The newly released Montblanc Timewalker Chronograph 1000 is certainly an intriguing proposition. Two wheel trains with two balance wheels, one running at 18,000 bph, and another at 360,000 bph. The latter would normally imply a resolution of 1/100th of a second, but the Timewalker Chronograph 1000 measures up to a resolution of 1/1000th of a second. How does Montblanc do it? Does it matter? We explore.
Montblanc Timewalker Chronograph 1000
The visual design of the Timewalker Chronograph 1000 is quite startling. The black DLC titanium case is in stark contrast to the white markers and brilliant red accents of the chronograph. The overall look is not subtle. Coupled with the 46mm case diameter, this is an imposing watch.
The case, dial and hands
As mentioned the case is in black DLC titanium. It looks the classical Timewalker case, with a slightly hollowed out case side and knurled crown. And at first glance on the case, it does not look like a chronograph, dial notwithstanding. Where are the pushers? Well, the Timewalker Chronograph 1000 is a monopusher. The crown doubles up to start/stop/reset the chronograph.
The dial is quite interesting. It is a deep black grainé dial with horizontal stratus and transparent opening. A central medallion with a horizontal pattern decorates the middle of the dial, while the hour and minute hands are silver-white Dauphine shaped and filled with SuperLuminova. The small seconds hand at 9 o’clock is white, and the chronograph counters are in red and black at 6 o’clock.
A transparent, glass covered aperture is made from about 8 o’clock to 10 o’clock which allows a peek into the movement. The main balance wheel, beating at 18,000 bph providing the time measuring to the hour and minute hands is visible through this opening. Another aperture from 2 o’clock to 4 o’clock, balancing the visual design of the dial is used as a power reserve indicator for the chronograph.
The entire arrangement is very high contrast, and a prime example of the study of making legible dials.
Reading the chronograph indications.
The chronograph indicator is a red, centrally mounted hand. This is the elapsed 100th of a second hand that completes one full revolution every second, in 100 small steps. It sprints along and the tip is able to stop in any of these 100 steps to measure the elapsed time to 1/100s resolution. The thousandths of a second is displayed in an aperture at 12 o’clock, on a cartouche where a triangular red pointer is able to stop at any point on a scale calibrated from “0” to “9”. When the chronograph is running, this pointer stays at “N” (for neutral), and when the chronograph is stopped, it jumps to one of the 10 positions. Each reading like a vernier scale a resolution of 1/1000th of a second.
Two totalisers are coaxially mounted at the subdial at 6 o’clock, a longer, red-tipped hand to tally elapsed seconds from 1 to 60, as well as a shorter, all-red hand to count a maximum of 15-elapsed minutes.
The movement is rather interesting. The base movement is a classical 18,000 bph movement which powers the hour/minute/seconds hand on the watch, with a power reserve of 100 hours. The chronograph works has its own wheel train, with its own balance wheel, which beats at a super high frequency of 360,000 bph. This second train is not running when the chronograph is not activated, and only springs into motion once the chronograph is activated to safe power. As expected, a train running at 360,000 bph will deplete power at an alarming rate. Montblanc is, however able to maintain a 45 minutes power reserve for the chronograph works, which is pretty remarkable.
How does it work?
As Montblanc describes it: The secret was a balance with a frequency of 50 hertz (360,000 A/h). This rapid oscillator completes 100 to-and-from motions per second, i.e. 50 times in one direction and 50 times in the other. This tempo not only guides the motion of the trotteuse in the movement, it also sets the pace for delivering an impulse of energy that sets into rotation an innovative wheel in the gear-train, the so-called “thousandths wheel” (mobile de millième). Powered in this fashion, it rotates around its own axis at a uniform speed of ten rotations per second and thus provides the resolution with which hundredths of a second can be further subdivided into sets of ten increments. The chronograph function is controlled by a two-level column-wheel: one level guides the start, stop and zero-return functions; the other level controls the thousandths wheel.
Is this not the first use of this technique to interpolate the timing between the timings afforded by the balance wheel’s vibration. The calibre MB M66.26 was first introduced in 2012 in the TimeWriter II Chronographe Bi-Fréquence 1000.
Even earlier, F.P. Journe Centigraphe (we reviewed the later red gold version here) announced in 2010 an aluminium cased chronograph which is able to measure to an accuracy of 1/100th of a second, while running on a wheel train of 21,600 bph. The balance system has an internal resolution of 1/6th of a second. It also utilises a similar principle, for every 1/6th of a second the wheel makes, a separate wheel makes one complete 360° revolution in 100 steps. When stopped, the wheel is capable of resolving to 1/100th of a second.
