Luxury in Writing With Montegrappa
'The pen is mightier than the sword,' is an oft-used phrase that became even more pertinent on my meeting with the charismatic and immaculately-dressed Giuseppe Aquila, CEO, Montegrappa-a brand that celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Since 1912, Montegrappa has been making pens in the same historic building on the banks of the river Brenta in northeast Italy.
As a part of the third generation to have continued the pen business, Aquila says, "It's important to stress that 2012 is a milestone in the history of the brand and of the country that has a long tradition. The Italian Republic is 150 years old and Montegrappa has been around for two-thirds of that history." Undoubtedly then, the brand has had memorable associations with celebrities and politicians alike. Montegrappa, in fact, has 'played its part in history', whether it was Italian leaders like Victor Immanuel III and Benito Mussolini using a Montegrappa, or Boris Yeltsin giving his Dragon pen to Vladimir Putin in January 2000 as a symbol of handing over power to the then new Russian President. Whether it's by France's Nicolas Sarkozy, or Hollywood's Sylvester Stallone, Montegrappas have been used to sign some of the most influential documents in world history; such is the power of the golden nib.
Aquila has been a part of his family business since 1992 and was keen to develop the export business, as 99 per cent of the sales were domestic. Today, the brand's biggest market is Russia followed by the Middle East, then Italy and the fourth largest is the United States. As Aquila says, "We have a number of Heads of State using our pens on a regular basis. We also supply to several governments-including the Russian government-to European countries, and various royalties." According to him, Prince Charles uses Montegrappa and so do Hollywood celebrities like Nicolas Cage, Antonio Banderas, Al Pacino and the like. "Michael Jackson used to collect our pens," he shares.
Talking about the market demographics of his pen business, Aquila states, "Montegrappa is an 80 per cent male brand and 20 per cent products are for ladies. Our brand is male- oriented. So a large per cent of Montegrappa users are male businessmen, doctors, lawyers and motorists."
Acquired by the Richemont Group in November 2000, from 2001 to 2005, the brand operated under the tutelage of Cartier, and then Montblanc. In 2009, the Aquila family reacquired the brand to bring it "all back home."
Speaking of BASELWORLD 2012, the twinkle in Aquila's eyes revealed that the brand had something very special. In keeping with their theme of 'pens and icons', where Montegrappa has pens dedicated to Muhammad Ali, Frank Sinatra, and Bruce Lee, the latest addition is the Alchemist pen-inspired by the Paulo Coelho novel.
To translate the impact of this novel, artisans at Montegrappa encompassed the various symbols used in the story. Using the lost-wax casting technique, the cap is decorated with representations of the sun and moon. The band features a rotating mechanism that lends a tactile sensation similar to the winding and time-setting of a mechanical watch.
Coelho is quoted saying: "As a writer, I acknowledge the immense power of the pen. It is with the pen and the written word that I have been able to give life to my thoughts and reach out to hundreds of millions of people. Alchemists were pioneers in chemistry, metallurgy and biology. Montegrappa are the alchemists of pens…I'm confident that the Alchemist Pen will become a milestone in the history of writing implements."
Referring to the 71 limited-edition gold Alchemist pens, Aquila adds, "This pen will probably go in the Guinness [Book of Records] as 71 is the number of languages the book [has] been translated making Paulo Coelho a part of the Guinness Book as the only living author whose book has been translated into so many languages." The Alchemist pen comes in a limited edition of 1,987 pieces, celebrating the year (1987) the book was first published with only 900 copies; coincidentally, the latter is the number of resin and sterling silver pens being produced.
Aquila spent two years working on the Alchemist pen-from the time the original concept came into being to the actual production. "Personally, I have been involved in this, with many sleepless nights," he laughs. Ask him if Montegrappa is ever going to associate with an Indian legend and he's tight-lipped, "We're working on something."
Aquila emphasises the use of unique materials like celluloid-exclusive to Montegrappa pens-that the brand has been using since it was established. He's also clear that the core business of Montegrappa is, and will continue to be, pens, though the brand has diversified into accessories and watches. Aquila explains, "There is a reason why we have extended to accessories. We planned to have a watch and cuff links that would match with the style of our pen. And it's nice to have matching accessories." One of the focus areas for the brand now is a jewellery watch, something that the Montegrappa team has been working on for two and a half years.
About his favourite writing instrument, Aquila pauses before he answers, "I cannot point [out] only one pen. But one thing that's very important to me is the original Dragon pen of 1995; it was a [piece of] jewellery that actually was a pen."
"Luxury is overrated as a word," Aquila is blunt, adding, "Luxury to me is the highest expression of craftsmanship. At least, this is our objective: to show the world that some skills that you can't find anymore still exist. And I think that it is our responsibility to make sure that these skills can be handed over to future generations of craftsmen."
As for me, Montegrappa is all about a certain je ne sais quoi that makes both the brand and the man behind it truly legendary.
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