Review: Montblanc 1858 Manual Small Second, A charming timepiece for not a lot of money

Under the stewardship of industry veteran Jérôme Lambert, Montblanc has been making headway with a larger volume of serious watch collectors and enthusiasts. Watches from the newer Heritage and 1858 collections have attracted a lot of interest, and after spending a week with the 1858 Manual Small Second, we can easily see why.

First thought that popped into our hand: We want this in our life!

First thought that popped into our hand: We want this in our life!

The watch we have for review is part of the 1858 collection that was unveiled in 2015, and before you ask, the number ‘1858’ is actually the founding year of Minerva, a reputed Swiss brand that was acquired by the Richemont Group in 2006. The goal behind that acquisition was to have Minerva provide high-end calibres for certain Montblanc timepieces. Prior to the launch of the 1858 collection, you could find Minerva powered watches in Montblanc’s Villeret collection.

The 1858 collection was launched to celebrate Minerva’s heritage, and at the time of publishing this review, the collection was made up of three different watches – the 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter, the 1858 Manual Small Second and the 1858 Automatic Small Second. The chronograph was offered in steel and rose-gold and both were limited to 100-pieces each, there was also a limited edition (858-pieces) stainless steel 1858 Manual Small Second. The rest of the 1858 Small Second watches (manual and automatic) form the permanent collection, and are offered with steel cases – you have a selection of two dial colors and three strap options.

Macro teaser! Tons more in the gallery below.

Macro teaser! Tons more in the gallery below.

We should mention here that while the monopusher chronograph was presented with a highly finished Minerva calibre, the significantly less expensive 1858 Manual Small Second and its automatic brother are offered with entry-level calibres (more on this later). But, before you get up in arms and ask what these watches are doing in a tribute collection, there are actually other elements on these watches that originated from Minerva.

You see Montblanc says that the design and aesthetics of the limited edition monopusher chronograph were inspired by a Minerva Pilot Chronograph from the 1930s. And a lot of those same elements then trickle down to the 1858 Small Second (both automatic and manual references), so in other words, all the 1858 watches (at the time of publishing this review) are ultimately based on design cues taken from a Minerva timepiece. This is why the 1858 Small Second watches are part of the Minerva collection.

The top and bottom of the lugs have a high polish finish.

The top and bottom of the lugs have a high polish finish.

Now in terms of our 1858 Manual Small Second prototype (ref. 113702), there’s a lot to like. The watch packs a handsome 44mm stainless steel case, it features large Arabic numerals, there’s Montblanc branding under the 12 o’clock position, and you get beautiful squelette hands (also known as cathedral hands). All of these elements works extremely well together, so if we were asked to describe this watch in one word, the word we’d use is charming.

In person the 44mm 1858 Manual Small Seconds certainly has presence, and although this watch lacks the lovely chronograph-related dial details that exist on the monopusher, this three hander’s more spartan dial still holds its own. We never once looked down at the dial and wished for more, and the open space actually contributes to making this dial super legible, and easy to read at a glance. We’re also extremely happy that there’s no date window to throw the dial off balance. (You have our blessing to look at your phone for the date…)

We're thinking about starting a 'No date on dial' movement. Who's in?

We’re thinking about starting a ‘No date on dial’ movement. Who’s in?

Another bonus that this uncluttered dial presents is that there’s nothing to distract you from that jaw-dropping blue sunburst finish. The dial just goes into overdrive each time it finds a little bit of light, and if you aren’t convinced by our pictures (we have a lot of them), we highly encourage you to visit the Montblanc boutique in Dubai Mall to check out this timepiece in person. This dial also has a second personality – in low light, it transforms from a very obvious blue to completely black, and even when this happens, there’s plenty of contrast, so you can work out the time with no trouble.

The great thing is when the dial goes from blue to black, so does the leather strap. The strap is a fantastic shade of blue with white contrast stitching but it can do a darn good impression of black. What you’re really getting is two watches for the price of one. You can also have this 1858 Manual Small Second with a mesh style strap (ref. 114958) but of the two, we think the leather strap with the pin/buckle is the far better option. Leather just suits the vintage character of this watch better, and despite its large size and nearly 11mm height, we could easily see ourselves wearing this beauty with formal clothes or even a suit. Of course there’s nothing stopping you from doing the same with the steel mesh strap but we reckon it doesn’t have the same overall punch as our sample.

Note how the strap appears almost black in this shot.

Note how the strap appears almost black in this shot.

Turning the watch over, you’ll find an exhibition caseback protecting a large calibre that Montblanc has branded MB23.03. This is not an in-house calibre however, it’s actually a Unitas/ETA 6498 calibre that was originally developed for pocket watches (you might have guessed this based on the fairly simple architecture and large bridges and balance wheel). This calibre is a workhorse that made a name for itself thanks to its accuracy and reliability – the latter is because of an Incabloc shock protection system.

Spec-wise this hand-wound calibre beats at 3Hz, and offers up a power reserve of approximately 46-hours. The power reserve is just about what we’d consider acceptable for a time-only watch but it’s worth noting that two-days is also still the norm for watches that are considerably more expensive. Winding this calibre is a treat (it always is when you have a pocket watch calibre), it feels great and it’s very easy to do thanks to the watch’s well-finished and incredibly grippy half-onion crown. The nice thing is you can see the crown wheel and ratchet wheel turning thanks to that large open caseback.

The calibre fills out the entire case, and that's always a good thing.

The calibre fills out the entire case, and that’s always a good thing.

Given that this calibre was designed to be a workhorse rather than a example of haute horology, we found the finishing in relation to the asking price of this watch (US $3,500) quite reasonable. You’ll find Geneva stripes on the bridges, sun-ray finishing on the crown and ratchet wheel, there are several blued screws, and all of the jewels that are visible have countersinks. The balance wheel is substantial and looks just right in relation to the size of the other components – the only glaring miss here is bridge edge finishing. You won’t find beveling or chamfering, just a flat edge (check out the image gallery below) and this is to be expected considering the entry level price tag of this timepiece.

On the wrist the Montblanc 1858 Manual Small Second is a gem. It’s drop dead gorgeous to look at, it sat smartly on our 7.2-inch wrist, the strap (made by Montblanc of course) looked superb, and hugged our wrist comfortably. The only thing we noticed, and this is a very minor thing, is that if you wear your watch very close to your wrist, the gear-shaped half-onion crown can dig ever so slightly into the back of your wrist, if/when you lift your wrist. This didn’t cause us any discomfort or pain however, and if you want to avoid this, all you need to do is wear your watch a little away from your wrist (a couple of millimetres will do).

Oh yeah, this watch just works on the wrist.

Oh yeah, this watch just works on the wrist.

With the 1858 Manual Small Seconds Montblanc has a winner on its hands. It’s well priced, built well and delivers serious charm thanks to its vintage looks, and heart-stopping sunburst blue dial. If you’re in the market for an inexpensive three-hander or you’re trying to work out which watch to begin your Montblanc watch journey with, we reckon this is the watch for you.

What would we do to own a 1858 Manual Small Second: Beg our boss for overtime for at least a quarter.

Check out our video review of the Montblanc 1858 Manual Small Second below.

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Read more about the Montblanc 1858 Manual Small Second by clicking here.

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