The story in a second
The 1858 Small Second was the final proof, if any was needed, that the ‘new’ Montblanc is planning a full on assault at all styles of watchmaking – fine, high and accessible – and all styles of watches. Now including the military classics this one references.
Don’t worry. The 1858 was a complete surprise to us too. As it was to everybody, except Jerome Lambert. No sooner had we all adjusted to the slimmer, dressier Montblanc Heritage Chronometrie range (which we excitedly received, despite mutterings from some quarters about its likeness to the new CEO’s old employer) than we were all being asked to consider yet another visage of Montblanc. This time a military, 30s era trope with closer ties in design code terms to Minerva than ever before.
So, let’s recap. We have the chunky, bold art-deco blockiness of the Timewalker range. The Rieussec Timewriter range. The bigger-seller-than-anybody-realises (apparently) 4810 stalwart. The Star entry level. The breakthrough Heritage Chronometrie range which has housed huge steps forward technically too, like the ‘troublemaker’ / accessible perpetual calendar and the ExoTourbillon. This is also not to mention the rarefied Villeret range, Montblanc’s impressive top end of town.
If you’ll excuse me, I’m distributing a quick slap to the cheeks. Eyes to mine. Are you still reading? See, it’s not a dearth of ideas that plagues Montblanc, it might well be a surplus. If there isn’t some refinement, and some falling into line, in coming collections we may find the brand’s momentum compromised, or dispersed, by confusion. Montblanc may want to cast an eye over Tudor’s 2013 / 2014 and 2015 collections to see that less is almost always more when it comes to crafting memorable stories around watches. There’s one particular person that has been a key figure in these campaigns, perhaps they could connect with him? Oh wait, they have. Welcome to the team, Davide Cerrato.
Because, even with the long preamble, we haven’t even got to the 1858 Small Second yet. The watch that, in its assured, classic way might be the buzziest model yet, if not just for its appearance in the middle of last year on people’s Instagram feeds absolutely out of nowhere.
If this watch were a military man, his uniform would fit nice. Over a muscular body. And he would have integrity. You see, this watch, right off the bat, does not reference military watches, it perfects them. The cathedral hands, the railroad chapter ring, the onion crown; it’s all there, and there’s plenty in the detail to discover. But we’ll get to that. For now, let’s approach this watch the way Montblanc should be approaching their ranges from now on; with the simplest possible premise. It’s a military style watch made for the intrepid outdoors-type. It even has a mountain for a logo.
When it came to the review itself, timing was impeccable. In the same week I was invited to join a wolf pack on an unusually – un-urban mission. To tackle one of Australia’s most famed and fabled bushwalking tracks, the ‘Overland Track’. It suddenly because as clear as the air at Montblanc summit altitude. We should do a week on the wrist in the wild. Look, it’s not Anapurna. But people do die attempting it every other year. Stupid (usually unprepared) people that is. Or really cavalier ones. I have been known to be both at times, so there was no guarantee this was a sound idea, but it was happening, which dawned on me at Melbourne airport as we studied a guide book (from the 60s, my love of vintage carries through from watches to paraphernalia too) and undertook some crucial carb loading (drinking beers) before the flight south to Tasmania.
Fittingly, Cradle Mountain National Park has a central European connection. The drive to first protect and preserve its pristine nature was led by Austrian-born naturalist Gustav Weindorfer. When he climbed the peak, in 1910, he declared that “This must be a national park for the people for all time. It is magnificent and people must know about it and enjoy it.” It’s the kind of post-barrel-of-schnapps hyperbole I can really get behind. And anyway, he’s quite right, it’s an indescribably perfect natural environment, bereft of practically any human mark. Which makes it the best possible backdrop for an outdoors-oriented watch like this.
If there had have been a sexpile before we set off it would have looked like we were lost in the wilderness at a TechCrunch G2G . Bloody Garmins and Polars everywhere. Oh how they laughed at old WW2 and Grandpa in the mix. But hold that thought / hilarity.
When it comes to first impressions, I have to admit it. I liked this watch instantly. I liked that it was utilitarian and had the look of a viable daily beater but had some refinements that were revealed with a closer inspection. I wasn’t as keen on the strap though. It was no butch, studded Big Pilot strap which perhaps might have completed the picture. Maybe. Or perhaps it was just a little clean and unsullied? Maybe it needed some blood, sweat and bourbon soaked into it? We would see.
This is where, after a bit of wearing, it gets interesting. The 44mm wide by just under 11mm 1858 is surprisingly svelte on the wrist and the lines of the case are plain and simple; it doesn’t actually wear or feel at all like a tool watch. There’s some subtle sculpting to reduce sharp, un-machined angles or edges. It’s almost sensuous, which is frankly weird for a military watch. A weird you can get quite ok with.
There’s nothing else to say about the Unitas 6498 that hasn’t been said. Guys, you need to memorise this bit and remember those numbers. It’s in ERRRRTHANG. From TAG Heuer to Panerai, it’s powering away, not going busted, not losing time, not getting funny. It’s a workhorse. It’s as tough as Tom Hardy and scrubs up just as nicely through a clear caseback, as it does here. For a daily beater, it’s nice I reckon, when asked (and only when asked) to extol the virtues of not only your watch, but mechanical watches in general. A clear caseback helps the conversation along. It’s a 46 power reserve handwound movement, which means that recharging it on DAY THREE, when all the tech died, was as easy as pulling out the crown, winding, and then putting on the crown as the king of time. The only guy in the group who knew what time it was.
By this time, we’d worked out we were walking at an average pace of 17mins/km (not that slow! It was hilly!) The old fashioned wristwatch was used to track our progress on the paper – two old buddies that were brought back together by a distinct lack of power points for charging in the wild.
Matte was a good choice. Matte with a little texture. Again, giving the overall effect of the watch a refined air. The symmetry of the small seconds at six. The lovely Arabic numerals. These little flourishes and tactile elements give the watch a lot.
Ok. I take it back. By the end of the trip it had gone black at the edges and a rich chestnut brown (with a satisfying amount of scuffing and scratching) elsewhere. Way better. Still, it would be interesting to see the 1858 on a slightly more padded suede strap, like the one on the PAM 655.
For under five grand, this is a watch that ticks the military box with a little more aplomb than usual and gets you in the game with the ‘new Montblanc’, a watch brand we’re going to continue to write plenty about in months and years to come.
Oh, you didn’t know Montblanc had a military watch? Shall we talk about Minerva then?
Who’s it for
The person that wants a dressy, but vaguely military / pilot themed watch, without all the kitsch trimmings of a Big Pilot or vintage Longines reissue.
What would we change
We’d like to see a little more oomph in the strap department, to offset the very svelte case profile.
The Montblanc 1858 Small Second Australian pricing
The 1858 Small Second has an RRP of $4500.