An interview with the Founder of Fratello Watches about his passion and vision of fine Writing Instruments. Follow us in this Interview with RJ Broer where he’ll highlight what he specially loves about Pens, what he thinks the potential is, and more interesting topics.
I know, the title is a bit simplistic. But i did it on purpose. I want to point out what is happening more and more in the last months. Watch enthusiasts are discovering, or better said, re-discovering fine Writing Instruments. Lars Mangelsdorf recently introduced me to RJ Broer, which i think i had met once or twice at Baselworld. I had the chance to be in touch with him about the passion for Fine Writing Instruments and Watches. I was very happy to see his genuine excitement for his Fountain Pens and how curious he was to learn more about this World.
For the few who don’t know, RJ Broer is the Founder and Owner of FratelloWatches and creator of the #speedytuesday, just to name two things. It’s almost too obvious to say that Fratello is an authority in the Watch Community. They release several in-depth articles a day and are one of the Top 4 Go To Online Magazines when you’re looking to become knowledgeable about Watches.
Said that, when RJ asked me to write an article on Fratello Watches that would point out “Why Fountain Pens are relevant to Watch Enthusiasts” i felt very proud. By the way, if you want to have a look at it, here is the Link: https://www.fratellowatches.com/why-watch-enthusiasts-love-fountain-pens/
I really wanted to share here on Inkstable his valuable point of view about fine Writing Instruments and to share with all of you guys his passion for it.
SN: RJ, thank you so much for taking your time to have a Chat with us. I would start with asking you what’s your most nostalgic or emotional memory about a Fountain Pen?
RJ: I think it is also my earliest recollection of using a fountain pen: getting this fountain pen in school when I was around 7 years old. In my case, that means 1984 or 1985. Left handed kids would get a red one and right-handed kids either a green or a blue one. In order for you to receive one from the teacher, you had to show you did your best in writing. Anyway, of course I didn’t and couldn’t chose anymore, as I wanted a blue one but got the green one. I always thought it was a Pelikan (Pelikano?) but more recently I start to think it was a Diplomat. The body was green, and it has a silver coloured cap. I hope I will find it back at some point, but I am afraid it is long gone already. Perhaps not the most emotional moment, but at least my most nostalgic one. My most emotional memory about a fountain pen is definitely getting the one my grandfather always used. For decades, he used this Pelikan 140. It has some burn marks on the body and cap, most probably due to him smoking cigarettes and cigars. It still writes though, and very nicely as well I might add.
SN: I guess this had an impact on you starting to collecting Pens. But when exactly did you started collecting Fine Pens and also how did it caught your attention again lately?
RJ: I started buying fountain pens when I was a student. My first was a Pelikan M250 and soon after I bought a Montblanc 146. I kept on buying pens in the years after. Then, I neglected it till only a few months ago. My first purchase (again) was a Delta pen via an auction site, and then a 149 followed, and my latest purchase is a Pelikan M800 Brown-Black. Oh no, I added a vintage Pelikan 400 from 1954. It was actually due to a colleague of mine at Fratello that I renewed my interest in writing instruments. She asked me to do a few pictures of something else than watches for our social media account, and then I came up with fountain pens. Dusted off my Stipula Etruria LE and it went all wrong from there….
SN: I love to hear these stories RJ, and it’s always interesting to see how one little action can revoke an interest we had lost. Why do you think that fine Writing Instruments still have a relevance in a digitalized World today?
RJ: As much as a mechanical watch has in today’s world of smartphones and smartwatches. These are items you don’t really “need” today, but as we’re all suckers for nostalgia, you want to use them. To take a break from all the screens and social media, it is nice to enjoy something mechanical, be it a watch or a fountain pen. Also, writing with a fountain pen, instead of typing in your wordprocessor, slows down your pace a bit. It requires a bit more attention, and to think in advance instead of thinking while writing.
SN: What are the common links between a watch guy and a pen guy, or the question could also be, why should someone that cherishes well crafted items be interested in a Pen too?
RJ: It is definitely the love for the finer things in life, and a proper amount of nostalgia. If you appreciate a nicely decorated mechanical movement, you will also appreciate a fountain pen with beautiful nib. It often goes hand-in-hand anyway, many of my watch collecting friends have a weak spot for fountain pens. Since I published an image of my fountain pens, including the Otto Hutt design08 next to my Seamaster Ploprof 1200M watch, I receive quite a few messages from other watch enthusiasts about their pen collection(s).
SN: I’m always amazed by how many pen collectors were hidden before it started to go a bit more into social media again. You’re a Watch Expert, passionate and also a Business person in the Watch Industry. But do you think that Passion for Fine Writing Instruments could ever reach the same level of Watches?
