High Seas Horology: Montblanc’s Régulateur Nautique

Montblanc Nautique Regulateur Set CU
It was one of the most technologically intriguing timekeeping devices unveiled at the SIHH watch fair in January (and, quite probably, the largest) and it’s destined to become a conversation piece for sixteen happy yacht owners. We’re talking about Montblanc’s Régulateur Nautique Timepiece Set, a combination chronograph wristwatch/nautical clock set that pays homage to the tradition of seafaring navigation. Find wallpaper images and pricing inside.

Long before the dawn of GPS, the only way for a sailor to determine his position at sea was through the use of highly accurate clocks to measure his geographic latitude and longitude. To do this, the sailor needed to know both the time at his harbor of departure and at his current location — hence the need for two clocks. One of them, stationed in the harbormaster’s quarters at the port of departure, was an extremely precise “regulator” pendulum clock, with a central minute hand and two subdials for hours and seconds (so the slow-moving hour hand at no point obscured the motion of the seconds hand). The other was a portable ship’s chronometer, synchronized with the regulator clock, taken on the voyage and used with a sextant for navigation.

The wristwatch in Montblanc’s set has a regulator dial, but one unlike any other such dial you’ve probably seen. It has not only a central minute hand and separate subdial for hours and for running seconds, but also a second time zone, day and night indicator, chronograph with 30-minute counter, power-reserve and so-called “winding zone” display, which indicates to the user when it is time to wind the watch so it remains at a favorable amplitude. The dial has multiple levels (representing the nautical theme of depths and shallows, according to Montblanc) and is partly pierced to reveal manually executed circular graining on the movement’s plate.

MB_RegNautique_front

A skeletonized hour hand inside a subdial at 12 o’clock indicates the local time; beneath it, another hand indicates the home time (i.e. the time in one’s harbor of departure). When the watch is in its wearer’s home time zone, the former is always directly above the latter; when the wearer travels to a different time zone, he presses the button at 10 o’clock to reposition the local hour hand in hourly increments until it shows the correct time for the new zone. Another subdial at 1 o’clock offers a 24-hour display of the home time and the day/night display. Running seconds are at 9 o’clock.

The chronograph in the watch is a monopusher, with a central elapsed-seconds hand and a counter for 30 elapsed minutes at 3 o’clock. The manufacture movement, Caliber MB M16.30, has a column wheel and horizontal coupling. The chronograph’s levers are meticulously handcrafted and painstakingly hand-abraded to the nearest 1/100-millimeter. The steel components and the typical Minerva V-shaped chronograph bridge are manually beveled and polished. The bridges are hand-embellished with Geneva waves. The balance beats at 18,000 vph, enabling the stopwatch to measure precise intervals to 1/5-second.

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The pair of big hands in the lower half of the dial are for the power reserve and winding zone indications. Using them both enables the wearer to know not only how much energy is in the mainspring but how many hours remain before the watch needs manual winding; reliable navigation on an ocean voyage is only possible if the watch is wound regularly and never stops. If the power reserve is in a favorable zone, the two hands are atop one another indicating the same number of hours. If tension in the mainspring has dropped to where it can no longer maintain favorable amplitude in the balance (indicated by the French word “BAS”), the upper hand stands still and the lower, red hand moves into the red zone, alerting the owner that it’s time to wind the watch.

The watch has a 43-mm case with a sapphire window in the caseback. It is available in a rose gold case with brown leather strap and a white-gold case with “marine blue” leather strap, each version limited to eight pieces.

The other part of this seafaring crew is the 93-cm-tall navigational clock, which rests atop a heavy granite base with curved aluminum and carbon-fiber struts. The struts ensure that clock stands solid and stable, even on board a vessel that’s pitching and rolling on the waves. It can tip in any direction without losing its horizontal position thanks to a cardanic suspension inside a cage of nickel-plated brass. Even when the yacht leans to one side, the clock remains horizontal and indicates the ship’s heeling with a downwardly pointing arrow on a scale from 0 to 27 degrees. There is a smaller cardanic suspension built into one of the struts, into which the wristwatch can be placed when the owner isn’t wearing it.

MB_RegNautique_Set_CU

The clock’s large, regulator-style dial, patterned after that of the watch, provides not only two but three time zones: the time at the harbor of departure on a 24-hour subdial at 9 o’clock; the time in the port of destination on another 24-hour subdial at 3 o’clock; and the current local time on the main dial. As on the wristwatch, there is a combined power-reserve and winding-zone display. In addition, the clock features a world-time function, with a 24-hour scale and the names of 24 yacht harbor names inscribed below the cardanic suspension, visible only from the side and bathed in blue LED illumination. The owner can even customize the harbor names: for example, a Red Sox fan can choose to use Boston, rather than New York, to represent Eastern Standard Time.

To build the clock, Montblanc teamed up with the renowned Erwin Sattler clock manufacture in Germany, which crafted its golden gears in a laborious multistage method that calls for each tooth to be individually and sequentially milled from the solid brass blank. Each wheel required multiple finishing steps, including deburring, polishing its surfaces and the flanks of its teeth, and plating with gold, which protects it against corrosion and reduces friction. The huge barrel and lengthy mainspring provide the clock a 360-hour power reserve. A so-called “fuseau transmission,” which transfers energy to the first wheel in the gear train via a cable wrapped around a conically shaped fusee, compensates for the decline of torque in the mainspring. Transmission of energy is regulated by means of a Swiss lever escapement and a screw balance with a blued hairspring. The balance is visible through an aperture in the dial at 1 o’clock.

Sixteen clocks will be made, paired with the 16 watches. The cost for one of these nautical objets d’art is $385,700. They will be available at Montblanc boutiques and select jewelers beginning in June.

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About Mark Bernardo

Mark Bernardo is the digital media editor of WatchTime magazine, responsible for developing and overseeing the editorial content on WatchTime.com as well as for WatchTime's tablet editions for the iPad, Nook, and Kindle. As WatchTime's managing editor, from 2006 through 2011, he has written about numerous watch companies from major brands like Omega, TAG Heuer and Piaget, to exclusive artisan lines such as Jean Dunand, De Bethune and DeWitt. Prior to joining WatchTime, he was the editor of Smoke, a lifestyle magazine for cigar enthusiasts, whose beats included cigars, watches, cars, wines and spirits, celebrities, men's fashion, and other subjects, and has written about luxury items for a variety of men's-interest publications, including Robb Report, Robb Report Motorcycling, Stratos, Worth, and Bloomberg Markets.

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