The Birth of the Chronograph

It is a well known fact that nothing sells a luxury timepiece more than the romantic story that gives rise to its existence.  So here goes…

Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec, 1781–1866


Once upon a time, in 1817 to be precise, a young French watchmaker by the name of Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec was appointed the 6th Watchmaker to King Louis XVII (Horloger du Roi).  He was one of the newest appointees and a contemporary of the brilliant Louis Breguet.

The Rieussec story was borne out of the King’s passion for horseracing.  The legend goes that the King asked his royal watchmakers to invent a device that could measure the time that elapses between the point that the horses leave the paddock and the point at which they cross the finishing line.

It was in a horserace in Paris in September 1821 that Nicolas Rieussec presented his amazing box, which not only boasted a timekeeping accuracy to within a quarter of a second, but could also record the individual timings of each horse in the race.

A replica of the Nicolas Rieussec “Time-Writer” box, invented in the early 19th Century


The beauty of the Rieussec concept lay in the simplicity of its use.  The wooden box had two rotating discs and a spring-loaded bridge with two nibs dipped in ink.  Each time a horse crossed the finishing line, the bridge could be made to descend on both discs, thereby marking or writing on the discs the time that had elapsed.  This process could be repeated for each horse as it passed the finishing line.

Rieussec named his device the “time-writer” and it has always been considered the very first chronograph.  In fact, the name chronograph is etymologically derived from the Greek words chronos and graphos, which when put together actually mean time-writer.

Thus the ubiquitous chronograph was born, with its familiar multi-subdial face and multiple buttons.  Practically every respectable watch brand since then, from Swatch to Tissot to Longines to Breitling to Rolex has a collection of easily-recognizable chronos in their line-up.  Chronographs are often associated with sports and sport-timing, where split-second accuracy is key to a successful outcome.

Montblanc Headquarters in LeLocle, Switzerland


Now cue Montblanc, who since 1997 has been producing fine watchmaking movements at its own manufacture at Montblanc Montre S.A. in Le Locle, Switzerland.  Their atelier is located in a striking Swiss villa built coincidentally in the early 1900’s, at around the same time that the brand came into existence.

The maison introduced, in 2008, a stunning line of monopusher chronographs dedicated to Monsieur Rieussec and if you look carefully, the design of the dial features two small, calibrated discs from which the elapsed seconds and minutes can be read off with the help of fixed hands, which are a dead-ringer for the ink-laden bridge of Rieussec’s invention.  It is no wonder that the design took 10 years to come to fruition.

Montblanc Homage á Nicolas Rieussec


Why is this watch different to all the others?  Because unlike the classic chronograph found in traditional watch-brands, where the dial is static and the hands rotate around the dial, the Montblanc version is true to the original Rieussec model, in which the hands (in this case the double bridge) are static and the discs do the rotating and timekeeping.

Montblanc Nicolas Riussec in stunning 18K gold

And all in a beautifully engineered mechanical complication which is set in motion by a singular monopusher.

This unique design makes the Montblanc Star Nicolas Rieussec Monopusher Chronograph a fitting tribute to the ingenious watchmaker and his ground-breaking chronograph invention almost two hundred years ago.

The complete line of Montblanc Rieussec timepieces and indeed the entire Montblanc Haute Horlogerie line is available tax-free at

Happy shopping!

Suresh Mahtani, Antonio Diamond Boutique Gibraltar