It isn’t often that you get to take apart a watch, much less a watch from the Montblanc Collection Villeret. But under the guiding hand (and watchful eye) of Julien Mirabel, Montblanc’s master watchmaker, I managed to do just that.
Tweezer in hand and loupe in eye, the Villeret movement sat in front of me, working perfectly. I always feel some apprehension in situations like this. It is easy enough to take it apart, but putting it back together? Putting it back together in perfect working condition? That’s where the worry sets in. With a tourbillon movement as fine and delicate as this, a tiny dent or the slightest chip could throw the entire balance off. And I am prone to manifestations of clumsiness, a fact that I make clear to Julien before we begin.
Don’t worry, he assures me. Just follow my lead. Easy for him to say. But step by step, bit by bit, we unfasten tiny screws and loosen hinges, until the movement lays in front of me in pieces. It is here that I begin to truly appreciate the artistry and effort on display. At this level of watchmaking, every detail counts, even details that will never be seen. Every single piece of the Villeret movement contains some form of embellishing – carved, engraved or polished – to create shimmering elements that complement the jewels of the movement. The plates, the gears and even the screws, things that would never be seen unless you take the timepiece apart, all contain this level of care. This, says Julien, is what sets the highest level of horology apart. For more mass watch collections, such detail is an unnecessary cost that can be easily dispensed away with. But for a movement like the Villeret, it is absolutely necessary, because of the rarefied altitude Montblanc operates at.
After marvelling at the intricacy of each part, then comes the tricky part: putting it all back together. To not resort to brute force to piece all the hinged pieces back together is tricky, but Julien makes it seem a breeze. I attempt to emulate his moves, eventually managing to place the balance wheel back gently and breathing a sigh of relief when it begins to tick, just as it should. I look up to see a glint of relief in Julien’s eyes as well, but that quickly passes into what could be either professional demeanour or genuine admiration, as he smiles to say ‘very good job!’ Thank you, Julien. I had a great teacher.