MONT­BLANC A Tale of Two Man­u­fac­tures

Upon vis­it­ing Mont­blanc’s man­u­fac­tures, it be­comes abun­dantly clear how the watch­maker has de­vel­oped into one of to­day’s lead­ing names

Revolution (Hong Kong) - - CONTENTS - TEXT BY MELISSA LIM

THERE IS AN un­de­ni­able propen­sity within haute hor­logerie to pro­duce his­tor­i­cal tales that stretch far back and bear unique themes – the fur­ther back and the more fas­ci­nat­ing, the bet­ter. There are, on the other hand, more nascent names which make up for what they lack in his­tor­i­cal roots with their dar­ing in­no­va­tions. Fuse to­gether a cel­e­brated nar­ra­tive with im­pres­sive, state-of-theart tech­nol­ogy, and let’s face it, you have your­self a win­ning com­bi­na­tion. One such brand that is able to marry these two el­e­ments through its ethos, roots and lo­ca­tions, is Mont­blanc.

The Mont­blanc name stems back to 1906, fun­nily enough, with a pen, when a banker from Hamburg named Al­fred Ne­hemias and Ber­lin en­gi­neer August Eber­stein, both sen­si­tive to the signs of time, saw the op­por­tu­nity to bring the foun­tain pen to its tech­ni­cal and com­mer­cial suc­cess. The mis­sion was passed down to Wilhelm Dzi­am­bor, Chris­tian Lausen and later Claus Johannes Voss, who

would go on to cre­ate foun­tain pens in Hamburg, where for three years, it took the name Sim­plo Filler Pen Co. GmbH, rep­re­sented in Lon­don and Paris first, be­fore it was con­verted to Mont­blanc. Tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from the high­est peak in Europe, it was sym­bolic of the com­pany’s ob­jec­tive to reach its cre­ative and tech­ni­cal heights. The snow-capped Mont Blanc em­blem as we know now, dates back to 1913 and re­mains a sym­bol of ex­cel­lence, one that is close to this brand’s heart. Not sat­is­fied to stay only in pens, the com­pany de­cided to ex­pand its reper­toire in 1935 when it took over a leather goods pro­ducer in Of­fen­bach, Ger­many, and it would con­tinue with this fo­cus un­til 1997, when it added watch­mak­ing to its list, es­tab­lish­ing Mont­blanc Mon­tre S.A. in Le Lo­cle. While tech­ni­cally only 20 years on the mar­ket, de­spite its pre­vi­ous his­tory, it is con­sid­ered still in its ado­les­cence and has had to make strides in a short amount of time in or­der to stand up next to its ri­vals.

Its ob­jec­tive with its watch­mak­ing di­vi­sion was clear and put into mo­tion from the getgo, and it im­me­di­ately joined the Salon In­ter­na­tional de la Haute Hor­logerie [SIHH] in Geneva in 1997; at the time it was only one of eight ex­hibitors. Its first col­lec­tion played to the aes­thet­ics and sen­si­bil­i­ties of their ex­ist­ing clien­tele, amidst an air of slight skep­ti­cism from the in­dus­try.

In 2007, Richemont ac­quired the famed Min­erva watch man­u­fac­ture, known for its ex­cep­tional hand­made move­ments since 1858, to cre­ate the In­sti­tut Min­erva de Recherche

en Haute Hor­logerie in Villeret, Switzer­land, and made it a part of Mont­blanc’s watch man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pa­bil­ity. This pro­pelled Mont­blanc higher into the realm of haute hor­logerie and helped to fur­ther le­git­imize its po­si­tion within the in­dus­try. With this new ac­qui­si­tion, Mont­blanc went hard to work on the pro­duc­tion of its first in­house cal­iber; the MB R100, which de­buted in the Ni­co­las Rieussec Mono­pusher Chrono­graph, at SIHH the fol­low­ing year. While the project was in mo­tion well be­fore Min­erva, it should be noted that such move­ments usu­ally re­quire around five years of work be­fore be­ing ready for prime time.

With that in mind, it might seem cu­ri­ous to have two man­u­fac­tures 30 kilo­me­ters away from each other, but upon vis­it­ing both fa­cil­i­ties, their con­trast­ing per­son­al­i­ties are im­me­di­ately ev­i­dent, and their dis­tance of­fers an ex­pan­sive, al­len­com­pass­ing view of their his­tory and cur­rent day mis­sion. We be­gan with the Le Lo­cle fa­cil­ity, the more mod­ern of the two.

Quite frankly, I couldn’t think of a more pic­turesque day to be tour­ing these fa­cil­i­ties; the snow-capped moun­tains on an in­com­pre­hen­si­bly sunny day was some­thing out of a sto­ry­book. The still­ness rang in the cool, crisp air as we ap­proached what looked like a beau­ti­ful house, and Art Nou­veau villa built in 1906, smoke bil­low­ing out of chim­neys and ice be­gin­ning to melt from the rooftop, drop by drop.

