What would you say is mankind’s greatest facilitator for exploration and innovation?
Perhaps you might argue that cooperation is what has allowed our species to achieve so much success.
While I can’t deny the profound impact those traits have had on mankind’s progress, I would propose that what has really pushed us over the brink of discovery so many times is something a bit more primal: competition.
Competition is what has pushed humanity to the far reaches of the solar system, the depths of the seas, and the edges of human ability and beyond. Humans enjoy many technological advances not simply because clever people thought of ways to make something possible, but because there are usually multiple clever people racing to solve a problem, reaching a new milestone, or being the first to invent a life-changing technology.
For example, the United States didn’t land on the moon because it had the best scientists working for the greater good of humanity; we landed on the moon because we were in an apparent life-or-death race with an international rival.
We couldn’t have done it without the incredible work and genius of thousands of talented men and women, to be sure, but the driving force was competition. The resulting path of manned space travel over the next 50 years proved that as without the impetus of competition, we stayed closer to home as budgets were cut and public support waned.
Competition is important to our drive to succeed, which is why we still have so many elite athletic competitions and a litany of academic, scientific, social, and cultural ways to compete for virtually everything.
And with competition comes a need to determine winners and losers, the difference between which very often comes down to millimeters or fractions of second.
Being a horology nerd, I know that the chronograph is one of the most important cultural artifacts and that it has been continually improved thanks to competition. The history of the chronograph goes hand in hand with many of the greatest accomplishments of the last two centuries, as measuring time more precisely exponentially expanded human knowledge and ability.
That is why it is nearly always interesting when a watch brand takes a look at the history of the chronograph.
Montblanc is the latest to look into its history (and that of its in-house manufacture Minerva) to find awesome inspiration in historical rally racing. Taking the much beloved Minerva Rally Timer as the base for an updated multifunctional wristwatch, Montblanc has created an enthusiast’s dream in the Montblanc TimeWalker Chronograph Rally Timer Counter Limited Edition 100.
First we should clarify that Montblanc and Minerva are now basically the same thing: Minerva was purchased and completely integrated as the movement manufacture for Montblanc. Historically, Minerva was an extremely accomplished watch manufacture and created some of the finest movements coming out of Switzerland.
Looking at the early Minerva stopwatches, it is clear that the company was greatly accomplished in high-quality timing devices for a variety of different uses.
It began with manufacturing one-fifth and one-tenth of a second stopwatches before going on to making ever higher precision 1/100th of a second stopwatches. Two of these stopwatches featured very high beat balances, one at 33 Hz (120,000 vph) and the other at a lightning-fast 100 Hz (360,000 vph).
To put that into comparative perspective, 5 Hz (36,000 vph) is considered a rare, extremely high-beat rate in a wristwatch today.
Minerva’s 33 Hz stopwatch only counted to 30 seconds, but its frequency made it one of the most precise on the market.
Minerva also took the one-fifth of a second movements and created sport-specific editions with different dials, functions, and scales.
The water polo stopwatch featured demarcations for game periods and breaks with center seconds and minutes, while the football stopwatch had the total game time highlighted on the subdial minute counter.
Minerva even made a horse-racing stopwatch featuring a split-second function for timing laps.
But the reason for this discussion is the dashboard-mountable rally timer featuring 60-minute and 12-hour subdials along with a tachymeter scale and flyback function. That stopwatch is the inspiration for the Montblanc TimeWalker Chronograph Rally Timer Counter Limited Edition 100, and with a few tweaks, changes, and updates, provided a fantastic starting point for a multipurpose modern timepiece.
A modern rally timer
The TimeWalker Chronograph Rally Timer is a bit of a transformer as it has six main configurations.
It starts out as a wristwatch with the crown at 12 o’clock, but a 180-degree rotating case means it doesn’t have to stay that way. If you wish, you can wear it while driving and rotate it to an angle better suited for reading on the fly, be it 45 degrees, 90 degrees, or any angle in between.
It’s extremely easy to rotate, too, thanks to the very tactile knurling around the bezel and rear edges of the case.
But the functionality is far from over. The leather strap is designed in the same vein as a NATO, but with a different purpose in mind. The strap can be tightened so that it can also be used as a secure handhold while operating the watch like a stopwatch.
The monopusher crown is haptically satisfying to manipulate, and the size feels good in your hand. It might be a bit large as a wristwatch for some, but the stopwatch functionality is more like a beautifully made tool.
If you don’t need to use the Rally Timer as a wristwatch, the strap can be adjusted again and turned into a fob, transforming the assembly into a pocket watch. This, combined with the rotating body of the watch, allows you to use it in whatever direction, up or down, as you see fit.
If you find yourself at your desk or sitting at a table down at your local pub waiting for a friend (who is always late), you can rotate the body 90 degrees and pull out a swiveling pair of legs from the rear of the case and – voilà – it turns into a desk clock or a desk rally timer.
