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A Visit To Villeret: Montblanc’s Minerva Manufacture And Interview With Davide Cerrato

“Monblanc is Minerva and Minerva is Montblanc” a visit to Montblanc’s iconic Minverva manufacture.

By Josh Shanks

Watchonista recently had the opportunity to visit Montblanc’s Movement & Innovation Excellence Center in Villeret, Switzerland. Nestled alongside the Rue Principale road in Villeret, this very location has been home to the historic Fabrique d'Horlogerie Minerva SA since 1858. In 2007, the Richemont group acquired Minerva and assigned management and operations over to Montblanc, who at the time was beginning their journey to produce timepieces.

Follow along as we bring you inside the manufacture and sit down with Creative Director and Head of Watchmaking Davide Cerrato.

Inside Minerva

It isn’t every day that you get to peek behind the curtain of centuries-old manufacture. While we’ve seen our fair share of manufactures, workshops, and full-blown assembly lines, a visit to Minerva feels different. After all, the renowned Maison is steeped in tradition and craftsmanship going back 160 years. Minerva has produced everything from complicated pocket watches to the eponymous Minerva wristwatches taking the vintage world by storm.

Once you step inside the main building, aptly named “Institut Minerva de Recherche en Haute Horlogerie," you're transported to another era, in fact, the building which serves as the reception area to Minerva has been in constant use since 1902.

Perhaps nowadays best known for their finishing and chronographs, Minerva has been producing watch components nonstop for over 160 years. While the facilities in Villeret are very much alive with modern watchmaking, there is still a plethora of archival work going on within the walls of Minerva. We had the opportunity to take a peek inside the archives of Minerva, and I must say, it's quite impressive how Montblanc was able to preserve so many original Minerva components. From new old stock enamel dials to movement parts for the original Caliber 13, Minerva's iconic column wheel chronograph movement.

Of course the primary use of Minerva today is for Montblanc to produce complicated movements like the ExoTourbillon, hand finishing of select components, and production of movements for Montblanc’s 1858 collection, which our Hyla Bauer recently went in-depth with HERE.

Interview with Davide Cerrato

On the occasion of our visit to Minerva, we had the chance to sit down with Davide Cerrato, Montblanc’s Creative Director and Head of Watchmaking. What followed was a detailed conversation about Minerva and Montblanc, with poignant details of the future of both houses.

Josh Shanks: Davide, a pleasure to sit down with you, on the occasion of visiting the Minerva manufacture in Villeret, what makes this such a special place for you?

Davide Cerrato: It (Minerva) is a place for Montblanc because this is where all our heritage comes from and is the home of our watchmaking division. Since last year, we've been working a lot to continue to integrate this particular dimension. We can say that Montblanc is Minerva and Minerva is Montblanc. It is part of the same story, and you can very much see in the way our product is developed.

It's evident in our lines like Timewalker, Star Legacy or 1858 which are using different parts of the story to create a context or narrative for each line. Every day, we take inspiration from pieces from the museum to create a design that is connected to the DNA of Minerva. It’s here (Minerva) that our High-end pieces are configured and finished in our Atelier.

JS: Can you explain how Minerva helps to drive the conception and production of modern Montblanc timepieces?

DC: Minerva has an archive of some of the most collectible and expensive Minerva timepieces. We draw from this rich history to create today’s Montblanc products. For example, we used this inspiration to form the shape of the numerals of 1858.

We have two lines which draw this inspiration. In the 1858 collection, mountain exploration was rooted in the brand. Minerva has always been consistent with that the functional characteristics known for Exploration. As such, all the high-end the pieces from the 1858 collection, including two exploration pocket watches are handmade and finished at Minerva. So Villeret becomes both the place where we take inspiration for new designs and where we hand finish all our high-end watches.

JS: Last year was the year of the Timewalker. This year, Montblanc has shifted to adventure themes with 1858, could you explain how this came to be?

DC: When we build our watches, we take inspiration from the archives and get the original stock information for the designs but also the thematic context. For example, when we did The Timewalker, we wanted to launch the very first weekend sports watch line for Montblanc. So, we looked into Minerva and identified the incredible reach of Mountain Exploration which led to timekeeping innovations. It was this astonishing exploration that took place from the beginning of the 20th century until after the Second World War. After the war, Minerva made monopusher chronographs to keep time during Formula 1 races.

You take a book (from the archives) and all the sudden you see that you are sitting on watchmaking knowledge that brings us back more than 50 years. It was this scientific exploration that sets the bar of what was set to become the chronograph.


JS: How are you evolving the concept of the chronograph?

DC: The chronograph is an icon of yesteryear. Indeed, these pieces are particularly relevant if you look at the Paul Newman Auction last year. You think a lot, and then you say, “ok, we can speak a lot about sports watches and chronographs, but that's because we were one of the few brands that worked to get where we are today with the chronograph.”

As in all our other lines, we are now becoming distinct within Montblanc, and we now have three layers of technical content. We have a first layer which is commercial up to 5'000 EUR where we use existing movements (Sellita or ETA). These pieces are popular in the market and are very reliable. So we can offer very aggressive price points on the first layer.

Then we have the second layer that which is priced between five and 25’000 EUR where we produce in-house calibers and modules, it’s our commercial approach which makes up for volume. A perfect example of this is the Timewalker panda chronograph with an in-house movement. And then you have the Third layer, which is priced over 25'000 EUR where you have Minerva movements that are entirely handmade and finished here in Villeret. It’s here that you find limited editions and numbered editions meant for collectors.

JS: What’s your favorite vintage Minerva piece?

DC: Easy, the Minerva Chronographe Monopusher Ratrappante from 1925 which is very nice, and has a beautiful dial. It’s one of the more collectible pieces from our history. In fact, I think it’s one of the most expensive Minerva pieces going around.

JS: A highly strategic product line, tight production process, it seems with Montblanc everything is highly controlled.

DC: Absolutely! I review myself the design and production concept of all of our watches.

JS: Are you an adventure type? If so, what gets your adrenaline going?

DC: Yes, I am very much into the outdoors, I have the chance of living in Switzerland and can quickly go hike and ski. I have been very passionate all my life about fly fishing and try to go whenever I can. I fish especially for Atlantic salmon, and it’s only in places really remote which you can only get to from roads that are entirely disconnected. Places like Russia, Norway, or Scotland, very nice places. I also surf, but not much lately, but I love it!

I dive and generally enjoy a lot of outdoor activity and adventures. With the relationship, we're building with the outdoors coupled with a twist of adventure is why we decided to link 1858 with the world of Mountain Exploration. But not only that, we want to evoke a feeling of the outdoors and its adventurous feeling that you get while you camp outside and are exposed to the elements. It all comes down to getting outside your comfort zone.

Discover Minerva, Meet Davide Cerrato, and view the 1858 Collection At WatchTime New York

This week, collectors will have the unique chance to meet Davide Cerrato in person at Montblanc’s booth at  WatchTime New YorkStarting this Friday, October 26 and going through Saturday, Oct 27 at Gotham Hall in New York City. The entire 1858 collection will be on display. We highly recommend you book your tickets today as Friday night’s cocktail event is completely SOLD OUT. You can use promo code ‘WATCHONISTA’ for $10 off your Saturday ticket. 

(Photography by Pierre Vogel)

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