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Hands-On with the Montblanc 1858 Split Second Chronograph Bronze

An awesome split at a great price.

The complicated watch that offered the most bang for the buck at SIHH 2019 was probably the Montblanc 1858 Split Second Chronograph in bronze.

A big watch, maybe slightly too big, the 1858 split-seconds boasts a traditionally constructed and decorated rattrapante movement, albeit one that was designed for a pocket watch, for just over US$30,000.

It’s also a single-button, or mono-pusher, split-seconds, with start, stop and reset functions for the chronograph controlled by the button co-axial with the crown, while the split button is at two o’clock. As such things go it’s almost a bargain.

Montblanc 1858 Split Second Chronograph bronze 9

The new 1858 is the only split-seconds unveiled by Montblanc in recent years, and is powered by the MB M16.31, a hand-wound movement that’s essentially the MB M16.29 found in earlier 1858 chronographs with the addition of a traditional split-seconds mechanism on top.

Montblanc 1858 Split Second Chronograph bronze 5

That means the addition of a second column wheel for the split-seconds mechanism, which sits high in the centre of the movement, with the distinctive pincer-shaped split-second wheel brake on either side.

Montblanc 1858 Split Second Chronograph bronze 4

As is typical of the Minerva movements found in Montblanc watches, the MB M16.31 is wonderfully decorated. All of the chronograph levers are strikingly finished with brushed top surfaces and prominent, polished bevels. Even the teeth of the winding and barrel ratchet wheels are mirror polished.

Though Montblanc says the finishing on Minerva now is exactly the same as it was when they were in watches that retailed for three to four times as much, it is hard to escape the feeling that some minor finishing details were simplified, like the bridge for the pallet fork below the balance wheel. A side by side comparison with a first generation Montblanc-Minerva movement isn’t available, but it does feel that way.

Be that as it may, the movement is still an incredible sight to behold, especially for just US$30,000.

Montblanc 1858 Split Second Chronograph bronze 3

As is now standard for the 1858 line, the dial is heavily retro and modelled on Minerva wristwatch chronographs of the 1930s. The colour palette employed works well for this particular style of dial.

It features a double chronograph scale, telemetric and tachymetric, along with beige Super-Luminova on the dial and hands. As is often the case with faux-vintage lume, it does feel like the watch is trying a bit too hard to look old when it really doesn’t need to.

Montblanc 1858 Split Second Chronograph bronze 8

The watch case is bronze, specifically an aluminium-heavy bronze alloy that will develop a brown patina over time, as opposed to the green oxidisation that forms on most bronze. While the case metal works with the retro look, bronze feels a bit too fashionable now, particularly since it was used so liberally by Montblanc this year.

Nevertheless the bronze case is well finished, just as a steel or a gold case would be, with contrasting polished and brushed surfaces.

Montblanc 1858 Split Second Chronograph bronze 6

The only real downside of the watch is its size. The case is 44mm and 14.5mm high, with a high bezel and domed sapphire crystal that accentuate its thickness. It really does look and feel as big as it sounds.

Montblanc 1858 Split Second Chronograph bronze 7

That’s a consequence of the movement, which is derived from the Minerva cal. 17-29 pocket watch movement designed in 1929.

But the size no doubt contributes to its relatively affordability. A smaller and thinner split-seconds movement will be exponentially more expensive due to the increased fineness of the parts, meaning increased complexity in manufacturing and effort for finishing and assembly.

All in all the 1858 split-seconds is a great product that does what it is supposed to do well, even if the bronze case feels overly trendy. In fact it is arguably a true connoisseur’s watch, since Montblanc isn’t a significant presence for watches at this price point, which means most buyers should be shelling out for this watch almost solely for the movement.

And naturally the same movement in another, more conventional case metal – I would love to see it in titanium – will be a winner.

Price and availability

The 1858 Split Second Chronograph in bronze (ref. 119910) is limited to 100 watches, priced at €32,500 including 19% tax. It’ll be available starting the second quarter of 2019.


 

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Time Aeon Introduces the Naissance d’une Montre 2

Reviving classical watchmaking.

