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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

UPDATE, SIGNET RESPONDS; Report: Signet Jewelers’ Two Largest Retailers Accused Of Widespread Sexual Harassment, Discrimination

Bombshell may be the proper word to describe Monday’s story in The Washington Post regarding Kay Jewelers and Jared The Galleria of Jewelry. Devastating may be the proper adjective. 

Since 2008 there’s been an ongoing arbitration case between Sterling Jewelers (which is the parent division of Kay and Jared), by former female employees of the company who allege they were victims of sexual harassment and discrimination, dating back to the 1990s. It began with about a dozen former employees. It has now grown to approximately 69,000 men and women employed at the two jewelry chains, according to the Post.

Update: Signet Jewelers (the parent company of Sterling Jewelers) just issued a response to what it terms “distorted and inaccurate media reports.”

It reads in part, “It's critical to understand that an arbitration claim was brought against Sterling in 2008 that alleged gender discrimination in pay and promotion. None of the 69,000 class members have brought legal claims in this arbitration for sexual harassment or sexual impropriety. Since its filing, it has never included legal claims of sexual harassment or hostile work environment discrimination. The only claims certified to proceed on a class wide basis relate to alleged gender pay and promotions discrimination. Despite years of litigation, millions of pages of documentation and numerous depositions, claimants' counsel have chosen not to file sexual harassment claims. These allegations publicized by claimants' counsel and reported in the media create a distorted, negative image of the company.” 

The full statement is at the end of the story

Over the years I remember this case appearing in public every so often and then disappearing again. Under arbitration rules, there is little transparency. So knowing the extent of what is being alleged was difficult to determine. 

Now we know and it isn’t pretty. 

More than 1,300 pages of sworn statements were released Sunday due to requests from the Post and lawyers representing the employees. Names of the executives being accused were redacted under the agreement to release the documents. However, through memorandums one of the executives was identified: Mark Light, now CEO of Sterling’s parent company, Signet Jewelers. He is among those accused of “having sex with female employees and promoting women based upon how they responded to sexual demands,” the Post reports. 

Most damning is this: “Multiple witnesses told attorneys that they saw Light ‘being entertained’ as he watched and joined nude and partially undressed female employees in a swimming pool,” according to the 2013 memorandum.”

About 250 women and men who worked at Sterling “allege that female employees at the company throughout the late 1990s and 2000s were routinely groped, demeaned and urged to sexually cater to their bosses to stay employed,” according to the Post. “Sterling disputes the allegations.” 

The others accuse the company of discriminatory practices in regards to pay and promotion. 

Many of the most striking allegations, according to the Post, stem from the company’s annual managers meetings, “which former employees described as a boozy, no-spouses-allowed ‘sex-fest’ where attendance was mandatory and women were aggressively pursued, grabbed and harassed.”

The Post backs the testimony with interviews of a few of the accusers. 

Signet Jewelers, as previously mentioned, is the parent company of Sterling Jewelers, which consists of Kay, Jared (two chains in this legal battle) and regional jewelry store chains. Signet is one of the two largest jewelry retailers in the world (depending on how it’s determined). It has operations in the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.K. In 2014, Signet acquired Zales Jewelers. 

Signet’s sales were approximately $6.5 billion, according to its fiscal 2016 financial report. Kay and Jared make up about 58 percent of total sales. 

This is not only a public relations nightmare but it also has potential to have a devastating effect on Signet's balance sheet. Company sales have already struggled this year.

Signet scheduled its fiscal 2017 and fourth earnings release and conference call for March 9. This should be some presentation. 

In case you haven’t clicked on the link yet here it is again

Signet's statement:

Sterling Jewelers Statement on Ongoing Arbitration

Misleading media reports mischaracterize arbitration

Akron, Ohio, Feb. 28 - In response to the distorted and inaccurate media reports, Sterling Jewelers released the following statement:

It's critical to understand that an arbitration claim was brought against Sterling in 2008 that alleged gender discrimination in pay and promotion. None of the 69,000 class members have brought legal claims in this arbitration for sexual harassment or sexual impropriety. Since its filing, it has never included legal claims of sexual harassment or hostile work environment discrimination. The only claims certified to proceed on a class wide basis relate to alleged gender pay and promotions discrimination. Despite years of litigation, millions of pages of documentation and numerous depositions, claimants' counsel have chosen not to file sexual harassment claims. These allegations publicized by claimants' counsel and reported in the media create a distorted, negative image of the company.

