Like Phoenix from the ashes - the astonishing rebirth of Minerva SA, Villeret

by Magnus Bosse, May 2005

Part 3
click on small images to view full-size ones!

3. The current Minerva Collection
The new collection immediately catches one's eyes with the unique case construction. Common to all watches is the elaborated case shape with convex and concave forms (small image top, left), an extremely costly to produce vaulted sapphire crystal (reportedly as expensive to produce as a traditional standard movement; small images top, left middle), a crown with an enamelled 'Minerva' logo (small image top, right middle) and buckle with reflects the case shape once more (small image top, right).
The remarkable movements are hidden under a hinged back cover (except the Tourbillon watch), which are concavely formed to perfectly follow the shapes of the owner's wrist (small image bottom, left). But where's the pusher to open the case-back? The solution Minerva opted for shows how much toughts went into their timepieces: The case-back mechanism is operated by a push on the upper noose of the strap and releases, via the spring-bar that attaches the strap to the lugs, a small pin (small image bottom, middle). Then the back can be opened to allow a view on the marvel behind it (small image bottom, right).

The dials appeal with perfect printing, a harmony of different surface finishings and give an interesting contrast of several layers (although I personally would love to see a more discrete dial layout). Proudly they claim what we've already seen: 'Fait Main à Villeret' (hand made in Villeret):
Even the luxurious wooden box is a masterpiece on its own, not only because of its impressive weight of 8 kilos. It is intended to present the watch when not used (small image, left) and is - thanks to an cleverly designed insert - usable as a desktop set which stores your fine fountain pens, your business cards as well as some sheets of hand-made paper (small image, right). The drawer for the paper opens magically driven by spring force after you pushed two buttons at the side!
3.1 The Minerva Cal. 62-00 Collection (Hour, Minute, Small Seconds; handwind):
I want to start with the 'simplest' Minerva Movement, the Cal. 62-00, in its ancient form well-known to the watch collector's community as the Cal. 48/49, characterised by its geometrical bridge layout according to the golden section.
Today, the movement is completely redressed with a very romantic bridge design resembling old Minerva movements. Fine hand-applied finishing on the bridges contrasts with gold ruby châtons and a côtes soleil pattern on the crown- and the barrel wheels. The movement has a diameter of 24.0mm and consists of 162 handfinished parts. I again want to draw your attention escpecially to the other end of the swan's neck micro regulator...
This movement now comes in 41mm cases with a height of 12.65mm in either stainless steel, red or white gold and platinum. The case of course features the secret case-back. Here are a few examples: a red gold/silver dial (large image), a white gold/blue dial (small image top, left), a red gold/grey dial (small image top, middle), a white gold/grey dial (small image top, right), a white gold/silver dial (small image bottom, left) and finally an engraved Cal. 62-00 movement (small image bottom, right):
3.2 The Minerva Cal. 13-21 Collection (Hour, Minute, Small Seconds with Chronograph Monopoussoir; handwind):
Also the Cal. 13-21 is well-known. The Cal. 13 drove many classical Minerva Chronographs (as mono- and bi-pusher movement, with 30min or 45min counter) and was one of the few manufacture Chronograph calibres on the market. Its most significant and immediately recognisable feature is the position of the pushers: Instead of the usual 30° angle from the crown, the Cal. 13's pushers have moved to the lugs and are located in a greater angle of 37°.
As the Cal. 62-00, this movement is completely newly computed and comes in the same beautiful finish. Like many vintage Chronographs, it is a monopusher design (start-stop-reset controlled in this sequence by only one pusher) and sports the Chronograph pusher at 2 o'clock. The movement has a diameter of 29.5mm and consists of 239 handfinished parts - including the column wheel!
This movement also comes in 41mm cases with a height of 13.15mm in either steel, red or white gold and platinum. The case of course features the secret case-back and the chronograph pusher at 2 o'clock. Here are a four examples: red gold/silver dial (large image), white gold/grey dial (small image, left), white gold/copper dial (small image, middle left), a red gold/blue dial (small image, middle right) and finally a stainless steel version with white dial (small image, right):
3.3 The Minerva Cal. 16-15 Collection (Hour, Minute, Small Seconds; large handwind):
Again, same is apparantly true for the Cal. 16-15. It looks very similar to the famous Cal. 17-13, which came most prominently in the much sought after Minerva 140th Anniversary model, but was also used by Sinn (dashboard clock) and in a very limited edition by Chronoswiss (Pocket Regulateur).
Also the Cal. 16-15 is completely newly computed and comes in the typical, beautiful Minerva finish.The movement has a diameter of 38.4mm and consists of 158 handfinished parts.
This movement now comes in 47mm cases with a height of 13.25mm in either steel, red or white gold and platinum. I want to show you: a red gold/silver dial (large image), a red gold/grey dial (small image, left), a white gold/silver dial (small image, middle) and a white gold/grey dial (small image, right):
3.4 The Minerva Cal. 16-29 Collection (Hour, Minute, Small Seconds with Chronograph Monopoussoir; large handwind):
This movement actually is a completely new development (but inspired by an 17" ancient Minerva pocket Chronograph movement).
The Chronograph mechanism is entirely designed and manufactured in Minerva's Villleret premises and builds upon the full-bridge lay-out of the Cal. 16-15. The greater space available allows for an (in my opinion) splendid distribution and shape of the Chronograph levers and wheels. It is somehow very toughing to view these large parts interacting and counting time. Of course, this movement is operated by a column wheel. The Chronograph is equipped - like the Cal. 13-21 it is a monopusher example - with a central seconds counter and a 30min counter at the 3 o'clock position. The pusher is located co-axially in the crown. As I already have shown in section 2, the blocking lever of the seconds counter is executed resembling the Minvery arrow. The movement has a diameter of 38.4mm and consists of 252 handfinished parts.
This movement now comes in 47mm cases with a height of 13.55mm in either steel, red or white gold and platinum. I have quite a bit of watches to show, and here are a four examples (large image: red gold/silver dial; small image, left: white gold/grey dial; small image, middle left: white gold/salmon dial; small image, middle right: white gold/silver dial , small image right: red gold/grey dial):
Well, we've seen now the classical collection - now comes something which will be most controversial, and something which is on the one hand an amazing demonstration of Minerva's savoir-faire, but on the other is so far away from everything we have seen yet from this manufacture (price, design and construction-wise) that I do not know really know what to write about. I'm talking about the ...

