September 10 2010
Lucia van der Post
Talk to the purveyors of high-end artefacts and they seem to agree that the way forward in these tricky times is in the customised, the personal. This doesn’t, of course, mean that they’re abandoning their standard ready-made lines, just that this extra service is becoming more finely tuned than ever.
You might have thought that a pen was too small an object to be subject to such specific designer-y ambitions, but you’d be wrong. Once a certain sort of man acquires a certain sort of fortune, it is to a very special pen – or “writing instrument”, as the grander brands call them – that his mind begins to turn.
Take Mario Barth, the German comedian who in 2008 set a new world record for a live comedy performance by filling Berlin’s Olympic stadium. To commemorate the event, he wanted a pen that was truly personal, so he spent 18 months collaborating with Montblanc’s design team, ending up with motifs of the stadium and a microphone being integrated into the pen’s design. Another customer, from Kazakhstan, helped design a pen that incorporated semiprecious stones from his home country with an intricate enamelled pattern. So pleased was he that he ordered a bracelet to match.
At Montblanc, where an entirely bespoke pen can be created from €200,000 (the final price depends on the intricacy of the design and the materials used), they’re finding that the personalised pen is the hot new accessory. It is for men what a fantastic piece of jewellery is for women. And as Lutze Bethge, CEO of Montblanc, puts it, “It is, after all, only a return to what luxury used to be, because luxury started when the wealthy asked a tailor, a silversmith, a jeweller or a cobbler to make something special for them.”
Now €200,000 may be more than most of us wish to spend on a pen, in which case it could be worth turning to Montblanc’s limited editions. The latest is a humdinger, based around the Beatle John Lennon. It takes the gentle grooves of an old-style vinyl record and chisels them into the black resin of the barrel, while the clip is shaped like a guitar head and neck. On the hand-engraved 18ct gold nib is the symbol of peace, and where the cap meets the barrel is a silver plaque engraved with Lennon’s famous self-portrait. The simplest version is the John Lennon Special Edition 2010; the starting price is £440 for the roller ball or ballpoint, while the fountain pen (second picture) is £585. For something more exclusive you could go for the John Lennon Commemoration Edition 1940 (third picture, £2,155; just 1,940 fountain pens will be made), which has a blue tanzanite on the guitar-inspired clip (remember Lennon’s famous blue glasses?) and is engraved with the date (02.10.1971) when his song Imagine was released.
Most exclusive of all is the John Lennon Limited Edition 70 (first picture, £17,300). Just 70 fountain pens will be made, in recognition of the fact that he would have been 70 this year. Blue resin is used on the cap and barrel with the word “Imagine” in white gold encircling the case. It’s embellished with three diamonds on the guitar strings, which mark out the chord for the key of Imagine – a reminder, perhaps, that the man who sang “imagine no possessions” was himself no stranger to the concept of luxury.