All eyes are on Davide Cerrato, Montblanc’s newly installed managing director, watch division, as he is tasked to repeat the success he achieved at Tudor.

The Italian province of Modena might be home to Ferrari and Maserati, but it is the Piedmontese city of Turin that is the country’s automotive capital. It was here that Davide Cerrato, Montblanc’s new watch division head, was born and raised. Surrounded by such a vivid motoring culture, it was only natural that his early years were shaped by this rich heritage.

“All the big car manufacturers — Bertone, Pininfarina, Zagato — are [in Turin]. I remember visiting car shows since I was probably four years old,” Cerrato says at a recent interview in Singapore. His favourite marques? “I absolutely love Ferrari. Number one forever! And the engines of Maseratis and Aston Martins are always a pleasure to hear. I also love vintage cars… [especially those] from the 1940s to the 1970s. The designs were so sexy and emotional and human. Nowadays, with all the security rules and constraints, the designs have changed radically. It’s a pity.”

For someone with such an intense passion for cars, it is curious that Cerrato did not end up in the automobile industry. He considered it for a while after completing his studies, but opportunities led him to pursue a career in marketing and advertising. In 2004, Cerrato entered the watch trade as global director of communications of Officine Panerai. He then left to join Tudor as vice-president of marketing, design and product development, where he engineered what is one of the biggest success stories of modern watchmaking: the revival of Tudor.

Once considered the poor man’s Rolex, Tudor has emerged from the shadows of its giant sibling to become one of the most sought-after brands in the sub-€5,000 ($7,500) category, thanks in part to Cerrato’s introduction of the wildly popular Heritage Black Bay series in 2012. After eight years in the company, Cerrato felt he needed a change of scene — along with a new challenge. “I needed something else,” he admits. He had had his eye on Montblanc for a few years, especially after the dynamic Jerome Lambert — former Jaeger-LeCoultre head honcho — became CEO in 2013.

It so happened that Lambert had also been keeping watch on Cerrato, keen as he was to establish a blockbuster product line that would catapult Montblanc to the top of the horological hierarchy. The timing was perfect. Lambert would even create an entirely new position for Cerrato, a dedicated business unit for watches headquartered in Le Locle, Switzerland (the brand’s main headquarters is in Hamburg, Germany). Cerrato came on board in December 2015, and was introduced to the press, retailers and distributors just a month later at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva.

Besides overseeing Montblanc’s two manufactures — Le Locle and Villeret — Cerrato also takes care of product development and marketing. He readily admits that the learning curve has been especially steep. “I’ve been learning like crazy, because Rolex doesn’t do any high complications. So I have to learn everything about that. I’m now taking care of manufacturing activities, which I was not in charge of directly before. I have to know the culture of the maison, the organisation of the company, the local affiliates, the people and the organisation, and so on.” On top of all that, he is also expected to engineer a success story similar to the one at Tudor.

Under pressure
“I love pressure! And challenges,” he remarks, casually brushing aside the notion that he is under tremendous pressure. “I would say that there were similar expectations of me when I engineered the success of Tudor. Montblanc has all the ingredients to do it. [Before joining Montblanc,] I was already convinced that it had the biggest potential for watches in the marketplace.”

Part of this potential stems from the legacy of the Minerva manufacture, which Montblanc acquired in 2006 and subsequently renamed Villeret, after the town in which it is located. Throughout the manufacture’s 158-year history are sublime exemplars of pocket watches and chronograph movements. “The patrimony of Minerva — the watches that we’ve had from 1858 to World War II — is incredibly rich and well-preserved,” says Cerrato.

Since the acquisition, Montblanc has produced some of the most technically accomplished and beautifully finished high complication calibres in its Collection Villeret 1858. But it lacked an accessible, professional- grade sports line that referenced Minerva’s history, one that would appeal to collectors and enthusiasts who are ardent fans of the cult manufacture, more importantly, one that would go head-to-head with brands such as Tudor in the sub-€5,000 category.

“There’s huge potential in the market segment from €2,000 to €6,000, which is where we do our biggest volume,” says Cerrato. “It accounts for roughly 0.5% of the market. If you look at countries like Singapore, it’s even higher than that. Entering that segment is a huge opportunity for us to gain access to the other half of the market. It’s going to be an easy win if we propose the right watches.” Things are under wraps for now, but Cerrato lets on that the first pieces will make their debut at SIHH 2017.

With his input, one wonders whether the watches will be influenced by automotive designs — not a far-fetched notion, considering how the chronograph is likely to take centrestage. The stopwatch mechanism marries very well with design motifs borrowed from cars and motorsports. In the meantime, Montblanc fans can satiate their horological thirst with the new 4810 collection, a series of eight timepieces comprising three-hand timekeepers and a limited edition tourbillon model with automatic winding.

Previously introduced as a “generic, classical watch”, the new range now takes advantage of Montblanc’s 110th anniversary in 2016 to incorporate elements centred on the theme of travel. In the early 20th century, Montblanc’s founders undertook epic transatlantic voyages that spurred the development of the company into a pioneering pen — and later leather goods and watchmaking — powerhouse.

New calibre
The top-of-the-line 4810 ExoTourbillon Slim 110 Years Limited Edition features a new in-house calibre and a dial embellished by hand-painted maps that depict either North America, Europe or Asia (the last limited to 38 pieces). The calibre, MB 29.24, combines Montblanc’s patented ExoTourbillon with a stop-seconds mechanism, which took three years to develop. The stop-seconds feature allows users to stop the tourbillon and set the time to the precise second, something that very few tourbillon movements can boast of.

“We’re also presenting a new version of the Orbis Terrarum, which we presented in the Heritage Spirit line last year. Here, we have a different colour scheme, a bit more colourful.” The 4810 Orbis Terrarum, which boasts a world time function with 24 time zones and a beautifully executed world map on the dial centre, comes in two versions: a 43mm wristwatch or a 53mm pocket watch, both in steel.

Travel, incidentally, is also how Cerrato recharges. His favourite destination? “Italy. It’s not that far away, there’s no jetlag, it’s beautiful, the food is fantastic, people are very nice, and the weather is always perfect.” His homeland is also where his innate sense of design stems from. “[It’s] a country with a long history and great culture influenced by all the kings living and ruling different parts. Because there were these centres of power, a lot of artists and craftsmen were invited to create outstanding pieces of art and architecture. This means that we grow up with beauty around us from day one. Whenever I go back to Italy, I’m always astonished to see how many beautiful buildings there are, even in small villages. Churches, palazzos, villas. Everything is beautiful! You absorb all of this.”

Besides chronicling developments in the luxury watch industry, Aaron De Silva also runs The Time Traveller SG on Instagram (@thetimetravellersg) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/ thetimetravellersg)

This article appeared in the Options of Issue 746 (Sept 19 ) of The Edge Singapore.