Art has played an important role in my life from a very early age, as an admirer, collector, follower, and—as a writer—a creator. So it’s no surprise that one of my favorite ways to spend time is in museums or at concerts, plays and libraries. But just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder so, too, art is an expression of creativity and imagination that appeals to people in different forms and in different ways.
When I think of art, my mind runs to the visual arts, music, dance and literature. In a broader definition, art includes those things I can appreciate for their beauty or emotional and sensual power.
There are really no absolutes when it comes to the definition of art. Among my other collections, I have a selection of antique clocks that never fails to interest people who come to my home, prompting discussions and the sharing of information—over a glass or two of wine—about their provenance. They are especially beautiful, with hand carving, perfectly designed mechanisms and chimes that sound like a symphony on the hour. What elevates them from “craft” to “art” for me is the emotional conveyance that augments their functional purpose of telling time.
As for pens, while not every one in my collection may be considered art, many fit the definition—particularly one-of-a-kind and sometimes-signed pieces by notable artisans, gem-set pens and pens that are used as canvas for exquisite sculpting and engraving, miniature painting and more. Thus they are elevated from their functional purpose of writing.
Many manufactories—like Montblanc and Montegrappa—have dedicated ateliers on their premises, in Hamburg and in Bassano del Grappa respectively, where their art pieces are designed and constructed. There, expertly trained stone cutters, engravers, sculptors and more transform a pen into something that is far greater in magnitude than the sum of its parts.
Last year’s High Artistry, A Celebration of the Taj Mahal, from Montblanc, for example, celebrates the rich artistic traditions of the Mughal Dynasty in India under the influence of one of its most enlightened rulers, Shah Jahan. The collection includes three one-of-a-kind fountain pens, each a gorgeous display of several techniques that point to various details in the Mughal narrative. Each pen is a story in itself.
Montegrappa, known for its amazing engraved sculptural pens, just introduced its homage to Raphael, a master of the Renaissance. The limited edition Raffaello 500th Anniversary collection includes five of the artist’s most recognized works that have been recreated on respective barrels of the pens and framed by precious metal. Montegrappa atelier artist Alessandra Malesan draws on her long career in restoring notable European artworks, and her contribution to this limited edition for Montegrappa is the first example of micro-brushwork featured by the brand.
Cartier brings its expertise in creating jewelry and other objets d’art to its pen collections, offering truly breathtaking sculptural pieces in its Exceptional Pen series. Here, familiar motifs like the panther, tiger and dragon are transformed into magnificent examples of the jeweler’s imagination.
The Dragon Décor limited edition—my favorite—is a limited edition of just eight numbered pens with an 18-karat yellow gold body with lacquer details. The red lacquer cap features a blue lacquer cloud décor and a stunning 18-karat gold sculpted dragon paved with 475 diamonds and five emeralds—and an additional emerald on the dragon’s tail for good measure.
Founded in France as a leather goods company in 1872, S. T. Dupont has grown to include all manner of luxury goods, and its exquisite writing instruments are crafted at the Paris-based brand’s workshops in Faverges, Haute-Savoie. It takes 140 to 150 operations and 10 to 20 parts—excluding refill—to produce a pen, and the manufacturing process generally takes two to three months to achieve the desired results.
S. T. Dupont is known for the flawless lacquer work found on many of its pens and lighters, which gives them a characteristic organic finish. The natural lacquer used is made from the sap of the Rhus Vernicifera tree, cultivated in regions of China, Korea and Japan. The company’s lacquered pens often feature a small, finely drawn leaf on its body to authenticate the material, much like an artist’s signature is found on a painting or print.
One of S. T. Dupont’s recent lacquer limited editions is the Shakespeare pen collection, introduced earlier this year. The pen’s cap is coated in parchment-colored lacquer, and handwritten lines from an original work by William Shakespeare run its length in a decorative script. All of the appointments on the pen are vermeil, and well-conceived details—such as the Hamlet-inspired cap crown—highlight the life and works of the bard. There are 1,564 pens in the edition in honor of Shakespeare’s year of birth.
And pens, like art, are eminently collectable, with collectors and collector clubs and trade shows springing up all over the world. Monograph books, magazines and catalogs are popular, and auctions, too, are offering pens with some very gratifying results. A rare, signed Dunhill-Namiki Double Dragon maki-e fountain pen, Emperor size from the early 1930s, sold at a Bonham’s auction in December 2017 for $225,000.