The Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie Collection was launched earlier this year at the SIHH, and it includes a number of watches that have attracted, for very good reasons, a great deal of attention, including the Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie ExoTourbillon Minute Chronograph Vasco da Gama, the Montblance Heritage Chronométrie Quantième Annual Vasco da Gama, and the very nicely done and very practical Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie Dual Time. It also includes a watch whose merits are easy to miss at first glance, and which we finally had a chance to look at up close and personal recently here at HODINKEE. That watch is the Heritage Chronométrie Ultra-Slim.
The Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie Ultra Slim is Montblanc’s entry in the world of watches that are ultra-thin, or extra-flat, or ultra-fine, or whatever you want to call them -as we pointed out in a recent story on one of the finest of the ultra-fine watches out there right now, there is not only no established or agreed-on single term for watches that are very thin, and the Berner Horological Dictionary simply says that extra-flat watches are watches that are “extremely flat” Anyhow, though the official industry dictionary more or less lets us down in this respect, it is true that once you get below case thickness of 7mm or so, and/or movement thickness of 3mm or so, you’re definitely in the zone -the NOMOS Tangente, for instance, which is a big favorite here at the office, is 6.75mm thick and nobody would reasonably call it anything but a pretty thin watch despite the fact that it’s not really marketed by NOMOS as such. The Saxonia Thin from Lange comes in at 5.9mm, the Jules Audemars Extra-Thin is 6.7mm; and once you get into really boundary testing ultra-thin watchmaking you’ve got watches that are so thin they almost feel unreal on the wrist. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin, for instance -everyone’s favorite go-to, default choice for a great ultra-thin watch with a classic movement -is $7, 600 in steel, has a case 6.3mm thick and houses a movement only 1.85mm thick and the thinnest variation on that watch, the Master Ultra Thin Squelette, is an almost unbelievable 3.6mm thin, whilst the thinnest watch from Piaget (long regarded, and rightly so, as a leader in flat watch movement making) is the Piaget 900P which comes in at 3.65mm.
In terms of absolute thinness, the numbers are one thing, and the subjective sense of thinness you get when you put a watch on the wrist is another. Part of what contributes to the experience of having something thin and elegant on the wrist is of course, the casework -a watch with a case that’s round and with some curvature to it in cross section is more apt to give the sensation -mental, physical, and visual -we associate with extra thin watches. (I think this might be one of the reasons nobody talks about the Tangente as an extra thin watch per se -its rectilinear geometry in cross section is intrinsic to its Bauhaus appeal but it keeps it from feeling like it sits squarely in the thin/elegant continuum, which for NOMOS fans may actually be part of the appeal -certainly it’s part of the Tangente’s versatility.) The Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie Ultra Slim is in terms of design, about as classic a thin dress watch as you could want; there is no seconds hand (typically in watches intended as thin dress watches the seconds hand is omitted -as with every rule there are exceptions but if we’re going to hew to the strict letter of horological tradition, in a dress watch fripperies like a seconds hand and, god forbid, a date guichet are verboten.)
Dial work on an extra thin watch is also a potential minefield awaiting the unwary watch designer, because once again you have a fairly small bullseye you have to hit. You must manage to make something visually distinctive, but not so plain as to be yawn inducing, and you must if you want to show the pur sang of real extra thin watchmaking, at all costs avoid any superfluous visual effects. Here we think Montblanc has done very nicely. The usual modus operandus for makers of this sort of watch is to default to very thin baton hands -and lovely they can be -but Montblanc went for faceted alpha hands and the extra bit of play between light and dark gives a salutary bit of liveliness to what might otherwise be too staid a dial. There is also extremely subtle sunray radial brushing on the dial -it’s so finely done it’s almost subliminal but it’s definitely there and it succeeds in giving some additional richness to the whole picture without overdoing it (and if there is one thing watch designers seem to sadly excel at, in general, it’s overdoing it.) Another nice touch is the actual Montblanc logo -look closely and you’ll see that just as with everything else, the font’s been chosen with great care to be part of the same continuum of design language as the watch overall; the sans-serif capitals and the absence of a crossbar on the “A” give a sense of modernity that keeps the watch from seeming as if it’s merely quoting, by rote, from some Bible of extra thin watchmaking cues.
Now, one of the biggest points of interest in any extra thin watch is, naturally, the movement; if you turn the watch over you’ll see the caliber Montblanc designates MB 23.01. It is an unassuming affair to contemplate at first, but there’s more here than meets the eye: this is apparently the Montblanc version of a very well respected movement originally known as the Peseaux 7001 (and then the ETA 7001.) Fabriques de Ebauches de Peseaux SA was founded all the way back in 1923 and became part of Ebauches SA in 1933, though under independent management, and the whole thing became part of ETA in 1985. The movement -first produced in 1971 -has a history of being used in everything from more entry level hand-wound watches all the way up to some extremely elegant timepieces including the very lovely Blancpain 7002 chronometer (hit the link. We’ll wait. You won’t be sorry. Okay, now we’ll go on.)