A Head for Heights

Finding a new vantage point with Montblanc’s 1858 Geosphere Limited Edition.

I grew up obsessed with the Alps. When I was a kid, my family spent six weeks every summer in the Austrian farming village where my father was raised, so that he could work the fields with his siblings. On weekends, he and I would climb the surrounding mountains; from their craggy summits, my father would point out the famous peaks just over the border in Switzerland, their blue-white glaciers shimmering under the summer sun. On the flights back to Boston, we would press our faces to the window as the big Swiss Air DC-10 climbed out of Zurich, and he’d tick off the mountains stitched across the horizon: Matterhorn, Eiger, Jungfrau, Mont Blanc. I’d sit there, in the orange-colored economy seat, ears popping, spindly legs unspooled, wishing we never had to leave.

Some three decades years later, I finally got my wish. When my wife was offered a job in Switzerland, it suggested all the makings of a grand adventure: trading Manhattan for mountains, smog for snow, congested city streets for the opportunity to raise our newborn son in the same rugged region his grandfather loved. I practically accepted the position on my wife’s behalf. We now live in a small city whose cobblestoned streets and half-timbered homes seem ripped from the pages of a Brothers Grimm fable. In a quirky twist of fate, which could feel commonplace only in a country like Switzerland, our new residence is above a watch store.

Or, more precisely, behind a watch store. Like a wardrobe to Narnia, the stairwell to our apartment is accessed by—and here, I’m not exaggerating—a secret door behind a display window. Everytime we come home, we pass by expensive and intricate timepieces.

Or, more precisely, behind a watch store. Like a wardrobe to Narnia, the stairwell to our apartment is accessed by—and here, I’m not exaggerating—a secret door behind a display window. Everytime we come home, we pass by expensive and intricate timepieces.

This has not been lost on my wife. She’s taken to saying that I should “invest in a nice watch,” frowning at my cheap, utilitarian Timex as we push our baby boy in his stroller through our front door.

“We live in Switzerland now,” she’ll add with a laugh. “You write for a watch magazine!”

So you can imagine her pleasure when Montblanc’s new 1858 Geosphere Limited Edition arrived in the mail before the holiday season. It’s a gorgeous piece, and a historic one, as it pays homage to the 160th anniversary of the brand’s iconic Minerva watches. Known for their robust and precise movements, many of those pieces from the 1920s and 1930s were built for mountaineering, when the sport’s popularity was exploding across the Alps.

With its handsome, 42 mm case (stainless steel or, for this special-edition version, bronze) and weathered, calfskin bund strap (made small-batch at Montblanc’s leather goods atelier in Florence), the new Geosphere feels as elegant as it is ergonomic, and built for exploration. But it’s the worldtime complication—powered by the super-smooth, ever-reliable MB 29.25 automatic movement—that sets this watch apart. Two turning, domed hemispheres make 24-hour rotations (one clockwise, the other counterclockwise), bringing the world’s time zones to life with an effortless movement. It seems to both broaden and compress our globe—a comforting feature when the rest of your family lives an ocean away.

The twin globes are also marked by seven red dots, denoting the highest mountain on each of the world’s continents. It’s a subtle design touch dedicated to the Seven Summits mountaineering challenge, which sees the world’s best climbers attempting to conquer Denali, Everest, Kosciuszko, Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, Vinson, and, of course, Mont Blanc.


Despite our spitting distance proximity to the Alps, my outdoor adventure these days is limited to gentle hikes and bike rides through Switzerland’s rolling Appenzell valley. Really, anything that’ll keep my encroaching dad bod at bay. The landscape here is gentle and pastoral and impossibly green, even during autumn; the mountains loom in the near distance, rocky and vertical, dusted with snow. As I hike or ride, the Geosphere’s presence is palpable, not in a cumbersome way, but thematically, almost like it’s magnetically attracted to those heady summits on the horizon.

On Sundays, our small city empties out. The shops remain shuttered. Invariably, it seems, the fog rolls in from nearby Lake Constance, adding a ghostly layer to the narrow, winding streets. The only signs of life seem to be the cathedral bells, echoing through the mist. It was on one of these days that our small family did what any self-respecting Swiss family does: We headed to the mountains.

My son is nine months old, still far too young for anything resembling a serious hike. So we took the cable car to the top of Säntis, an 8,000-foot peak with a precariously perched restaurant befitting a Bond villain. Halfway up, we broke through the clouds; at the treeless summit, over piping hot plates of cheese spätzle and cold local beers, we looked out and took in the view of our new life.

There were the clouds, like white lakes running through the valleys far below. Above them were the serrated, snow-capped Alps of Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and Germany. And then there was the light, so strikingly clear yet soft, golden, otherworldly, as if God herself was developing new Instagram filters.

On that observation deck, I held my son at my hip, standing next to my wife, the red-billed alpine crows riding the thermals, mountain climbers snaking up the steep rocky face below, and I caught the Geosphere’s bronze case winking in the light. I looked at the dials: one marking the local hour, the other smaller and set to eastern standard time, where my father—now in his mid-seventies, but ever the mountain man I worshipped in my childhood—would just be waking up.

Standing there on the summit, looking at my son’s dark eyes go wide with wonderment at all the splendor below, I felt like my father for the first time in my life. I thought of him. I thought of my own son, the mountains, the pioneers who’d conquered them. All this continuity and appreciation, the outdoors blessing our lives. And the watch strapped to my wrist, keeping track of it all.

Necessities: Power Tools

Remarkable tools for tapping into your creative subconscious and fueling your creative vision.


Leica Sofort Instant Camera & 60 mm Lens, Orange; $299; us.leica-camera.com
Gucci Constance Padlock Watch 30 x 34 mm, $850; gucci.com
MoMA Design Store Compact Toolbox, $100; store.moma.org
Montblanc Great Characters The Beatles Special Edition Pens, $720–$930; montblanc.com
KRINK K-55 Box Set Day-Glo Paint Markers, $72; shop.krink.com
Shinola Shinola + Bondhus L Wrench Set, $40; shinola.com
Faber-Castell Graf Von Faber-Castell Natural Leather Colouring Pencil Roll, $430; faber-castell.com
TAG Heuer Connected Modular Alec Monopoly Limited Edition, $1850; tagheuer.com
Moleskine Pen+ Ellipse Smart Writing System, $179; us.moleskine.com

Hit List: Montblanc Timewalker Rally Timer 100 Limited Edition

The notable, the collectible, the just plain cool…

 

The standout piece from Montblanc’s Timewalker collection defies categorization. Fundamentally, it’s a dashboard lap timer. But it’s designed to detach from the mounting bezel, effectively becoming a monopusher stopwatch. There’s also a deployable leather wrist strap, so you can wear it as an oversized chronograph. The kicker? Two legs fold out from the caseback, transforming the Rally Timer 100 into a handsome desk clock.

Montblanc Timewalker Rally Timer 100 Limited Edition (Limited to 100 pieces) $33,600; montblanc.com