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Friday, May 4, 2012

Montblanc's Artisan Writing Instruments

Master goldsmith Sabine Bach explains some of the details on the Montblanc Prince Rainier III Limited Edition 81 writing instrument. Photo credit: Montblanc

HAMBURG, Germany — Montblanc’s artisan atelier in its headquarters is a modern, spotlessly clean and quiet place. Hardwood floors and soft hues mix well with plenty of glass and light (outdoor and indoor). The craftsmen work in pristine and well-organized stations. It’s an environment designed to produce exceptional work.

It is in this 14,000-square-foot space where 60 artisans of different skills, many of them masters of their craft, develop, design then build the barrel and caps for Montblanc’s limited editions of writing instruments—including a few single-issue pieces for particular clients. Master goldsmith Sabine Bach showed me some of their prized writing instruments.

Many of these beauties will never experience a drop of ink. Some will never leave their elaborate boxes. Others will only be used as adornment at formal affairs. However, all of these fountain pens are designed to work. “Every writing instrument has to fulfill its function,” Bach says. The materials used for the barrel and caps can be quite exotic and include mammoth tusks, jade and exotic woods. 

Charlie Chaplin Limited Edition 88 honors the silent actor with an artistic rendering of his famous "Little Tramp" outfit in one of his best-known and culturally significant films, Modern Times. Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

These works are often influenced by arts, culture and historical events. For example, the Charlie Chaplin writing instrument, “One of our most beloved pens,” Bach says, honors the silent actor with an artistic rendering of his famous “Little Tramp” outfit in one of his best-known and culturally significant films, Modern Times. The top of the pen, which always features the Montblanc star logo, is in the shape of the small bowler hat that was synonymous with the character. The clip on the cap is shaped as an 18k white gold cane, and the bottom of the barrel, has the shape of the baggy pants worn by the character. The 18k nib is engraved with the character’s boots.

The cap and barrel are made of black titanium. An 18k white gold skeleton frame is designed as a complex set of gears, in reference to the 1936 film in which the Chaplin character struggles to survive in the modern, industrialized world.

There were 88 of these writing instruments made, which coincides with Chaplin’s age at the time of his death, at a cost of 20,800 euros ($27,313) each. They have long been sold out. 

Alfred Hitchcock Limited Edition 80 is one of the newest limited edition products from the Montblanc artisan atelier. It is decorated with references to Hitchcock's most memorial films. Photo credit: Montblanc

Another writing instrument that deals with the subject motion pictures is one dedicated to Alfred Hitchcock that contains many details of the prolific director’s most famous films.

The barrel and cap are colored red, reminiscent of the blood-stained crime scenes of his films, black lines swirl within the red, recreating the stairway scene in the film, Vertigo. Bach said that 25 layers of lacquer were used as well 25 colors to get the proper effect and color. “The work had to be very well done,” she said. The 18k white gold and diamond clip on the cap is in the shape of the knife used in the film, Psycho.

The cap rings of the pen are encircled by a stylized roll of celluloid. Tiny details of rope, which are wrapped around the cap and barrel rings and cone, refer to the murder weapon used in the film, “The Rope.” The 18k white-gold cone has rows of hash marks totally 53, which represents all the films he directed. The nib is engraved with the director’s famous profile.

This is one of Montblanc’s newer models. A total of 80 were made, again referring to the age when Hitchcock died. The cost is 21, 800 euros ($28,700). However, Bach notes that it is nearly sold out. 

The face on cap of the Beijing Opera Mask Limited Edition writing instrumentis made of 2,000 gemstones in a micro-pave pattern, including black sapphires, diamonds and rubies. Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

The most bejeweled model I saw on my visit was the Beijing Opera Mask, made primarily for the Chinese market. The opera mask on the cap is made of 2,000 gemstones in a micro-pave pattern, including black sapphires, diamonds and rubies. It’s very smooth to the touch, or at least I was assured of this by Bach, since she was the one holding the pen with gloves on. It took the in-house gem-setter three to four hours a day for several days to complete the pattern. The entire barrel, cap and nib on the prototype on display were made of 18k yellow gold.

Prince Rainier III Limited Edition 81 honors the sovereign of Monaco. The elaborately-designed skeleton frame is studded with lozenge-shaped diamonds and rubies totaling more than 8 carats, which represents the shield of the Grimaldi coat of arms. A total of 996 diamonds cut with facets and 92 rubies form the fine network. Photo credit: Montblanc

Then there’s the diamond-studded fountain-pen Montblanc Prince Rainier III Limited Edition 81, created in honor of the sovereign of Monaco. 

The pen is made of 18k white gold. The elaborately-designed skeleton frame is studded with lozenge-shaped diamonds and rubies totaling more than 8 carats, which represents the shield of the Grimaldi coat of arms. A total of 996 diamonds cut with facets and 92 rubies form the fine skeletal network. The top of the cap is in the shape of a crown and lined with 19 rubies, measuring 4.4 x 2.5 mm. The top of the cap is, as always, the Montblanc star, this one made of mother of pearl. The clip is fashioned as a royal sword, topped with a replica of Prince Rainier’s signet with cross. The gem setter at Montblanc works very hard.

A total of 81 were made, again referring to his age at his death, and costs 200,000 euros ($262,300), with half of the sales going towards the Princess Grace Foundation.

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