The name Montblanc conjures images of heirloom-quality writing implements, wristwatches for world explorers and bon vivants, as well as leather goods born from historic craftsmanship. As such, some consumers might be surprised to learn that the heritage brand—which owns a prestigious mechanical watch movement manufacture—also produces smartwatches. To understand why, one simply needs to look to Montblanc’s new Summit 3 smartwatch, which marries a unique analog feel (thanks to a handmade titanium case) with future-forward functionality (powered, in part, by the latest version of Wear OS by Google).
We’re now years from Montblanc’s fledgling first steps into technology like this. In 2016, the maison launched Augmented Paper, which paired an elegant Italian leather notebook with a modified StarWalker pen that transformed handwritten notes into digital copies. One year later, the luxury brand launched the first Summit smartwatch. And, in 2019, they entered the ultra-premium noise-cancelling headphone market. Throughout these explorations, Dr Felix Obschonka (Montblanc’s Director of New Technologies) was there to usher the historic house into the future. Obschonka was integral in the development of the Summit 3 and his insight has helped to reinforce our own learnings from hands-on time with the product.
“When we talk to watch enthusiasts and they hear that we are doing smartwatches, they sometimes ask us if we still believe in the future of mechanical watches. I think this is the wrong question,” Obschonka tells us. “We are about sharing compassion for watchmaking. So, if you want to wear a smartwatch and you love analog watches, you will want to have something that resembles the look, feel, tactility and quality of a mechanical timepiece. That’s what we are trying to achieve.” Obschonka has observed that most Summit customers already own mechanical watches but they’re interested in the convenience of a smartwatch—and they want to avoid the feeling that they’ve strapped a phone onto their wrist.
Obschonka joined Montblanc eight years ago from the tech world in order to bridge the brand’s DNA with burgeoning consumer needs. “Before Montblanc, my mentality was always, ‘It needs to be faster’ or ‘There needs to be a new feature.’ When I joined Montblanc, I recognized that a physical object has emotion. It’s something we can fall in love with. People appreciate beauty. I needed to learn what this means.” As a path forward, he looked to Montblanc’s legacy timepieces and began considering how they could translate into the digital world.
For Summit 1, Montblanc emulated their 1858 Collection and crafted smartwatch cases from stainless steel. For Summit 3, steel has been swapped out for lighter titanium. This material journey stemmed from a collaborative effort between Obschonka’s division and the watchmaking division. “When we first talked about materials, it was me going to the watch team and saying, ‘You’re the experts,'” he says. “I asked them to explain to me what is important to them and why. For me, it was important that the materials were not only beautiful and well-crafted but that they also served a function.”
This is because “material is always connected to function,” he continues. “In switching from steel to titanium, the lightweight nature equips people to be more active. People can also sleep with their watch on.” For a timepiece that tracks movement and heart rate, a material that encourages greater activity and overnight use is of the utmost benefit to the wearer. This conversation around and commitment to materiality extended from the watch to the very packaging (an embossed box) and the charging equipment.
For the watch design, Obschonka’s team took charge. The Summit 3 smartwatch has several face options—from digitized versions of traditional Montblanc dials to purely digital options, all of which can be selected through an accompanying, Montblanc Summit app. The smartwatch also has several function screens which can be swiped through on the face itself. “Montblanc’s strengths lie in watchmaking and the variety of watch designs that we have,” Obschonka says. “Customization became central to everything we’ve done for Summit 3. There’s the freedom to express your personality, and every two months a new watch face will be revealed in the app.”
“We wear watches because we love how they look,” he continues. “The first time I received the sample of the Summit 3 watch with the final case and technology, I flicked my wrist and the Geosphere face shined at me. I got goosebumps—I fell in love.” Our experience mirrored Obschonka’s. The dial for Montblanc’s iconic Geosphere mechanical watch epitomizes meticulous time-telling design, and the digital iteration of it for the Summit 3 truly impresses.
Freed from the restraints of a mechanical movement, Obschonka and his team had the opportunity to rethink how we envision time and what types of functionality people want on their wrist. They learned “most people are interested in tracking their health and wellbeing, as well as staying up to date and in touch. They also want to connect to what’s going on around them. These are the pillars we invested in.”
For quantifiable self- and fitness-tracking, they built a system to observe sleep, calories, blood oxygen and stress level metrics. “On the communication side, it was important for us that people receive their messages, emails and phone calls,” he says. “With Summit 3, you can answer these and communicate with others directly through the watch.” As for staying connected, the Summit 3 lets people “control Philips lights at home or pay at a store or use Google maps for directions.”
Anyone who dons a Summit 3 will note its intuitive operating system. “We are not building a smartwatch for techies or early adopters,” Obschonka says. “We are building smartwatches for everyone. We want to include everyone. We made it very intuitive. A lot of gestures have been carried over from earlier generations as well as some from phones.” Swiping through, updating features (or dials) and more is really simple. And pressing the crown brings back the time—which one will never need to set.
Montblanc is the only luxury watch that’s built on a Google operating system that also happens to be iOS compatible. “We worked with Google and Qualcomm very closely,” Obschonka says. “We needed their support to make a device that people recognize has the latest technology that’s not just a beautiful dress watch. Google always stands by their partners to bring new devices to the market. They are as committed to what we are doing as we are.”
Known for items that are intended to last for generations, Montblanc does admit that Summit watches will not “last an eternity. That’s a claim you cannot uphold,” according to Obschonka. “Still, we support our clients. We have clients using the Summit 1, which is now six years old. You can exchange the battery and the straps. If you want to continue to enjoy the watch, you can have it serviced. We still support the Summit 1 technology and continue to release new software for it.” An update is coming later this year, in fact.
Montblanc also looks after clients interested in moving forward. “There is technological progress happening, and we recognize people might want to upgrade from a Summit 2 to the Summit 3 because they want the faster processing and the new sensor,” Obschonka adds. “We have a trade-in program, where you trade your existing watch and get value toward buying a new watch. You can continue in the Summit ecosystem.”
Hero image by David Graver