The Montblanc Collection Villeret 1858 consists of exceptional horology creations from the watch manufacturing facility of the brand in Villeret, which was originally established in 1858 as Minerva manufacture and acquired by Montblanc in 2007.
The new Vintage Pulsographe from Montblanc Collection Villeret 1858 takes us back to the 1930s, when wristwatch chronographs first flourished and contributed to a new upswing for the Minerva manufacture.
Since its foundation in 1858, Minerva manufacture had been developed into a globally renowned chronograph specialist which wasn’t only successful under its own name, but also delivered its movements to other manufacture brands. As wristwatches become progressively more popular, these movements were accordingly miniaturized and encased in wristwatch chronographs that were used in many professions and activities as practical measurers of short intervals.
The manufacture’s archive preserves the memory of that era in the form of enamel dials marked with specially calibrated scales for particular types of time measurement: regatta watches, pulse counters, production-timers (to count the number of pieces manufactured in a given period of time) and even dials subdivided to indicate elapsed time to the nearest 100th of a second. Recalling this grand era, the enamel dial of the new Vintage Pulsographe bears a pulse scale, a special feature which was particularly popular among physicians.
The New Vintage Pulsographe with its 39,5 mm case shines as the first chronograph in the Montblanc Collection Villeret 1858 with a diameter under 40 mm. This size is inspired by the chronographs of the 1930s, when “small was beautiful” and is intended to appeal real Vintage aficionados who have a growing interest in chronographs from this petite yet elite manufacture, where timepieces are still primarily handmade with the best Swiss watchmaking tradition. With its monopusher chronograph movement (calibre MB M13.21), Montblanc has precisely the right chronograph available to encase in these watches.
Though its diameter is merely 29.5 mm (13 lines), chronograph calibre MB M13.21 boasts all the attributes of classical chronograph mechanisms and traditional manufacture craftsmanship, e.g. column-wheel control and horizontal wheel coupling. As a monopusher construction, this movement relies on a three-phase control: the chronograph function starts the first time the button is pressed; the chronograph’s hands stop the next time it is pressed; and these hands return to their zero positions the third time it is pressed. The sequence begins anew the next time the button is activated.
Peering through the sapphire crystal in the back of the case of the new Vintage Pulsographe beautifully reveals the mechanisms that come into play when the chronograph’s button is triggered. The monopusher activates a control mechanism consisting of exquisitely hand-decorated components: all levers and springs are glossily polished on their planar surfaces and satin-finished on their sides; their edges are manually bevelled. All functional surfaces in every movement are individually and manually adjusted to guarantee the smoothest and most reliable triggering in response to the monopusher’s commands. An equally high-quality finish is also applied to all other components of the movement.
Plates and bridges are made of rhodium-plated nickel silver; the bridges are embellished with manually polished bevels and classical “Geneva waves.” The pale silver grey of the movement’s chassis contrasts beautifully with the red gemstone bearings and the large massy balance, which has adjustable screws along its rim and which oscillates at the classical pace of 2.5 Hz. This corresponds to a frequency of 18,000 semi-oscillations per hour, which entails laborious fine adjustment, but repays the effort by facilitating measurements of elapsed time to nearest fifth of a second. The movement receives its energy from a comparatively large barrel: circular graining on the inner surfaces of the barrel convincingly proving that this movement is indeed lavishly decorated, even in places which are ordinarily hidden from view.
The same uncompromising meticulousness is evident in the dial, which – like all watch faces in the Montblanc Collection Villeret 1858 – is made from solid gold. For the Vintage Pulsographe, it’s fired at 850° Celsius to fuse it to its grand feu enamel coating, which contrasts perfectly with the numerals and scales. The red gold model has a black dial with white markings; the white gold version features a white dial with black markings. Each grand feu enamel dial is a unique piece which requires the utmost precision to manufacture. A momentary lapse of attention or a slight deviation during the firing and cooling process could cause tensions and cracks in the glaze, which would make the dial unusable. But when the process is successful, the dial’s enamel gleams with an intensity that loses none of its radiance even after many decades have elapsed.
The outermost edge of the Vintage Pulsographe’s dial is marked with a red pulse scale and the phrase “GRADUÉ POUR 30 PULSATIONS” (i.e. “calibrated for 30 pulse beats”). Further inward, this scale is followed by the minutes and elapsed-seconds scale (the latter with fifth-of-a-second subdivisions), then by the hour-circle with large Arabic numerals, and finally by a railroad-style scale marked with the hours from 13 to 24. A subdial at the “9 o’clock” position indicates the continually running seconds. Another subdial at the “3” can tally a maximum of thirty elapsed minutes.
The complex chronograph movement and artistically crafted dial of the new Vintage 39,5mm are ensconced inside a case made of 18 carat white or red gold. Its flank bears a winding-crown adorned with the Montblanc emblem in mother-of-pearl and the chronograph’s sole push-piece at the “2 o’clock” position. A sapphire crystal that has been anti-reflectively treated on both its surfaces protects the dial; a second pane of sapphire in the back offers an unobstructed view of the artistically decorated movement with its large balance and classical chronograph mechanism.
This case is affixed to a hand-sewn alligator-leather strap with large reptilian scales. In accord with tradition, the wristband is opened and closed with a pronged buckle made of solid gold. The white gold watch bears a black leather strap and a white gold clasp; the red gold timepiece has a brown leather band and a red gold buckle. Only fifty-eight pieces of each model will be produced: this number refers to the year 1858 when the Minerva manufacture was first established.
Eighty years ago, especially physicians numbered among the first users of wristwatch chronographs, to measure patients’ pulse rates without having to continue feeling the pulse for a full minute. A physician wearing a wristwatch with a pulsograph’s scale could start his timepiece’s chronograph function the moment he began to palpate the patient’s pulse. If the scale was calibrated for thirty pulse beats, he would continue counting the throbs until he had felt the thirtieth pulsation, whereupon he would stop his chronograph: the tip of the designated hand would indicate the point along the pulse scale corresponding to the patient’s pulse rate per minute. This saved between thirty and forty seconds per patient and was a convincing reason to own such a watch, especially if the physician’s ward rounds required him to measure the pulse rates of fifty or more patients. Wristwatches with pulsograph scales soon earned fame as so-called “doctor’s watches.”