The only thing “limited” about Montblanc’s TimeWalker Chronograph Rally Timer Limited Edition is the fact that only 100 of them will ever exist. Otherwise, this is a wristwatch that changes into a pocket watch, a stopwatch and a desk clock. The strap slips out, the lugs fold back and to stand it on a desk, two “legs” can be swivelled outward from the back of its titanium casement.
Your car can even wear this watch: on the dashboard, mounted in place, which is exactly where a rally driver’s navigator used to keep a stopwatch during competitions. If, today, you don’t have a co-driver to keep time when you’re behind the wheel, you can turn the case 90° so that the dial is angled directly for your line of sight when driving, regardless of whether the watch is on your right or left wrist.
Using this piece at its full potential means getting hands-on with it. It occupies more space, and more headspace, than regular wristwatches and its transforming physicality is a significant element of its appeal. The inner workings are no less impressive: an entirely handmade manually-wound calibre, with a 50-hour power reserve, of which Montblanc is rightly proud.
“Even the hairspring is made by us, in Villeret, which is not usual in watchmaking,” says Davide Cerrato, Montblanc’s watch division director, referring to his company’s manufacturing facility in north-west Switzerland. “This kind of beautiful handmade movement isn’t made much any more. So, as we’re talking motorsport metaphors here, you might say that we have decided to put inside the Rally Timer a very sporty, hand-built engine.”
That movement is visible through an open case back in the shape of a car’s grille. The motorsport motif is magnified on the face, too, where dials and markings evoke a classic, analogue era of racing. There’s a 30-elapsed minutes dial at the 12 o’clock position, and a small-seconds dial directly below that at six o’clock. A tachymeter scale runs around the edge of the dial.
Image by Montblanc
Montblanc has only been making watches for 20 years, but its workshops have watchmaking heritage stretching back to 1858. They once formed the creative centre of Minerva, a brand famed for precision timekeeping, which was brought under Montblanc control in 2006. As well as acquiring a century-and-a-half of expertise and craftsmanship, it also led to the reassessment of an archive that had remained more or less untouched for decades.
“We’re very lucky to have such a great archive of precision timekeeping that we can use,” says Zaim Kamal, Montblanc’s creative director, who oversees all of the company’s products, including watches. “But what we don’t want to do is recreate something like-for-like. We want to see what makes something relevant today. Connecting where we have come from with where we are going, in a tangible way.
“When we started looking at the TimeWalker range, we were thinking about the spirit of racing, of creating something that wasn’t attached to a specific race or car or driver, with the provenance of Montblanc’s precision timekeeping. So, we looked through the archives and found the Rally Timer [a Minerva stopwatch and chronograph timer from the ’50s] and it was a perfect example. Back in those days, it was a dashboard-mounted piece. So that made us want to make something that could be used anywhere: on the wrist, on the dashboard, as a stopwatch, on a desk,” Kamal says. “Today’s multi-functionality, with an aesthetic driven by something that came out of our archive, put together with modern creative techniques.”
Kamal says satisfying the urge for nostalgia and the idea of “vintage”, which currently seems to have a hold over every area of product design, not just watches, is difficult and misunderstood. “People actually aren’t nostalgic for the past, they’re looking to connect with what historical design means for them today. People understand aesthetics and the look of something, but today they also want to understand why something looks like it does, and how that affects the function. This hasn’t so much changed taste, but refined it.
“As an individual, you’ll always be drawn towards certain things, certain products, certain attitudes,” he continues. “Now, people can, and want to, understand why that happens, and it’s actually helpful in focusing their likes and dislikes. For designers, it’s also a good thing, because it always makes you question why you do something.”
With the Rally Timer, there is no question that the balance of old and new has been perfectly struck.