World time watches are an interesting lot. The complication, invented in the 1930s by watchmaker Louis Cottier, actually predates the GMT introduced by Rolex in the 1950s, but rather than tracking two time zones simultaneously, it displays every time zone simultaneously. As such, world timers generally have busy dials, making them harder to decipher, sizable cases to accommodate the complicated movement and are often prohibitively expensive. They also tend to have dressier styling than their simpler, GMT counterparts. Add that all up and it’s no wonder why the GMT tends to have more appeal.
Now, however, there’s the Montblanc 1858 Geosphere, one of the watchmaker’s highlight releases from this year’s SIHH. With its Indiana Jones vibes, its relatively low price and its unique, dual-Lambert projection world time display, it’s poised to break from the world timer’s stuffy, pricy mold and offer a version of the complication more appealing both sartorially and practically.
The Good: The Geosphere is one of those watches we can lump into the always-fun, typically-nebulous “relatively affordable” category. There are few world timers that retail for less than the Montblanc does, and those that do — namely from brands like Maurice Lacroix, Ball and Frederique Constant — aren’t significantly cheaper (most retail for just under $5,000) and lack many of the details and features of the Montblanc. This, in a way, helps put the world time complication less in the “exceedingly wealthy watch collector camp” and more in the “I’m going to treat myself to a nice watch” camp. Franky, I would be happy in either camp, but that’s neither here nor there.
Keep in mind, too, that while the Geosphere’s movement isn’t produced wholly in-house (the watch is based on a Sellita movement), the world time module is a Montblanc creation, and the dual-globe layout is something you won’t find anywhere else. This layout, it should be said, also lends itself to a very handsome dial design, and the vintage tool watch look certainly appeals to those who want a travel watch in the same sort of roguish mold as, say, a Rolex GMT-Master. You can even get the watch in bronze, if you like.
Who They’re For: Montblanc markets the Geosphere as an explorer/mountaineering watch, which you can see in the styling (the faded Bund strap, for example, is right on the nose). But the exploration angle becomes more apparent when you focus on the dial’s two globes, which are adorned with a series of red dots representing the highest summit on every continent; look at the case back, and you’ll find the names of each of these mountains inscribed there. And then there’s still that compass bezel staring you right in the face. If you’re a mountaineer who uses this watch on his/her regular high-altitude exploits I’d love to buy you a beer, but let’s get real: most people buying this watch will appreciate the world timer functionality when jetting back and forth between cities like New York, London and Hong Kong for work rather than between Mts. Denali, Everest and Elbrus.
Watch Out For: There’s no seconds hand on the Geosphere, presumably to clear more space for the rest of the dial. While a seconds hand isn’t exactly necessary, it’s still a nice feature to have, especially if the watch in question is ostensibly meant to be a tool. Additionally, Montblanc rates the watch water-resistant to 100m, but there’s no screw-down crown on this one, so maybe consider that before you go for a swim.
Still, the more significant issue to consider with the Geosphere is the legibility factor of its world time displays. To be fair, legibility (or lack thereof) is an issue most world time watches grapple with — the busy dial is inherently difficult to read at a glance. But while the two-globe setup on the dial doesn’t necessarily make the rest of the watch difficult to read, parsing out the time for each zone is more difficult because, well, they’re tiny, though the longitude lines representing each time zone are helpful here. You’ll eventually figure it out, but not after staring at the teensy little globes for at least several seconds.
Alternatives: There are a great many GMT watches if you’re looking for a vintage-style or sports watch for traveling at a lower price. Farer’s GMT, the Monta SkyQuest and Sinn 857 UTC are just a few great options that come to mind that you can get for under $3,000. But let us say you want a world timer specifically — your pool of choices just got a lot smaller. There’s the Bremont ALT1-WT that boasts a chronograph in addition to its world time function, though it doesn’t work automatically like the Montblanc in the sense that the world time can only be read after you manually move the bezel via the crown in reference to a UTC hand. Like some sort of peasant.
