The split second chronograph is one of horology’s most admired complications. Hard to assemble and even harder to adjust, the complication is known to give watchmakers nightmares – and only a handful of manufacturers can do it well. Patek Philippe for instance, makes some of the finest, most intricate split second chronograph movements. A. Lange & Söhne is known for its Triple Split watch which splits not just the seconds, but also the minutes and the hours – the one and only of its kind.
Then, there’s Montblanc with its stunning Minerva calibres. Within connoisseur circles, Minerva chronograph movements are seen as some of the most architecturally iconic, evocative, and well-finished in the market. In 2019, Montblanc added its first split seconds chronograph to the 1858 collection, a line that pays tribute to the Minerva heritage; this was the 1858 Split Second Chronograph in bronze. Several variants soon followed in different case metals and with different dial treatments.
1858 Split Second Chronograph Limited Edition 18
This year, for the first time, the 1858 Split Second Chronograph is presented in a precious metal case. More than that, it comes with dial aesthetic that some might consider “exotic” for a Montblanc timepiece. Here, we give you the low-down and our thoughts on the new 1858 Split Second Chronograph Limited Edition 18.
The Case, Dial, and Hands
The case of the 1858 Split Second Chronograph has always been large. At 44 mm in diameter, the watch better fits wrists of above average sizes. What’s different about the case this time is the material that it is rendered in: ‘lime gold’. Lime gold is what Montblanc is calling its new 18k gold alloy, and the new 1858 Split Second Chronograph Limited Edition 18 is the first watch in the industry to utilise it. What gives lime gold its distinctive pale yellowish hue with a tinge of green is its composition. According to Montblanc, the alloy is composed of 75% gold, 23.8% silver, and 12% iron. The case is finely brushed with contrasting but striking polished bevels. And like previous iterations, there is a crown at 3 o’clock with a chronograph (mono)pusher and a split second pusher at 2 o’clock.
To match the colour of the lime gold case, the 1858 Split Second Chronograph Limited Edition 18 features a distinctive, gilded dial with sunray finissage. The monochrome dial is combined with contrasting green elements of different tones such as the luminescent cathedral hour and minute hands, the minuterie, the central split-second hand, the snailing tachymeter and telemeter scales, as well as the old-school Montblanc emblem at 12 o’clock. It bears mentioning that the Arabic numerals are made with a special patented process that encapsulates luminescent material and creates a ‘monobloc’ shape without any outlines. This creates a three-dimensional effect for the numerals not just during the day but also in no-light conditions. To help tell apart the numerous hands, the chronograph seconds, running seconds, and chronograph minute hands are gold coloured. But because they are a similar shade to the dial, they could become hard to read. At least the chronograph minute hand is green-tipped.
Driving the 1858 Split Second Chronograph Limited Edition 18 is the 287-part, 25-jewel Calibre MB M16.31. Inspired from Minerva calibres 19-09CH and 17-29 that were used for pocket watches, it is perhaps unsurprising, then, that the Calibre MB M16.31 is fairly large, at 38.4 mm in diameter. The movement has two column wheels for the chronograph and rattrapante (split second) function, horizontal coupling, and a power reserve of 50 hours. It is fitted with a large balance wheel with 18 screws, beating at a stately frequency of 2.5 Hz.
Minerva chronograph movements have always been renowned for its beautiful architecture and finissage, and the Calibre MB M16.31 is no exception. A look through the sapphire crystal case back says it all: Geneva waves, inner anglage, polished bevels, black polishing, circular graining, and a host of other old-school techniques applied by hand. For this limited edition 1858 Split Second Chronograph, the plates and bridges are made of German silver plated with 18K gold. The contrast between the gold-plated and steel components is remarkably striking and a pleasure to behold.
The Competitive Landscape
Being what many consider a ‘grand complication’, the split second chronograph often equates to a hefty price tag. This is especially true when finissage becomes the focus. The 1858 Split Second Chronograph Limited Edition 18 is perhaps the exception to the rule. At EUR49,500, its price is no laughing matter, but when you consider the exceptional finissage of the timepiece, you will find that it offers immense value for money. It’s worth noting, though, that compared to other iterations of the 1858 Split Second Chronograph, the Limited Edition 18 is one of the pricier references. This makes sense given that it is a limited edition and is currently the first and only one crafted in precious metal.
Another split-second chronograph that offers bang for buck is none other than the F. P. Journe Chronographe Monopoussoir Rattrapante. While the watch is far from perfect, there’s no denying that the watchmaking is solid. In the titanium variant, the Calibre 1518 has plates and bridges made of aluminium which helps reduce both weight and cost. Though well-finished, the movement does appear to be less ornate than that of the 1858 Split Second Chronograph. All that said, at around CHF58,000, the Chronographe Monopoussoir Rattrapante in titanium remains one of the best in its class in terms of value for money.
The next candidate is from a brand that is known for high prices but even higher quality: A. Lange & Söhne. The ultra-high end German watch manufacturer had recently introduced the 1815 Rattrapante Honeygold in conjunction with its 175th anniversary. This celebratory piece is crafted in proprietary honey gold alloy and boasts a movement with incredible finissage. At EUR130,000, it is more than double the price of the 1858 Split Second Chronograph Limited Edition 18, but at the same time, it is virtually impossible to find a split-second chronograph with better craftsmanship at this price point or double (outside of Lange). The good news is that regular editions of this masterpiece can probably be expected in future, and at a lower price.
If lime gold and green accents are your thing, you’d be hard pressed to find a split second chronograph that offers better value than the 1858 Split Second Chronograph Limited Edition 18. Thanks to its rich Minerva heritage, the 1858 collection continues to maintain its status as a connoisseur favourite.