Unlike other horological inventions, a chronograph complication like the historical edition of SIHH 2017 Montblanc TimeWalker Rally Timer has often been associated to the humanity’s fascination with speed and performance. Heck, even watchmaking grandmasters like Philippe Dufour often agree that even though the chronograph appears to be the red-headed step child of high complications, it’s often quite challenging to make a good one.
In terms of history, chronographs like the pioneer model of the Montblanc TimeWalker Rally Timer were used as a bulwark for fair play and sportsmanship, timing everything from sprinting, horseracing and our personal favourite – rally racing. More so than any other sportive activity, rally racing and automotive sport has joined our love of high mechanics, speed, performance and efficiency into an engaging blend of nerdy engineering calculations and Margot Robbiesque sexiness.
In reproducing the vaunted Rally Timer from Minerva’s archives, the new Montblanc TimeWalker Rally Timer honours not just the manufacture’s role in competitive rally racing but also heralds a new (if commercial) TimeWalker collection which is true to the spirit of the brand’s watchmaking history through Minerva watch manufacture. Thus, to own the SIHH 2017 Montblanc TimeWalker Rally Timer is to literally hold history of one of watchmaking’s most beloved manufactures in your hand.
Hands-On Review: Montblanc TimeWalker Rally Timer – Legitimacy and Provenance in the Modern Form
While the hefty 50mm Montblanc Rally Timer case might appear to be faithful re-issue of the historical model, the new TimeWalker Rally Timer is anything but a “re-edition”. Modern sensibilities and a focus on user friendliness takes the fore in the case itself with built-in versatility by way of flip-stands built into the caseback of the pocket watch which in turn can also be used as handy strap lugs should the owner design to wear it on wrist. Interestingly, the TimeWalker Rally Timer comes with its own reinforced leather backing which allows the owner to attach it to a car’s dashboard to serve as a stopwatch timing device (as true Rally drivers required) but we aren’t exactly sure if we’d find an owner brave enough or insane enough to screw it onto the dashboards of their thoroughly modern Ferrari, that said, it wouldn’t be out of place on a period specific vintage sports car (preferably one with Rally pedigree).
The Case, Dial and Hands
With the Montblanc Rally Timer, vintage aesthetic codes are rooted in the manufacture’s history of officially timing races. The satinated and brushed pocket watch case is replicated but the bull-head horn chronograph pushers have been eschewed for the brand’s resurgent signature monopusher built into the crown.
Though 50mm, the grade 5 titanium case makes the behemoth fairly easy to wear and manipulate. Yes, manipulation is a key selling point for a watch which can be rotated 180 degrees; thus the Montblanc Rally Timer can be used like a pocket watch or worn on wrist like a driver’s or regular watch as you see fit. As a regular watch, the crown of the Montblanc Rally Timer will be positioned at 12 o’clock but when worn on either left or right wrists, the watch functions as a “driver’s watch” aka without hands off the steering wheel with the crown at either 3 or 9 o’clock position. Knurled crown and case edge enhances ease of changing the various case positions which while antithetical to the pioneering model with fluted “onion” crown, it makes sense for a modern update of the pocket watch which can double up as a wrist watch as well.
The dial thoroughly sells the watch’s pedigree and brand provenance; serving as a facsimile of the vintage Minerva chronograph that was widely used in early rally races. While Montblanc is still looking for official documentation of the manufacture’s participation as official race timers, there is plenty of photographic evidence from the era to show that Minerva was indeed the official Rally Timer during the 1930s. The hands themselves are modern dauphine hands while arrow pointer and diamond shaped sub-seconds hand provides interesting yet practical visual distinction between the two operating functions even if the longer red seconds hand didn’t make it readily apparent.
It is important to note, while we discuss Minerva and Montblanc as separate entities in context of its history in the early 20th century, according to Richemont Group, both Montblanc and Minerva are now fully integrated. At 50mm, the Montblanc Rally Timer and the original Minerva Rally Timer shares similar dimensions, thus, it is fitting that the manual winding manufacture MB M16.29 follows in the same footsteps of the original Minerva calibre 17.29.
In terms of architecture, the Montblanc M16.29 and Minerva 17.29 share the same positions for vital components like the column wheel, the horizontal coupling and the balance cog with large screwed balance with low beat 18,000 bph. While the “V” shaped bridge has been rights protected by Minerva since 1912, the truth is similar and barely distinguishable “V” bridge variants from Lemania and ETA do exist so, we wouldn’t go so far as to call it iconic. Like the key components, signature finishing techniques which made the 17.29 distinctive follow in its modern descendent – anglage, Côtes de Genève striping, the chamfering and even the circular graining all match, making it the spiritual and physical successor to such an legendary calibre. It must be said that the “devil’s tail lever” icon, while more aggressive and apparent in terms of the modern edition, has existed in subtler forms in the heritage movements of early 19th to 20th century Minerva even if they were not emphasised to such a degree as in the modern remake. Thus it can be said, save for the venerable Omega calibre 321 and Zenith El Primero chronograph calibres, no other chronograph movement has as rich a history (at least in terms of its 86 year tenure) than the calibre 16.29 and 17.29.
As an ode to its GPHG winning attributes, the Calibre 16.29 in the Montblanc TimeWalker Rally Timer has been finished to exacting standards beyond reproach. Hand-finished at its home in traditional Villeret, Montblanc definitely shows other watchmaking brands the right way to manage a heritage manufacture, especially one they acquired just 10 years ago.
The new MB M16.29 has been something of a thorough-bred chronograph movement for Montblanc, used in everything from the 1858 collection to know, serving as flag bearer for the newly redesigned and repositioned TimeWalker collection.
Davide Cerrato’s influence on the TimeWalker/Rally Timer design and Concluding Thoughts
When poached from Tudor, it was widely guessed that Davide Cerrato, Montblanc’s newest Watch Chief would bring his deft interpretative touch with heritage collections and he has not disappointed. That said, it’s sort of a consumer perspective and brand quandary how the Montblanc Rally Timer will sit as a flagbearer for the commercially accessible and re-designed TimeWalker range – none of the TimeWalker Chronographs (other than this Rally Timer) will use Minerva movements instead opting for the more affordable Sellita offerings. Thus, such a high end and exquisitely finished chronograph like the Montblanc Rally Timer Counter will be a hard sell for collectors concerned with its shoulder-to-shoulder standing with the entry-level offerings of the brand. However, true collectors should be able to look past such superficialities and embrace the limited edition 100 piece collection. Montblanc Rally Timer Counter is priced €37,000.