Unveiled at the Baselworld 2017, the Montblanc TimeWalker Automatic Chronograph UTC Ceramic (ref. 116101) is a nice (if a bit overpriced to my taste) addition to the Swiss-based makers of luxury “writing instruments” that also happens to sell watches line of sporty chronographs. While some of the main selling points of this new watch -like, say, the choice of movement, as well as the combination of materials- look more “acceptable” to yours truly rather than even mildly “exciting,” we at WorldWatchReview.com would still recommend getting one of these oversized pieces of, um, time-measuring opulence if the price is not a problem.
I think it’s been more than three years since I have last reviewed a wristwatch made by Montblanc. Not that there weren’t any new product released by the brand, it was just I somehow found all of them depressingly boring in their carefully calculated refinement.
Frankly, this new Montblanc TimeWalker Automatic Chronograph UTC Ceramic (ref. 116101) doesn’t make me want to rush to my wallet to take out my credit card and to order one of these little beauties (especially taking into account that the watch, if I understand correctly, didn’t officially go on sale yet,) either. Still, I should reiterate that it is indeed a beauty and it really looks like a nice addition to their TimeWalker line of sportified luxury timepieces. Also, I have an impression that the model will be quite popular among those interested in something different than an Omega Speedmaster: a de facto office-standard watch in some areas of business.
While there is nothing groundbreaking or particularly innovative about this watch, it successfully mixes the elegance of a gentleman’s gadget with a distilled form of the mojo of an expensive sports accessory (I hope the phrase has some meaning to you, I surely tried to create a good metaphor here.) I think it’s not a coincidence that the maker of expensive pens decided to use an interior of a vintage luxury sports car for the promotional photo session they disseminated with the official press release that accompanied the launch of this new model.
Yes, it is a bit overpriced for the way it limits the use of a scratch-resistant composite material to only its rotating bezel, and, yes, I would prefer it to feature a movement of higher pedigree, but, hey, I have an impression that there are not so many people besides us watch nerds who would even make an attempt to give a wooden nickel about these things: the watch looks great and, if cash is not an issue, is not that expensive after all.
Case, Bezel & Strap
Being what it is: basically, a medium-priced luxury watch, this TimeWalker Chronograph UTC by Montblanc minimizes the use of scratch-resistant ceramic material only to its rotating bezel. The rest is the usual stainless steel, which is treated with a black DLC coating that, too, usually does a very good job at protecting your watch from unexpected dings and scratches. As you can see on the photos, the coating comes in an unusual ‘matte’ finish that not only blends nicely with the perforated rubber strap but also makes the glossy ceramic bezel really stand out.
By the way, when it comes to the choice of materials, I think it is not them being greedy, but rather that it’s still difficult to manufacture a fully-ceramic timekeeper with a good movement inside when you are trying to squeeze it into a sub-€5000 niche. Yes, there is the gorgeous limited edition Tudor Fastrider Black Shield Ducati (ref. 42000CN) that was presented last year sporting a sticker price of approximately $5000 USD (as usual, this one depends on your local taxes and custom duties,) but I think the relatively low price had something to do with Rolex still limiting its profit margins in order to sell more timekeepers under its relatively recently resurrected Tudor sub-brand.
While the mechanism that powers this gadget is, again, quite good both in term of build quality and accuracy (see below,) the choice of movement, which is -being a natural-born chronograph- quite thick even without an extra UTC module that sits atop of it, resulted in the timekeeper’s case growing in size. In fact, it even grew dangerously close to the upper limit of what essentially a dressy, workday chronograph can afford without becoming to what eBay sellers often call a “novelty”.
Measuring more than 15 millimeters from top to bottom, it is actually thicker than some diving watches rated for more than 300 meters (this one, by the way, features a water resistance rating of just 100 meters) and sporting extra-thick and extra-strong front crystals. Yes, the thickness is still manageable, but may limit your choice of closing ruling out shirts and sports jackets with narrow cuffs.
On the other hand, if you are into deliberately massive timekeepers, there is a good chance that your wardrobe has already been adapted to larger watches, who knows.
As far as basic ergonomics is concerned, everything seems to be just fine: the chronograph push-pieces are just long enough to offer comfortable way of operating the sub-system, but still short enough not to give you too many false starts (as my experience tells me, they are virtually inevitable, but I also tend to wear my watch low on my wrist, your experience may be different,) which is good. The winding/setting crown is also pretty much standard for their current TimeWalker collection: although yours truly would prefer it to be just slightly thicker, the notching on the crown still gives you a good grip when you need to readjust the timekeeper’s readings.
Frankly, I don’t see where to find fault in this well-calculated watch when it comes to the case and the way that it’s sculpted: the product was designed by true professionals and it shows.
Dial & Legibility
I was a bit disappointed when I first found out that the Swiss watchmaker decided not to use the bold styling that was featured in their earlier Urban Speed and Voyager UTC collections in their new, 2017 range. Although I perfectly understand that, on a market that contracts for four years in a row, the strategy of turning back to the proverbial “roots” often seems to be the best, it would still be nice if Montblanc watches looked more unique. Well, at least they are not generic.
For this new batch of TimeWalkers, Montblanc returned to the styling that they have used back in 2010 with an addition of even less interesting dauphine-style hour and minute hands and slightly smaller Arabic numerals interspersed with stick-shaped hour markers.
