Interview: Montblanc’s Zaim Kamal On Stepping Out To Find What Lies Within

Montblanc is a true tastemaker in the art of horology with the outdoors in mind. In 2018, the watchmaker blazed trails with its 1858 collection, even bringing our very own Hugh Jackman along for the hike.

An ode to the spirit of mountain exploration and inspired by the legendary professional Minerva watches from the 1920s and ’30s, the collection showed us that a watch can be beautiful, as well as near indestructible.

Designed with the explorer in mind, the 1858 collection features time-honoured movements such as the 1858 Monopusher chronographs MB M13.2. This exquisite working is considered unique thanks to its iconic V-shaped chronograph bridge and Minerva arrow which is decorated by expert hands.

With a massive success under its belt, it is safe to say that the brand had its work cut out for them this year’s SIHH. As a result, Zaim Kamal, Creative Director at Montblanc, didn’t push too far from what works and instead, turned his eye to improving upon what we thought was something that couldn’t possibly be upgraded.

And yet, here we are, blessed with the Montblanc 1858 in Khaki Green – but it didn’t come as easily as you’d think.

The Montblanc 1858 in Khaki Green takes inspiration from the peaks and valleys of the world. By contrasting an earthy khaki with a satin-finished bronze case with slim bevelled horns, the piece pays tribute to the Montblanc design landscape of old, without losing itself in the past. But to bring new energy to the already celebrated collection, through both prototyping and production, there were many hurdles that Kamal was forced to overcome: both personal and professional.

“There are always challenges, some that are foreseen, some are unforeseen, one of the unforeseen ones was actually me. I have to live ‘now’, because when we looked at the archive piece for the Heritage, for instance, it had these dots in there, and I was so resilient to that, I was resisting them a lot, and everybody was saying ‘are you for real? You need to do them!’”

Announced alongside the new 1858 in Khaki Green was the Montblanc Heritage Pulsograph Limited Edition 100. A juxtaposition of heritage and modernity, elegance and assurance, luxury and nonchalance, Kamal had to think outside the box in order to create a piece that rang true to the original, whilst proving it relevant to the horology of today.

“The thing is, you take it out of the archives, you look at it and you say ‘okay, this watch was done in the ’40s with the best materials available’ with a competence that has grown since then – but how can we take it to make it relevant and be of ‘today’? If you do a one to one iteration of a vintage piece you’re creating a very niche product because you’re asking the customer to have a very in-depth knowledge of the code of vintage watchmaking.”

“So we look at every element and we say ‘this element needs to be changed’, shift the figures – which we had to re-work because old figures were done for a specific reason. We also straightened them and the finishing, the depths of it and also the Bombay.

“This is how you modernise it, you don’t do it one-to-one, but you go ‘okay how can I create drama and tension?”

Thanks to advances in technology in the field of horology, watchmakers have access to a plethora of new toys to help them create better and better timepieces. Thanks to 3D printing and the like, horologists can now prototype and test pieces with more efficiency and at a greater rate.

“We can experiment a lot quicker now; let’s put it this way, we can now be more precise because when you do a handmade proto, the handmade proto is always not as precise as we would like. It’s the tooling that makes it precise. A handmade proto will give you a sense, but when you do 3D modelling – you don’t even have to do the 3D print for this –  but if you do 3D modelling that will give you a very good sense of tension, depth, of radiuses and angles.”

And yet, despite the advanced equipment behind the scenes, Montblanc remains true to its core brand. The call of the outdoors rings through the halls of Montblanc HQ, and is never forgotten throughout the development of new pieces.

“We need to sometimes step out, to understand and connect with ourselves, the world, and the planet and find out why we’re doing what we do and to also reflect on it. Nature is a very good way to do this. What it does is, it strips away all the superfluous thoughts and it tells you the reasoning why you need to do what, because in the end nature is much bigger than you are and it makes us reflect.”

“We wanted to say, ‘It’s time to step out in order to step back in’, and this exploration of yourself is also some part that works with the watches. 1858 was a watch in the archives that was based on exploration and exploration in the ’30s is different what exploration is now; now we don’t explore new countries or new mountains, we explore ourselves, what lies within.

“And this is very important.”

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