A History of the Minerva Watch, a High-Tech and High-Performance Chronograph

A History of the Minerva Watch, a High-Tech, High-Performance Chronograph

Click here to watch a video about the history of Minerva Watches.

If you're a fan of vintage watches, you'll know the company name Minerva!

Because it's a nice watch!

But what is the history of Minerva and what is its current state? I think very few people know about it.

Today, I would like to explain the unknown history of Minerva and its appeal, so please stay with me until the end.

The table of contents looks like this.

1. Until the integration into Montblanc

2. History of Minerva

3. Developing in-house movements

4. From Robert Frère Villeret to Minerva

5. Development of Cal.48 Pythagoras

6. From the Quartz Crisis to the Acquisition by Montblanc

Until the integration into Mont Blanc

First, let me explain what's happening now.

In October 2006, Swiss luxury group Richemont acquired the Minerva watchmaking factory, acquiring its existing manufacturing know-how.

In my mind, I had thought of the Richemont Group as a group that relied more on its brand name, so the fact that they had acquired a movement company like this made me reconsider my opinion and think that the content of their products must also be solid.

By the way, as you know, Montblanc is a fountain pen brand, but it was acquired by Dunhill in the 1980s, and Dunhill joined the Richemont Group in 1993.

From this point on, Montblanc changed from a fountain pen brand to a brand that dealt in luxury jewelry, including watches, jewelry, leather goods, and fragrances.

And among those, he decided to focus his efforts on watches.

In short, the Richemont Group added Minerva to its brand name in order to further strengthen the brand name and to ensure that people recognize Montblanc as a watch brand.

It's the same as when Lemania came under Breguet and strengthened the Breguet brand name.

Since then, Minerva has become a division of Montblanc and operates under the name "Minerva Institute of Haute Horlogerie".

The laboratory is housed in a renovated building that has served as Minerva's headquarters since 1902, with the aim of preserving classical fine watchmaking, traditional techniques and special complications.

Minerva High Watchmaking Laboratory in Villeret
*Minerva High-End Watchmaking Laboratory in Villeret

In this way, Montblanc has inherited Minerva's incredible 160-year legacy as a manufacture of excellence , drawing inspiration from historical functions, mechanisms and designs to perpetuate the tradition.

One of the results of this acquisition was the partnership between Minerva and Montblanc to produce the Collection Villeret 1858.

Now let's take a look at the history of Minerva.

History of Minerva

Minerva's factory photo from the early days

Its history began in 1858 when brothers Charles and Hippolyte Robert founded the company "H. & C. Robert" in Villeret in the Jura Mountains .

Charles was the only one left and the company was renamed "C. Robert". In 1878, his sons Charles and Georges, and later Ivan Robert (1840-1912), took over the leadership of the company, and the name was changed again to "Robert Frères Villeret".

At this time a new arrow logo was introduced, which is engraved on the case back and the movement.

RFV Robert Brothers Trademark

Minerva Watch Company Arrow engraved on the back

So, this is just my speculation, but I think Montblanc's "Villeret 1858" was named after the year Minerva was founded and the region it is located in, to evoke a return to classics.

From the beginning, the company was not able to make its own movements, and initially produced pocket watches as an etablisseur, using movements made by Fontainemelon (FHF).

Minerva's carefully handmade watches were of high quality, and the company's watches won medals at both the 1889 Antwerp World's Fair and the 1889 Paris World's Fair.

As a result, they registered various brands, most of which can no longer be found, but they also sold watches under names such as "Mercur", "Ariana" and "Tropic".

Developing an in-house movement

In 1895, Robert Frère Villeret was taken over by his sons Charles and Georges, and it was during their time that Minerva made its breakthrough, producing its own movements and pocket watch cases made from nickel and silver.

Minerva was not a particularly large company, so it is quite amazing that such a small company was able to create its own movement.

Then, in 1905, the company moved its headquarters to the site of the Minerva Institute of Fine Watchmaking, mentioned at the beginning of this article , and began to produce movements in earnest.

In 1908, Robert Frères Villeret began manufacturing chronographs and stopwatches in-house, and released its first in-house movement, Cal. 19-9CH.

