Style / World of Watches (WOW)

SIHH 2019 Montblanc’s Star Legacy Nicolas Rieussec Chronograph

The history of the world expresses the poetry of the written passage of time and in Montblanc’s Star Legacy Nicolas Rieussec Chronograph one finds a provenance deeper beyond the idea and concept of the chronograph

Dec 27, 2018 | By Jonathan Ho

From transportation and communication, to warfare and agriculture, horses were an integral part of human history, not to mention, the catalyst for our own rise to civilisation. Though the horse was domesticated much earlier than 4000 BC, it wasn’t a large enough animal for horseback riding to become practical, it wasn’t until just before the turn of the second millennium, that the nomadic people of Central Asia began to breed the animal to be more functional then just a beast of burden or working animal in agriculture.

Tracing the origins of horseback riding then, it’s important to note that expansion of the practical applications of the horse beyond mere farming was instrumental to the Scythians. Accomplished riders, they invented the first saddle and stirrup but more importantly, these livestock pastoralists left their mark in the history with the most practical (read: deadly) use of the horse. Among the first civilisations to master mounted riding, their vaunted equestrian skills coupled with use of composite bows on horseback, made them the first mobile fighting force in ancient history. By the time of Alexander the Great, cavalry tactics were quite advanced, and Alexander’s “Companion Cavalry” were perhaps the most effective and powerful military unit in the Mediterranean world.

SIHH 2019 Montblanc’s Star Legacy Nicolas Rieussec Chronograph – Writing Time, Taming Time

In watchmaking as in the domestication of horses, practical applications of watchmaking technology and their eventual utility to society follows the maxim, “necessity is the mother-of-invention”. Just as it was necessary of the people of 1500 BC (the Hittites, the Assyrians and the Babylonians ) to find a tactical advantage over their neighbours, so too did watchmaking provide those who owned clocks and watches, to tame and harness the seasons and the hours of day to their own advantage.

First, let us get some inconvenient truths out of the way, it’s true that Louis Moinet is the inventor of the modern chronograph the way we understand it – complete with twin pushers and subdials, Moinet’s Compteur de Tierces does indeed provide us with the first glimpse of chronographs today but Nicolas Rieussec provides us with more than that – The famed Rieussec chronograph invented in 1821 to time horse races was the world’s first practical timing device that did not require the user to “eyeball” elapsed time but rather, automatically “marked” elapsed time on a disc.

Think about that for a moment – just as the domesticated horse was vital to the development of human agrarian societies, it was the saddle and stirrup that truly allowed the rise of expansionary civilisations and the ability to deploy calvary units to defend a fledgling empire’s borders or make opportunistic incursions to occupy new frontiers. In that respect, Rieussec’s invention of the world’s first “time-writing” device is a modern innovation not seen until the first printed-tape timing devices used to mark elapsed time in the 1912 Olympic Games.

Furthermore, consider that in the digital frontiers of watchmaking, your chronograph does not require you to make manual indications of recorded timing, hit a button and your watch marks elapsed time while continuing to track run time. This too, was the raison d’etre of Nicolas Rieussec’s revolutionary invention: a mechanical chronograph is great if you’re timing one singular horse or event, but Riessec’s “inking chronograph” was able to make multiple points on disc, allowing the time-keeper to never lift his eyes away from the action. Using the chronograph as we understand it, early sports timing endeavours required multiple time-keepers, each with their own chronograph and their own variable speeds for marking time. While we are waxing poetic about this, Nicolas Rieussec’s “chronograph” so happens to follow the truest sense of the word because his revolutionary device was indeed a “time writer.” As in Chronos meaning “time” and Graphein meaning “to write.” For this, there’s no argument in the annals of history. Moinet’s Compteur de Tierces kept track of elapsed time indeed, analogous to our early domestication of the horse but with Rieussec’s “time-writer” aka Chronographein, we got a vision of future time-keeping with multiple recordable instances, this was the potential of the chronograph unveiled almost 100 years before our primitive electronic devices would begin marking time on strips of paper in a similar fashion.

Rieussec’s Legacy

Actually considered a minor when Rieussec started making watches, the youth would not appear in the 1805 Almanac du commerce de Paris pour l’an XIII (Paris Business Yearbook for Year XIII), which would list 190 of his contemporaries including Abraham-Louis Breguet until five years later. Of the 222 watchmakers listed in the Almanac by his time, there were five Watchmakers to the King, Rieussec became the sixth, entrusted with “maintenance of the clocks for the Minister of the King’s Household”.

