Montblanc Watch History – Strokes Of Watchmaking Genius From The Legendary Penmaker

Montblanc Watch History – Strokes Of Watchmaking Genius From The Legendary Penmaker2018-06-12T23:36:47+00:00
Montblanc Heritage Spirit Perpetual Calendar

Images courtesy of Montblanc

German luxury brand Montblanc produces fine writing instruments, leather goods, jewelry, designer eyewear, fragrances, and upscale watches.

Though most famous for fountain pens, Montblanc also produces solidly-crafted watches, some of which harbor in-house movements and complication modules.

Despite being relatively new to the watch scene, Montblanc is already impressing many watch connoisseurs with top-notch quality and design.

Style-wise, many Montblanc watches feature bold, classic shapes and brilliant uses of color and texture.

Some of their higher-end pieces showcase sophisticated complications and breathtaking enameled or hand-painted dials.

The company has also been attracting attention for offering watches with exceptional quality, complexity and aesthetics for relatively inexpensive prices.

Montblanc’s Beginnings

Montblanc Simplo Filler Pen Founders

Top: 3 Founders; Bottom: Early ad and workforce

German banker Alfred Nehemias and engineer August Eberstein were first inspired to create Montblanc in 1906 after travelling to America.

In particular, they  were highly impressed by all the innovative fountain pens they encountered on the trip. They strongly felt that such pens could become a huge hit back home.

Fountain pens were certainly nothing new at the time, having been in general use since the mid-1800s.

However, early 1900s U.S. pen manufacturers were making extraordinary design improvements, such as mechanisms to guard against accidental ink leakage.

Upon returning to Germany, Nehemias and Eberstein built a small workshop and started looking for additional partners and investors.  Claus-Johannes Voss, a stationary dealer from Hamburg, saw tremendous potential in their “simplicissimus” pens and joined the promising new firm.

Together, the three men established the “Simplo Filler Pen Company” in 1908, on Hamburg’s historic Caffamacherreihe street.  And just a few years later, they’d already developed their first fountain pen, the “Rouge et Noir.”  These rubber-nib “safety” fountain pens, black with a distinctive red cap, was heavily inspired by American fountain pens. Made to the highest standards of pen manufacturing, they quickly found market success.

Where Does The Name “Montblanc” Come From?

The Simplo Filler Pen Company’s second fountain pen line was named Montblanc, after Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe.

Montblanc Vintage Ad and Brand LogoLike its towering namesake, the Montblanc pen represented the peak excellence that the company’s continually dedicated to achieving.

The brand would subsequently release many other successful pen collections. But the elegant, sophisticated ring of “Montblanc” persisted, and later (in 1934) became the official company name.

The Montblanc pen’s cap was pure white to echo a mountain snowcap. However, the company was unable to trademark the feature – it was too generic.

So, in 1913, Montblanc began using a white, rounded six-pointed star as its  corporate logo. Montblanc has used this basic logo – a simplified view of Mont Blanc’s snowy summit as viewed from above – ever since.

Propelled To New Heights By Meisterstück

Montblanc released its magnum opus pen model, appropriately named Meisterstück (“masterpiece”) in 1924.

The name comes from a traditional practice among German tradesmen. As a final test in proving mastery of any given trade, one must produce a Meisterstück demonstrating the requisite skill. Montblanc’s directors found this concept greatly inspiring and aspired to produce masterpiece-level products in all of their chosen markets.

The Meisterstück was so finely crafted and elegantly designed that it exploded in popularity. But its appeal was far from a mere passing fancy. Indeed, the pen’s main attractions were the durability, reliability, and timelessness lent by its superior craftsmanship and exceptionally fine materials.

The Enduring Appeal Of “Built To Last” Products

Montblanc Meisterstück Vintage Fountain PenParticularly impressive were its sophisticated brass telescope-mechanism piston filler and gold nib designed to adjust permanently to the owner’s unique writing style.

It was carefully handmade through a process comprised of about 100 steps of which 35 were for the nib alone! Unlike any pen before it, the Meisterstück was truly built to last – a promise ensured by a “lifetime guarantee.”

From celebrated poets to high-profile scientists, many famous men throughout history loved the Meisterstück.

Even heads of state and other prominent political figures cherished the pen. As a result, many landmark documents were signed using a Meisterstück.

In fact, the Meisterstück was so continually successful, Montblanc thrived without developing any other major pen collections for 75 years.  Yes, the next major Montblanc pen line, the luxurious Bohème, debuted in 2000!

