This year sees the 90th Anniversary of the Montblanc Meisterstück, a luxury item that epitomises the history of a brand, greater than no other. Introduced in 1924, the Meisterstück has gone on to symbolise both personal and historic milestones and has marked everything from a teenager’s graduation gift to the signing of the Golden Book of the city of Cologne when German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer didn’t have a pen and instead signed with John F. Kennedy’s personal Meisterstück 149. In celebration of this momentous anniversary, Montblanc have released the Meisterstück Heritage timepieces as well as a special collection of leather goods, men’s jewellery and writing instruments. I caught up with the Managing Director of Writing Instruments at Montblanc, Christian Rauch, to discuss his personal Montblanc memories and expert advice.
Montblanc pens mean so much to so many people – prestige, success and authenticity – but I was wondering what they mean to you?
A few you mentioned, but the big one for us is the idea of the lifelong companion. We create and manufacture them in the hope that they will be just that to their owners, will be with them in the nice moments and the difficult moments and really become a part of them. That might sound a little philosophical but this is actually what we do and this was true from the very beginning of the company in 1906 – we really wanted to create a writing implement that was more than just a pen. When the Meisterstück was created in 1924, 90 years ago, this writing implement embodied that spirit more than anything else we had done before, and therefore we are so proud of it.
You have collectors that come back again and again, what is it that you think keeps them returning to the brand?
The collectors are a very important part of our clientele, so we’ve been doing a limited edition since 1992, and I think the collectors who come back appreciate the story behind the pens – especially the limited editions. We take concepts like Leonardo Di Vinci or Albert Einstein and do an interpretation of their writing style. They are highly limited and are a way of showing the clients their value to us. They fall in love with it and then keep coming back. For them, collecting writing implements is similar to how others collect watches or art.
How do you tailor the limited edition pens?
We always have a character in mind, for example two years ago we used Pablo Picasso. We approached the family and together with them we developed the design. So we have to decide what was important to the way he was writing and drawing. We pick one theme – 39 portraits of a girl with a ponytail – and that’s what we translate into the writing style. Then we go deeply into the research of material – so we not only create a design and shape that is new, but also a technique that is new. In that case, when Picasso did the 39 portraits in one year, he did his first one in concrete and so we did a white gold fountain pen, treated in such a way to look like concrete. So the research is very important.
As a company, how has the digital age affected you?
We love the digital age. In fact, what I always say is, the more iPhones and Blackberries, the better it is for us. Because what is clear is that today, people are writing more than ever before. So you see when you go on the tube or you sit in a restaurant even, people are writing and writing and writing. Millions of Twitter tweets, Facebook notifications etc., so the need for us to communicate through writing is bigger than it has ever been before. But obviously, a lot of people don’t use a pen and paper, however there are moments in life when you really want to make a change to the impersonal messages you get. The hunger for personal messaging gets bigger and bigger with the more impersonal messages we receive. So for example, if you send a thank you letter by hand, that is a totally different story, because you have to sit down and think of this person and it’s your handwriting. It’s absolutely you. Plus you cannot send it to 50 people; you can only send it to 1. So you have to dedicate your thoughts and your time to that person. And in some moments, this is much more precious than it was 50 years ago when there was no other possibility. Now, it’s so rare.
And there are moments when you use your own handwriting. You would never sign an important contract with a like button on Facebook, so your signature is something that will remain that way. So the more iPhones and computers we have the better. We all use them on a daily basis and so customers around the world are appreciating the art of handwriting. They want to enjoy the act of writing, so they don’t buy a $1 pen. That’s why people come to Montblanc.
What made you move from Sony to Montblanc?
I have been a fountain pen collector for my entire life and, when I was a small kid, I was fascinated by writing and Montblanc. So I had a big collection of Montblancs already before I joined the company, so the role was a really personal thing coming true for me.
Tips for selecting that perfect pen?