A quick walk up the road finds us at a slightly more mod­ern, non-de­script build­ing, which

houses the de­sign­ers and where it was un­usu­ally quiet, most staff be­ing wrapped up with post-SIHH du­ties. While this meant there was less buzz, per­haps less of an ac­cu­rate pic­ture of every­day life here, it af­forded us the rare op­por­tu­nity to move around freely, to ex­plore and speak with al­most ev­ery­one we crossed paths with. Here, ideas come to life in pen­cil sketches be­fore be­ing de­vel­oped on com­puter, where de­tails are nar­rowed down by de­sign­ers, be­fore engi­neers elab­o­rate on the ideas and be­gin work on 3D mod­els. Sev­eral waves of pro­to­types will fol­low, where con­struc­tion and de­sign are fur­ther tweaked, and a range of tests are per­formed on com­po­nents.

This takes us back to the main house and down flights of stairs, where we were met with a hid­den work­shop, miles away from its tra­di­tional up­stairs. We turn a cor­ner to en­ter a swoop­ing atrium- style struc­ture that al­lows for the beauty of the out­side to spill through to the tra­di­tional work­tops and in­tensely mod­ern ma­chines. It is at these coun­ter­tops that we saw the con­struc­tion of the watches take place; each sta­tion has a ded­i­cated task, such as hand as­sem­blage or plac­ing the dial on the move­ment. Dust is the en­emy here and all man­ner of pre­cau­tions are taken to avoid any of the move­ments be­ing af­fected.

Qual­ity con­trol plays an in­te­gral part at Le Lo­cle, and we were in­tro­duced to the Mont­blanc Lab­o­ra­tory Test 500, where ev­ery watch is put through a rig­or­ous 500 hours of test­ing un­der var­i­ous try­ing con­di­tions, to mimic the gen­uine wear and tear it will re­ceive in day to day life. Crown set­tings, tem­per­a­ture con­trol, per­for­mance, setting dif­fer­en­tials are just a few of the fea­tures tested, in an ef­fort to re­lease only the most durable, pre­cise pieces to the world. In ad­di­tion, UV re­sis­tance tests the degra­da­tion of the dial over time, leather and metal bracelets are chal­lenged, and fi­nally, the infamous drop tests, where the watches are dropped with such force, the whole room jumped. No de­tail is too in­signif­i­cant for the lab­o­ra­tory.

So, with that, it was a jour­ney back in time and process with a stopover at Villeret, at the Min­erva In­sti­tute. As men­tioned, the Min­erva In­sti­tute was set up in 1858 by Charles-Yvan Robert, and would be­come one of Switzer­land’s most rev­ered spe­cial­ists in pre­cise chrono­met­ric func­tions. Here, there is much more fo­cus put on the tra­di­tional art of Swiss watch­mak­ing en­riched with tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tions, and where com­po­nents are cre­ated. The her­itage of Min­erva is pre­served and sensed pro­foundly through­out the fa­cil­ity, as mod­ern ma­chin­ery and tech­nique is kept to a min­i­mum, only in­tro­duced when and where hand crafts­man­ship

reaches its lim­its; even the staff seem of a dif­fer­ent era.

Each sec­tion is ded­i­cated to one par­tic­u­lar com­po­nent or process, and the savoir-faire, ded­i­ca­tion and crafts­man­ship from master watch­mak­ers and engi­neers is chan­neled into the de­vel­op­ment of nu­mer­ous lauded cre­ations, and adapted to new projects. The skills per­fected through the Mont­blanc Villeret Meta­mor­pho­sis and the Ni­co­las Rieussec Ris­ing Hours, for ex­am­ple, were ap­plied to the Her­itage Spirit Or­bis Ter­rarum, which shows a multi-lay­ered dial com­posed of a sap­phire crys­tal dial show­ing the north­ern hemi­sphere on top and a day/night disc un­der­neath.

One of the more ro­man­tic touches comes to play in the Ar­ti­sanal work­shop, where each time­piece is seen to and as­sem­bled by hand by one sin­gle watch­maker, a process that of­ten spans sev­eral months and re­quires a skillset seen in very few. Af­ter ini­tial assem­bly of the move­ment, the func­tions are fine­tuned, then the cal­iber is taken apart for fi­nal dec­o­ra­tions (which are all unique, as no one watch­maker has the same method) be­fore a sec­ond and fi­nal assem­bly takes place. Though all time­pieces reach iden­ti­cal lev­els in ac­cu­racy and per­for­mance, each are, in their own way, a one-off due to their watch­mak­ers.

There is a real syn­ergy be­tween the Le Lo­cle and Villeret man­u­fac­tures, as staff fre­quently visit each other’s fa­cil­i­ties, but be­yond that, there is no plan to close up this dis­tance. They com­ple­ment one other and cer­tainly gar­ner a mu­tual re­spect, but they also serve very dis­tinc­tive clien­tele. It will cer­tainly be fas­ci­nat­ing to see how they both con­tinue to grow and how they bring their her­itage along with them into each new decade.

Mont­blanc’s Villeret man­u­fac­ture has re­mained vir­tu­ally un­changed, pro­duc­ing time­pieces such as the 1858 Chrono­graph Tachymeter Lim­ited Edi­tion 100 this year to pay homage to its il­lus­tri­ous his­tory

The Villeret man­u­fac­ture ded­i­cates it­self to the crafts­man­ship of com­po­nents and move­ment assem­bly

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