Furthermore, though Montblanc has tweaked the Meisterstück over the years with subtle improvements, its iconic look has remained virtually unchanged.

How Did Montblanc Start Making Watches?

Montblanc had already started venturing into new markets by 1935, when it acquired a leather goods company in Offenbach. This allowed it to produce fine leather accessories for its pens, such as pen pouches and leather-bound notebooks.

In 1996, the brand expanded its product range further by introducing men’s jewelry and accessories to complement its Meisterstück line. Experiencing rapid success with these ventures, the company heads deliberated on which market to pursue next.

The exacting, tradition-heavy field of fine watchmaking, though highly intimidating, seemed a fitting next step for the perfectionist Montblanc.

Building The Le Locle Factory

At first, the firm’s interest in entering the watch industry was met with disbelief and even ridicule. How could a newbie possibly hope to craft fine timepieces on par with those from firmly-established luxury watchmakers?

Montblanc Designer Thierry Pellaton Meisterstück Watch

Top: Thierry Pellaton; Bottom: Meisterstück Watch

Montblanc was unfazed by this early skepticism. After all, there was no need to reinvent the wheel in its new field — it could learn from veteran watchmakers.

And that’s just what Montblanc did. In 1997, the brand built a state-of-the-art watch factory in Le Locle, Switzerland – an area world-famous for watchmaking talent.

Montblanc made sure the design and construction of this manufacture would be overseen by highly-experienced, visionary watchmakers.

Chief among them was Thierry Pellaton, a watch expert whose family tradition of watchmaking stretches back four generations. Pellaton would later work as one of Montblanc’s main watch designers, breathing life into some of its most celebrated watches.

Birth Of The Meisterstück Watch

Soon after the factory was established,  Montblanc’s new watchmaking team developed the first Meisterstück watch. This watch, heavily inspired by the Meisterstück pen, was of stunning quality, created under Montblanc’s signature rigorous production standards.

The company debuted the Meisterstück watch at the 1997 Salon International de Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva. At this major international watch fair, the watch created buzz among premier jewelers and watch industry insiders. Finally, even detractors had to admit that Montblanc had become a serious contender in the luxury watch market.

Richemont Opens Up New Horizons

Since the 80s, Montblanc was largely owned by the Dunhill Holding Company. In 1993, Dunhill was purchased by the Vendôme Luxury Group. This group would later evolve into Richemont, the second largest luxury goods conglomerate in the world.

Being part of Richemont’s extensive family of top-tier brands opened up grand new possibilities for Montblanc.

Montblanc Villeret 1858 Luxury Watch Face

In 2006, Richemont paired Montblanc up with long-established watch firm Minerva to develop a daring new watch collection. After the 2 firms successfully collaborated on and debuted the renowned Villeret 1858 line, Minerva became a subsidiary of Montblanc.

Minerva Merger Success

Though small, Minerva was a powerhouse firm in its own right, having continuously produced watches for 150 years.

Founded in 1858, Minerva achieved many pioneering feats in early wristwatch development and was particularly famous for precision chronograph movements. The distinctive Minerva name engraving and arrowhead logo became widely-known as a sure sign of a top-quality movement.

Montblanc Villeret 1858 Minerva Movement

An engraved Minerva movement

Naturally, longtime Minerva employees were initially nervous about the merger. Would their new parent company, lacking experience in the field, fail to honor their traditions and expertise?

Happily, their fears were unfounded. Montblanc enthusiastically embraced all the sophisticated watchmaking traditions and knowledge Minerva had developed and preserved for well over a century.

It’s true that Minerva, under Montblanc, eventually grew to incorporate the best in novel manufacturing technology into its factory.  But time-tested traditions reign supreme there. The vast majority of work is still done by hand or with vintage machines.

Modern technology is merely used to complement traditional methods and not replace them. It just another way of further honing Minerva’s watchmaking prowess.

First In-House Movements & Nicolas Rieussec Chronograph

Montblanc Nicolas Rieussec Automatic ChronographShortly after acquiring Minerva, Montblanc created its first in-house movements, the MB rR00 (manual-wound) and MB r200 (automatic).

The company then debuted these movements in 2008 with its famous Nicolas Rieussec chronograph line.

This line was designed to pay tribute to Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec, who invented the first commercial chronograph in 1821.

Rather than typical chronograph counter subdials, Nicolas Rieussec models monitor time intervals via mini rotating discs.

These innovative, stylish chronographs won wide acclaim and further cemented Montblanc’s reputation in the watchmaking world.