This way you can start the timer when you sit down and show your friend that you have been waiting exactly 42 minutes and 19 seconds.
When he finally arrives, you can take the desk clock and transform it one final time as you head out for a Sunday drive. The TimeWalker Chronograph Rally Timer Counter comes with a leather-covered mounting plate that can be attached to your car’s dashboard, which allows you to remove the strap and clip the watch in to become a true rally timer.
This is the full transformation from wristwatch to precision rally equipment. The ability to have this many options really allows for it to see as much use as possible.
Function and heart
Using the TimeWalker Chronograph Rally Timer Counter is very straightforward due to its monopusher crown. Instead of having a complicated multi-pusher chronograph with split-seconds and flyback functions requiring coordination and concentration (something in sparse supply while racing down a gravel road at 200 kph in your rally car), you simply press the crown to start, press it again to stop, and then a third time to reset.
It records up to 30 minutes of operation (or your race time), or you can use it with the tachymeter scale to determine your speed. It isn’t the most complicated chronograph that Montblanc produces, but it certainly looks to be the most versatile.
The MB M16.29 movement inside is a modern interpretation of the now-iconic Minerva Caliber 17.29 featuring a column wheel and horizontal clutch.
Manually wound, the MB M16.29 boasts 50 hours of power reserve, more than enough for automotive outings or a couple days as your desk clock. And, of course, since the movement is a Minerva Villeret, the finishing is impeccable.
Interestingly, the design of the rotating case with the swiveling legs and stowable strap lug rings necessitated a smaller, shaped window on the rear of the case, partially blocking the beautifully finished movement.
No worries though: due to its ability to rotate 180 degrees, the areas hidden by the rear mounting plate move into view, so you can slowly rotate the case and see all of the impressive movement.
In this way you get to play with the mechanics in ways that the watchmakers may not even have imagined when developing the chronograph. But this makes for a good reason to take it off its strap every now and then and turn it into a pocket watch or a desk clock – if only to get some time looking at the awesome movement.
The main downside to the TimeWalker Chronograph Rally Timer Counter is that it is limited to 100 pieces, and being a limited Minerva Villeret piece it comes in at the higher end of the price spectrum.
Still, considering just how much you get and its incredible versatility, you could argue you are really buying a half dozen different watches rather than just one.
I think the new direction for the TimeWalker collection is interesting (see Montblanc’s 2017 TimeWalker And Bronze 1858 Watches: Sporty And Automotive With A Healthy Side Of Nostalgia), but the TimeWalker Chronograph Rally Timer Counter shows the most promise for faithful historical interpretations from Montblanc.
Being a person interested in racing history, and especially horology’s role in that history, this piece covers multiple bases simultaneously. I guess that is what the designers had in mind seeing as how they made it literally able to become multiple different timepieces.
As the historical counterpart in the collection to the modern TimeWalker Chronograph 1000, it shows that Montblanc can do old as well as new, and that is not easy to do.
So let’s break it down!
• Wowza Factor * 9.34 The thing that makes this wow your socks off really is that incredible movement placed inside such a transformative and modern case!
• Late Night Lust Appeal * 86.7 » 850.236 m/s2 I stay up all night watching racing videos and learning about watchmaking, so combining those two passions into one awesome timepiece makes it über lustworthy.
• M.G.R. * 66.2 The heritage behind the movement is enough to grab it a great score, but the technical and visual beauty of the chronograph movement simply is top notch!
• Added-Functionitis * Severe Of course it has a chronograph, so that alone makes it a moderate case of Added-Functionitis. But given the extreme flexibility the case provides, that bumps it up to severe and requires immediate treatment from a doctor with prescription strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream!
• Ouch Outline * 10.3 Two and a half minutes into holding a side plank! It turns out that chronographs are great for measuring time, and when doing a plank you might guess that time actually slows down because a minute can take forever! But I’d be happy to be proven wrong if I had the TimeWalker Rally Timer Counter on my wrist while I do it.
• Mermaid Moment * The amount of time it takes to see every configuration! By the time you hit the fourth or fifth configuration you have probably already committed to a life together, but that sixth one seals the deal!
• Awesome Total * 715.2 Add the number of hours that each watch is tested in the Montblanc Laboratory Test (500) to the number of hours in the power reserve (50), add to that the diameter of the case in millimeters (50), the number in the limited edition (100), and the thickness of the case in millimeters (15.2) and the result is quickly becoming a rather awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.montblanc.com/en/discover/specials/timewalker-collection.
Case: 50 x 15.2 mm, titanium with satin knurling and black DLC case band
Movement: manually winding Caliber MB M16.29 with monopusher column wheel chronograph, red gold-plated German silver plates and bridges, 2.5 Hz (18,000 vph)
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; monopusher chronograph
Limitation: 100 pieces
Price: 37,000 Swiss francs / €37,000