Minerva Caliber 19-9 Component Information

Like other Minerva chronographs, this model was a simple two-register watch with no chronograph hour counter, only seconds and minutes counters.

Minerva chronograph movement Cal.19-9CH

This is true for all watch brands, but in the early days, there were many one-push watches, and even though they were made about 100 years ago, they still look really cool even to us today👍

Minerva High-precision mechanical pocket watches and chronograph wristwatches
It is well known that the company supplied watches to the German Army in the 1920s and 1930s , but it also manufactured chronographs for pilots, as shown here.
It was designed as a tool watch with a large case to make it easy for soldiers and pilots to read in the field, and an additional multi-scale dial for timing simultaneous operations.
The watch featured radium luminous numerals and hands, a requirement for almost all military specs, and the dial was made from black mirror.

Robert's company developed a variety of brands, but they positioned "Minerva" as their highest quality product.

With the Minerva brand at the core, the company's precision was recognised worldwide, surpassing its rivals and making it one of the top specialists in the manufacture of chronograph and chronometer watches.

By 1916, it was possible to measure time to an accuracy of 1/100th of a second, and the mechanical stopwatch became indispensable in the evolution of modern motor racing.

Minerva Watch Company Chronograph & Stopwatch Poster

In 1933, a chronograph equipped with a new movement, Cal.13-20CH, was released.

I think this is roughly what we can generally see and get.

Minerva chronograph movement Cal.13-20CH

A chronograph equipped with Minerva's caliber 13-20CH

It is a high-end column wheel chronograph movement that uses a Breguet hairspring and 17 jewels; in fact, this movement was developed in collaboration with Dubois-Dépraz, one of the companies that developed the Chronomatic, so it is a very impressive movement.

First produced in 1923, this watch was changed to a two-pusher design with 30- or 45-minute counters around 1940, but prior to that it was designed and sold as a one-push chronograph.

This calibre was very deeply developed for its time and remained in production for several decades.

It is perhaps for these reasons that Minerva movements are so highly regarded.

From Robert Frère Villeret to Minerva

At this point, Minerva was pretty much the only brand left, and given the success of this branded product, in 1929 the company name was changed to "Minerva SA, Villeret".

Minerva name change poster

So, surprisingly, the company name, which we normally call Minerva, was named some time after the company was founded.

In 1934, upon the retirement of the founder's son Charles, watchmaker Jacques Perrot and mechanical engineer Charles Hausener, who had worked for Minerva since 1921, became the company's new owners.

The new management's leadership led to further success, with stopwatches and chronographs being chosen as the official instruments for the 1936 Winter Olympics skiing events held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, and the launch of several new movements.

1936 Winter Olympics Official Sponsor Minerva Poster

Development of Cal.48

In 1943, André Frey, nephew of Jacques Perrot, designed a superior movement, Cal. 48, used in a wristwatch model called "Pythagoras".

Minerva Movement Cal.48 Pythagoras

Made in 1943, Minerva movement Cal. 48
Minerva Caliber 10-48 (Courtesy of ornatus-mundi.ch)
Pythagoras Caliber 10-48 and Models Equipped with It

The Minerva Cal. 48 is a simple 24.0mm movement with a twist.

Technically there is nothing "special" about it; what is noteworthy is the design of the bridges, all of which feature a clear layout using only straight lines, with their individual dimensions following the rules of the golden ratio.

This movement was also available in a centre second version, Cal. 49.

Minerva Pythagoras Cal48

Minerva Pythagoras Center Second Cal.49

The movement remained in production for several decades thereafter, with few improvements being made, with the only changes being the addition of a swan-neck regulator, Côtes de Genève finishes, and circular graining options a few years after its release.

Minerva sold this movement in elegant, yet reasonably priced watches.

According to the catalog, it was priced from 1,400 Swiss francs (about 200,000 yen in Japanese yen).

In this way, the motivation for designing using the golden ratio was likely a pure desire to create a better product that was in line with their vision, without making profit the top priority.

Minerva chronograph and stopwatch poster

Minerva chronograph and stopwatch poster

From the Quartz Crisis to Montblanc's Acquisition of Minerva

In the 1970s, there were 1,618 Swiss watch manufacturers, but by 1984, in the wake of the quartz crisis, this number had fallen to just 632.