Indeed, the distorted and inaccurate picture of our company presented in these allegations does not represent who we are. They involve a very small number of individuals in a workforce of more than 84,000 during the class period, and many allegations go back decades. The company takes any concerns seriously and had - and continues to have - multiple processes in place to receive and investigate allegations of misconduct. We continue to encourage all employees to use these processes to raise any workplace concerns so we can investigate and take appropriate action.

Regarding the alleged gender discrimination in pay and promotion allegations, our company is guided by our core values of fairness, opportunity, integrity and respect and has created strong career opportunities for many thousands of women working at our stores nationwide. As a result of our employment and advancement programs, as well as our culture, more than 68 percent of all our store management staff are female, and female participation in management positions continues to grow.

Because of our long-term commitment to equal opportunity, we have taken the allegations of pay and promotions discrimination raised in this case very seriously. We have thoroughly investigated the allegations and have concluded they are not substantiated by the facts and certainly do not reflect our culture.

Source: Signet Jewelers

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Independent Jewelry Designers Make Their Mark At VicenzaOro

For the first time in the long history of VicenzaOro, the January edition of the jewelry trade show provided a dedicated space for a dozen international designers. By all accounts it was a welcome and successful addition to the fair.

"Winged Beauty" earrings by Magerit
Branded as “The Design Room” and located in the main hall of the large fair, the area was defined by neutral colors and wood tones with each designer’s space being identical. Black chairs and couches lined the edges giving people a reason to linger. The finishing touch was a logo with “The Design Room” name partially enclosed on two sides by a white line to create an open-square shape. 

To fill the space the fair curated a diverse group of 12 designers from different parts of the world. Some already have an international reputation while others are either newer to the industry or have regional followings. All produce innovative designs, a well-defined aesthetic and have the potential to widespread market potential. 

18k rose gold earrings by Sutra with pink spinel, garnets and diamonds

The designers were Netali Nissim, Federica Rettore and Qayten from Italy, Rodney Rayner, Sarah Ho and Zara Simon from the United Kingdom, Nikos Koulis from Greece, Magerit from Spain, Daniela Villegas and Sutra from the USA, Fernando Jorge from Brazil who now lives in London and Elie Top from France. 

Colorful Laguna rings by Rodney Rayner

Rodney Rayner, a veteran award-winning jewelry designer, not only participated in the area but helped to curate the designers. He then worked with the trade fair to convince them to participate. 

“We have exhibited in the past at Vicenza in the main halls, but this new concept got us much more attention,” said Rayner, who specializes in colored gemstone jewelry. “Everyone walking around took the time to look in every showcase. As an example, we personally met a new customer who asked if it was our first time to exhibit at VicenzaOro. I explained that it wasn't but in previous years they had simply walked past my booth. All the designers had a very good reaction from both press and retailers.”

Lily Rose ring by Sarah Ho in 18k white gold with a 3.84 carat pear-shape rubellite center stone surrounded by brilliant and baguette diamonds and emeralds

Sarah Ho didn’t need much convincing and was happy she made the decision to exhibit.

“I love the way all the booths look the same,” said Ho, whose work tells her personal story. “We felt the buyers were generally intrigued by The Design Room and wanted to see what new and exciting products are available. They really spent time looking around.”

For Italian jeweler, Qayten, it was the first time exhibiting at Vicenza for the Bologna-based brand founded in 2012.

Qayten Happy Hours 18k rose gold and diamond earrings

“I liked the idea of sharing a space with different companies and designers from different countries and styles, said Maddalena Allegretti, Qayten marketing and sales manager. “We received the interest of many retailers and press. It definitely was a positive experience and we’d like to do it again.”

The designers were also feted by the fair organizers. They had the opportunity to participate in the Andrea Palladio International Jewellery Awards, which were presented in the auditorium inside Fiera di Vicenza, where VicenzaOro January was held and attended a dinner at a Michelin star restaurant hosted by Matteo Marzotto, executive VP of Italian Exhibition Group, the organizer of VicenzaOro.

