Montblanc might be making exquisite timepieces in Villeret and Le Locle today but over at the maison’s headquarters in Hamburg, Germany, the pursuit of making the world’s best writing instruments is still very much at the fore of the brand’s values. Founded in 1906, the art of writing is best expressed as one of civilisation’s most instrumental tools, transforming primitive cultures into advanced societies thanks to the ability to transmit information and ideas to a growing number of citizens. Montblanc stands as a one of the worlds finest makers of these tools.
The flagship Montblanc Meisterstück fountain pen, the foundational writing instrument was created in 1924 and with clients spanning world famous authors, royal dignitaries and national leaders, it is safe to say that Montblanc has had a wealth of heritage and history from which to draw inspiration for these high artistry objets d’art and feats of intricate artisanship.
Daniel Kohler, Head of High Artistry is responsible for sales for Montblanc high end products all around the world from exceptional objets d’art be they writing instruments or timepieces and he set down with LUXUO’s Jonathan Ho and Lynette Kee to talk about the importance of story telling in the creation of these exotic pens.
There’s very strong provenance to Montblanc pen design from the classic barrel and nib shape to the engraved rings, when you produce a high artistry writing instrument, what do you hope to accomplish?
If you compare our regular writing instrument line, these have a more abstract design showing the simple beauty of a Montblanc pen. With a High Artistry Writing Instrument, they’re created to tell a specific story. These are collectibles which range from a Writer’s Edition featuring a specific writer to a patron of the arts. At the higher segments, the more valuable you get, the greater the variety of materials and stories, like here, the Emperor Kang Xi. This is what separates the ranges.
The one thing fans of Montblanc pens often profess is that when it comes to the brand’s writing instruments, the build and the balance is impeccable, allowing him to create his greatest artworks. Obviously a pen like Emperor Kang Xi edition is meant to be a “wow” piece, are ergonomics a consideration in the design of a High Artistry writing instrument?
Yes it is. Actually, be it a unique piece or a limited edition, all Montblanc pens are made to be used. The clip, nibs, and piston tank device are always functional, it’s very important for us that a high artistry writing instrument is not just an object of beauty but also that it fulfils its raison d’etre of a pen. Of course if you have a full diamond set, red gold writing instrument, the ergonomics of such a Montblanc pen will be different from our signature resin editions, however, it’s always great fun to use and its like experiencing a new pen all over again. Once you get used to it, our pens just work.
Out of the finest materials available, Montblanc artisans demonstrate the utmost precision, creativity and expertise to create outstanding pieces for dedicated Montblanc connoisseurs using the finest materials, most challenging shapes and embellishing each piece with the finest stones.
Countless meticulous steps are involved in the process using only the rarest materials from platinum and solid gold, to ruthenium and carbon to realize, limited editions such as Patron of Arts, Writers Edition or Great Characters. Obviously with a writing instrument like the Montblanc Emperor Kang Xi, there are many bumps and ridges with the engraving, but at the conceptualisation phase, is there any research to make the pen more comfortable to use or ergonomic or is the artistic consideration first? I would say that the artistic consideration is first however if you look in detail at the Emperor Kang Xi pen, the engraving follows a certain pattern which also makes it nice to touch and that part is good for the grip of such a heavy piece. The decorations and engraving have a function behind them, not just an aesthetic, even if the decorative aspects are a little bit more important than the usability but at the end of the day, a Montblanc pen is meant to be used.
What would say sets a the Montblanc High Artistry Emperor Kang Xi pen apart from a competing brand with similar highly engraved pens?
First, its the variety of stories developed around many contemporary or historical personalities or events. Hannibal and Kang Xi exist alongside Miles Davis and the Beetles, there’s a huge variety at all sorts of price ranges from entry to high value. Second, there are a variety of materials as well which show our mastery. What we are able to work with is really unique. We have worked with wood, with gold. To use birch wood on a writing instrument, you have to consider that someone from Singapore will use the Montblanc pen in the humid tropics where such wood would be affected and expand. Once the Singaporean takes his writing instrument to Europe, the cold would cause the pen to contract and crack. Our craftsmen have a long experience in dealing with challenges like wood pens. The surface treatment here replicates the armour of Emperor Kang Xi with all the details, studs, and stitching. A trompe-l’œil effect has been developed by our craftsmen using modern methodologies which creates the illusion of raised relief but it’s actually set into the material and then polished to mimic the glitter of diamonds – it’s the combined mastery of modern and classical techniques. For the first time, we used beautiful enamelling on the Limited Edition Kang Xi pen, we have experimented with enamel before but it never really worked and we managed to master it now. Our designers often challenge our craftsmen each year with more extraordinary designs.
How does Montblanc choose what artistic endeavours are worth pursuing?
If it’s a personality, we usually have someone in mind which fits our brand values. This is about challenges – Hannibal was the first to cross the alps with his war elephants. Everyone told him it’s impossible to cross the alps in winter and he found one. This is a typical Montblanc brand value, to find new ways where there are none and to go the extra mile. Here, Kang Xi is one of the popular Chinese Emperors because he brought culture throughout the land. He embodies the Montblanc spirit of exploration. These are stories worth telling for our relevant target group. This dominates the selection of topics for our Limited Edition Montblanc pens. There are times when a proposed personality does not go through due to intellectual property rights.
