In the weeks after SIHH, I am asked by more than a few different publications to recap the highlights (and low-lights) of the fair. My responses are, in some ways, rather predictable. If you’ve followed HODINKEE for any period of time, you know my personal proclivities tend to trend towards traditional watchmaking, refined, almost conservative design, and above all else, pure subtlety. So, each year my “Best Of” lists consist of things like a classic, ultra thin Tank from Cartier, something vintage-inspired by Jaeger-LeCoultre, a self-winding Royal Oak from AP, and whatever the latest is from Vacheron or Lange. These are my bread and butter watches, so to speak. But, for 2014, two watches that I keep finding atop my lists aren’t from these mainstays of haute horology, but rather from a PEN company! Well, kinda. I’m talking about the Meisterstück Heritage Pulsograph and Perpetual Calendar from Montblanc. These are both really, really good watches, and in this post I’ll take a close look at both – and above, you’ll see me sit down with my good friend Frank Geelen of Monochrome to discuss the collection.
This one hits on so, so many levels. Even before I saw it in the metal, I called it as one of the best-in-show of SIHH 2014. This 41mm mono-pusher chronograph looks every bit the part of a 1940s doctor’s chronograph. Don’t believe me? Compare it to my 1939 Longines Mono-Pusher I showed you here. And to me, that’s a great thing. On the inside, you’ll find a Montblanc by Minerva Caliber 13.21, which is the direct descendent of the 13.20, found in the beautiful mid-20th century Minervas that are the choice of seasoned vintage collectors the world over.
Of course, Minerva is now owned by Montblanc, and as such, there have been several improvements to the caliber. Most importantly, each caliber is completely assembled and finished by hand, just like they used to be. And, these 13.21s in the Pulsograph are simply signed “Minerva,” not featuring Montblanc markings anywhere. The looks of this watch are equally pleasing, but the real story of the Pulsograph is the architecture and quality of finishing in this Caliber 13.21. This is real high-end chronograph making, people. The inner angles on this movement, if you get the chance to see one in person, are downright incredible. The level of finishing is truly top notch throughout, and the nice slow 18,000 vph rate at which it beats brings back that great vintage feel. As an aside, I wish more high-end chronographs would adopt this slower beat rate – Patek sped up to 28,800 when they jumped from Lemania-based movements to their in-house chronographs, and Girard-Perregaux’s 2013 release 1966 Column-Wheel Chronograph shares the higher beat rate. So, at this point, this Minerva powered Replica Montblanc shares a similar rate of oscillation to – off the top of my head – the Lemania chronograph inside Vacheron’s Patrimony and A. Lange & Söhne’s Datograph Up/Down. Not exactly bad company to be in. On the dial side, you see the watch is graduated to 30 pulsations (making it a real doctor’s watch), and there are Roman numerals at 12 and 6 o’clock, the tell-tale signs that this watch is part of the new Meisterstück Heritage line.
While the watch has a very high quality feel from top to bottom, I do think the dial could’ve been a little more interesting. Though there is very nice snailing in both sub-registers, I think a little bit of three dimensionality would’ve been nice and could have given this already vintage feeling chronograph a richer presence. It is also worth noting that the dial of the Pulsograph looks similar to that of the Patek Philippe 5170J with Roman numerals at 12 and 6, and outer pulsation scale. Funnily, I (and others) have the same criticism of the Patek chronograph’s dial– it’s just a bit too flat. Having said that, the Patek retails for double the $34,500 price of the Pulsograph. So, considering that, the Montblanc is certainly less of an offender and it in no way detracts from the attractiveness of this piece.
Something most will miss on the Pulsograph is the small Montblanc Star shaped diamond set in the case between the lugs at 6 o’clock. This is there to indicate the use of an in-house Minerva movement, and I’m told this is something you’ll see on all Minerva-based watches moving forward as a small and subtle way to differentiate them from the rest of the collection. Some like this, some don’t. For me, I don’t need it, and again it makes me think of Patek Philippe and how they place a diamond in the same location anytime a watch is made of platinum. The jury is still out on whether or not this is super cool or super lame, or, very likely, a bit of both.
