A unique watch for badminton champion Lin Dan
Gisbert L. Brunner has been writing about watches since 1981
Before I sat down to write, I weighed this watch. A regular hand-wound movement measuring 30 millimetres across - plus dial and hands - usually weighs in at about 15 grams. With transparent back and crown, the steel case, 40 millimetres across, weighs about 35 grams. That makes 50 grams in total. Added to that is about another 12 grams for the strap plus pin-buckle. Factor in the spring bars and you have a total weight of about 65 grams.
The lightest hand-wound movement I’m aware of is the LeCoultre 101. The tiny little thing – measuring 14 x 4.8 x 3.4 millimetres – weighs under a gram, dial and hands included. And the skeletonised version only weighs 0.4 grams.
Hublot also committed to progressive lightweight design back in 2008 with its Mag Bang chronograph. All of the HUB 44 (Valjoux 7753) automatic calibre’s primary parts only weighed 3.7 grams in total. The whole timepiece weighed in at a mere 78 grams. The problem was processing the magnesium-aluminium alloy Ag5 turned out to be a nightmare because it was so flammable. So production came to a halt before the planned run of 250 pieces was complete.
With that in mind, allow me to introduce the latest flyweight in the world of chronometry. Montblanc designed and manufactured the TimeWalker Pythagore Ultra-Light Concept as a one-off for Chinese badminton champion Lin Dan. The highest priority was given to minimising weight wherever possible without compromising reliability or precision. To this end, traditional materials such as brass and steel are now, not surprisingly, virtually irrelevant. Titanium and other innovative materials are what’s required now, as is extensive research and development work. That’s the only way to reach the desired heights.
Let’s start with the movement. To measure and keep time, the technical staff drew on an old favourite from the Minerva stock in terms of architecture. The hand-wound calibre 48, which measured 23.6 millimetres by 3.8, debuted in Villeret in 1943. André Frey, watchmaker and then Minerva-owner, sat down at the drawing board himself and allowed himself to be guided by the principles of the golden ratio in his design. In terms of form, the new lightweight MB M62.48 draws on the Pythagore calibre.
The geometry of the train was left largely untouched in terms of design. The screw balance wheel and flat spiral coil ensemble still oscillates at 2.5Hz, as before. The power reserve is approximately 50 hours. The watchmakers needed 153 parts for this special movement. This chronometric lightness of being comes from the use of titanium instead of platinum and of bridges and bars on the one hand and on the other from the movement’s open-work design. Any superfluous material which wasn’t required for stability was systematically done away with. That applied to the dial too. Only the traditional rudiments are here to help you to tell the time. The hands are made of aluminium.
The results can be seen on the weighing scales: just 4.73 grams.
DLC-coated titanium is used to make the lugs for the protective case, which is 40 millimetres across and 9.7 millimetres thick. The technical staff looked around for utterly new materials for the middle section, case-back, bezel and crown. Their quest brought them to ITR²Kevlar – which is hard to manufacture and to process - and carbon. ITR² - also knowns as innovative, technical, revolutionary resin - is a composite with carbon nanotubes. Its specific weight is eight times lower than steel’s and four times lower than titanium’s. Montblanc uses mineral glass for the transparent case-back.
It weighs in at 10.15 grams.
It is water-resistant to three bar.
So the final reckoning: movement 4.73 grams + case 10.15 grams = 14.88 grams. As for the strap, I have been able to discover that Davide Cerrato and the team are currently working on an option that will keep the total weight of the watch below 20 grams. We expect to find out more in the run-up to the Olympic Games, where Lin Dan will put his badminton skills to the test.
The TimeWalker Pythagore Ultra-Light Concept has, of course, been through Montblanc’s own 500-hour test.
It remains to be seen how the ultralight concept will develop in the foreseeable future. But in my view this isn’t going to be a flash in the pan, especially as the competition is focusing its attention on lightweight design ever more.