Montblanc has been associated with luxury products for over a century; however, its presence on the watchmaking brand is relatively recent. The brand started off as a manufacturer of high-end pens and writing instruments and subsequently got famous as an exclusive jeweler and manufacturer of various types of pricy fashion accessories. Its beginnings in the watchmaking are tied to the parent company, the Richemont Group, which was behind the decision to open up the workshops in Le Locle and start the production of watches with the Montblanc logo. In the attempt to place the brand in one of the upper niches on the market when quality of production is concerned, Montblanc subsequently bought the prestigious watchmaker Institut Minerva de Recherche en Haute Horlogerie whose facilities from Villeret Montblanc integrated in its own system. Further attempts to establish as a quality timepiece manufacturer brought to the following release of the first in-house movement which featured a chronograph complication, as well as the expansion of the facilities at the end of the noughties. Mostly thanks to the integration of the Villeret workshops and its expertise, Montblanc has recently started to present watches which feature the highest level of intricacy, for example Exo Tourbillin timekeeper from the Villeret 1885 Collection which was unveiled at the SIHH 2013 event.
Interestingly, the creation of the Montblanc brand is directly caused by the invention of the fountain pen, a writing instrument that nowadays serves only as a luxury accessory and the remainder of the olden times when thing used to be just a bit more classy. However, when the technology for the making of fountain pens became available, a German trio of entrepreneurs spotted an excellent business opportunity. The trio consisting of the banker Alfred Nehemias, the engineer August Eberstein and the stationer Claus-Johannes Voss founded Montblanc and started selling the first writing instrument named Rouge et Noir in 1909, three years after the firm was founded.
Founders of Montblanc
As the time went by, the reputation of the new fountain pen manufacturer grew and the Hamburg-based company became more and more recognizable for its high-end products. The initial golden period was at its peak in 1924 when the firm presented its Meisterstück (Masterpiece in English) pen. Even though the brand established itself as one of the iconic and best known creator and supplier on the market, the following decades showed that such a specialized production has problems when competing with the giants of the luxury goods manufacture and even the lower-end products which were mass produced didn’t do the trick of keeping Montblanc independent. Consequently, the brand was taken over by Alfred Dunhill Holding. Nonetheless this was not the final state of things. In the process whose satirical illustration would be a familiar drawing in which a bigger fish eats the smaller one only to be swallowed by an even bigger predator, Dunhill was taken over by Vendôme conglomerate. In the story of how Montblanc started making watches, everything falls in place once it is explained that behind this name stands the brand nowadays known as Richemont Group.
Montblanc Meisterstück Chronograph Watch
One of the giants of luxury goods production, Richemont, is likewise one of the key players in the watchmaking industry since it owns or co-owns several top brands, for example Jaeger LeCoultre, IWC Schaffhausen, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Panerai, Piaget and many more. Under the umbrella of the new parent company, the brand opened Montblanc Montre S.A. in the Swiss town of Le Locle, one of the most important centers of the industry, as well as the town that is considered by some experts to be the actual birthplace of the entire watchmaking.
Montblanc Le Locle
With the production facilities in a Le Locle based Art Nouveau villa (which was built in 1906, the same year Montblanc was founded) up and running, Montblanc was able to present its premier collection at the SIHH exhibition held at outset of 1997. Not forgetting its glorious years and the tradition in the luxury goods industry, Montblanc named its first collection after its most famous Masterpiece product.
Montblanc Le Locle Manufacture
As the newly founded watchmaker continued to develop, the initial production proved to be insufficient and Montblanc manufacture was additionally strengthened in 2003 when the modern atrium-style building was erected. Not only that it looked very appealing with its natural lit facilities and in the combination with the classical look of the Art Nouveau villa, it actually quadrupled the available workspace to 800 square meters.
