weeks ago. How many brands nowadays can really repair a watch that is over 100 years old? Not many. And, for me, that is the real sustainability.”