Digital watches may have progressed to the point where you can get one as accurate as a marine chronometer for a dollar, but mechanical timepieces still have a few tricks up their sleeves. Case in point is the Montblanc Metamorphosis II. At the press of a slider, it undergoes a complex mechanical ballet that converts it in look and function from a conventional luxury watch to a precision chronograph, by opening itself up to display a new set of dials.

The Montblanc Metamorphosis II made its world premiere last week at the Watches & Wonders show at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. The company says that the 746- component, handcrafted haute horlogerie watch is the result of four years of development.

The overlaid dials idea was first introduced by Montblanc with its Metamorphosis I in 2010, but the second iteration is much more complicated. Montblanc says that the Metamorphosis II is one of the most complex movements ever developed by its workshops in Villeret, Switzerland.

The watch’s dial layout seems normal at first glance, but a second look shows that it’s a bit unorthodox. The time display is based on the regulator principle with separate readouts for hours, minutes and seconds. The second hand looks fairly standard, while the hours are read on a separate subdial. Meanwhile, the minutes are displayed by a large central hand turning along a 210º retrograde arc between 8 o'clock and 4 o'clock. When the minute hand reaches the 60-second mark, it instantly snaps back to zero. The date is shown on a subdial at the 6 o’clock position.

However, the Metamorphosis II’s party piece is when it changes from classic time display to a monopusher column wheel chronograph. In classic mode, the watch face has Roman numerals and displays hours, minutes, and the date. Press the slide on the left side of the case, and the top and bottom quadrants of the dial split and slide aside to reveal new subdials in Arabic numerals.

However, this isn’t just a simple reveal – not when 82 moving components are involved in the trick. Behind the scenes, a complex mechanical realignment takes place as the watch sets itself up for new functions and the subdials beneath rise to take the originals’ place. Pressing the slide again reverses the process.

An important point is that the change is more than aesthetic. In chronograph mode, the second hand becomes a seconds counter and the date dial is replaced by an elapsed 30-minute dial. The clever bit is that even when the watch is in one mode, it still operates in the other. That is, the date counting function still carries on while in chronograph mode and the watch still counts elapsed minutes while in classic mode – even if it’s been days since the mode was activated. Since the transformation is operated by a precise force regulator powered by a separate barrel, the five-second change does not interrupt the functions and the readouts remain accurate.

To make this all happen, the Metamorphosis II has a hand-wound, 85-jewel MB M 67.40 movement with a 50-hour power reserve that includes a screw balance and a monopusher chronograph with horizontal clutch and column wheel. The movement is made up 0f 746 parts, including 494 (85 moving) involved in the metamorphosis, and a sapphire bridge. The main plate is rhodium-plated nickel silver, as are the bridges.

The movement is set inside a 52 mm, 18K red gold case with a sapphire crystal that's water resistant to 3 atm (3 bar, 30 m, 100 ft). The dial is gold and decorated with a variety of hand-crafted finishes, including "Grain d’orge" guilloché, "Clous de Paris" guilloché, spiral guilloché, and a circular satin finish. The hour and minute hands are in 18 K gold and the date hand is nickel silver, while the chronograph hands are Pfinodal. Of course, the strap is hand-sewn alligator leather with a triple-folding 18 K gold strap.

The Montblanc Metamorphosis II is limited to 18 editions at a sobering price of €270,000 (US$340,000).

The video below introduces the watch.

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