Niki Lalioti, marketing and communications manager for jewelry designer Nikos Koulis, models one his earrings at their booth during VicenzaOro. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

One of the award winners was Greek designer Nikos Koulis.

“I believe that the creation of a dedicated space for contemporary designers to showcase their collections is more efficient for buyers, media representatives and visitors since there is a coherent approach while our styles are distinct and complementary,” he said. “The outcome for my brand was positive and we met our goals for this show.”

Parisian jewelry designer, Elie Top, demonstrates one of his spherical jewel creations in his booth during the VicenzaOro trade show

Elie Top is new to fine jewelry but his name is well known in the fashion world, particularly in Paris where he was a designer of costume jewelry for Lanvin for 15 years. He describes his first collection as Mécaniques Célestes, globe-shaped pieces that open, revealing a centerpiece set with pavé diamonds, which he compares to a sparkling sun.

“It was an honor to be chosen and invited to participate,” he said. “It was very interesting to be placed close to other talented designers. The Design Room gave a true overview of jewelry creation for today. All are very différent because they are personal and pretty radical in creative integrity. It gave us the chance for great exposure, meeting journalist from everywhere, and internationals buyers. It is an important and new step in my own story.” 

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Kelly Clarkson’s Quest For Jane Austen's Ring Subject Of TV Show

Jamie Colby (left), host of the FOX Business Network series "Strange Inheritance"

Literary giant, meets pop star, meets British law, meets Jewelry News Network, meets television series.

It’s a strangely connected world we live in. Sometimes it reads like a novel. 

“American Idol” winner Kelly Clarkson is a fan of Jane Austen, the 19th Century English novelist whose own star shines to this day. Clarkson, who collects Austin items, successfully bid for a turquoise and gold ring owned by the writer at a Sotheby’s London auction in 2012. She paid 152,450 pounds ($235,654 at the time of sale), approximately five times the high estimate.

The Jane Austen turquoise and gold ring that became the subject of an ownership war

However, before she could take the ring to her home in Texas the British government stepped in, declaring the ring a national treasure and imposing a temporary export ban. This allowed time for the Jane Austen’s House Museum to match the bid. Clarkson, who originally outbid the museum for the ring, was forced to sell it to them. I wrote about the story in 2013 when the museum was in the process of raising the funds (which included an anonymous donation of 100,000 pounds). The ring is now on permanent public display. 

The story that never seems to die is being revived by the show, “Strange Inheritance,” on the FOX Business Network, hosted by Jamie Colby. It will air February 27 at 9 p.m. EST.

In the episode Colby goes to Oxfordshire, England, to visit Nicky Gottelier, the fifth generation descendant of Austen who inherited the ring. Nicky and her husband David were happy to cash in on their inheritance. Little did they know that the modest ring would be subject of an international dispute.

Colby then traveled to the museum to view the ring and learn its history. 

It certainly appears the couple and museum came out ahead. While Clarkson, according to reports, was gracious in relinquishing its ownership. 

All's well that ends well. Until the next chapter....

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Jackie Collins’ Big, Bold Jewels Up For Auction By Bonhams

Best selling author Jackie Collins lived a life that was as big and bold as the characters in her romance novels. Her jewelry of diamonds and colorful gems that included pieces by Cartier and Nardi reflected this attitude.

These jewels are part of the “Jackie Collins: A Life in Chapters” auction at Bonhams Los Angeles. The $3 million, 1,000-lot sale of her Beverly Hills estate will be held May 16 and 17. 

The British native moved to Los Angeles on a full time basis in 1980s. It is here she thrived as both a writer and part of the Hollywood social scene until her death from breast cancer in 2015 at the age of 77. 

Among the top lots are signed jewels by Cartier and Nardi and watches by Patek Philippe, Harry Winston, Chanel and Chopard. They include the following: 

* A 6.04-carat diamond solitaire ring with an estimate of $100,000 - 150,000; 

* A diamond, emerald, stone and platinum necklace, estimate $40,000 - 60,000;

* An emerald, diamond and platinum plaque clip brooch, estimate, $20,000 - 30,000;

* A diamond, emerald, white gold and platinum ear pendants, estimate $8,000 - 12,000;

* An Art Deco diamond, black Onyx and platinum bracelet, estimate, $7,000 - 9,000;

* A Cartier 18k bi-color gold, “Panthere” collar, estimate $10,000 - 15,000.

