CULTURE

The beauty of fine implements

One thousand two hundred and fifty nine diamonds – 48 carats in all – plus fine Baccarat crystal and plenty of platinum make up this unique piece and its case. Is it a regal tiara or a breathtaking choker? Neither, actually, but a fine piece of jewelry nonetheless. Montegrappa’s Peace Pen was created by artist David Montalto, a pioneer of the technique of stipple engraving on crystal. The fountain pen took two years to develop and its aim is to promote the efforts of the Peace Parks Foundation, a charity organization that promotes peace between man and nature. This unique piece – with a starting price of 750,000 euros, depending on the quality of the precious stones – is a recent addition to Montegrappa’s long list of fine writing instruments, all defined by their handmade qualities as well as by their made-in-Italy flair. Fine writing instruments? In our technological age of communicating by e-mail? «Our dream – when we are stifled by the computer, by business life – is that sometimes we want to express ourselves in a different way. What is the best way to do so with writing?» asked Sergio De Bon, Montegrappa CEO, during an interview with Kathimerini English Edition. «If you have the financial possibility to have something in your hand that is beautiful and which gives you pleasure, I think that that would be our market: a person who wants to say, ‘I am,’ but not from the perspective of ego.» Founded in Bassano del Grappa in 1912, Montegrappa (originally known as Elmo) is the oldest company of its kind. Right from the start, publicity was good, as two of the company’s early clients were the authors Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos, both volunteer ambulance drivers during World War I – their hospital unit was situated just in front of the factory. Today’s high-flying clients include Michael Schumacher. The company soon developed into a pioneer in the use of novel materials, such as celluloid (a flexible, natural material similar to wood) and galalith, while it also began employing jewelry techniques and working with precious metals. In 1947, the company was officially renamed Montegrappa, and in 1992, celebrating its 80th anniversary, it launched a limited edition of 1,912 pieces featuring exclusive deep-drawing and low-relief engraving techniques. Today, working in an environment of confidentiality versus volume, a work force of 60 skilled craftsmen produce 40,000 to 50,000 pieces per year (of which about 5,000 are limited editions). The pieces are then distributed to 40 different countries around the globe. In Italy, quality fountain pens of this grade are to be found in expensive jewelry outlets and some 20 specialized shops. In New York they are only available in specialist shops, such as Arthur Brown, or in department stores of the caliber of Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus. In London, they are on display at Harrods, while in Tokyo they are available at Pen Boutique Shosaikan. For De Bon, the desire to be different starts at home. Citing his two sons, he explains that while the 16-year-old is happy to go along with modern writing tools, the 11-year-old is left-handed and enjoys the precision of his fountain pen. In this passion for fine writing, De Bon Jr is not alone; Montegrappa has many celebrity clients. To name but two, they include actors like Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone. De Bon also makes the case for politics and fine writing instruments, with high-profile personalities such as Jacques Chirac and members of the Mubarak family having purchased his art – though Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi is not a client yet. King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain are, however, as was the late race car driver Ayrton Senna. Montegrappa pieces are also present during landmark moments: CNN footage showing Boris Yeltsin signing over power to Vladimir Putin was one such moment, while on May 31 of this year, Putin is scheduled to receive a personal, limited edition of the «White Nights» pen to celebrate St Petersburg’s 300th birthday. Meanwhile, the brand has already made its entry into the Greek market in signature style: An edition of 50 pieces that feature the Greek flag has already met with great interest. Of the series, No. 1 was offered to President Costis Stephanopoulos, while No. 16 was given to Prime Minister Costas Simitis in honor of the recent accession treaties signed in Athens last month. (The new limited series joins current others, such as the America’s Cup in honor of the 31st Cup and one marking the recent grand opening of the new library in Alexandria, Egypt.) Once again, the essence of luxury is that while many out there desire, only few can actually have. «In the watch business, there are various brands, going from Swatch to Rolex and then to Panerai or Vacheron Constantin,» said De Bon. «Why is the latter only for the few? Because they want to produce for the few. The same goes for our pens.» In 2000, the family-owned Montegrappa business was acquired by the Richemont Group, the luxury owner of 19 brands, including Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Piaget, Baume & Mercier, IWC, Jaeger Le-Coultre, Panerai, Vacheron Constantin, Dunhill, Montblanc, Lancel and Chloe, among others. For Richemont, the acquisition represented buying a niche brand of fine writing pieces. «All those clients buying Bulgari, Gucci and Van Cleef will do so more and more in brand-associated shops,» said De Bon. «What will happen to the dealers? They will lose a lot of money and they have to survive. We can survive with other brands that do accessories, but in a jewelry way. That is the reason why Richemont bought the company.» The company is considering some kind of diversification, as always, related to the world of writing, though De Bon is not divulging any corporate secrets right now. It is not a secret, however, that fine accessories are and will continue to be popular items in the global field of luxury goods, especially those for women. «Our brand is a masculine brand,» said De Bon. «When you have such a brand, it is a high risk to divide your clients into sectors. Through the Micra design [the Micra Diamond, in pink mother-of-pearl resin, which is dedicated to women], we want to transmit Montegrappa through women to men. It is more of an opportunity to reach more men than a business opportunity to develop female clientele.» And as this certain art de vivre survives, could Montegrappa be defined as the haute couture of writing? «Haute couture is associated with fashion,» said De Bon. «But if we are talking about the craft’s detail, tradition, innovation and craftsmanship, then yes, we can say that it is.»