Both the Urban Speed and Voyager collections seem to still be available via the brand’s website and, something tells me, will be sold by numerous online stores for years to come. However, if the words “classic” and “heritage” mean more to you than “avant-garde” and “bold,” please do continue reading this review.
As usual for their blacked-out lines, both the numerals and the indices are rhodium-plated for better contrast on the black background of the sunburst-style dial with the nighttime legibility slightly enhanced with tiny luminous rectangles placed on the chapter ring, as well as with narrow slots on the hour (primary, the secondary one has the traditional -again, some may call it ‘generic’ triangular-shaped red tip-) and minute hands.
While speaking of legibility, I must admit that the dial doesn’t look too cluttered here: with the number of inscriptions and markers reduced to a minimum, it is always easy to grasp current time and/or chronograph readings with a brief glance. What you may not like, however, is the way the secondary time zone is displayed. As traditional as it is, it is still not the best way to tell time: first of all, you have to mentally jump between 12-hour and 24-hour displays and this may become a source of irritation at some point, and, second, there is a noticeable visual jump between the chapter ring on the dial and the second time zone numerals on the unidirectional rotating ceramic bezel of the watch. In this respect, the dial on the aforementioned Voyager UTC was a great deal more readable and user-friendly than this “traditional” one.
As for the other indicators, they are, too, traditional and come courtesy of the mass-produced mechanism that Montblanc decided to use for this iteration of the TimeWalker family (um, again: see below.) While the visual accent on the vertically placed chronograph sub-dials (a 30-minute counter at 12 o’clock and a 12-hour totalizer at six) looks nice, readability of the small seconds indicator, which is ‘blended’ into the timekeeper’s face for cleaner look suffers to a degree with only 5-seconds markers placed on its rim. On the other hand (small pun intended,) the lack of readability here gives you a good excuse to use the chronograph more often: the central seconds hand here allows you to measure time intervals with accuracy up to 1/4th of a second, which is good enough for most applications.
As the Swatch Group pulls out of wholesale ebauche market, legendary ETA movements are starting to get pretty hard to come by, so it is no wonder that for their less expensive watches Montblanc gradually replaces them with mechanisms done by Sellita. Yes, Montblanc has its own Manufacture-grade calibers, but those, regretfully, are restricted for more expensive models that allow the Swiss brand to keep good profit margins.
This particular Caliber MB 25.03 is based on the well-known Sellita SW500 ebauche. Designed to compete with the legendary ETA 7750 family, this is a natural-born chronograph movement (i.e. it’s not just a plebeian three-hander equipped with an add-on chronograph plate) that has been fitted with Dubois-Depraz DD225 second time zone module: a very popular upgrade among second-tier watchmakers.
Of course, the add-on module will decrease the mechanism’s overall outstanding reliability simply because there are more moving parts, but not in a big way: after all, a person buying a complicated watch should always bear in mind that, like any sophisticated mechanism, it will be more expensive to keep in good working order than a simple three-hander.
Anyways, the mechanism has been here for more than six years and enjoys a good reputation not only among watchmaking brands but with end users as well. The only problem that you may probably encounter here is that the SW500 hasn’t acquired the status of a “legendary” movement and this may somehow damage the timekeeper’s resale value in case you decide to flip the watch at a later time.
I can’t say whether the batch of mechanisms selected to power this member of the TimeWalker family was fine-tuned in any way (all I can say is that they often do at this price point,) but it’s a pleasure to note that the mechanism was at least nicely decorated featuring a personalized oscillating weight with Geneva stripes and branding, as well as a set of polished and blued screws, and sand-blasted and beveled bridges.
By today’s standards, the 46 hours power reserve that the mechanism is good for after being fully wounded is pretty underwhelming. Yes, it is practical enough if you plan to use the watch on a daily basis, however, if you are not going to wear the timepiece on a weekend you will either need to place it into an automatic winder or face a painful process of rewinding and resetting the chronograph on a Monday morning.
Pricing & Availability
In Europe, the Montblanc TimeWalker Automatic Chronograph UTC (ref. 116101) will be available at a recommended street price of €4990, which is quite impressive, but, surprisingly, a bit less expensive than their earlier ETA-based chronographs. As far as value is concerned, I would still say that the watch is overpriced and it would be wiser to not rush and buy one as soon as it appears on a shelve of a multi-brand store near you, but to wait some until it is offered with a discount of at least 1/4th (maybe even 1/3rd) of the original MSRP.
See also: Montblanc Star World-Time GMT
Build quality: 5/5
Overall Legibility: 4.5/5
Nighttime Legibility: 4/5
Value for money: 4/5
Montblanc TimeWalker Automatic Chronograph UTC (ref. 116101) specification
Price: €4990 (MSRP)
Movement: Caliber MB 25.03, base Sellita SW500 with Dubois-Depraz DD225 second time zone module, Swiss Made
Number of jewels: 42
Movement frequency: 28,800 vph
Power reserve: 46 months
Movement decoration: Geneva stripes on the rotor, blued screws, sand-blasted and polished bridges
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, chronograph, UTC (second time zone)
Case: Black DLC-treated stainless steel
Bezel: Black ceramic
Size: 43.00 mm
Case height: 15.20 mm
Numerals: Arabic, applied, luminous, rhodium-plated
Hour markers: Applied, luminous, rhodium-plated
Hands: Luminous, polished, rhodium-plated
Water resistance: 100 meters
Strap: Perforated black rubber strap with stainless steel and black DLC triple folding clasp
Crystal: Sapphire, domed, antireflective
Back: Sapphire, smoked