Montblanc’s New Take On Watchmaking

Montblanc’s New Take On Watchmaking

Watchonista spoke to Laurent Lecamp, the incoming general manager of Montblanc’s Watch Division, for a fresh take on the brand’s heritage.

By Rhonda Riche

Laurent Lecamp found himself in an interesting position during Watches & Wonders 2021. The Franco-Swiss businessman had just taken over the reins at Montblanc in January. But now, he was presenting a slate of timepieces shepherded by his predecessor Davide Cerrato, who left the brand after five years.

Before moving to the Richemont-owned Montblanc, Lecamp came from LVMH, where he had been Brand Director of the Wines & Spirits division in Switzerland. Previously, he had been one of the youngest CEOs in the Swiss watchmaking industry as the co-founder of Cyrus Watches and was International Sales Director at Carl F. Bucherer.

He is also an author. In fact, one of his tomes (co-authored with Jonas Hoffmann), Independent Luxury: The Four Innovation Strategies To Endure In The Consolidation Jungle, was chosen by the New York Times in 2015 as one of the top three reference books on luxury strategy. A more recent book, How Was It In A Thousand Years? A Concise Guide to the Art of Enduring in Business explores businesses that have successfully stood the test of time while still staying true to their original missions.

With a passion for watchmaking, history, and entrepreneurship, it should not be surprising that Laurent Lecamp is delighted by the three limited edition novelties Montblanc presented at this year’s Watches & Wonders – the 1858 Geosphere Limited Edition 1858, the Heritage Pythagore Small Second Limited Edition 148, and the Heritage Manufacture Perpetual Calendar Limited Edition 100.

The Library is Open

It takes years of research and development to create a new timepiece. In that time, its creators will fall in love with the concept, grow frustrated during the growing pains, fall in love again, and then ask themselves if anybody else will love their creation as much as they do.

As Lecamp is new to the brand, his approach to the 2021 novelties is with the excitement of an enthusiast, the introspection of a writer, and the eye of an executive. “The way I see it,” he said, “I’m building my own library, and I’m buying a lot of books.”

The first volume on his shelf is the 1858 Geosphere Limited Edition 1858. This timepiece is a tribute to the legendary mountaineer Reinhold Messner who, in 2004, decided to go on a five-week solo trek across 2,000 km of the Gobi Desert.

“For him, crossing the desert was more complicated than climbing Everest,” Lecamp told Watchonista. “He told me that he lost all concept of time.” And these ideas of gaining a new appreciation of time and space inspired everything from the design and materials of the 1858 Geosphere Limited Edition 1858.

So to evoke the rocky terrain and color-scape of the desert, the timepiece has a satin-finished bronze case with a bi-directional shiny brown ceramic bezel, a smoked brown and beige lacquered dial, and a matching vintage-brown Sfumato calf strap.

On the caseback, the Gobi Desert’s famous Flaming Cliffs, also known as Bayanzag, were interpreted using a state-of-the-art laser etching technique. “It is unique in the industry,” explained Lecamp. “Most colors on a caseback will fade. But here, we used laser oxidization which can replicate rainbow colors. The caseback is titanium because the process won’t work on other materials.”

And though, as Lecamp noted in our interview, the origin of this watch is based on a true story, its creation process represents the start of a new chapter for Montblanc. Lecamp explained that this engraving technique is more precise than past forms of decoration, adding, “It looks like the landscape that Messner observed, and when I touch it, there’s a feeling of depth that’s different.” The caseback also depicts a compass with a decoration representing the wind and inspired by traditional Mongolian ornaments.

The 1858 Geosphere Limited Edition 1858 is limited to 1,858 pieces for each version, will be available in May, and is priced at $6,500.

Mother of Reinvention

Montblanc is also reinventing the idea of revisiting heritage timepieces. As a luxury brand, Montblanc has been manufacturing its famous leather goods and pens since 1906. They only got in the watchmaking game into 1997 with the Meisterstück collection.

