nyone hoping to make their mark at Montblanc, whose origins lie with the written word, should be intellectually curious and have an appetite for literature. The German brand, founded in Hamburg in 1906, produces limited-edition writing instruments that pay homage to authors such as Victor Hugo, Arthur Conan Doyle, the Brothers Grimm and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
That applies equally the more recently established watchmaking division. Fortunately, new director Laurent Lecamp has all the necessary qualities. An avid reader, a thinker with a particular interest in history, a strategist who feeds off symbols and numbers, he is himself the author of a well-received book on independent luxury in which he relates, among other experiences, his time as the founder of high-end watch brand Cyrus. Fluent in Russian, a former wrestler and now an ultra-trail and marathon runner, he is clearly cut out for Montblanc’s world of epic adventures.
- Laurent Lecamp has been in charge of the Montblanc watch division since January 2021.
After immersing himself in Japan’s vast culture during more than six years as head of the Japanese market and international sales strategy – for Carl F. Bucherer, since January 2021 he has been bringing fresh impetus to Montblanc’s watchmaking division.
Ice and sea
The 1858 Iced Sea is a dive watch equipped with an automatic movement with date, on a Sellita base. It is in perfect alignment with the luxury sports watch trend, which shows no sign of slowing down. In the year since it was introduced at Watches and Wonders in 2022 it has emerged as the brand’s top-selling model. Attractively priced at around 3,000 euros, 41mm in diameter and compliant with the ISO 6425 standard for dive watches, its standout feature has to be the finely worked dial (in blue, green and now shades of grey) that replicating the different light effects that can be seen in the frozen depths of the Mer de Glace glacier in the Mont Blanc massif.
The glacier theme has never been more central to the brand’s watchmaking. The technique used to recreate this icy texture is an almost forgotten method known as “gratté boisé”, executed by a specialist supplier in 30 separate stages for each dial. The effect is one of depth and light, as though gazing at crystals trapped in ice.
“Your first reaction to a Montblanc watch should be to turn it over and see what’s on the back!” laughs Laurent Lecamp. In this instance, the back of the 1858 Iced Sea Automatic Date bears a 3D engraving of an iceberg and a diver, picked out in black, exploring the freezing waters below.
Montblanc recently launched a boutique edition with an emerald green dial (ice can appear green because of the iron oxides caught in it), a black ceramic bezel and, on the reverse side, a 3D relief of a diver, this time in green and in a larger size than in the regular collection. “Everything has a meaning,” continues Lecamp. “This engraving, hidden on the back, illustrates all the things you never imagined existed but can be found beneath layers of ice. The idea came to me while diving in Lake Baikal in Russia. An Englishman gave the Mer de Glace name to the Mont Blanc glacier. It made sense that we should use it as inspiration for our dive watch.”
Let’s rewind a little: after a deep dive into Montblanc’s archives, Lecamp surfaced, intrigued by the brand’s original logo, which shows the summit of Mont Blanc surrounded by six glacial valleys. He struck out for the French Alps, returning with dozens of photos which he showed to his team, asking that they recreate the different light effects which can now be seen the dial of the 1858 Iced Sea.
- In addition to a new grey edition in the Montblanc 1858 Iced Sea collection, a new Boutique Edition has been released, with a green glacier motif dial.
One last (and certainly not least) detail in this parallel between ice and sea is the sound of the ceramic bezel which, as it’s rotated, resembles dolphin song. Says Laurent Lecamp, “For Montblanc, this is the right product in the right size at the right price, which explains why it’s so successful.”
The brand has introduced a limited-edition box set comprising the green and blue dial editions that were released last year, alongside the latest glacier-grey version. Each is decorated with a full-colour laser engraving showing a different view of the Mont Blanc massif: Aiguille du Moine for the blue dial version, Les Drus for the green dial and Les Grandes Jorasses for the grey dial.
As part of this recentring on the world of mountains and mountaineering, Montblanc has signed partnerships with two highly respected alpinists – not actors playing a part but real-world, experienced climbers.
“Reinhold Messner is the pioneer. He is the first to have scaled all fourteen peaks above 8,000 metres*, between 1970 and 1986, and the first to summit Everest without supplemental oxygen, in 1978. Nimsdai Purja is the fastest: he climbed all fourteen “eight-thousanders” in just six months and six days in 2019,” says Laurent Lecamp. Normally, a single expedition would take an experienced mountaineer over 12 months to complete, with the necessary permits.