In addition, the sale will include several works by the English painter, Beryl Cook, including Tango in Bar Sur ($20,000 - 30,000) and Train Station Café ($20,000 - 30,000); Collin’s bespoke special edition 2002 Jaguar XKR Sports car, fittingly finished in metallic gold; estimated at $15,000 - 20,000; a selection of entertainment and career-related memorabilia taking in first editions of her works and a selection of her designer clothes. 

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to support the empowerment of young women in the arts and education.

Collins published her first novel, The World is Full of Married Men, in 1968, marking the start of a 47-year writing career. The book was a bestseller, as were her next 31 novels which together sold more than 500 million copies in 40 countries worldwide. 

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Tiffany To Add 3 Members To Its Board

Tiffany & Co. will add three members to its board of directors in an agreement with investment management firm JANA Partners LLC. The new members include Francesco Trapani, the former CEO of Bulgari

JANA, led by activist investor Barry Rosenstein, and Trapani own approximately 5.1 percent of Tiffany's outstanding shares, Tiffany said in a statement Tuesday. The other new members are also associated with high profile companies: Roger Farah, the co-CEO of the fashion brand, Tory Burch, and James Lillie, the former CEO of the former consumer products conglomerate, Jarden Corp. 

In addition, Michael J. Kowalski, plans to step down as board chairman, Tiffany said. 

The new board members will be in place no later than March 6, according to the agreement. Trapani also will join the board's nominating and corporate governance committee and the search committee formed by Tiffany’s board of directors to oversee its search for a new CEO to replace Frederic Cumenal who resigned February 5

Tiffany also said Tuesday it will be limiting waivers under the company’s retirement age provisions for board members. So one board member will relinquish his seat in 2017 and two board members will do the same in 2018. 

“We are pleased to have worked cooperatively with JANA Partners to have met our objective,” said Kowalski, who also serves as Tiffany’s interim CEO until a replacement is found. “These three new directors are all accomplished executives with a broad range of relevant experience and skills that will benefit all shareholders as we focus on accelerating the execution of our core business strategies. We also believe the strength of our Board will be an asset in our ongoing CEO search process.” 

Kowalski adds, “I look forward to completing that process and welcoming our new CEO to our board and, after an appropriate period, I anticipate being able to relinquish my responsibilities as chairman to a successor.”

As part of the agreement, JANA and Trapani have agreed to abide by customary standstill and voting commitments and agree to be “independent of each other going forward.” 

“We are very pleased to have worked constructively with Tiffany & Co. to appoint Roger, James and Francesco to the Board,” Rosenstein said. “Their fresh perspective and unique insight will be invaluable as the Board keeps working to improve performance and create shareholder value.” 

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Monday, February 20, 2017

A First Look At Montblanc’s 2017 Watch Collections

Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie ExoTourbillon Rattrapante Limited Edition 8

Montblanc introduced two full watch collections and a limited edition timepiece at the recently concluded Salon International Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva. In form and function the models pay tribute to the watchmaking heritage of Minerva, known for its handmade chronograph movements. Montblanc (through its parent company, Richemont) acquired the specialist watchmaking workshop and renamed it Villeret after the town where it resides. More about the watchmaking workshop and Montblanc’s relation to it can be found here

The limited-edition standalone piece is a highly functional chronograph with a tourbillon, dual time zone and other complications. The new TimeWalker collection references motorsports and the new Montblanc 1858 Collection uses bronze, a first for Montblanc. The new models are as follows:

Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie ExoTourbillon Rattrapante Limited Edition 8
This is a watch produced entirely in Villeret with its Minerva heritage intact. The movement was inspired by the rattrapante watches by Minerva in the 1930s and the design motif was taken from the Minerva Pythagore timepiece developed in 1948. 

The 47mm 18k red gold case houses a dial with a well-balanced display despite many indicators. The ExoTourbillon at 12 o’clock is highlighted by an exterior double infinity tourbillon bridge. Raised counters and subdials have different finishes. The small seconds subdial and the 30-minute counter have an azuré motif in the center and an opaline decoration on the external ring; while the second time zone and day/night subdials are embellished with a sunray pattern. Faceted sword-shaped hands are used for the hours, minutes, seconds, second time zone and chronograph minutes. Baton-shaped hands are used for the day/night and chronograph seconds hands. A grey satin-finished flange is calibrated with a fifth-of-a second scale for the chronograph while showing the running minutes.

