Montblanc made some giant strides under former CEO Jerome Lambert, under whom the German maison’s watchmaking division caught the attention of watch enthusiasts and collectors alike. Since then Lambert has moved on to bigger things (he is now the COO of Richemont Group) but not before he hired Davide Cerrato from Tudor to head their watchmaking division. Cerrato is best known for developing Tudor’s Heritage Black Bay line which was gone on to become a modern classic in the last decade.
Cerrato made a promising start with the revamped TimeWalker line at SIHH 2017. Montblanc’s sportiest line was reborn as a sports watch inspired by classic motoring. Taking inspiration from the rally timers and chronographs that Minerva made in the first half of the 20th century, the TimeWalker was an aggressive new push in the sports watch category from a brand best known for its classic timepieces.
The revamped range was given a further fillip this year when a new manufacture chronograph movement with a column wheel construction was introduced in a panda dial chronograph priced under €5,000, the TimeWalker Manufacture chronograph.
“The chronograph is going to be an important pillar for us when it comes to technical content. We need to be able to show different levels of sophistication when it comes to chronographs,” said Cerrato when asked why Montblanc went through the trouble of creating a brand new manufacture movement. The entry-level TimeWalker uses a Sellita-based chronograph movement while a handfinished Minerva powers the Rally Timer at the top-end.
“The TimeWalker line leans towards performance and racing, so having a technically superior chronograph in the mix was important. Collectors are more likely to be interested in the manufacture movement than a stock one because while the latter is more reliable, they still want something a little more sophisticated,” said Cerrato.
Given the mood board that inspired the new TimeWalker range – vintage chronographs, classic motoring and motorsport – it’s impossible not to draw comparisons with TAG Heuer, a brand that for decades been associated with performance and racing. So how does Montblanc plan to compete in this category? How is it going to claim any legitimacy in the world of classic motoring and racing with a line that was launched in 2017?
“We have to bring in the Minerva heritage,” said Cerrato referring to the Villeret-based watch brand now owned by Montblanc. A prodigious manufacturer of high quality chronographs and timing instruments, Minerva is renowned for its handfinished movements, chronographs and stopwatches. “Even though Heuer has a history of making dashboard chronographs and counters, Minerva’s story is very rich and it is the story of how the chronograph wristwatch was born,” he counters.
“In the first half of the 20th century, Minerva explored the measurement of short time intervals (measuring up to 1/100th of a second in 1911) and their work in this field resulted in some great chronographs. In parallel, they explored sports chronographs and the result was watches like the Rally Timer. Their watches were used for various sports like football, polo, horseracing from the 1930s to 60s,” said Cerrato in defense of Minerva’s legitimate history in performance and sports timing.
However, there’s a more strategic reason behind Montblanc’s push in the sports watch segment. The brand’s core price category is the €2,000-6,000 segment of the watch retail business. In countries like US, UK, Mexico and South America, sports watches represent 80 per cent of the market share in this price segment, thus representing a huge opportunity for the brand.
“If we need to grow our core business, we need to have a strong line of sports watches. It is a challenge but it is an area of opportunity for us. But thanks to a strong design, aggressive pricing and our Minerva heritage, we can be a legitimate contender.”
Cerrato says the TimeWalker range that was launched this year is a good strong step in this direction. “People were not expecting this from us. Montblanc is named after a mountain; a symbol of achievement and this suggests outdoor activity. It fits in with our brand heritage,” he stated.
(This is an abridged version of the article that appears in our WINTER 2017 print issue out on newsstands now.)