Forget unblemished skin and the stamina to dance until dawn; for me, the whole “youth is wasted on the young” thing is about something else entirely: new pencils. I graduated (as we all do) to pens, then keyboards, without a backward glance, but years of touch-typing led me back into the arms of the art shop – and I’ve been arming myself with bevelled beauties and reconnecting with the tactile pleasures of writing ever since.
Be it an elegant propelling Mont Blanc with a sleek silver case and a deliciously quiet clickety-click, or an artist-grade 8B that glides like butter on a hot plate, just handling a pristine pencil never fails to lift my spirits when digital saturation sets in; it summons up the will to write long-overdue letters or banal to-do lists – and enjoy the moment. As for those innately pleasurable scribblings – a happy note on hotel stationery – something to write home with is enough for me.
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, the venerable, artist-loved brand Caran d’Ache, which has been manufacturing refined writing instruments in Geneva for over a century now, is a regular fixture on my desktop – but over the past few years, it has carved out a special place, almost to the point of forsaking all others.
I must admit, I enjoy the tone of the precisely stated – it is Swiss, after all – mission statement, to “respectfully preserve the art of handwriting” as much as the graphite itself. But it’s the objet appeal of one of its special, limited edition Crayons de la Maison concept that has really reeled me in.
A few years back, the brand teamed up with an Italian wood specialist and put its own craftspeople to work developing a pencil range from responsibly sourced rare woods. The result of intense research into so-called “noble” species from around the world is a glorious collection of exquisitely considered instruments – Macassar ebony, titanium oak, American walnut and lati gris – with surprising, intricate texture, colour and warmth.
Caran d’Ache has continued to add one special edition collection at a time, “an invitation explore new lands”, all the while drawing attention and appreciation to the innate beauty and unusual characteristics of these precious, exotic or practically unknown woods. But the brand took on a whole new level of interest for me with the No 6 edition, a scented collaboration with Mizensir, the Geneva-based perfume house. Extending the idea of exploring new lands, these four 4HB pencils (£29.95 per set) are not only aesthetically intriguing, they are imbued with the perfumer’s Tibetan-wood perfume, a deep, slightly spiced and powdery-sweet scent with essences of patchouli, incense and tonka bean.
The greying Western Hemlock pencil, which looks like it has been naturally weathered, cosies up with veined bright ivory White Oak, the chillier, refined Silver Teak and a warm White Ash, with elongated fine ash-coloured grooves. In a world humming with inkjets, just opening a desk drawer for a rush of the scent, which is both heady and oddly soothing – and mellowing gently with time – brings everything into a more mindful state. I’ve started dipping into the other special editions, snapping up pencils with differing degrees of warmth – some of them practically glow – but if I could have a signature style, it would be these. Satisfyingly broad between the fingers, matte in texture, and with a whispery smooth scratch across the page, they make writer’s procrastination pure folly.