Montblanc has been widely, and justly, lauded in recent years for its ambitious — in some cases downright audacious — forays into ultra-high-complication watchmaking. Groundbreaking timepieces like the Metamorphosis II and TimeWriter II Chronographe Bi-Fréquence 1000, among many others, have gone a long way to win over the legions of watch-industry skeptics who had heretofore regarded Montblanc as a high-end pen brand dabbling in the wristwatch market.
With the Heritage Chronométrie Dual Time Vasco da Gama Special Edition — a standout among the brand’s various travel- and exploration-themed pieces at this year’s SIHH watch salon in Geneva, and named for the legendary Portuguese explorer — Montblanc proves that it can also offer interesting and elegant takes on simpler complications, in this case the venerable GMT, or second-time-zone function. Here are my impressions from a few weeks of wearing, and traveling with, the watch.
While this watch’s design does not fall into that “audacious” category, it does announce itself as a travelers’ timepiece from the first impression. The miniature globe subdial at 6 o’clock, which hosts the small seconds hand, is an unmistakable visual reference to world travel, while the dark blue, star-field subdial at 12 o’clock, which features the helpful 24-hour reference hand to indicate day and night, adds to the overall cosmopolitan look of the dial. (The starry sky motif is also a subtle reference to the golden age of exploration: the company describes it as “depicting the night sky as Vasco da Gama saw it during his voyage from Portugal to India.”)
The dual-time function is very easy to use compared with others I’ve encountered. Set the home time by pulling the crown to its third position, which moves all three hands — the gold hour and minutes hands and the blued 24-hour hand — to the home time, say, 11:30 AM. When you travel, and land in a new destination, pull the crown out to its second position to move only the gold hour hand — in either direction, in one-hour increments — to set the new local time. The blue hour hand will continue to point to the home time and the minute hand will stay stationary. Thus, your hypothetical 11:30 AM home time would still be indicated by the blue hand, while the gold hands will indicate your new local time, say 4:30 PM. To avoid confusion on whether you’re setting the time to AM or PM, simply glance at the 12 o’clock subdial, which serves as a day-night indicator with its thin white (daylight hours) and dark blue (nighttime hours) borders and subtle 24-hour scale.
In normal lighting conditions, the legibility of both the local and home times are ideal: the gold and blue hour hands contrast well, both with each other and with the silvered dial. In dim or dark lighting, the lack of luminous material on any of these hands can present some momentary confusion (especially if the two time zones being tracked are not that far apart), and the blued hand can get lost a bit amid the blue starfield subdial. Adding lume to this classically elegant design would have been a minor travesty, sure, but you’re definitely sacrificing some legibility for aesthetic beauty. The date, in its gold-framed square window at 3 o’clock, is always legible and — also helpful for globe trotters — always linked to the local time. The numeral “12” and applied hour indices, which fall slightly inside the border of the classical railway track minute circle, are plated in rose gold.
The polished-finish stainless steel case measures a modest yet contemporary 41 mm in diameter and is just shy of 10 mm in thickness. As a result, it’s very light on the wrist. The small, grooved winding crown isn’t the easiest to grasp, especially when you’re actually wearing the watch, but it adds to both the minimal weight and the elegant look. The sapphire crystal in the caseback is adorned with a small line illustration of da Gama’s São Gabriel, the ship that the Portuguese explorer sailed, along with a representation of his signature.
The illustration only partially obscures the view of the watch’s automatic movement, Montblanc Caliber MB 29.19, which consists of a Sellita SW300-1 base and an in-house-produced module for the GMT complication. It stores a 42-hour power reserve when fully wound and oscillates at a speedy 28,800 vph. The rotor is graced with côtes de Genève and a gold-engraved Montblanc logo.
The black alligator leather strap completes the dressy look and makes the timepiece a good choice for a formal night out (especially one while abroad, during which you’re inclined to check to see what time it is back home and whether it’s too late or too early to check in with a call or text), though I would’ve loved even more a dark blue strap that played off of the color in the star-field and globe subdials. The watch’s double-folding clasp secures the watch lightly but securely to the wrist, with the renowned Montblanc logo engraved on the buckle.
In addition to distinguishing itself for its recent bold, experimental forays into high-complication watchmaking, Montblanc has also earned a reputation for affordable luxury across the board in its various timepiece collections — particularly in comparison to its many sister brands in the Richemont Group. The Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie Vasco de Gama Special Edition is no exception — priced at $4,700, a relative bargain for a Swiss-made mechanical timepiece with a clever and useful complication produced (at least partially) in-house. And you can be sure it will draw plenty of positive glances in the airport business class lounge.