Montblanc’s epic Exo Tourbillon Skeleton Ascent Limited Edition might be the most brand-representational watch it has ever made. The hefty, 44.8 mm x 15.1 mm tourbillon is a tribute to the first ascent of the famous French peak for which it is named. The dial incorporates gold engravings of the man who made the ascent, Jacques Balmat, along with something called a wyvern, the mythical monster that was believed to have lived on Mont Blanc’s Mer de Glace glacier. According to local legend, the dangerous mythical creatures inhabited the high passes, preventing passage to the 15,780-foot summit.
The legend, or perhaps the elements, were enough to scare most would-be adventurers off, but in 1760 naturalist Horace-Bénédict De Saussure offered a substantial prize to the first person to find a way to the summit. The challenge was accepted by an ambitious young hunter and gold seeker, Jacques Balmat, who enlisted the help of Michel-Gabriel Paccard, a doctor with a passion for botany and minerals. They managed to reach the summit with only the following equipment: leather backpacks that contained blankets, pouches for rock samples, and various measuring instruments. By today’s standards, that seems like fending off a nuclear explosion by wearing a raincoat. Despite the odds, the pair reached the top at 6:23 p.m. on August 8th, 1786, a century before the word “alpinist” even entered the dictionary. Having proved there were no wyverns standing in the way, the pair did it again a year later, taking their patron, Horace-Bénédict De Saussure, along for the climb so he could experience the exhilaration.
Montblanc, the brand, was named after Mont Blanc, the mountain, in honor of the determination it took to achieve the impossible climb. Now, more than two centuries later, it honors the difficult climb by challenging its goldsmiths and engravers to carve out two 3-D figures out of blocks of 18-karat white gold: To the left of the time subdial is the sculpture of Balmat in a climbing pose between 9 o’clock and 10 o’clock, and to the right of the time subdial, between 1 o’clock and 3 o’clock, the dragon-like wyvern breathes fire. Balmat’s hand and the dragon’s leg both slightly overlap the hour/minutes subdial between them, which is carved in relief with a likeness of the mountain itself.
Curiously, one of Balmat’s experiments during his climb was to measure the intensity of the sky’s color using a new invention at the time called a cyanometer. A few years later, De Saussure was able to prove that the sky’s blue tone becomes increasingly darker with a decrease in humidity, concluding that the color of the sky is determined by the water content of the air. To represent this fun fact, Montblanc colored the periphery of the tourbillon cage with 52 graduated shades of blue to represent the cyanometer.
The movement, manual wound caliber MB M18.69, is skeletonized—a challenge that requires removing as much metal as possible from the components to make it thin, without compromising function. The 188 openworked components in this movement—some of which are carved out as thin as lace—are supported by five pillars between the base plate and bridges, all aligned to let the light filter in. The whole movement can be seen from 360-degree angles, which means the quality of the finishing was important, according to Montblanc. The 420 inner angles of the movement were all polished by hand.
The Exo Tourbillon, first introduced in 2010, is so-named because its balance wheel is outside the rotating tourbillon carriage, hence the term “Exo.” Isolating the balance from the cage means the balance performs with greater precision because it is not disturbed by the inertia of the carriage. It also means the carriage can be smaller than the balance, so it requires less energy, and the balance can be large, which improves precision. Exo Tourbillon movements are created in the company’s elite Minerva workshop in Villeret, Switzerland, where each component is finished by hand. This is a limited edition of eight pieces, priced at $156,000. For more information, contact the Montblanc New York City flagship at (212) 223-8888.