Then in 2007, Montblanc acquired Minerva – the historic watchmakers known for excellence in making chronograph movements. And the Heritage collection is heavily influenced by Minerva’s archival timepieces from the 1940s and ‘50s. But, until recently, the Minerva story was always somewhat hidden.

Now, in 2021, the Heritage Pythagore Small Second Limited Edition 148 and the Heritage Manufacture Perpetual Calendar Limited Edition 100 have both been designed to give more representation to Minerva on these models’ unique and vintage effect dials.

Because we were speaking over Zoom, we couldn’t hold these watches in the metal, so Lecamp acted as our guide through their sensory pleasures.

“Let’s observe together,” began Lecamp. “It appears classical, but when you look at it from different angles, you see different things. At 4 o’clock, between the dial and the case, there are seven letters – M-I-N-E-R-V-A. For aficionados, this is a plus.”

With these two new models, Montblanc also unveils a brand-new manufacture movement inspired by the historical Minerva Pythagore calibre 48 created in the 1940s. According to Lecamp, Minerva’s owner at the time, Andrey Frey, was also an engineer. Frey designed this modern movement using mathematical proportions defined by the Golden Ratio (φ = 1.618...). The origin of this number can be traced back to Pythagoras, who introduced the mathematical concept of proportion to achieve a universal harmony and stable equilibrium.

The new manufacture calibre movement is called the MB M14.08. The Montblanc team first made the movement diameter (14 lignes) large enough to contain a golden pentagon (A-B-C-D-E-A). Inside of which is a five-pointed branch star achieved via the intersection of golden triangles.

The four bridges of the movement are positioned to be parallel to this section (e.g., AB or EC, and DC or EB). The hand-finished vertical Geneva stripes also follow the golden rule. The name of the caliber references, the number 14 (for the lignes) and the number 8 (a number in the Fibonacci sequence, which is closely related to the Golden Ratio). 

“Everything you see is based on the caliber 48,” explained Lecamp. “Even the space between bridges.”

The Montblanc Heritage Pythagore Small Second Limited Edition 148 also takes its visual cues from Minerva’s archives. But the two new models – one in 18K rose gold, one in 18K white gold – were created with very modern brown or blue dials. Lecamp noted one other important update: “We’ve transformed the power reserve to 80 hours so that it’s still working on Monday if you take it off on Friday. That’s pretty exceptional for a hand-wound movement.”

The Heritage Pythagore Small Second Limited Edition 148 is limited to 148 pieces for each version, will be available in June, and is priced at $20,200.

Perpetual Notion

Lecamp believes Minerva’s story has fully merged with Montblanc’s at last. And for him, the Heritage Manufacture Perpetual Calendar Limited Edition 100 is the best example of the combination of both brand’s savoir-faire, especially when it comes to design.

Inspired by historical Minerva wristwatches from the 1940s and ’50s, the Heritage Manufacture Perpetual Calendar Limited Edition 100 features vintage aesthetics such as a burnt caramel dial and a 40mm fully polished 18K rose gold case. But it is also a very user-friendly perpetual calendar, with a rational dial layout, positioned indications, large, well-balanced counters at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock, elegant hands, and a discreet moonphase.

The most captivating detail for Lecamp is the ability to adjust this timepiece via the crown in both directions (something that is not possible with a lever movement). This capability allows the wearer to set the time up to one month in under a minute. And a safety feature prevents you from adjusting the watch between the hours of 6 pm and 12 pm when manipulation could damage the movement. While true that this innovation was launched two years ago, for a watch aficionado like Lecamp, it is engineering like this that drew him to Montblanc in the first place. “It’s a real asset,” he added. “It gives the time, but it also tells a story.”

The Heritage Manufacture Perpetual Calendar Limited Edition 100 will be available in June, is limited to 100 pieces, and is priced at $27,200.

(Images © Montblanc)

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