Tech Meets Tradition In Montblanc’s Manufactures

Today, Montblanc’s watchmaking division is comprised of two manufactures. One is the old Minerva factory in Villeret, where specialty modules and movements are primarily crafted and finished by hand. The other is Montblanc’s Le Locle factory, where much of the main production and extensive testing procedures are performed.

Montblanc Manufactures Villeret and Le Locle

Left: Villeret Factory: Le Locle Manufacture; Right: Assembly and testing

Both locations employ watch experts well-versed in age-old techniques but also utilize cutting-edge production methods (such as 3D-printed prototypes).

Montblanc Montre S.A. (Main Factory In Le Locle)

As suggested by its charming, stately facade, the main Le Locle factory building dates to back to the 1800s.  After purchasing it in 1997, Montblanc expanded the factory considerably, constructing new facilities right into the hill beneath the building.

Montblanc Montre is the workhorse of the 2 manufactures, producing parts for and assembling the vast majority of Montblanc watches. One of the buildings in the complex houses a dedicated design team of watch designers and engineers.

Montblanc Watch Concept Art By Anais Hamel

Montblanc watch designer Anaïs Hamel works on a concept painting

To bring a new watch design to life, designers first draft numerous concept drawings. Then, engineers proof the designs for feasibility and translate them into the computer-aided design (CAD) system utilized by 3D printers. Wax and metal prototype versions are created and tested to help refine the design before real production finally begins.

Montblanc 500 Hours Quality Certificate

The Le Locle location is also where Montblanc watches are subjected to its famous “500 hour” test. This comprehensive testing process is meant to accurately simulate at least an entire year’s worth of wear. It’s said to be even more rigorous than the notoriously-tough chronograph certification tests administered by the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC).  The rough breakdown of a typical “500 hour” testing cycle is as follows:

  • Winding performance and assembly control  exposure to extreme rotational motions (4 hrs)
  • Continuous accuracy control – e.g. acoustic control (80 hrs)
  • Function testing – simulation of both wear and non-wear periods (336 hrs)
  • General performance – e.g.  testing over time and with temperature change (80 hrs)
  • Water resistance test – submersion, humidity and more (2 hrs)

Currently, only certain models are put through the 500 hour test. However, knowing Montblanc’s penchant for perfection, the brand may eventually make it a standard for all of its watches.

Institut Minerva de Recherche en Haute Horlogerie (Villeret)

The Montblanc watch manufacture in Villeret is a true marvel, a hallowed stronghold of venerable Swiss watchmaking tradition.

It gives Montblanc the distinction of being one of the very few modern watch firms to create watches completely in-house. This means that the manufacture has the capability to craft even the most challenging watch components, such as balance wheels.

Montblanc Dimitri Cabiddu Villeret Director

Montblanc’s Villeret director Dimitri Cabiddu crafting balance springs

Villeret is where Montblanc’s highest-end timepieces are brought to life. Unlike the Le Locle factory, which rolls out over 50,000 watches annually, Villeret’s annual output only numbers in the hundreds. However, watching the artisans work, it’s not hard to see why production there is so time-consuming.  You can catch a glimpse of the watchmakers at work in Montblanc’s video on Villeret:

For example, nearly every individual component of their mechanical watch movements are beveled and finished entirely by hand. This process requires hours of concentrated work from experienced watchmakers of consummate skill, resulting in timepieces that are practically one-of-a-kind.

“Watches With A Soul” & The Timewriter Program

Many of the watch experts who work in the Villeret manufacture have been in watchmaking their entire lives. Pouring their hearts and souls into crafting Montblanc watches, they take immense pride in creating timepieces of the finest quality.  Villeret artisans proudly designate their finished works as “watches with a soul.”

Montblanc Hand Adjusted Balance Wheel

Watch expert carefully sets the hairspring on a balance wheel

They also deeply appreciate the key role the manufacture plays in preserving over 150 years of watchmaking tradition and know-how.

Indeed, Montblanc established a foundation, also called “Institut Minerva,” that aims to safeguard and further cultivate Swiss watchmaking traditions.

One particularly impressive program run by the Institut Minerva is its “Timewriter Concept.” This program supports promising young watchmakers, enabling them to lead independent projects to firmly establish their watchmaking careers.

Montblanc Metamorphosis Creators Franck Orny Johnny Girardin

Metamorphosis Creators Franck Orny (left) and Johnny Girardin (right)

Some of these Timewriter projects have resulted in stunningly novel new timepieces. One example is the Timewriter Metamorphosis, created by industrial engineer Frank Orny and watch movement specialist Johnny Girardin. Orny and Girardin, inspired by high-tech “transformer” robots, sought to create a watch with a magically-changing face.