The local time is indicated in the center (hour and minute hands) with the small seconds in a subdial at 9 o’clock. Home time is shown in hours in the subdial at 6 o’clock, and is linked to the day/night indication displayed between 4 and 5 o’clock. A subdial at 3 o’clock displays the 30-minute chronograph counter; while the chronograph’s seconds and split-second times are recorded by chronograph hands in the center. 

When travelling, the new local time is set by pressing on the corrector at 8 o’clock, which advances the central hour hand in hourly increments without affecting the minute hand or the home time at 6 o’clock. 

“Exo” (derived from Greek meaning external or outside) refers to the screwed balance wheel positioned outside the tourbillon’s rotating cage. It allows the cage to be smaller in size and free of the weight of the balance wheel, saving 30 percent more energy than a conventional tourbillon, the company said. 

Rattrapante (from the French word “to catch up”) refers to chronographs with a split-second function that allows a watch to measure two separate events of different durations. All functions of the chronograph complication are activated through the pusher within the crown.

The watch is powered by the Villeret in-house manually wound caliber MB M16.62 with a 50-hour power reserve. 

2017 Montblanc TimeWalker Collection
This was the big release of Montblanc for SIHH 2017. The collection takes its inspiration from the pioneering work of Minerva in the development of chronographs that could record in 1/100th of a second as early as 1916. The collection consists of five professional motorsport watches. They all feature satin-finished black cases and semi-skeletonized horns with architecturally carved flanks, inspired by the aerodynamic lines of the bodywork of classic cars. Details include knurled finishes on the flank of the black ceramic bezel, crowns and pushers, which are reminiscent of vintage car caps; smoked glass case backs inspired by the glass windows that reveal V12 engines; and strap holes similar to vintage leather racing gloves. Black, white and red color contrasts and three-dimensional counters are inspired by vintage dashboards. Most of the TimeWalker timepieces feature an iconic central seconds hand coated in red with the tip crafted in the shape of the Minerva arrow.

The collection consist of the Montblanc TimeWalker Chronograph 1000 Limited Edition 18, Montblanc TimeWalker Chronograph Rally Timer Counter Limited Edition 100, Montblanc TimeWalker Chronograph UTC, Montblanc TimeWalker Chronograph Automatic and Montblanc TimeWalker Automatic Date

Montblanc TimeWalker Chronograph 1000 Limited Edition 18
The 46.4mm chronograph with a case made of Black DLC titanium contains a high-frequency Villeret in-house movement with two patents and 22 auxiliary patents that measures elapsed to 1/1,000th of a second. 

The chronograph power reserve indicator on the black dial is inspired by old fuel gauges, while the black and red details and the 1/100th of a second indication are reminiscent of early car dashboards. It also has a high-frequency balance wheel and a titanium monopusher chronograph at 12 o’clock, which mirrors the Minerva stopwatches that were used for timing car races.

The Villeret in-house MB M66.26 manually wound monopusher chronograph uses two balance wheels. The hours and minutes are at the center of the dial with a small seconds counter with a rhodium-plated hand at 9 o’clock are regulated by a large balance with 18 screws. The chronograph’s small balance can be seen at 10 o’clock and beats at a rate of 360,000 semi-oscillations per hour (50 Hz). For finer adjustment and to further improve its precision, the chronograph’s small balance wheel is equipped with two hairsprings fixed on top of each other.

The chronograph is controlled by a two-level column-wheel: one level controls the whip to start, stop and reset the seconds, minutes and the 1,000th-of-a-second; and the other level guides the hammers to reset the seconds and the minutes. 

The chronograph function is powered by its own barrel, which stores enough energy to measure intervals of up to 45 minutes. 