There are intellectual property rights to historical figures?
When you’re a prestigious brand like Montblanc, you have to take it seriously and can never just use a name. You have to go through channels like the historical foundations and national trusts. In the case of The Beetles edition, we spoke to Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono, they weren’t the easiest to speak to. We have to not just respect the rights but also find the right design, our CEO has to like it also. For The Beetles, we had specific colour ideas from Yoko Ono, similar to when we worked with the Andy Warhol Foundation.
The Emperor Kang Xi is not the first Asian historical figure for Montblanc, they previously had a writing instrument for Han Wudi, another Emperor and they have worked on Japanese motifs in the past before including Kimonos from Kyoto. Montblanc is the promise of the highest craftsmanship in Europe, for leather, pens and watches, with stories to tell from across the world including Asia. [Shop Montblanc pens here]
Making of the Montblanc High Artistry Homage to Emperor Kangxi Limited Edition
Speaking to Montblanc Creative Director Zaim Kamal in Miami, he expressed that “Montblanc pens are a combination of design, material, and detail. My process is coming out with a design and then working with the craftsmen to see my vision come to life.”
With High Artistry Limited Editions, like the Montblanc Homage to Emperor Kangxi, pens like these push the boundaries of creativity and technical virtuosity. As Daniel Kohler mentioned, the maison works to tell the stories of history’s great personalities and expressing Montblanc’s métiers d’arts and skills nurtured for over 110 years with high precision technology and tools. As a result, Montblanc artisans elevate fine materials into elaborate masterpieces like the High Artistry Homage to Emperor Kangxi Limited Edition.
Collaboration is key when one considers that a “basic” Montblanc pen, if there was ever such a thing, takes at least 100 steps to create while the pen’s 18 karat gold nib alone requires 35. From stone cutting and setting to hand engraving, gold work, and even woodwork, many techniques are required to breathe life to Emperor Kang Xi, the longest reigning emperor in Chinese history. Part writing instrument part jewellery creation, each Montblanc High Artistry Homage to Emperor Kangxi Limited Edition is a dazzling display of the Maison’s artistry.
Kamal considers the nib the heart of a Montblanc fountain pen, “It’s a familiarity of the gesture or stroke. It’s like ballet.” Indeed, while the nib is the heart of a serial production writing instrument, an objet d’art like the Homage to Emperor Kangxi Limited Edition considers the story of the famed monarch as its heart and soul.
Considered one of China’s greatest emperors, Kang Xi, the second emperor in the Qing dynasty brought long-term stability and prosperity after years of war and chaos. An accomplished military strategist and general, he pacified the Mongol hordes and brought the territory under Qing rule but his greatest accomplishments were cultural. Kang Xi was the mastermind behind the Mountain Resort in Chengde, a classic masterpiece of Chinese palace architecture and one of the world’s largest royal gardens designed in the great imperial tradition. He also repaired and extended the Grand Canal that linked the Yellow River and Yangtze River, from Beijing to Hangzhou. But his greatest achievement was the creation of the standard Chinese dictionary or Kangxi Dictionary, during the 18th and 19th centuries, allowing for the development of literature, poetry and culture during the Qing dynasty and beyond.
Montblanc High Artistry Homage to Emperor Kangxi Limited Edition 1, Imperial Dragon fountain pen
A reference to Kangxi’s enthusiasm for Western astronomy, the design of the cone is inspired by an armillary sphere created to represent the movements in the heavens. A 2-axis mechanism allows a 6,42 carat square emerald-cut yellow diamond in a vivid yellow-orange colour to rotate freely at its centre. Thanks to a special mechanism, the precious ornament can be detached and admired as a standalone jewel.
Inspired by his fascination for mechanical devices and clocks, the cap top features a mechanism that drives the movement of the dragon’s eyes, opening and closing them whether the pen is upright or laying down.
Like the rich yellow silk of the emperor’s gown, the cap and barrel of the writing instrument are set with a full pave of yellow diamonds. The cap is cut in the shape of one of his sleeves, as depicted in imperial portraits of the powerful ruler.
Homage to Emperor Kangxi Limited Edition 1, Royal Blue Dragon
High Artistry Homage to Emperor Kangxi Limited Edition 1, The Hunter
Homage to Emperor Kangxi Limited Edition 5, The Emperor
Kangxi had paintings commissioned of the landscapes and communities he visited on journeys such as the grand Southern inspection tour. This Limited Edition Montblanc High Artistry pen features cloisonné enamel creating the effect of painted landscapes in tones of yellows, greens and sand punctuated with threads of gold.
The gold cone tube of the writing instrument is engraved by hand with a dragon, set with yellow diamonds and the cone is set with a sparkling diamond (DFL, approx. 2ct).
The cap top features an original opening mechanism that reveals a miniature gold sundial, one of the instruments brought to the emperor from Europe that he was fascinated by.
The rings and clip are embellished with a sprinkling of yellow diamonds to enhance the intensity of this homage to Kangxi’s legacy.