There is not the perfect writing implement for everyone but it comes down to personal choice. So, for example, when your handwriting, everybody has a totally different style, and a fountain pen displays this beautifully. If you have a ballpoint pen, it’s more or less always the same. The ink dries the same and it has the same thickness, no matter how hard you press, how steep you hold it or how much you rotate. With a fountain pen that’s totally different. It’s very important, for example, that you choose the right nib. And three years ago we developed a programme called Bespoke Nib where you write some sentences with an electronic pen on a tablet, and we measure thousands of data from your handwriting. How fast you write, how hard you press, how steep you hold it, how much you rotate and inclination, and based upon that data we tailor make you a nib which perfectly fits your handwriting. And if you go to a regular Montblanc boutique, there is a wide selection of nib sizes but also of different weights, as there are people who appreciate a very heavy writing instrument, others like it light and others choose it on the day – like I do.
How many nib variations do you have?
We have 8 different nib sizes, from extra fine to broad. This covers a lot, but as mentioned, if this isn’t enough we offer our customers the bespoke service. So we can in theory create millions of different nibs for our customers. I think the most important thing about the fountain pen is that you find the right one. Many people say: “I don’t want to change my handwriting for a fountain pen.” And this is absolutely right – we find the perfect piece for you. The beauty about the fountain pen is that it not only displays the character of your handwriting better than everything else, but you can write so fast, because you don’t need any pressure on the paper. With any other pen, you always need to press a little bit, but a fountain pen writes by its own weight. This character is what we all love about fountain pens.
How do you think the artistry of the written word has changed?
The hand written word was common in all offices. So 40 years ago it was totally normal to write a lot by hand – your secretary came in and she took the notes by hand and you wrote letters by hand. So a pen was really a mechanical instrument for writing and this has definitely changed. As I said, there aren’t many occasions where you must have a writing implement, so whenever you use one now it’s for the special moments, because you want to show the importance of that moment to someone – thank you letters, love notes, etc. Our customers give much more attention in those moments and so the art of writing has changed to how it was 40 years ago because it’s not a commodity anymore. This is why many people are interested in calligraphy, for example.
Going forward, how do you think the company will progress?
The coming years will be very bright for us. If you look at the writing implements industry, manufacturers of very affordable writing implements will suffer – even more than they already do from the iPhones and Blackberries etc. In the luxury area we will definitely continue our role, because we find a lot of new friends of hand writing and this is a global phenomena, not just a European thing. So we have the same movement in China, Africa, everywhere. It’s not a mass phenomena but we are not mass manufacturers so this is not something to worry about.
What does the act of writing in your diary still do for you and why do you still do it?
There’s many reasons. For me, it is a beautiful way to end my day and to think more profoundly about things that happen to me. On the other hand, I also keep the diary for my children, and this diary will be there when I am gone. If I wrote a Twitter update, or a blog, I’m 100% sure that this information will not exist in 50 years, so the way of storing it in a diary is something really important. I can also see from my handwriting how my mood was. It’s trips with my kids and everything else, for me it’s a precious memory. For me it was a great pleasure when my grandmother gave me the letters of my grandfather that he wrote to her when he was in WWII. The moment you touch the paper you can see his handwriting, you can be so close to that person. It’s a very personal thing compared to the electronic ways of today.
Do you have a favourite moment of when a Montblanc has been used in history?
My favourite memory is related to the history of Germany, in 1963 when our Chancellor Konrad Adenauer signed the first of the independence contracts with the Americans, represented by John F. Kennedy. And it was the first step for Germany to become independent again after WWII. Mr Adenauer was the first one to sign and he got there, and there’s the contract but there was no pen. He checked his pockets but he didn’t have one, so Kennedy puts his hands in his pocket and pulls out a Meisterstück, and offers his personal pen to the Chancellor.
Barack Obama is of course still using one, and millions of other people in the world. It’s a phenomenon that a Montblanc signifies an important moment in your life. It’s not only for a present, but for many people it’s the graduation gift – I was given my Meisterstuck then. I always carry it with me, and although I have a very nice selection of fountain pens, this is still the most precious. As I said, the Montblanc pens tell a story and become a part of you.
Which Montblanc do you carry?
I carry a lot of pens. I always have a lot with me because I can never decide what mood I am in at the time. Pens with different nibs and ink colours. But the most precious in the Meisterstuck – the one that was given to me by my parents at my graduation. Whenever I sign anything, I use this one.
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