By 1821, Rieussec would finally get recognition for his talents. Remember, running the horses and determining the winner with a single “chronograph” (at the time, they were called chronometers) was one thing but being able to measure time for each of the other racers was something else, it was a need in the early 19th century that no other instrument could accomplish.

At Champ-de-Mars, Paris, watching the Arrondissement de la Seine race as a watchmaker testing a “chronometer intended to consistently measure the time horses take to travel the prescribed race distances – not only the winning horse, but also all those that cross the line after it.“ To that end,  Rieussec designed a tabletop “apparatus” held within a wooden case containing a pair of buttons and two rotating dials: one for the seconds, the other for the minutes. Above these “subdials” dials he fastened nib-tipped hands filled with ink. As the event proceeeded, all the timekeeper had to do was press a button the instant a horse crossed the finish line, this would then cause the ink-filled tips to touch the turning dials and leave little ink marks upon them. With some many prominent figures at Champ-de-Mars, Joseph Jérôme, Comte Siméon, Junior Minister in the Ministry of the Interior; and Gaspard de Chabrol, Prefect of the Seine; Rieussec’s invention had served  a real practical need and the Minister was quick to  identify his invention as a monumentous “creation for public utility”, and the accomplishment would soon be officially recognised by the French Academy of Sciences. Adjudicated by the legendary Breguet and the Engineer-in-Chief of the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, Gaspard Clair François Marie Riche de Prony, Rieussec’s work was entered into the Academy.

 Its principal merit lies in its ability to instantly indicate the first and last moments of several successive time intervals by means of permanent, visible signs on a moving dial, without requiring the attention of the observer’s eyes or ears. A chronograph with such a property unquestionably offers precious resources to physicians, engineers and, in general, anyone who measures phenomena. – Recognition by the French Academy

Montblanc’s continuing Star Legacy Nicolas Rieussec Chronograph

Montblanc first paid homage to the inventor of the device measuring brief intervals of time by dedicating its innovative Montblanc Nicolas Rieussec Chronograph to the ingenious watchmaker, in 2008. Like the original chronograph from 1821, the chronograph hands do not rotate above the dials; instead, they remain motionless while the seconds-disk and minutes-disk turn underneath them. Although the design of Montblanc’s dial is historically inspired, aesthetically, it looks innovative, if not anachronistically futuristic, beyond the regular pointer-subdial configuration that we have grown accustomed to.

While Montblanc’s first 2008 tribute to Nicolas Rieussec was equipped with a manual calibre, the MB R100, subsequent editions of the Rieussec’s Chronographs equipped with the MB R 110 calibre have been automatic with the date moved to 3 o’clock. For 2018, the new Star Legacy Nicolas Rieussec continues the heritage of the signature 60 second and 30 minute counters, below a fixed double index much like the original desktop apparatus.

Design elements like the rotating disks and a shared bridge across the dial aside, most of the technical improvements appear within the all new Manufacture Calibre MB R200. The mechanical chronograph with automatic winding system now features a new going train with special toothing for more efficient power transmission. How efficient? Timekeeping performance of the Nicolas Rieussec features minimal disruption to the balance’s amplitude whether the chronograph is running or not. More importantly, like the original invention, Montblanc has taken great pains to ensure utmost practicality, showcasing rapid reset of hour-hand and quick set date display either forwards or backwards, contrary to most modern timepieces where the date should only be set forward to avoid damaging the mechanism. The vintage Rieussec Chronographein might have been designed for the age of horse racing, but the latest Star Legacy Nicolas Rieussac Chronograph is designed for  global travellers with its robust, ease of time and date adjustment.

Keeping both counters and the off-centred hours ring domed for visual depth,the main dial frames slim Arabic numerals with vintage look railway minute track, leaf-shaped hands, azure finishing in the centre of the dial and a “filet saute” guilloche decoration running around the dial.

If you want to identify the point when suddenly Montblanc appeared on the watchmaking landscape, there were two pivotal milestones – the Nicolas Rieussec monopusher chronograph and the infamous (or famous, depending on who you talked to) affordable Perpetual Calendar.

Montblanc Star Legacy Nicolas Rieussec Chronograph

Movement Automatic Manufacture Calibre MB R200 with 72 hours power reserve
Case 18K red gold case with 50 metres water resistance
Strap Leather
Price TBA

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