The completed Metamorphosis has two completely different faces and functionalities. One is a classic time-only and the other a sporty monopusher chronograph.

Montblanc Timewriter I Metamorphosis Faces

Timewriter Metamorphosis Classic Face (left) & Sport Chronograph Face (right)

The unbelievable 15-second transformation between the two is made possible with an extremely complex patented mechanism. The breathtaking process requires the simultaneous movement of around 50 individual components.

Montblanc also supports the future of watchmaking through its sponsorship of Richemont’s Institute of Swiss Watchmaking schools.

Extraordinary Modern Montblanc Models

Montblanc continually pushes boundaries in the watchmaking world with unflappable style, cutting-edge uses of technology, and unprecedented value offerings. Let’s take a look at some recent Montblanc stunners.

Heritage Spirit Orbis Terrarum

This striking watch features a unique in-house world time complication. The watch is clearly heavily inspired by Vacheron Constantin’s “Patrimony Traditonnelle World Time,” with its central globe and outer ring of city names. But Montblanc added its signature bursting colors and a clever additional function.

As time passes, the dial, made of sapphire crystal, moves to visually indicate areas of night and day. The result is an achingly beautiful, colorful, and highly utilitarian world time watch.

Montblanc UNICEF Heritage Spirit Orbis Terrarum Watch

The models shown above are special editions from the “Montblanc for UNICEF” collection. These feature a brighter color scheme than the standard Orbis Terrarum and their cases include a UNICEF logo back engraving. Also, their leather straps are in UNICEF’s signature blue, and the city ring comes in Latin, Chinese, or Arabic lettering.

Though the world time complication is produced entirely in-house, it’s paired with a standard Sellita movement to help cut costs. Yet the world time module isn’t merely set atop the movement, but carefully integrated into it.

Indeed, for such a complex and beautifully-styled offering, the price tag for the stainless steel version reflects outstanding value. A watch like this would typically retail well over $10,000, but the stainless steel Orbis Terrarum costs only around $6500!

Red Gold Timewalker Automatic Chronograph

Montblanc’s Timewalker collection consists of the brand’s bold sports and racing watches. Unflinchingly masculine in style, these rugged, high-performance watches were designed to capture the very “spirit of motor racing.” They also honor Minerva’s heritage as a renowned chronograph specialist.

Hugh Jackman Promotes Montblanc Timewalker Automatic Chronograph

New Timewalker models, as shown above, are currently being advertised in high-octane racing-inspired commercials by Montblanc Global Ambassador Hugh Jackman.

Timewalker 18K Red Gold Automatic Chronograph Watch

One of the latest Timewalker offerings is this stunning 18K red gold redesign. It includes many new sporty details and useful features:

  • Sporty knurling on the bezel and pushers
  • A shiny high-tech ceramic bezel that rotates to mark a second time zone
  • Vertically-oriented chronograph dials recalling classic racecar dashboards
  • Red-gold plated dauphine hands coated with Super-LumiNova® for max visibility

Montblanc Summit Smartwatch

The Summit is Montblanc’s very first smartwatch line, released in October 2017. This makes Montblanc one of the first few luxury brands, along with TAG Heuer, to venture into the smartwatch market.

Like any Montblanc collection, it offers a remarkable blend of cutting-edge tech, fine materials, and expert craftsmanship. For example, unlike other smart watches, its touchscreen sits under sapphire glass that’s delicately-curved rather than flat.

Montblanc Summit Smartwatch

With an overall sporty, classic look similar to the 1858 Villeret, the Summit comes equipped with myriad sensors and functions. These include fitness monitors for heart-rate and daily step count; navigation aids like a gyroscope and compass, and weather sensors.

Powered by the highly-advanced Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ Wear 2100 processor, the Summit uses Google’s latest Android Wear 2.0 smartphone operating system. This allows the watch to support a virtual cornucopia of useful apps. Indeed, a number of helpful apps for travel and everyday living come pre-installed.

But among the most exciting elements of the Summit is the unique styling potential of its watch faces. The original launch offered several vintage-inspired dials, but newer models offer striking new designs. Montblanc even offers the opportunity to design your own one-of-a-kind watch face (though the honor comes at a hefty price!).

Montblanc Summit Watch London Face

Most notably, the latest Summit series has animated watch faces that showcase beautiful cityscapes. Each Summit model from this series will feature a breathtaking skyline display from a different iconic city. This lovely display mode also has a picturesque current weather indicator integrated into it.

