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iW Interview: Scaling Montblanc

Montblanc CEO Nicolas Baretzki tells iW how Montblanc has conquered the horological peaks at Villeret and Le Locle.

Montblanc Manufacture Villeret, formerly Minerva

iW: Is Minerva now fully integrated within Montblanc?

NB: Maybe in the past there was some confusion, but today Minerva (in Villeret) and Montblanc (in Le Locle) are one single entity. It’s not just one management, but it is one way of thinking, one development team. The Geosphere is a perfect example of a Minerva movement adapted to a regular watch. It is not separate from Villeret anymore.

Old Minerva workshop

Exploration recalls the roots of Minerva. For two decades, in the 1920s and 1930s, Minerva was very active producing sports and military watches. This was the inspiration for the new 1858 collection. Military watches need to be extremely visible, robust and accurate. We add the rotating bezels, the ceramic, and you really feel that you have a strong watch on your wrist. We haven’t developed a watch to use when climbing Mount Everest, but instead to realize the spirit of exploration. Remember, at Montblanc a mountain is part of who we are. And these are not just more pilot watches or more diving watches.

A few new members of the Montblanc 1858 family.

What has changed at Montblanc in 2018?

Our approach involves simplifying the number of collections we have. We are now focusing on six primary collections. Two of them are sporty and four of them are more classical, including the Boheme ladies collection. And the way we are reorganizing these collections starts with Minerva, in terms of design codes and overall inspiration.

Nicolas Baretzki, CEO Montblanc International, wears his 1858 Geosphere.

We will bring each collection forward in the same manner: High-end pieces that include a limited edition –purely Minerva– and then the core range. The core range is the Mont Blanc positioning which we defined four years ago.

1858 Automatic Chronograph

Manufacture Calibre MB M16.24

Movement Assembly at Villeret

1858 Geosphere

This will not change and will be priced between 2,000 and 5,000 euros. These pieces will be small complications such as moonphase, chronograph or calendar, all with nice displays, beautiful design and character. These will be positioned with a nice price. One piece will be made with a manufacture movement, and that piece will be the exceptional value piece of the collection. Within our new collection it is the TimeWalker Geosphere.

The new 1858 Geosphere

How does Minerva fit into the story?

Everything is structured the same way. When we put together the 1858 collection we wanted to be sure to bring along the Minerva story. And we didn’t want to do something we have already done. So we worked on two primary models. One was a smaller monopusher chronograph. We took the 44mm model from last year and created a new 40mm model this year. This is the watch with the green dial, which will definitely be oversold by the end of SIHH, but that’s okay. This is after all a limited edition with terrific value.

Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter LE

Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter LE

How did you develop the new pocket watch?

And then we wanted to bring an existing Minerva movement, but with an innovation. We looked at the chronograph-mono pusher and asked ourselves ‘what can we invent?’ The result was our caliber 16.24, onto which we added a 24-hour indicator and one hand.

The 1858 Pocket watch, with 24-hour hand and stone dial.

That was the first part. Then we looked at our mountaineering exploration theme. I decided we wanted something strong and useful. We wanted to be useful without being a gimmick. And from there we thought to integrate a compass, which is perfect for exploration.

It was a great idea and very difficult to realize. It meant we had to put a compass, with decoration and with magnetism, onto the watch. Of course when you place magnetism next to a watch it can be dangerous for the function.

The 1858 Pocket watch, showing compass and monopusher movement.

The next step was to develop a method of controlling that magnetism. First we placed the hands within panes of specially treated glass, and then created a Faraday cage. This completely cancels any danger of magnetism.

1858 Automatic Chronograph, showing a NATO strap specially made for Montblanc in France.

Of course then we needed to develop a method to place the compass flat onto a map. To increase its usefulness, we have made it so you can attach it to your backpack or your jacket. Because it is made of titanium, it is light. It is not like we’ve decided all of these features at once. This is a process. And since we are Montblanc, we create all of the leather for this piece and all of our other watches. Even with the NATO straps because for those we are working with a high-quality French manufacturer.