The Pulsograph on the wrist has a great presence, and 41mm is a really nice size for a modern chronograph. One thing that simply can not be conveyed in this article is just how incredible the Minerva feels when using it. The actuation is absolutely gorgeous to the touch, as is seeing the vintage-inspired caliber in action through the sapphire caseback. This watch, limited to just 90 pieces in rose gold (to celebrate 90 years of the Meisterstück pen) is already kind of an instant classic for Montblanc, and compared to the Minerva-powered (dual pusher) chronographs shown by Panerai this year, represents fantastic value. Though not without fault, the Meisterstück Heritage Pulsograph is a superb timepiece, and one I absolutely adore. When you consider the quality of finishing, the simple fact that this is a mono-pusher chronograph, and that it’s limited to just 90 pieces, you see that Montblanc is really here to play ball, and watch fans all over the world should take note.
The other watch from Montblanc that I keep talking about is again from the Meistertück Heritage collection, and again an interesting take on a very high-end complication. This is a perpetual calendar, one we detailed here when announced, and it is available in both rose gold and stainless steel. Here we’ll examine the example in stainless steel because, well, it was one of the most talked about stories of SIHH 2014. This Montblanc is a FULL perpetual calendar. It’s not a triple calendar, or an annual calendar, requiring a manual advance at the end of February – nay, this is the real deal, no setting required till the year 2100. And as you see it here, in a 39mm stainless steel case, it will cost you $12,800.
I’ll just come right out and say it. That price of this watch is downright unbelievable. It was just one year ago that I wrote this article about a sub $20,000 perpetual calendar from Jaeger-LeCoultre in a state of pure shock and elation. The idea of approachable complications, or democratized haute horology, is something I’ve long been dreaming of. Some view the concept of modular, or stream-lined approaches to traditionally costly ideas, as sacrilege in this world of champagne and Swiss-ness. But not me. I’m all for everyone owning great complications, and this new perpetual from Montblanc might be the biggest step forward yet. Now, one must know that this product, and the entire Meisterstück Heritage line, for that matter, reeks of a man name Jerome Lambert, Montblanc’s new CEO. Lambert was formerly CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre, and he is, in my very humble opinion, one of the most talented leaders in the industry. Part of the reason for that is because he’s a REAL watch guy, not a marketing guy who happens to be working in watches. You can see that in this line.
So, about this sub $13,000 perpetual calendar. It’s 39mm in diameter, and looks like a traditional QP should. You have three registers and a leap year indicator, with a moonphase at 6 o’clock. All advances are completed with pushers on the side of the case, as one would normally find in most perpetuals. The movement found in this new perpetual is of modular construction, with a perpetual calendar mechanism built atop a simple self-winding caliber. This is no way detracts from the overall value found in this watch. The Dubois-Depraz perpetual calendar mechanism is a great one, and it was absolutely not incumbent on Montblanc to price it as low as they have. This is a gift to watch lovers. Finishing on the self-winding perpetual calendar movement is not particularly extravagent, but again, you must consider what you’re getting here. Likewise, the dial side of this one isn’t perfect, with slightly jumbled sub-registers due to the size of the perpetual mechanism. But, what is impressive about this watch is that it is not too thick at all. In fact, it’s actually quite slim considering the modular nature of the movement construction. In fact, it fits under a cuff without a bit of consideration.
So, is the Meisterstück Heritage Perpetual Calendar a perfect watch? It’s not. But, at the end of the day, this watch is about bringing a high-end complication to a not so high-end price point, and it does so absolutely expertly. This is a truly remarkable value and I suspect it will bring a lot of young watch lovers into the world of high-complications well before they thought it possible. And, who knows, this watch in steel might just become the feeder piece for a new generation of complication-hungry watch lovers. It is that good, and has that much potential.
You can read more about Montblanc replica watch timepieces right here, and read Frank Geelen’s thoughts on these very watches right here.