Montblanc’s new line of writing instruments – Montblanc M – brings design and modernity to the luxury brand’s collections. A creation of the much-in-demand Marc Newson
Montblanc M is the latest introduction from the luxury brand Montblanc and comprises a line of writing instruments designed to attract the professional classes who still write by hand, such as designers and architects, and to tempt enthusiasts of designer items. To achieve these objectives, Montblanc has called on a household name in product design, the Australian Marc Newson, in what is the first hiring of an outside designer in more than 100 years of the brand’s existence. The new collection strikes a balance between two significant aspects: we are dealing with what is clearly a desirable designer item, but at the same time a product immediately identifiable with the Montblanc brand.
The need to win over new users of pens in a society that writes little by hand, and the need to maintain (or even increase) its already high market share, certainly lie at the root of the launch of the new M collection of writing instruments. At the new line’s launch in Milan, Essential had the chance to talk exclusively to CEO Jérôme Lambert and hear the reasons that led designer Marc Newson to the new product.
Made from the well-known black resin used in many Montblanc writing instruments, the new M introduces a magnet which makes it possible to click the cap and barrel of the pen together while at the same time aligning the well-known white star emblem with the clip. At the end of the barrel, a cut-away part forms a small platform, for whose manufacture a suitable diamond cutting tool was designed: it is on this “plateau” that the star is reproduced, always remaining visible when the pen is used for writing.
This was the solution found by Newson in order to confer a modern identity tothe instrument, knowing from the start that the aim was to attract new customers without disappointing the brand’s devotees. Neither too heavy nor too light, the M pen has a ridged tip for a firmer grip. As always with Montblanc products, it is possible to choose the cut of the nib which best fits the thickness and slope of the individual’s manner of writing. In addition to the fountain pen, ballpoint and rollerball, the range includes the ScreenWriter, for work on touch screens, and the Fineliner, specially designed for technical drawing.
For the designer, the process was particularly enjoyable: “One of the things that I like most about my job as a designer is the chance to immerse myself in different industries and learn about their manufacturing processes, materials and technologies. I am interested in how objects work – it is an obsession with technical matters. During the manufacture of my design at Montblanc I observed an extraordinary mix of traditional skills and state-of-the-art engineering,” said Newson.
A versatile designer, he has already done a little of everything, from aircraft interiors to furniture, and recently reissued the Nautilus pen for Hermès. In the case of the M, there is the added responsibility of bringing the stamp of a 100-year-old brand to the manufacture of pens. For Newson, the uniqueness of the magnetic closing mechanism lends a touch of alchemy that helps add charm to the item.
“The Montblanc M is an object that one can lay down on a table and admire. It makes you want to touch it, which is good, because if you don’t have a tactile relationship with your pen you will never use it.” He knows what he is talking about, as writing implements are the fundamental tools of his trade. “I use pens in my work and it is through my sketches that I communicate with the outside world.” For Newson, drawing – the starting point for everything he creates – is both work and hobby.
Having known Marc Newson since the days of Jaeger-LeCoultre, over which Lambert successfully presided for 11 years, and with which the designer collaborated on a limited series of the Atmos pendulum clock, the choice was no surprise. For Montblanc’s CEO, the previous collaboration with the “most talented designer of his generation”, which helped him get to know Newson’s intellectual modus faciendi, made it possible for him to better decide who should work with him and thus establish a more profitable collaboration.
The end result would have to strike a difficult balance, in which Newson’s strong mark as a designer would not overshadow Montblanc’s well-known image. For Lambert, the objective of transforming the idea into a product was achieved, thanks to the technical ability of the in-house teams and their knowledge of the intrinsic constraints involved in the manufacture of pens. “The Montblanc M has an identity, it is an instrument whose origins are evident when you see it.”
But, considering that nowadays professional environments are dominated by the computer, who still cares about pens? Jérôme Lambert loses no sleep over the question. For this manager, Montblanc is present not merely in the field of writing, but in that of “fine writing”, of calligraphy, and new releases are intended to “build bridges with traditional writing”. And as long as education in schools follows the traditional method of paper and pencil, nothing is yet lost. “My daughters, 12 and 14, learn in school just as I learned. Memorising, the process of the materialisation of an idea, the creation of mental constructs, are established in the early years of life with paper and pencil. Nothing has changed. Even if the work is then delivered through a different medium.”
On the other hand, the existence of a group dedicated to designer items represents a contingent that needs to be won over. These are the “urban youth”, in Lambert’s expression, interested in products which are both beautiful and functional, for whom the M is intended. De luxe giant Montblanc’s core business still lies in its lines of writing instruments, despite being a brand whose name has grown among the public in a number of other areas such as watchmaking, jewellery and fine leather goods. The responsibility of holding a very large share of the market in the area of writing instruments does not allow it to rest on its laurels. Jérôme Lambert has already shown himself to be an insatiable mobilising force in the various areas in which Montblanc’s voice is heard.
A well-known facilitator of brands and teams, Jérôme Lambert has led Montblanc since 2013, having come to this company straight from his interim presidency of the watch brand Jaeger-LeCoultre, both belonging to the powerful Richemont Group. However, Jaeger operates in a distinct competitive market in which 600 different brands of watches contend (although many are not well differentiated), which has doubled in size in the past five years. This competition itself stimulates the creation of novelty, in the case of the “number one” consumer product for men.
Already the world of Montblanc has become something different and more diverse. Established in Hamburg in 1906, the brand has a long tradition and vast experience in the manufacture of writing instruments, a business with which it continues to be identified in the public imagination. However, the current scope of what is on offer in its portfolio – pens, watches, jewellery, fine leather goods – gives it the status of a ”vibrant” brand, in Lambert’s expression, who declines to confirm whether or not it was this diversity that has helped Montblanc survive. It holds 70% of the market in writing instruments, but is also among the first in watchmaking.
The year 2015 is one that has made a difference, with particular significance for the Portuguese, thanks to the Vasco da Gama line of mechanical watches. On the other hand, the launch of the e-strap, a watch band that integrates the technology of a smartphone, is surprising. “It is remarkable that our teams have had this distinctive approach when everyone is doing the same thing, i.e. integrating wearable technology into watches. It is this difference that gives Montblanc its strength.” The new world time model is another example: a decades-old function which no brand has yet thought of presenting in the way that Montblanc has done with the Heritage Orbis Terrarum model.
This spirit of innovation is well in line with Lambert’s nature, for whom an existence without constant motivation loses its interest. The responsibility of commanding 3300 employees does not make him lose any sleep. “I cannot conceive life without risks and challenges. It’s like the difference I treasure between walking and running, which does not relate to speed. When you walk you always have one foot on the ground, but when you run there is a moment of uncertainty in which both feet in the air. In a house like Montblanc the moment of uncertainty is the moment of creation.”