Every fountain pen that comes from the Montblanc stable is tested for its writing quality, by a quality controller, by dipping its nib in a special invisible ink and then writing with it on a piece of paper. It is a test that does not leave any mark on the pen and hence the buyer would never notice it. It is this extreme dedication to quality that makes the brand what it is.
Montblanc’s special pens (or writing instruments, as they call them) are a different story altogether. I was recently privy to the launch of the next addition to their Patron of the Arts series (under their High Artistry collection) of pens, eponymously dedicated to Roman emperor, Augustus Hadrian. He was the same king who ruled over an empire that spanned from Scotland to Egypt, and promoted the building of a large number of structures that still exist around the region.
Pens from the Hadrian collection are less pens and more works of art, so people vying for them are not just those who simply like pens but are collectors. A thousand questions popped in my mind when I was allowed to handle these masterpieces. Franck Juhel, President of Montblanc for Middle East, India and Africa, did have the answers to most of them. He told me that there is no fixed number of pens that Montblanc releases every year. The development for each model in the special pens collection could sometimes take four to five years, as much as some of their high complication watches.
Beyond the R and D for perfecting the pens in the collection, time is also required to obtain the requisite permissions and approvals from trusts and charities which might hold the rights to the works of historical figures. In the case of the Hadrian pen, time went in the effort to source the specific kind of basalt and marble used in the pen’s barrel body, and for developing a technique that would allow intricate art to be executed on the material — all, of course, by hand. Time was also spent in trying to identify what motifs and design would be used for the decoration. The decorations are packed with enough trivia to engage the minds of both first-time enthusiasts and seasoned scholars.
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Almost a 100 steps are involved in the making of a Montblanc fountain pen, a major part of which is focused on the nib. Since all the work is done in-house, often the workers have to spend a considerable amount of time honing their skills with new materials, even if the actual execution might only take a few weeks. Hadrian has only been released in the fountain pen version but sometimes collections may span other varieties of writing instruments. Developing those would take much more time.
Hadrian comes in various limited edition avatars, materials and design, all of which bear some connection to the emperor. The most affordable version (they are priced at around 1200 Euros each) comes with a lovely basalt cap and body with a rhodiumplated ring with a pattern from a Tivoli villa owned by the emperor. 4810 pens of this version will be manufactured, the number corresponds to the height in metres of the Montblanc, Europe’s highest mountain, from where the brand gets its name.
A second more exclusive version (priced at around 7800 Euros each) features a red Italian marble barrel and a sterling silver cap finished off with a rose-gold clip. A logo in mother-of-pearl appears on top and the ‘Roman Aurea coin’ with the faces of Janus and Hadrian adorn the cap on either side. The cap has a curious square pattern, reminiscent of the inner cupola of the Pantheon in Rome. 888 pens of this version will be produced. The number comes from the fact that ‘8’ is considered an auspicious number in China, which is a big market for Montblanc pens.
The most exclusive version (priced at 36,000 Euros each) features a solid white gold cap (with mosaic patterns reproduced from the Tivoli villa) and a black Egyptian basalt body again, but this time with an intricate peacock delicately carved around as if almost hugging the barrel. This version is limited to 76 pieces, the number comes from the fact that Hadrian was born in 76 BCE.
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I did have two questions for Franck at this point. What if one of these pens gets damaged, and what gives him more pleasure – a pen that becomes a part of a collection and is kept in a safe or a pen that is carried in a pocket and is used? He told me that the artisans would have to build a new pen again from scratch as they don’t really keep ‘stocks and spares’. As for the second question, the connection between the collector and his possession is a rather personal one. As long as the pens deliver pleasure when written with, it is up to the owner to decide how they enjoy it.