Montblanc, a German luxury brand, has been associated with high-quality writing instruments for decades. The company’s reputation for quality and attention to detail, however, is not limited to writing instruments; it also extends to the world of fine timepieces. Montblanc is a major player in the high-end watch industry, thanks to its extensive collection of watches that successfully blend classic aesthetics and modern engineering.
The Hour Markers caught up with Neeraj Walia, Managing Director and CEO of Montblanc India, to discuss the secrets of the Minerva, brand offerings, and more!
How has Nicolas Baretzki’s leadership impacted the brand? Sharing his thoughts Neeraj said, “His clarity on where he sees the brand has helped the brand evolve across several segments.”
Montblanc is commonly linked to writing instruments. As it turns out, many collectors of watches also collect pens, and vice versa. Therefore, this brand holds a significant reputation within the community. However, when it comes to watches, there is frequently a diversity of opinions. How does Montblanc bridge this gap?
Sharing his thoughts, Neeraj said, “That is where we are hand-holding our customers to share with them the beautiful journey of Minerva. The beautiful new timepieces we are talking about – the unveiling of amazing new movements, new complications, what goes behind the creation of all of them – all of which talks about and establishes our legitimacy in that particular category. We talk about the sports diving watches on one side, on the other side we have high-complication watches, which feature complications such as the telemeter, tachymeter and mono-pusher. So, we have options in all segments.”
We are looking at watch brands, we are looking at pen brands. But here you have this mega brand, which is there in India for so many years. Everyone knows you as a pen brand as such. But, when it comes to brand positioning in the watchmaking space, what are your thoughts on the same?
“I think it’s a misconception that Montblanc is not into watchmaking. With Minerva, we have over 160 years of legacy of watchmaking. That is where we establish ourselves in the fine watchmaking segment. The same is happening with our leather segment as well. In the last two and a half years, our leather lines have transformed exponentially with our new Creative Director, Marco Tomasetta. Things have been really looking good for the brand. Both watches and leather, are categories where Montblanc is now seen as an established player.”
Moving on, Minerva is the magic word in the watch world as such right now. When you talk about Minerva, the movement is spectacular, and the new watches at Watches and Wonders created quite the buzz.
But, did you know that the movement is old? It is inverted with 21 extra parts and it’s amazing to see that probably it will be the only Minerva movement, which was possible to invert and has 252 parts! What was the thought process of the brand behind it?
“The inherent elegance of Minerva’s V-bridges and arrow design elements remained concealed. Even if we had attempted to create a skeleton watch, it would have been challenging to effectively highlight that specific aspect. Therefore, the only means of revealing the magnificence of Minerva and its craftsmanship was by reversing the watch. This unveiling required the addition of 21 meticulously crafted extra components to the cases. Last year, we introduced the 28 Lime Gold pieces as part of this unveiling. Now, what we are discussing this year goes beyond just the Minerva movement”, he added.
What makes the case of the Minerva Secret Mono-pusher timepiece so special?
“When discussing the case, it unveils a captivating story that helps us form a deep connection with our clients. Minerva embodies the essence of watchmaking’s legitimacy, heritage, and savoir-faire. The case is crafted from distressed steel with the addition of a PVD coating. In a heartfelt homage to the valley and its majestic mountain, we create a captivating tale. Each case undergoes a tumbling process of four hours, with stones and rocks sourced from the mountain and the valley. As a result, every piece has a uniquely distressed look. This approach enables us to forge a profound bond with our esteemed customers. That’s how we are connecting with our customers, you have an amazing intricacy complemented with know-how and the addition of the Minerva narrative further enriches the experience”, he explained.
Montblanc emphasizes the story behind every watch. The other collection which was really spoken about at Watches & Wonders was the 8000 Capsule Collection, which also has a story to it. And the zero oxygen element was well-appreciated. What was different that the brand did this year as compared to the zero oxygen watches from last year?
Spirit of exploration! The mountain has always been a part of our maison. When we talk about the 8000, we talk about the 14 peaks in the world that are above 8000 meters. The first person who climbed all of those 14 peaks was Reinhold Messner, and the one who climbed the fastest is Nimsdai Purja. So, we gave a tribute to mountaineering and tribute to those 18 peaks and to those mountaineers who conquered them. This year, five watches are part of the 8000 0 Oxygen series.