The black dial contains a lot of information but it’s surprisingly easy to read. A double counter at 6 o’clock has a long, red-tipped hand to tally seconds from 1 to 60, as well as a shorter, all-red hand to count a maximum of 15 minutes. The chronograph’s large red center hand rotates once per second indicating hundreds-of-a-second through a scale on the dial’s periphery. The thousandths of a second is displayed at 12 o’clock along a 0 to 9 scale. It engages when the chronograph is stopped, pointing to the proper 1/1,000th of a second. The resting position is indicated by the letter “N” (for neutral). 

Turning the crown clockwise operates the normal clock functions. A counter-clockwise turn powers the chronograph functions. A display at 3 o’clock indicates the 45-minute power reserve for the chronograph movement. To tally lengthier intervals, power can be conveyed to the chronograph’s barrel by turning the crown while the chronograph is running.

Montblanc TimeWalker Chronograph Rally Timer Counter Limited Edition 100
This wristwatch with its black leather calf strap can be converted into a pocket watch by folding the strap attachments under the case and turning the case from 0 to 180 degrees. The pocket watch can then be either placed on a table, resting on two arms that come out of the caseback, used as a stopwatch with the strap as a handle, or clipped into a metal plate covered with leather that attaches to a car’s dashboard.

The 50mm case with tachymeter scale is crafted out of grade-two titanium. The middle section of the case is knurled and coated with black DLC. Satin-finished titanium is also the material for the vintage-inspired knurled monopusher, crown and strap attachments. The open caseback is in the shape of a car grill. 

On the dial the chronograph’s 30-minute counter at 12 o’clock is vertically aligned with the small seconds subdial at 6 o’clock, reminiscent of the original Minerva Rally Timer. 

The watch is powered by the Villeret in-house manually wound monopusher chronograph caliber MB M16.29 that features a column wheel, horizontal coupling and a power reserve of 50 hours. The caliber takes its inspiration from the original Minerva caliber 17.29 developed in the 1930s, used for both pocket watches and wristwatches. This new version adds Côtes de Genève stripes, inner angles, circular graining and beveling, the iconic Minerva arrow, a chronograph bridge shaped in the form of a “V” (patented in 1912), and a large screwed balance with a frequency of 18,000 semi-oscillations per hour.

Montblanc TimeWalker Chronograph UTC
The 43mm black case is topped with a unidirectional rotating black ceramic bezel with a silvery-white engraved 24-hour scale. 

Strong color contrasts with silver and red elements and three-dimensional counters resemble vintage car dashboards. The chronograph seconds are indicated with the red central hand with the tip shaped in the form of the Minerva arrow. The chronograph hours are displayed in a subdial at 6 o’clock and the 30-minute chronograph counter is at 12 o’clock. 

The watch is powered by the Montblanc automatic caliber MB.25.03 that shows the time in three different time zones. Local time is indicated with rhodium-plated hands, and the home time can be read via a central hand enhanced with a red arrow. The local time is set by the crown. The date is synchronized with the local time. A third time zone can be added by turning the unidirectional rotating bezel to the new time zone with the 24-hour hand being the point of reference.

Montblanc TimeWalker Chronograph Automatic
The 43mm satin-finished stainless steel case contains a black dial with a red chronograph seconds hand in the center, chronograph hours displayed in a subdial at 6 o’clock, and a 30-minute chronograph counter at 12 o’clock. All the readings are legible due to black rhodium-plated dauphine hands injected with SuperLuminova, and a silvery-white minute track also enhanced with SuperLuminova and red markers for the 15-minute marks. 

The watch is powered by the automatic caliber MB 25.07 and comes with a choice of three different strap options: perforated leather, perforated rubber, and a metal bracelet with three links.

Montblanc TimeWalker Automatic Date
The 41 mm stainless steel case with unidirectional rotating black bezel allows users to track a second time zone. Powered by the automatic caliber MB 24.17, the indications include hours, minutes and seconds in the center and a date display at 3 o’clock. The dial with its scale from 5 to 60 is reminiscent of the Minerva stopwatch dials from the beginning of the 20th century. 

Montblanc 1858 Collection
This year’s Montblanc 1858 Collection is highlighted by the use of bronze—a first for the luxury brand—giving this watch a vintage appeal. Two models feature a bronze bezel mounted on a steel case, which the brand claims is a first in the history of watchmaking. This particular bronze alloy is designed to develop its own patina as it worn over the years, the company said. 