Does this matter? According to website Human Benchmarks, in a test involving almost 43,000,000 samples, the average human reaction time is 269 milliseconds. Reference.com records that the current fastest human reaction is 101 milliseconds. Having a watch which can time to an accuracy of 1 millisecond is overkill. The reaction time to start or to stop the chronograph far exceeds the 1/1000th second granularity of the resolving power being offered. And the measured data in smaller increments than 200 millisecond is actually meaningless. But still, it is impressive to be able to see how human ingenuity is used to overcome physical limitations.
Movement layout is rather messy, though some of the bridges appear to be modeled after a flower motif. The finishing is typical Montblanc Villeret level, which is to say that it is very good. All the haute horologerie elements are well addressed, and executed nicely. The small touch of the Villeret Devil’s Tail on the chronograph reset lever is given a double boost, and appears as a double level arrow design.
The Competitive Landscape
As far as we are aware, other than her stablemate, the Timewalker Chronograph 1000 is peerless in its ability to resolve 1/1000th a second. As mentioned, the Montblanc TimeWriter II Chronograph Bi-Fréquence 1000 also uses same movement. Also interesting is that the TimeWriter II Chronographe was priced at € 230,000 in 2012. The new Timewalker Chronograph 1000 will retail for a lower € 175,000. Perhaps an indication of the times, and another to follow our postulation of “Complications for less” theory.
We stand rather in two minds about this Montblanc offering. The visual design is high impact, which may polarise collectors. You either love it for its strong, powerful looks, or you don’t. The movement viewed through the case back is a bit messy, but perhaps a necessity as the design has to deal with two wheel trains running at different frequencies, and the monopusher chronograph works. The movement finishing is clearly top level, typical of Villeret watches.
But its biggest strength and claim to fame, is also perhaps its Achilles heel. The ability of the watch to resolve up to 1/1000th of a second is noteworthy, and a testament to the ingenuity of the thinking behind its achievement given the limitations of the wheel train frequency. But yet, the very same ability to resolve to 1/1000th of a second is meaningless. The inherent human error introduced in each activation of start and stop is 20 times more fuzzy than the watch is able to resolve. Rendering its resolving power meaningless.
However, this is an innovative product. And a significant technical achievement. For that, it gets the Chief Editor’s Choice Award. And since only 18 pieces will ever be produced, we are sure Montblanc will be able to find enough parties who will pony up the € 175,000 for this watch.
Montblanc TimeWalker Chronograph 1000 Limited Edition 18 Specifications
Montblanc Manufacture Calibre MB M66.26
Type of movement Manually wound monopusher chronograph with a balance wheel for the time indication and a separate balance wheel for the chronograph
Chronograph Monopusher with column wheel
Dimensions Diameter = 38.4 mm; height = 10.60 mm
No. of components 488
No. of rubies 46
Power reserve Approx. 100 hours for the time & approx. 45 min. for the chronograph
Balance Time indication: balance with screws, Ø 11.4 mm, moment of inertia: 26 mgcm²; chronograph: smooth hoop, Ø 6 mm
Frequency Time indication: 18,000 A/H (2.5 Hz); chronograph: 360.000 A/H (50 Hz)
Hairspring Time indication: flat with Phillips terminal curve, chronograph: flat
Plate Rhodium-plated German silver, circular-grained on both sides, hand-chamfered edges
Bridges Rhodium-plated German silver, “Côtes de Genève”, circular-grained on both sides, hand-chamfered edges
Going-Train Gold-plated, circular-grained, chamfered, diamond hubs on both sides; pinions: polished faces and toothing, burnished pivots
Displays (watch) Hours and minutes in the centre, small seconds at 9 o’clock
Displays (chrono) 1/100th of a second in the centre (1 turn/sec.), 60-elapsed seconds and 15-elapsed minutes counters with double indication hands and corresponding sectorial scales, 1/1000th of a second counter at 12 o’clock
Power reserve indication for the 1000th of a second at 3 o’clock
Material mix consisting of satinated black DLC titanium
Satinated black DLC titanium horns, high-tech black ceramic bezel
Crystal Sapphire crystal
Back Black DLC titanium back with screws & inset pane of sapphire crystal
Dimensions Diameter= 46.4 mm; Height= 17.34 mm
Water-resistance 3 bar
Crown Black DLC titanium with knurled finishing & inlaid Montblanc emblem
Dial Black grainé dial with horizontal stratus and transparent opening, silvery-white dauphine-shaped hour-hand and minute-hand with SuperLuminova, small second counter with silvery-white hands, red and black-colour chronographs hands
Wristband Black alligator leather strap with red stitching & asymmetric holes,
stainless steel and black DLC triple folding clasp
Limited Edition 18
Certified by the Montblanc Laboratory Test 500
Price € 175.000 including 19 % VAT