Montblanc may be better known to the world as a maker of fine pens (ahem, writing instruments), but over the past decade, they’ve quietly earned the respect of timepiece aficionados with their watches. Having acquired the Minerva company (and that company’s watchmaking knowhow) several years ago, the Hamburg-based brand, which is part of the Richemont luxury group, has become one of the highlights of the annual SIHH watch fair with a line of haute horlogerie complicated timepieces. On the more affordable end of the scale, Montblanc is best known for its Timewalker collection, a set of modern sports watches that features chronographs, time-only pieces and GMTs. This year saw the introduction of the Timewalker Hemispheres ($4,900), a world time watch that was instantly one of our surprise favorites in Geneva. We recently got our hands on one for a spin around the world.
The Timewalker Hemispheres is actually two watches, one for the Northern Hemisphere and one for the Southern. Whether or not this is a clever way to sell two watches to globetrotters above and below the equator is debatable, but both pieces are equally handsome and are differentiated by different color schemes, dials, and movements. Each watch shows the globe as viewed from above its respective Pole, with 24 divided time zones demarcated by radiating lines of longitude. A stationary ring of major cities is at the outside edge of the dial (the “rehaut” in timepiece parlance), each representing its time zone. Meanwhile, a corresponding inner ring with a 24-hour scale allows for an instant read of the time in each of the zones. This ring, geared to the movement, rotates once in 24 hours. The Northern Hemisphere version rotates clockwise while its austral counterpart turns counterclockwise, mimicking the rotation of the Earth itself — hence, the two different movements. Hours 6:00 to 18:00 are on a lighter background for daylight while 18:00 to 6:00 are darker for night. While the world time complication is not new to horology, Montblanc’s version is novel and elegantly done.
Frequency: 28,800vph (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 42 hours
Hours, minutes, seconds; Date; World time
Material: Stainless steel with titanium bezel
Case Back: Steel, engraved
Water Resistance: 3 ATM (30 meters)
White with printed northern hemisphere map and 24-hour ring
Luminescent rhodium-plated hands
Black textile and calfskin with blue stitch; pin buckle
While the Southern Hemisphere Timewalker is rendered in dark grey with orange accents, the Northern Hemisphere version we wore has a silvery white dial with blue writing that is complemented by blue stitching on the leather and textile strap. The case is a mix of polished stainless steel with a brushed titanium bezel. Viewed from the side, the lugs are actually cut out in the middle, providing an almost architectural aesthetic, with small screw bars to attach the strap. Dial markers are bold and modern. The overall effect is angular, masculine and downright Teutonic. Instead of the overused display case back showing the typical perlage and Geneva stripes like everyone else, Montblanc chose a solid steel back that has an engraving of the opposite hemisphere with its time zones displayed. It’s useful and a bit witty, a memorable touch.
The Hemispheres is a sporty but equally elegant, perfect for the world traveler who doesn’t want to pack multiple timepieces for all the activities he might encounter. A morning hike through cobbled streets to burn off jet lag, then straight to business meetings followed by casual beers with co-workers: the Timewalker fits in fine everywhere. Leave it in the hotel room for more aquatic pursuits though, since it has a surprisingly meager 3 bar of water resistance and no screw-down crown.
At 42 millimeters, the Hemispheres is a tad on the large side for the smaller-wristed but comes in fairly slim; the calipers say 12 millimeters, but that includes the high domed sapphire crystal. The titanium bezel and lightweight strap keep weight down as well, making it a comfortable, easy watch to wear. The Southern Hemispheres version is sold on a steel and titanium bracelet, which adds weight and might well overwhelm the watch. We’ll take the textile and calfskin strap with its simple pin buckle any day.
Since the crown doesn’t screw in, winding is a no-brainer; it’s also very smooth, with almost no tactile or aural feedback. Local time (the hands) is set by pulling out the crown to the third position and moving the hands forward as you would with any watch. The world time ring is manipulated at second position, where turning the crown forward rotates the ring one hour click at a time. Turning the crown backwards advances the date, which is tied to the local time on the hands, as it should be. The crown is easy to grip with its knurled barrel and is finished nicely with the familiar black-and-white snow-capped peak Montblanc logo.
World time watches are popular these days and many brands have one in their collections — IWC, Alpina, Girard-Perregaux and Baume & Mercier, among many others — but the Montblanc Timewalker Hemispheres offers a sporty and novel alternative to the more traditional suspects. At a shade less than five grand, it is also one of the most affordable; that is, unless you find yourself crossing the Equator regularly, in which case you’ll need to write two checks.