They are modeled after Minerva chronographs from the 1930s. The use of bronze complements the colors of the dials, antique-styled straps, 1930s Montblanc logo with its historical font and emblem of the Mont Blanc Mountain in the center, and other vintage elements.

Large cathedral hands, with their cloisonné design filled with beige SuperLuminova, Arabic numerals, vintage shaped crowns and classic minute railway tracks that encircle the dials are taken from the 1930s Minerva chronographs. Other vintage codes include the original Montblanc logo from the 1930s era with its historical font and cognac colored calfskin and alligator straps that were given an aged look by the artisans at the Montblanc leather goods facility in Florence.

The three bronze models that make up the collection are: the Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition 100, the Montblanc 1858 Automatic Dual Time and the Montblanc 1858 Automatic.

The 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition 100
This 44mm watch houses a champagne-colored dial with a sunray finish that matches the bronze color of the case. The bronze case is backed with titanium to avoid allergic reactions. It is powered by a traditional manual monopusher chronograph movement, the Villeret in-house caliber MB M16.29, with a column wheel mechanism, horizontal coupling, chronograph bridge in a "V" shape, a large screwed balance wheel vibrating at a frequency of 18,000 semi-oscillations per hour and a 50-hour power reserve. It was inspired by the original caliber 17.29 designed for pocket watches and wristwatches in the 1930s, but features different finishes, such as inside angles, Côtes de Genève stripes and circular graining. For the first time, the caliber bears red gold-colored components that match the bronze material. As with all the Minerva calibers, one of the movement’s components is shaped into the form of the Minerva arrow.

Montblanc 1858 Automatic Dual Time
Housed in a 44mm stainless steel case with a bronze bezel and crown, this watch is powered by the caliber MB 29.19 automatic movement with a dual time complication. A skeletonized home time hand is positioned in the center with a touch of Super-LumiNova on its tip to distinguish it from the local hour hand, which is completely filled with Super-LumiNova. The user can set the local time hour hand to the new destination time zone without affecting the home time hour hand. The minute and second hands run without interruption during this setting process. A day/night indicator connected to the central home time hand, is visible at 12 o’clock. At six o’clock, a subdial indicates the small seconds and the date, which is linked to the local time. 

Montblanc 1858 Automatic
This watch features all of the same vintage design details of the Dual Time piece on the front, including the bronze bezel with stainless steel case. The caseback reveals an engraving of the Minerva Manufacture in Villeret, with the Jura Mountains in the background with the Villeret logo, the historic Minerva logo, the Montblanc name and the arrow from the Goddess Minerva’s spear. The timepiece is powered by the caliber MB 24.16. 

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Montblanc Can’t Decide On A Name For Its Villeret Watch Business

The Montblanc watchmaking facility in Villeret in 2012. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

What’s in a name? 

Once there was a company named Minerva in the picturesque Swiss town of Villeret whose history can be traced back to 1858. For most of the 20th Century it was known for producing high-performance hand-made chronograph movements. Then the 21st Century came along. In 2000 Italian investor Emilio Gnutti purchased the company and changed its mission to produce haute horlogerie timepieces using the same hand-made techniques and the philosophy of the brand. The new owner brought in Demetrio Cabiddu as its technical director.  

In 2006 Compagnie Financière Richemont acquired Minerva and turned it over to Montblanc to add a bit of Swiss heritage to its young watchmaking operation, which began in 1997 in Le Locle. Soon afterwards the name was changed to Villeret, after the town. The decision was either Montblanc's under the leadership of Lutz Bethge at the time, or Richemont's. 

Handmade movement components. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

In a 2012 interview when I visited the facility, Cabiddu, who protects the heritage of Minerva like it was his child was concerned about the name change. “Today I laugh about it a lot more. I used to cringe (when hearing the new name). In hindsight it was probably the right thing to do as we move into the future.”

Montblanc renamed the watchmaking workshop the “Institut Minerva de Recherche en Haute Horlogerie” (Minerva Institute for Research in High Quality Watchmaking) and created a foundation under the same name. However, it was never clear how this institute or foundation operates.

A skilled watchmaker attaches the balance spring to the balance wheel and then sets it over a timing device with a reference balance. She checks the difference in beats and bends the spring until they match.  Photo by Anthony DeMarco

Despite this corporate takeover and name change the company still operated much the same way, as a separate workshop of about 40 workers producing about 200 limited-edition hand-made timepieces per year under the Villeret name. 

