As computers grow ever more indispensable, pens have now been relegated to the role of short message scribbler, and mostly take the form of the humble ballpoint or rollerball. The fountain pen is now a rare sight that’s become the purview of prestigious specialist manufacturers. In a way, that’s a blessing in disguise because the traditional art of writing is still kept alive for those who truly know how to appreciate such a beautiful and precious instrument.
A little history
One name stands out from the rest—Montblanc—and there’s an excellent reason why. As the pioneers of the modern fountain pen, the company revolutionised the writing instrument by introducing a piston converter and leak-proof technology. It was founded by three Germans—Alfred Nehemias, August Eberstein and Claus-Johannes Voss—who established Simplo Filler Pen Co in 1906, after what would turn out to be a life-changing trip to America. They launched Rouge et Noir, with the aforementioned revolutionary technology, in 1909. A year later, the pen was renamed Mont Blanc. As company lore goes, the three men were inspired by Europe’s highest point. A six-point white star was added to signify the mountain’s snowcap as viewed from above. It is now an official emblem of the company that’s found on every product that carries the Montblanc name. Never one to rest on its laurels, Montblanc has continued to launch industry game-changers over the years. In 1924, the company introduced an innovation that focuses on the balance of the fountain pen as it rests between your fingers. Needless to say, the weight has to be in perfect equilibrium for a comfortable grip. With Meisterstück, its main defining characteristic is the “4810” engraved on the nib. Along with the white star, the numbers (denoting the height of the company’s eponymous mountain, Mont Blanc) are now a permanent feature on all fountain pens in the Meisterstück range.
This year, Montblanc celebrates its 110th anniversary with the Heritage Collection Rouge et Noir Special Edition fountain pen. Naturally, it is inspired by its original namesake in ebonite with a red top that paid homage to the Stendhal classic, Le Rouge et le Noir. Its modern-day rendition is slimmer and longer than its 1909 counterpart. It also has a larger ink reservoir and a simpler mechanism, but with its effective leak-free technology still very much in place. But perhaps the most striking feature of the anniversary pen is the serpent whose tail is coiled around the top of the red cap, as its head and body stretch along its length to form the clip. (The snake was a popular motif among Art Nouveau artists.) Similarly, the nib is engraved with the motif of a serpent. While utterly gorgeous, this is perhaps not one for ophidiophobics!
Nuts and bolts
The pen’s construction is crafted in the same way as all Montblanc resin and lacquered pens. The tube and the cap are made from Montblanc signature black resin (except for the grip which is aluminium) that is strong and light, and lacquered to give it a luxurious, fluid-like shimmer. The green-eyed serpent is made from a new metal alloy that is finished with a galvanic stripping process to give it that vintage patina. The engraved nib is made of rhodium-plated gold. The Heritage Collection Rouge et Noir Special Edition comes in two variants—black and coral resin—as well as a series of limited editions in the form of black rubber and another called the Ultimate Serpent Limited Edition, which available in an additional four variants. These days, handwritten messages may be restricted to those who pride themselves on their fine penmanship skills, but they are a rare breed who are rightfully being appreciated by prestigious and exclusive pen makers like Montblanc.
The first Friday of November is celebrated by lovers of fine penmanship everywhere as Fountain Pen Day.
Montblanc doesn’t only make pens, of course; their product range has expanded to include leather goods and watches. The Montblanc Pelletteria in Florence traces its beginnings to 1926, when Montblanc started offering small leather pieces in Saffiano leather (above). By 1935, a proper workshop was set up in Offenbach, Germany. The commemorative 110th anniversary Meisterstück Soft Grain Collection offers new functionalities and colours. The Steamer Bag, for example, is a vintage throwback that references travel in the time of the company’s founding year, 1906. No gentleman’s wardrobe is complete without the right accessories. The Heritage Collection Rouge et Noir has a range that includes cufflinks, a tie bar and a bracelet to complement his other accoutrements. They come in red gold with diamonds or silver with red lacquered details. The final and arguably most important item of jewellery that a man can wear is the timepiece. The Montblanc Collection Villeret Tourbillon Bi-Cylindrique 110 Years Anniversary Limited Edition (above right) has grand complications and a serpent encircling the flange of the dial. Simply stunning.
First published in Esquire Malaysia, the May 2016 Issue.