The first in the series (October 2017) celebrates London with striking silhouettes of its architectural marvels, such as Big Ben. Cities planned for future models include Berlin, Milan, and New York.

Montblanc Partnerships

Especially after becoming part of Richemont, Montlbanc has forged many successful partnerships, sponsorships and other beneficial collaborations. Let’s take a closer look at a few of them:

Giving Back With UNICEF

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) offers humanitarian aid to children and families in developing countries.

The program was established by the United Nations in 1947. Its first major undertaking was providing emergency supplies and medical aid to children suffering the aftermath of World War II.

Montblanc Campaigns for UNICEFMontblanc’s partnership with UNICEF began in 2004 with its “Sign Up for the Right to Write” campaign. It was created to raise funds for UNICEF’s “Initiative Against Illiteracy,” which provides vital supplies and support for village schools.

Central to the campaign was a clever fundraising project celebrating the power of literacy and the written word.

Montblanc asked 149 influential men and women to pen a brief handwritten statement using a Montblanc Meisterstück 149 fountain pen. All statements were to begin with the phrase “I like to write because…”

Celebrity participants included accomplished human rights advocate Bianca Jagger, French actress Catherine Deneuve, and Italian operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti.

Each statement was framed along with a photo of the writer and a pen engraved with his/her signature. These were then auctioned off, with 100% of the proceeds, totaling over $800,000, going to UNICEF.

Montblanc would later raise over $1.5 million for UNICEF through its “Signature for Good” collection of pens and accessories. Today, Montblanc has donated in total over 10 million dollars to UNICEF’s education and literacy programs.  Ongoing initiatives include donating 3% of sales (with a minimum $1.5M guarantee) from the “Montblanc for UNICEF” collection.

Montblanc For UNICEF Collection Items

This sleek collection includes watches, pens, leather accessories, jewelry, stationary and even a special blue ink. All item designs center around 6 distinctive written characters – the first letters taught to schoolchildren from 6 different languages.

Celebrating Music, Theatre & Fine Art

Harboring such deep roots in handwriting culture, Montblanc is seriously committed to supporting various arts and culture movements worldwide:

Music

In 1995, Montblanc was the founding sponsor of the international orchestra, “Philharmonia of the Nations.”

Philharmonia Orchestra At Montblanc Prix

Lead by its founder, German conductor Justus Frantz, the Philharmonia is comprised of up-and-coming musicians hailing from over 40 countries. As per its official motto, “Let’s make music as friends,” the orchestra aims to promote peace and harmony through music.

Montblanc has also been promoting music through annually awarding the “Montblanc Prix” to talented young musicians chosen by a jury. The Prix consists of a 10,000€ prize and a stunning special edition fountain pen.

Theatre

Montblanc has sponsored the Salzburg Summer Festival, a star-studded international theater event, for over 10 years. Promising young stage directors are given the lifetime opportunity to present their work to an international audience and jury.

Montblanc Global Ambassador Hugh Jackman

Global Ambassador Hugh Jackman Performs For Montblanc

The “24-Hour Plays” is another famous, groundbreaking event Montblanc sponsors. The plays, which include musical acts, are shown on Broadway and produced and performed over only 24 hours. The writing, casting, rehearsals, and performances all must occur within one 24-hour period, culminating in a spectacular, highly-improvised one-night performance.

The roster of past celebrity participants for the plays is impressive, including Oscar-winning actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julianne Moore.

Arts

Montblanc began heavily sponsoring fine art back in 2002, when it launched its “Montblanc Cutting Edge Art Collection.” This eclectic collection of contemporary art was created by various internationally-celebrated modern artists.

Montblanc Cutting Edge Art Collection

Montblanc commissioned each artist for a personal artistic interpretation of the company logo. The finished pieces  (numbering over 100) are lovingly displayed in Montblanc’s headquarters as well as its manufactures throughout Germany, Italy, and Switzerland.

Today, Montblanc has expanded the program to include a “Young Artist World Patronage” competition. The firm, proudly honoring its Hamburg roots, also collaborates with Gallery of Contemporary Art of the Hamburger Kunsthalle.

For More Montblanc:

We hope you enjoyed our rundown of Montblanc’s journey into watchmaking, standout models and ongoing partnerships.

To learn more about Montblanc’s company history, current watch collections and watchmaking philosophy, visit the official website.

Montblanc Watches
Reviewed by Paul Anthony, on .
"They don't just do pens. Although mostly associated for its luxury pens, Montblanc has established itself as one of the most precise craftsmen of high-end watches."
Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★

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