In 2013 Jérôme Lambert became the CEO of Montblanc and change came quickly. In less than a year Montblanc-branded watches appeared with Villeret movements at a broader range of prices and styles. 

The company, formerly called Minerva, was known for its chronograph movements. Here is some the company's earlier chronograph pocket watches.  Photo by Anthony DeMarco

In January at the Salon International Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva, Montblanc introduced two full collections and one limited edition piece. In form and function the new models pay tribute to the heritage of Minvera. In fact, the Villeret name is almost never used. Has Montblanc chosen to return the Minerva name to the watchmaking facility? I asked a spokesperson and the response I received is as follows [emphasis mine]: 

“The Manufacture in Villeret, Montblanc’s Movement & Innovation Excellence Center, is located in the same building in which the legendary Minerva Manufacture was founded in 1858 and focuses on the development, prototyping and assembly of all in-house movements from innovative and groundbreaking high-complications to small highly functional complications."

This is so confusing. 

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Montblanc CEO Jérôme Lambert Bids Farewell

Montblanc CEO Jérôme Lambert (letf) with brand ambassadors Guey Lun Mei, Charlotte Casiraghi and Hugh Jackman at the Montblanc gala dinner in Geneva

The rows of tables that make up the seating arrangement at the Brasserie Des Halles de L’Ile for Montblanc’s annual gala dinner is just one of the signature trademarks of Jérôme Lambert that displays his attention to detail. 

In less than four years the engaging French CEO of the German luxury brand has managed to make his mark in many ways. Among them:

* He created consistent storylines based on Montblanc’s heritage over multiple product categories and produced innovative products that adhered to brand’s legacy. For example, a year ago, Montblanc celebrated its 110th anniversary with a wide collection of writing instruments, timepieces, leather goods, cufflinks and jewelry called “Montblanc Heritage Collection, Rouge & Noir” that took design inspiration from various periods of the brand’s history. 

* He championed the first design partnership in Montblanc’s history, working with contemporary designer, Marc Newson, for the Montblanc M collection of writing instruments.

* He named contemporary art curators, Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, as co-chairs of the Montblanc de la Culture Arts Patronage Awards, also a first for the brand and the 25-year history of the awards program.

* He was instrumental in merging the talents of its two watchmaking operations: Villeret (formerly known as Minerva), a watchmaking workshop in the town of the same name that produces a limited number of timepieces with hand-made chronograph movements; and the Montblanc Le Locle watch manufacturing operation. The two facilities produced separate products until Lambert arrived. In less than a year Montblanc began producing familiar and new Montblanc chronographs with Villeret movements at a broader range of prices and styles. 

Now it was time for Lambert to say goodbye. His success at Montblanc and an equally successful stint at luxury watch brand Jaeger-LeCoultre has earned him a corporate position at Compagnie Financière Richemont, which owns both brands. He moves into a new title April 1 as head of Operations responsible for central and regional services for all brands with the exception of jewelry and watchmaking. He is being replaced by Nicolas Baretzki, currently Montblanc’s executive VP of sales.

The seating arrangement of rows of tables at the Montblanc annual gala dinner. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

The January 16 dinner during the Salon International Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) watch trade show was the last chance Lambert had to publicly address his top-line staff, many of whom he hired, and the international celebrities associated with the brand, many of whom he recruited. His energetic ad-libbed remarks were often interrupted by cheers and applause—overshadowing the celebrities at the event, including Hugh Jackman, Montblanc’s international brand ambassador. 

“Every time it’s a little bit of an adventure so it looks good on Monday morning,” he said about preparing the luxurious exhibition space at SIHH, the luxury watch trade show. “There’s a lot of people involved and a lot of stories.”

Jérôme Lambert addresses his guests at the Montblanc gala dinner. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

He added, “For many of you who started on the very first days, weeks and months of our history. I remember the tough nights. Thanks for the good energy, investment and strong belief that everything was functioning perfectly.… Thank you for the amazing time. Thank you for being our partners, brand ambassadors, friends and sources of inspiration.” 

Those sitting on the rows of tables cheered. 

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