You could also opt for the Ball Trainmaster World Time which is, in fact, a true automatic world time watch and comes in at a lower price than the Montblanc.
Review: You could analyze the Geosphere’s spec sheet, look at its price, then size up the competition and declare the Montblanc a winner, but this is a watch that deserves to be experienced in person to realize its charm. Yes, a lot of what makes the Geosphere such a superlative watch is what it provides, on paper, for the money, but witness it in person, and you’ll see that there are tons of little details that make this watch a stunner from a design standpoint, too.
Let’s take a look at that dial first. The numerals are coated in a thick smattering of warm, beige hue that gives the dial both a vintage feel and a degree of dimensionality — they ever-so-subtly pop from the dial’s surface. Similarly, the globes representing the northern and southern hemisphere are domed, another smart choice by the designers that adds depth to the dial. The continents upon those globes are wonderfully textured, something you can’t notice until you’re looking closely — the application of lume is almost topographical. Oh yes, those continents are all coated in Super-Luminova, giving the Montblanc one of the coolest nighttime dials I’ve ever seen on a watch.
World timers, and modern complicated watches in general, tend to be very big, and while some watchmakers try to design cases that hide that size, the Montblanc leans into it. At 41.5mm in diameter and 12.8mm thick, the Geosphere has the dimensions of a modern dive watch and wears like one, too. Notably, the case is adorned with a rotating compass bezel which helps cinch the diver-esque look while framing the dial and making it feel less expansive. The case, which is simple, somewhat slab-sided and complemented by faceted lugs, wouldn’t look out of place on your typical luxury dive watch.
This makes the Montblanc easy to wear, and fortunately, the watch is pretty easy to operate. The crown pulls out two stops, and when you reach the second position, you can set the minutes, the hour on the central dial and the position of the world time display. To set it all up, twist the crown until you have the correct date, then the correct position of the world time displays, then the correct minute hand position, but ignore the hour hand. Then, push the crown back in one stop and you can reset the hour hand while everything stays in place. Adjust it until you have the correct hour for the local time. This makes setup relatively pain-free, and when you’re traveling, it allows you to reset the hour while without disrupting anything else.
In addition to the world time display, the watch features a sub-dial at nine o’clock that lets you track an additional time zone. This dial is set by pushing a tiny pin-sized button at the 10 o’clock position on the case. This functionality may seem unnecessary when you have the time zones for all of the world at your disposal, but if you have another time zone that you need to keep tabs on constantly, it’s a nice touch that’s easy to read without having to decipher the watch’s teensy world time indicator each time.
Verdict: Qualms with legibility aside, there’s so much to love here. The Geosphere is, ultimately, a high-end complicated watch that wouldn’t feel out of place with jeans and a t-shirt or on a hiking trail — or even at the office, really. It’s handsome, wonderfully detailed, and boasts a little-seen complication in a configuration you won’t see anywhere else, and its price, for what you’re getting, is certainly reasonable. It is, in other words, incredibly well-rounded.
What Others Are Saying:
• “While the Geosphere complication isn’t entirely new for Montblanc, this is the first time it’s being utilized in a more consumer-friendly sports watch. It’s also surely going to be a talking point that brings people into the new 1858 collection, bringing some extra attention to the less complex time-only and chronograph models. On its own though, this is an interesting tool watch that offers something genuinely new in the marketplace.” — Stephen Pulvirent, Hodinkee
• “It’s fair to say there’s quite a lot going on here, but at its heart it’s a travel watch that makes quite a statement. The 42mm case is finely detailed, with a well-knurled bezel inset with a ceramic compass insert.” — Felix Scholz, Time & Tide
Functions: World time, second time zone, date, compass
Movement: Montblanc MB 29.25 (Sellita SW300-1 base)
Case Size: 41.5mm diameter, 12.8mm thick
Water resistant: 100m
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