- Montblanc’s 1858 Zero Oxygen The 8000 is a new capsule collection that pays tribute to the 14 highest peaks in the world – and to the mountaineers who have dared to climb them, including Reinhold Messner and Nimsdai Purja.
This symbolic figure of 8,000 is the theme of the Montblanc 1858 Zero Oxygen The 8000 collection. The four selected models, from different lines, boast a glacier dial in a deep grey that echoes the colour of rock and ice at 8,000 metres. In a sfumato effect, it shades darker towards the periphery.
They are all supplied with a Zero Oxygen certificate confirming that they were cased in an oxygen-free environment, a technique specific to Montblanc. Removing oxygen from the case eliminates fogging caused by sub-zero temperatures at altitude and prevents oxidation. The brand also says it increases components’ lifespan by slowing the ageing process.
The link to Reinhold Messner’s groundbreaking exploit, to reach an 8,000-metre summit without oxygen tanks, is self-explanatory. The celebrated Italian climber was there in person when Montblanc presented the new models to the press. He explained how “the history of mountaineering and the history of watchmaking are about successive generations who set out to surpass their predecessors’ achievements.” Tellingly, his early expeditions were never aimed at setting records; he simply wanted to establish new routes in his native Dolomites, and later in the Mont Blanc massif and the Himalayas.
- Reinhold Messner was the first to climb the 14 “8000ers” without oxygen, between 1970 and 1986.
- Nimsdai Purja broke a speed record by climbing all 14 in 2019 in just six months and six days.
A lack of funding led Messner to create a new style of climbing, eschewing the complex logistics that were integral to his predecessors’ ascents. He didn’t have the money to fund a full-scale expedition and so, in the middle of the 1970s, he left for Pakistan with just a couple of hundred kilos of equipment, compared with the usual tons. Within three days he had found a new route. A few years later he took on Everest without supplemental oxygen. His most cherished memory, however, is his ascent of K2, the “most beautiful summit” he has ever seen, surrounded by an “infinite cosmos”. At Reinhold Messner’s request, Montblanc has engraved this very summit on the back of the 1858 Geosphere 0 Oxygen The 8000.
Another important facet of Montblanc watchmaking is the integration of the Minerva manufacture, “an infinite wellspring of stories and inspiration.” Last year it yielded the Montblanc Unveiled Secret Minerva Monopusher Chronograph. Contrary to appearances, this isn’t a skeleton movement. In another of Lecamp’s favourite “front side/back side” tricks, the manually-wound movement, built on the Minerva MB 16.29 monopusher chronograph calibre, has been flipped to display the mechanics on the dial side. Inverting a movement may seem like an easy thing to do; in reality it is a complex operation as the hands must be mounted on what would ordinarily be the back and their rotation reversed.
- Following the release of two limited editions of the Montblanc Unveiled Secret Minerva Monopusher Chronograph last year in lime gold and stainless steel, Montblanc is unveiling a new limited edition in “aged steel”.
Two limited editions of 18 and 58 pieces were released in 2022, in lime gold and stainless steel respectively. This year the brand has lined up another limited edition of 88 pieces in “aged steel”. A black coating is applied to the 43mm case in stainless steel, then hand-washed and brushed using quartzite from the Mont Blanc massif and limestone from the Bernese Jura mountains to produce the watch’s distinctive patina.
Another feature of this aged-steel iteration is a fluted bezel, in white gold, a nod to Minerva’s first fluted bezel from 1927. And that’s not all: this important piece of brand legacy has been given a prominent role. At the end of the presentation, Laurent Lecamp announced that a major innovation would be unveiled at Watches and Wonders: a chronograph that is operated not by pushers but by the bezel.
“I arrived knowing only one thing – that I knew nothing – and spent weeks mining the brand’s archives,” he says. “The fluted bezel has been a hallmark of Minerva since 1927. We pay tribute to it by putting it at the centre of this new chronograph, historically the manufacture‘s great speciality.”
At the time of writing the finishing touches were in place, ready for the big reveal at Watches and Wonders. Rendezvous in Geneva to find out more!