M is for Montblanc by Siems Luckwaldt | 1st June, 2018 | Personalities
Quite surprisingly, the world’s most exquisite writing instrument is not made in the Swiss Alps, as the name would suggest, but in northern Germany. A visit to the factory in Hamburg where the famous fountain pens have been exclusively manufactured for 112 years in a careful process that includes the highest levels of quality control.
Almost every week, enthusiastic Montblanc collectors set off for northwestern Hamburg, individually and in organized groups, to observe with their own eyes the care and expertise with which a Montblanc writing instrument is made. Each pen is subjected to countless quality control tests before beginning its career. The final one takes place in a plain room called the Writing Room, where employees put them to paper, drawing continuous figure-eights to make sure there’s no unwanted friction or irritating scratching sound. They usually use invisible ink because color pigments would be almost impossible to remove from the delicate embellishments on the top of the nib. The perfect nib – along with the high-grade resin barrel and the piece between the nib carrier and the feed – is what the art of writing is ultimately about. From its iridium tip to ist heart-shaped vent hole, the nib is made of 18-karat gold. It is perfection in miniature, manufactured in 35 precise steps. Over and over again for the last 112 years. The idea of creating a non-leaking fountain pen was the brainchild of a Hamburg banker and a Berlin engineer. A short time later, three Hamburg business partners – stationery store owner Claus-Johannes Voss, banker Christian Lausen and engineer Wilhelm Dziambor – took over the Simplo Filler Pen Co., as the young enterprise was originally called, and laid the foundation for a global firm based in Germany. In 1910, the ambitious trio named the company Montblanc. According to the story, the name came to them at the card table one jolly, alcohol-fueled evening. What, after all, could be more obvious than to name a company dedicated to superb craftsmanship after the highest mountain in the Alps? The six glacier zones at its peak became the iconic logo, a six-pointed white star with rounded edges. In 1919, the Rouge et Noir debut model was introduced in a Hamburg boutique for the first time. And in 1924, the company began engraving the mountain’s altitude – 4,810 meters – onto the nib of every Meisterstück, the world’s probably most famous fountain pen.
The Montblanc store on Hamburg’s elegant Neuer Wall shopping street generates the highest sales anywhere in the world. It’s a profitable home game, so to speak. Montblanc is part of the luxury goods holding Richemont Group, but the company’s individual fortunes are guided mainly by decisions made in Hamburg, points out Oliver Goessler, Managing Director Northern Europe. “It’s where our historical roots lie and where our values and commitment to craftsmanship and quality are anchored, things to which we remain true. Our products are as reliable as they have ever been and we are not primarily concerned with creating shortlived trends. Some people might say this is precisely what makes our products German.” The company has roughly 3,000 employees, a third of whom are based in Hamburg. Montblanc CEO Nicolas Baretzki also stresses the importance of Hamburg for the brand’s DNA. For him, it’s a matter of pride to work tirelessly to make Hamburg Montblanc’s cultural base. 2020 will see the opening of Montblanc Haus at the company’s new headquarters. It will include a fascinating museum dedicated to the art of writing, a visitors’ center showcasing Montblanc’s history and a permanent collection of company art on more than 2,900 square meters of space – designed by the well-known architects’ firm Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos.
The stewards of the art of writing are constantly trying to keep pace with the future, as is demonstrated by the modern aesthetic of the transparent cap tip in the Starwalker Collection or by innovations like Augmented Paper, which turns handwritten notes into digital documents. The Montblanc portfolio includes the world’s most expensive writing instrument: the 2.4 million-dollar Monte Celio, a pen studded with a diamond, sapphires and brilliant-cut diamonds. It also features Special Edition writing instruments created in honor of famous personalities such John F. Kennedy, the Beatles, Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Two models have been dedicated to important patrons of the arts: Lorenzo de’ Medici and Peggy Guggenheim. In view of such creativity and attention to detail, it hardly comes as a surprise that roughly 40 percent of company sales still come from writing instruments – even in the age of the Internet and the smartphone. The rest comes from leather goods made at a company- owned factory near Florence, Italy, and from the watch segment, which includes product lines such as the TimeWalker and the first smart watch, appropriately called the Montblanc Summit. Numerous timepieces are designed and manufactured in Le Locle and Villeret in Switzerland and Montblanc has been manufacturing its own movements since 2008. The question naturally arises – in a “Made in Germany” issue – whether Montblanc fountain pens couldn’t just as easily be produced in China. Oliver Goessler doesn’t hesitate to clarify: “They could, and likely to the highest standards, too. But the important thing to consider is whether Montblanc should go that route, and the answer is a definite ‘no.’ Doing so would disappoint our customers’ expectations and break our promise to them.” The writing instruments are manufactured exclusively in Hamburg. Maison Montblanc is very pleased with its brand ambassador Hugh Jackman, who can currently be seen in the role of legendary showman P. T. Barnum. The company is also very happy with the writing instrument it developed specially for the film. “Hugh Jackman suits us better than any other Hollywood star,” says Goessler. “He exudes respectability and seniority, he’s successful, multitalented and good looking, too.” Thanks to the long-running X-Men films, Jackman is well known among people of all ages and Goessler isn’t bothered by the term “millennial.” – “The Meisterstück has been around for 90 years and impressed numerous generations. People of various ages purchase it.“ Unassuming, reliable, unfazed by current fashions – these attributes could describe Monblanc’s management and are perhaps typically German, too. If you don’t know what you stand for, you’ll never make history. Speaking of which: what historical documents does Oliver Goessler treasure most? “Early letters from my wife and my grandfather’s journal.”