We have a Geosphere, a Chronograph, a Geosphere Chronograph, and the 0 Oxygen Automatic Date. The last one in this series is the South Pole Exploration edition, which pays tribute to Reinhold Messner’s journey to the South Pole, wherein he travelled from a particular distance to conquer the South Pole on the 31st of December, 1989, New Year’s eve. For this reason, the edition is limited to 1990 pieces. The color of the dial, made with the gratté-boisé technique, is inspired by the glacial colors of the Antarctic”, he added.
The world of watchmaking is constantly innovating with complications. Montblanc also had tourbillons back in the past in your other collection. But in the current collection, we are not seeing those ultra-complicated horology pieces. Are you planning to get them back or is it a step process?
Sharing his thoughts Neeraj said, “I won’t say that they are not there. Last year we launched the Exo-Tourbillon Skeleton Ascent and we may have more coming in the next year as well.”
We have seen other pen brands do this in the past where they combine one design, one aesthetic of one particular product, and push it across to the other product. Not from an inspiration per se, but also from a limited edition or a collectible perspective or something like that. Are we going to see any cross-designing or cross-referencing in terms of limited editions coming across?
“Last year we launched the 1858 Iced Sea watch, and along with that, we launched the Meisterstück Selection Glacier collection for our core writing instruments category as well. To complement an intersectional story, the maison also came out with some leather products. So we do explore the possibility of connecting and creating a transversal story, but the fine details on how it is executed on the dial in the watchmaking, with the design connecting with writing instruments and leather at times become challenging. We are working on it and there have been collections in the past that we have done that are along these lines, he said.
The augmented writing pads were a great innovation that Montblanc has done. Are we going to see any other such innovations that you bring to timepieces as well that cater to the Gen-Z demands?
Sharing his views on Gen-Z, Neeraj said, “There are some innovations which are waiting to be unveiled in times to come and those are for the Gen- Z. When it comes to Gen-Z, at times it’s beautiful and soothing to see that the younger generation is coming and falling in love with handwriting and that too with the fountain pen. They are choosing Montblanc for their first fountain pen”
On a corporate level, in terms of Richemont, compared to other brands in the Indian market, where do you see Montblanc? Is it gaining momentum in the past few years or has it always been the more powerful brand?
“Every brand in India has its own distinctive journey, and Montblanc’s experience over the past twenty-five years has been particularly rewarding. With each passing year, our presence in the Indian market has grown stronger and more fulfilling. We have established boutiques and various touchpoints across the country, allowing us to connect with our customers. Additionally, our joint venture with Titan proved to be a valuable learning experience for both partners”, he added.
How does Montblanc cater to the customer demand in India and globally? Has retail presence proven beneficial for the brand?
“We have expanded our boutique presence nationwide, and as a wholly-owned subsidiary in India, we are carefully examining all available channels. India’s trajectory is distinct and constantly evolving. While there have been notable additions to the retail space we have eagerly awaited, it is still insufficient to meet the needs of customers across the entire country. However, we are witnessing the growth of retail spaces in key cities. It is crucial for us to establish a presence in the available retail spaces or explore alternative channels that bring us closer to our customers. Through Tata CLiQ Luxury, we have achieved accessibility in approximately 325 cities where our customer base resides. Additionally, with the increased number of active airports, our customers frequently travel between cities, and the duty-paid terminals within these airports have become particularly vibrant. This is an area we are actively exploring”, he said.
Do you see watches emerging as a better proposition than your leather products?
“It’s almost like choosing between your children. If I say I have four children out here. And all the children are performing very well in their field. If one person is an artist, another one is an actor, a third one is a writer, and the fourth one may be an engineer.
Whenever we talk about Montblanc, we do talk about writing instruments as the first or only category. Each year we surpass expectations in bringing new materials and new creativity to all our segments. In the last two years, with a new vision from Marco Tomasetta, our new leather lines have been met with enthusiastic acceptance and it is a category that is growing very fast for us.
Our watches are being received very well as well. You can see the transformation happening in the last two years in our watch segment. For our Maison, writing instruments becomes the largest category, then comes the leather, and then come the watches. So it’s just pure mathematics and the smaller the category is, the more exponential is its growth”, he shared.
Is Montblanc for everyone or just for Gen-Z? Where is the brand headed?
Today, the product speaks for itself. The key lies in establishing a deep connection with the narrative, captivating the customer, and fostering brand loyalty. Well, the prospects for the brand seem bright. We look forward to seeing more timepieces with different complications and more inspiring stories! Like Neeraj said, “Come discover our story behind the watch!”