Montblanc’s Panda Pops

With the TimeWalker Manufacture Chronograph, Montblanc has created a stunning watch with a striking pop of colour, writes Ken Kessler.

Panda dials have never been hotter: one of 2016’s most coveted timepieces was Omega’s blue-on-white CK2998 re-edition of a particular 1959 Speedmaster, while the most famous panda of them all — Paul Newman’s own, eponymous Rolex — sold for over US$17 million in October last year. The look of a light-colored dial with dark subdials, as well as the “reverse panda” with dark dial and light subdials, is an exercise in contrasts that we love. And Montblanc has just adopted the look for the long-awaited TimeWalker Manufacture Chronograph.

Long-awaited? By me, at least, because I have been begging the company to do more with its Minerva Manufacture in Villeret, which is to Montblanc what Lemania is to Omega and Breguet. Minerva is one of the greatest names in the history of chronographs, and the TimeWalker Manufacture Chronograph is inspired by Minerva’s history as a producer of chronographs, with several patents to its credit and a major presence in sport timing, especially with its “Rally Timer” stopwatch created for motor racing.
Powered by the brand-new, column-wheel Montblanc manufacture caliber MB 25.10, the 43mm steel-cased TimeWalker Manufacture Chronograph is a three-counter timepiece with black subdials on a white background. The contrasts continue with a black chapter ring with Super-LumiNova coated five-minute markings, black ceramic tachymeter bezel with white indications, applied steel indexes and the hour markers 2, 4, 8 and 10, rhodium-plated dauphine hands with luminous inserts and a red, “Minerva” arrow-tipped sweep hand for the chronograph timing.

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Its black subdials feature stark white indications with white hands, the dials are arranged in a classic layout with 30-minute counter at three o’clock, real-time seconds at six o’clock and 12-hour counter at nine o’clock.

This automatic also has a small, square date window at 4:30. Nice touches abound, like a “secret signature” in the form of the Montblanc star logo etched into the 12-hour counter and only visible if you look closely. There are tiny red markers at 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock. The crown is black and knurled in an easy-to-grip, cross-hatch pattern, as are the surrounds at the base of each pusher, one at two o’clock and one at four o’clock.

As the overall intent is a link to motorsport, panda dials by their very nature suggest dashboards from period vehicles, while the rotor, visible through the smoked sapphire-glass back, looks like a steering wheel from the 1960s, with drilled spokes (and another appearance of the Montblanc star). The perforated Sfumato aged calf-leather strap, too, is a perfect example of the era, and even the horns have been semi-skeletonized like the air inlets of a car’s body.
This watch is an absolute knock-out. But if you prefer the “reverse panda” look, Montblanc has also created the TimeWalker Rally Timer Chronograph, in a limited edition of 100 examples with the white-on-black color scheme. Dee-lish.