With the extended production line, the brand continued its efforts to establish itself at the higher end of the industry which was obviously very challenging since Montblanc was competing with the watchmakers of far greater tradition and expertise. One of the means to enter the ranks of high rollers of the industry was to be able to produce its own in-house movement. This moment finally came in 2008 when the watchmaker launched its Nicolas Rieussec collection. Named after the inventor of the chronograph complication, the first proprietary Montblanc movements MB R100 and MB R200 were naturally equipped with this feature. While MB R100 caliber has 33 jewels, a power storage of three days, a date indication and is wound manually, the other caliber MB R200 integrates 40 jewels, offers the same amount of power reserve which is generated by an automatic winding system and has an additional GMT complication. Both proprietary chronographs by Montblanc are functioning at the 4 Hz frequency.
Montblanc Nicloas Rieussec Chronograph Watch
The new added facilities facilitated the growth of the production, and by 2010, the brand had more than 40 employees and reached the production level of impressive 200,000 watches per year. Nonetheless, the intention of the firm’s leadership was to grow not only in quantity, but more importantly, in quality too. Since the furious watchmaking competition between the manufacturers brought to previously inconceivable levels of intricacy of mechanical calibers, the launch of proprietary chronographs was far from enough to secure to the brand the place it wanted on the watchmaking scene. As the responsible in the Richemont Group decided, the mentioned Institut Minerva de Recherche en Haute Horlogerie in the nearby town of Villeret was merged into the Montblanc’s production. The manufacturer in question is the watchmaker founded in the mid-19th century, the brand that specialized into the creation of quality chronographs. Each of the products launched by the company was manufactured in accordance with the traditional values of horology, while the brand continued to present hand-crafted pieces of the highest quality uninterruptedly all the way to the present era. After being integrated into Montblanc (which was the decision that some of the more traditional oriented watch enthusiasts frowned upon), Minerva continues the construction of high-end movements made under the premises of the traditional watchmaking. These calibers, released under the Villeret 1858 lineage are likewise equipped with very demanding complications and are hand-decorated with haute horlogerie finishes.
Institut Minerva de Recherche en Haute Horlogerie in Villeret
Recently, the brand has presented the piece which could be considered as the pinnacle of the complexity that this exclusive workshop owned by Montblanc has been able to produce – Villeret 1858 Exo Tourbillon Chronographe which brings together a tourbillon and a chronograph feature and has a balance removed from the tourbillon cage. The launch of the model which is among the 2013 newcomers that the brand has prepared finishes the tale of the invention of the fountain pen, after the series of the following events ultimately brought to the creation of the watch with an exo tourbillon complication.
Montblanc Villeret 1858 ExoTourbillon Chronograph Watch
Montblanc’s watch production is likewise encouraged with the excellent sales network; the brand has over 450 specialized exclusive boutiques located all over the world. A special place among them is reserved for the store set in Sanlitun area, Beijing. The boutique whose location in the capital of China can be compared to a store set in the London’s Oxford Street or the New York’s Fifth Avenue, has four floors with the total space of mind-boggling 19,400 square feet.
Producing quality mechanical watches along with the less valued quartz timepieces, Montblanc palette of products is divided into several collections. Apart from the mentioned ones (Villeret 1858, Nicolas Rieussec and the discontinued Meisterstück series), the brand likewise launches watches from the Sport, the Star, the Timewalker, the Profile and the Princesse Grace de Monaco collections, while the products from the Summit line of watches with thin cases are no longer on the market.
Over the short period of its existence, the brand was promoted by some of the top Hollywood actors who served as the brand’s ambassadors. After collaborating with the likes of Johnny Depp, Julienne Moor and Nicolas Cage who were tied to the watch manufacturer and included in the charity events it organized, the latest A-list acquisition to the brand’s promotional and humanitarian efforts is Hillary Swank. Since the brand targets the segment of society with the highest paying ability, it comes as no surprise that the company likes to associates itself with the high cultural events and figures. That is why Montblanc hired the renowned Chinese pianist Lang Lang as yet another one of its promoters.