As for Minerva, they were able to survive because of the recognized quality of their mechanical chronographs.

With the unmatched ability to manufacture its own balance wheels and hairsprings, and by producing chronographs to serve professional customers such as doctors, Minerva has been able to maintain its reputation among experts and watch enthusiasts.

But as time passed, it became impossible to resist the quartz wave, and in 2000 the Frey family (descendants of the creators of Cal. 48) sold the company to new partners, led by Italian financier Emilio Gnutti.

As well as investing in machinery and equipment, the new company has strengthened its team around new President Beppe Menardo and the talented and respected watchmaker Demetrio Cabidou, who still serves as Technical Director at the Montblanc factory in Villeret.

Continuing its tradition of high quality manufacture, in 2003 Minerva launched four new calibres.

Two chronographs and two three-hand watch calibres, all manually wound.

In this video, I'll introduce each one of them.

Montblanc Cal.62-00 Watch

Minerva Caliber 62-00
The Minerva Cal. 62-00 (hours, minutes, small seconds) is a redesign of the former Caliber 48, and features the curved bridge design commonly seen in Minerva movements.

Diameter: 24mm. Number of parts: 162.

Montblanc - Chronograph - Minerva Institute of Fine Watchmaking Cal.13-21

Minerva Caliber 13-21

The Minerva Caliber 13-21 (hours, minutes, small seconds, monopusher chronograph) is an evolution of the original Caliber 13-20, and uses the earlier 13-20 style one-push mechanism. Diameter: 29.5mm Number of parts: 239

Minerva Caliber 16-15

Minerva Caliber 16-15 (hours, minutes, small seconds). Diameter: 38.4 mm. Number of parts: 158.

Minerva Caliber 16-29
Minerva Caliber 16-29 (hours, minutes, small seconds). The 16-29 (hours, minutes, small seconds, monopusher chronograph) is directly inspired by the Caliber 17-29 pocket watch made in 1929.

In 2005, Minerva introduced the Tourbillon Mystérieuse.

This model is powered by the manual caliber 65-60, with a very large 20mm tourbillon cage, 280 hand-finished parts and a 100-hour power reserve.

The 47mm rose gold case features an unusual bezel that transitions from convex to concave over 360 degrees.

Minerva Tourbillon Watch

The “mysterious” dial at 6 o’clock uses sapphire discs for the hour and minute hands to display the time.

The "DC" engraved on the back case is a tribute to the watch's creator, Demetrio Cabidou.

As mentioned at the beginning, in October 2006, the Swiss luxury goods group Richemont acquired the Minerva watchmaking company, successfully securing its excellent manufacturing know-how.

As a result of the acquisition, Minerva and Montblanc formed a partnership, with Minerva becoming a division of Montblanc and taking on the name Institut Minerva de Recherche en Haute Horlogerie.

A few years later, in 2010, Montblanc introduced the first watch developed at the Minerva Laboratory: the Metamorphosis.

The name Metamorphose comes from its unique dual function and face, which changes from a single time display to a chronograph by moving the slide up or down.

Montblanc Watch Metamorphose II

This model was followed in 2014 by the Metamorphose II (available here).


Today, the Montblanc Manufacture in Villeret produces the Collection Villeret 1858, inspired by the Minerva heritage, with most of its pieces still meticulously crafted by hand in strict accordance with traditional watchmaking techniques.

At the same time, the Minerva Institute of Haute Horlogerie serves as a safeguard to safeguard and nurture chronograph expertise, researching innovative techniques and concepts and furthering the art of watchmaking.

This is just my personal opinion, but I know that since they are different groups it would have been impossible, but I think it would have been fine for them to be under SINN, a German label.

SINN has a stronger tendency to focus on pilots and the military, but Minerva also supplied watches to the German Army and made chronograph wristwatches for pilots.

Montblanc Heritage Collection Minerva Navigation Watch

They do produce watches like this, but I personally think that if they had the SINN name instead of Montblanc, SINN could have become an even stronger brand without compromising its image.