RJ: That’s a difficult question for me to answer, as I am not that familiar with the pen industry. For me, it is also a bit of an escape. Every day, I am occupied with watches. I still consider myself a collector, but it is also my day-to-day occupation to publish about watches. What I am trying to say, is that I am not really a regular consumer of watches anymore. With pens, I am a consumer again and enjoy what others publish about it. So my observation of the pen industry is very limited and not from a professional point of view. Meaning, I have no idea about how large the (fountain) pen industry actually is. I did join a few fountain pen fan groups on Facebook and I am amazed how crowded and active these are, so I guess we’re still talking proper numbers. So trying to answer your question here: mechanical watches really received a new impulse in the 1990s, and even more so again in the 2000s. It wasn’t until the 2010s though, that a larger audience picked it up. Mainly due to the internet, as information became so easy to access about these watches. And with social media, it also gets exposure to an even larger audience, not even watch people per definition. I guess fountain pens have a different status with the larger audience, perhaps it is (even) a bit more geeky, but definitely solid enough to make the business more professional. I mean, look at these websites from some of the big producers of pens. It is quite embarrassing to be honest. I am a big fan of Pelikan, but their website looks like it has been developed in 1999 (it probably is). It is awful and doesn’t represent the luxury brand it is for fountain pens. And that’s just one brand. I think that what you do with Inkstable for example, is a perfect example of how it should be done. Inkstable gives it a more luxury experience, and shows you’re passionate about pens. I do feel though, and this is a big plus for the pen collecting scene, that it is all more about the product itself. With watches, you see that there is quite a percentage of people that get themselves involved in watches because of the mark-up they get for their Rolex, Pateks, and limited editions from other brands. There’s a passion for money, but not so much for the watches. With pens, it is perhaps less professional all together, but also more genuine. This should be cherished for sure.
SN: Thank you so much for your words about Inkstable and for sharing your point of view. Do you think, with time, that a Writing Instrument can ever become as “cool” and “statement” as a Wrist Watch?
RJ: It already is, for the right audience! A statement I don’t know. I do notice, and again I am a bit of a pen novice, that Montblanc fountain pens can be seen a bit as the Rolex of pens. But I try to stay away from statement objects, I just want to buy and use what I like. I think a fountain pen is foremost a conversation maker. I noticed that when I take out one of my pens to make a note, people comment on it and share their story about a pen that’s special to them. Or their wish to purchase a nice fountain pen at some point. A pen is perhaps even more personal than a watch, as you put your thoughts onto paper using this writing instrument. And if you do so, it should better be a nice pen that suits your style and personality.
SN: What are you looking for in a Writing Instrument?
RJ: Foremost, a pen that writes tremendously well. Second, it needs to look good (in my opinion) and third: quality. There are a bunch of good looking pens out there, but since I am not an expert in this field, I really need to do my research. I have a few Pelikan pens, new and vintage, that I really adore. My latest additions are these M800 Brown-Black and a 400 from the 1950s. But I also love my Otto Hutt design08. A completely different pen, a very different writer, but amazing engineering. For my 25th birthday in 2003, my mother gave me a Stipula Etruria LE991, a beautiful piece that writes super nice. Very different in look & feel from my MeisterStück pens, but both models suit me. It depends very much on my mood which one(s) I will pick to carry with me.
SN: I agree with you. Mood often defines what pen to use. What are the moments of the Day or Occasions you enjoy most having a nice pen around?
RJ: When I am at my desk, putting some thoughts on paper. When I am on the phone or in a meeting, I use my notebook and fountain pen to quickly take some notes. Although I enjoy writing, I think I only truly enjoy the experience of using a nice pen when I have a clear mind and a slower pace. These can be thoughts on the next steps for FratelloWatches, but also some thoughts on private matters.
SN: Since you’re a Business Person and have seen the rise of the Watch Industry i’m very interested knowing what improvements you’d like to see in the Pen Industry?
RJ: Definitely how pen manufacturers promote themselves. It is like the watch business in 2003, and that’s not a compliment. Some do it properly, but others are just stuck in time, despite having beautiful products. I was also listening to a podcast about pens, and some American distributor of a European pen company was complaining that people got ‘discount’ when they ordered them overseas and not via his network in the USA. That’s not discount, that’s just not paying taxes. These things show lack of being professional business wise, or lack of interest perhaps, or just laziness. I do like how you, but also pen shops like Appelboom, Fontoplumo and PW Akkerman promote their businesses. They seem to be more on top of the game than the pen companies themselves. A missed opportunity.
SN: Inspiring to hear your point of view on this. What part of a Fountain Pen fascinates you the most?
RJ: The body and cap. How it is made, the colours (or materials). But in the end, if the nib isn’t nice, there’s no point in spending your money on it. Regardless of the body and cap. I also like it when a pen has a bit of a story to it, but somehow it is less relevant for me with pens than with watches.
SN: As a last thing i’m sure we’re all eager to know if you have put your eyes on a piece to add to your collection?
RJ: A watch (and as I recently discovered also pen) enthusiast here in my area, just bought himself a Scribo pen and he has been super enthusiastic about it. I have also been going back and forth on a Lamy 2000, but I read very mixed experiences with these pens. Anyway, I am not in a hurry, I have about 20 nice pens now, which I can enjoy in the meantime.