Back in 2009, a project aiming to revitalise and pass on traditional watchmaking techniques was born. The project, known as Naissance d’une Montre, or “Birth of a Watch”, was under the aegis of the Time Æon Foundation, established by Robert Greubel, Stephen Forsey, Philippe Dufour, Vianney Halter and Kari Voutilainen, though it was the first three who took the most active roles in the project. After the first series was completed in 2015, Time Æon has just announced its second Naissance d’une Montre creation at SIHH 2019.

Time Æon

Established in 2005, the Time Æon Foundation is a growing family of notable watchmakers and designers who collaborate on projects with the shared goal of preserving traditional watchmaking know-how.

Spearheaded by Greubel Forsey and Philippe Dufour, the first project of the Time Æon Foundation was to educate a French watchmaker, Michel Boulanger, in the art of designing and building a watch by hand from scratch, almost exactly as it was done in the 19th century. Mr Boulanger was then to pass on the knowledge to students of watchmaking.

In 2015, Mr Boulanger’s efforts culminated with the unveiling of the prototype of the first Naissance d’une Montre, the Montre École, or “School Watch”.

Ten pieces were planned, and swiftly spoken for, while the prototype was sold at Christie’s the following year for SFr1.46m.

The "Montre École" prototype, sold at Christies for close to 1.5 million USD.

The “Montre École” prototype, sold at Christies for almost US$1.5 million.

Time Æon is now made up of seven members, with the most recent addition being Dominique Renaud – best known as the co-founder of complications specialist Renaud & Papi.

The foundation’s current projects include movement decoration workshops for watchmaking students, conducted by Mr Boulanger, who completed the first Naissance d’une Montre, and Mr Dufour.

Current active members of the Time Æon Foundation

Current members of the Time Æon Foundation

Coincidentally, a separate project with similar goals was initiated by a pair of Urwerk watchmakers, Dominique Buser and Cyrano Devanthey, and named Oscillon. Similar to the Naissance d’une Montre project, the pair restored old production machinery and employed traditional watchmaking methods to create timepieces by hand, without the aid of modern automated equipment.

Given the similarities, it didn’t take long before a collaboration between Time Æon and Oscillon was born, leading to the second timepiece of the Naissance d’une Montre, with the prototype movement having been shown at SIHH 2019.

The Naissance d’une Montre 2

The second project is led by Mr. Buser and Mr. Devanthey under the patronage of Time Æon, particularly the two cofounders of Urwerk – Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei, which explains the aesthetics of the case.

The movement uses the Oscillon calibre as a base, but with its construction revamped in Greubel Forsey style, leaving the movement to form the dial in front.

Of interest is the wide, bowtie-shaped, proprietary free-sprung balance wheel. Much of the going train is visible on the opposite half of the dial, while the sub-seconds sits at six o’clock.

This leaves only the 12 o’clock position for the keyless works and crown, which is the signature position on an Urwerk watch case.

TimeAeon Naissance-dune-Montre two 1

At a glance, the case back appears unassuming in comparison to the dial, but closer inspection reveals twin mainspring barrels in an interesting configuration – they are connected via a continuous mainspring that is wound across both barrels, effectively forming a constant-torque mechanism that is similar to a fusee and chain.

Naissance d'une Montre-2-3

Sandwiched between both barrels is a large, sweeping hand which acts as the power reserve indicator.

The back is signed by both Greubel Forsey and Urwerk, along with the names of Mr. Buser and Mr. Devanthey.

Future projects

Also announced at SIHH 2019 was the third Naissance d’une Montre, which will be completed in about five years. It will be a collaboration with Ferdinand Berthoud, and utilise a fusee and chain mechanism as found in the Ferdinand Berthoud FB 1, except one made entirely by hand, just like the rest of the watch.

La_Fusée_Chaîne

Meanwhile, a separate project will be executed between Dominique Renaud and Greubel Forsey to create a timepiece with a unique escapement conceived by Mr Renaud.

Échappement à ancre direct, Dominique Renaud

A rendering of Mr Renaud’s escapement

 

Time Aeon expects the prototype of the Ferdinand Berthoud collaboration to be presented at SIHH 2020.


 

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