3.5 The Minerva Cal. 65-60 Collection (Tourbillon Mystérieuse; handwind):
A complication never seen before from Minerva: a Tourbillon! It is, so I've been told, the Tourbillon with the largest cage in a wristwatch (nearly 20mm in diameter; large image). It has a proven autonomy of 100h, consists of 280 handfinished parts and is 38.4mm in diameter and 9.7mm in height.
The Tourbillon mechanism is composed of the upper bridge (small image, left; upper part), the lower cage with the escapement (lower part left) and the upper cage with the balance (lower part right) and is poised by small adjusting weights sporting the Minerva arrow (Large image; small image, left; refer to the small weights on the cage). All parts are hand polished using a Nickel file with utmost care - no machine work is involved in this ultmilate steps of finishing (small image, middle). The assembled Tourbillon cage looks very delicate and fragile, almost only like a breath of metal (small image, right).

This movement comes in 47mm cases in rose gold, which are extremely costly to manufacture because of the complicated shape. Just note the bezel which flows from concave to convex shapes over the 360 degrees (large image and small image, left). As a remarkable characteristic it displays the time on a 'mysterious' dial as 6 o'clock using sapphire disks for the hours and minutes hands (small images, left middle; right middle). On the backside, a hommage to the man who constructed all this masterpieces is given: D.C. stands for... Demetrio Cabiddu, of course (small image, right)!

Not only the case, but also the dial is highly complicated to manufacture. It is hand-guilloched of gold, finished in-house using traditional had-operated tools (small image above, left) and finally plated with red gold. The small image above right shows the components of case and dial in different stages of finishing.

As I already indicated further above, it is difficult to come to a final conclusion. The Tourbillon is a masterpiece - no doubt. It is unconventional - no doubt. It is extremely well executed - no doubt! But is this a typical Minerva? Or better, will the collectors appreciate such a watch from a company like Minerva? I have my doubts. The company has mastered an tremendous amount of detail work, updated the production technology and went a long, long journey to gain a rather unique status as one of the very few true and independent manufactures. The Tourbillon makes this manifest in a highly visible fashion. I personally would have preferred a more silent way, that is: a more restrained design. But let's lend your ears to Minerva's CEO, Beppe Menaldo. Please follow me to the next page to a highly interesting interview with him on the presence and the future of Minerva S.A.!

Part 1 - The Introduction
Part 2 - Watchmaking at Minerva today
Part 3 - The current collection
Part 4 - The Interview with Minerva's CEO, Beppe Menaldo