Tradition and Innovation; the Montblanc Heritage

How is it possible to maintain such a glorious history and heritage but still be able to innovate with every product? A brief view into Montblanc’s history that is now over a century old and that fascinates generations.

Tradition and Innovation are at the antipodes of human history, I think we all agree. However, once in a while, some people are able to fuse the 2 things in objects, services or ideas with a natural simplicity that leaves people astonished and marveled. One example of perfect fusion of tradition and innovation is for sure the pen manufacturer Montblanc. Now you may object: how can a pen manufacturer be innovative with a tool that has been invented over 100 years ago? Well, there are several aspects that contribute to the status Montblanc has nowadays as one of the top luxury brands in the world. Please join me in this brief but intense journey through their history and let’s understand why their history is so relevant for us as customers.

The roots

Montblanc’s history goes back to, more or less, the beginning of the history of the modern fountain pen itself. Founded in 1906 by three German partners, and called Simplizissiumus-Füllhalter pen company, the guys moved pretty quickly from Berlin to Hamburg, in 1907 and renamed the company to Simplo Filler Pen Co. GMBH. You will notice quite a lot of “simple” in their company name at that time, right? This is not a coincidence since they were producing a quite simple fountain pen called Rouge et Noir safety pen. Safety pens are so-called because they are equipped with a retractable nib; when the nib is telescoped into the barrel and the cap screwed down, the pen is sealed against leakage. Thanks to this simple mechanism, the gentlemen at the time, weren’t scared anymore of horrible ink leaks on their white shirts. The first pen called “Montblanc” came out only in 1910 and featured a plain white cap. In fact, the distinctive six-pointed star made it’s appearance in 1913 for the first time and represents 6 glaciers on the Mont Blanc in France that are draining down from the mountain.

The first fountain pens produced by montblanc

The first fountain pens featuring the six-pointed star

The Meisterstück collection

In 1924, a milestone was set with the launch of the “Meisterstück” collection. This name was first used for a flagship fountain pen with a piston filling mechanism. This pen also featured the Montblanc cap and suddenly, the identification between these premium fountain pens and the company became so strong, that in 1934 the name Montblanc was adopted for the whole company. By that time, the distribution of Montblanc was already impressive. They were selling in over sixty countries and were running extensive advertising campaigns. Interestingly, at the time, fountain pens were partly already luxurious goods. But in principle they were essential tools for business and communication, and as for other tools, i. e. watches, you might have to settle for a less prestigious one but you still tried to get the best you could afford. Vulcanized rubber (also known as ebonite) was slowly replaced by other materials such as celluloid in the beginning and later on by newer thermoplastics, acetate and acrylics. Same improvements happened in the gaskets which made a wider range of filling systems available to the customers.

WWII and the 149

Even though Hamburg was literally devasted during World War II, Montblanc has immediately restored their manufacturing capabilities and distribution network in order to restart the business in the shortest possible time. So only after 7 years, in 1952, the launched an iconic model, that is my absolute favorite in the Montblanc Meisterstück Collection: the 149! A Cigar-shaped fountain pen with a majestic 18K gold nib and available only with gold finish. This model has undergone only very marginal changes during the years and to this very day, the 149 is still available, nowadays in 3 possible finishes: gold, platinum and rose gold. A piece that can’t be missed by any collector. More important, a piece to be used every single day.

the complete 149 collection

The modern era

Time passed by and Montblanc got the chance to join a prestigious internal group called Richemont in 1993 and made sure, that their great heritage had a solid foundation to be continued appropriately. Today Montblanc is one of the Top 10 Luxury brands in general, with a huge range of products, possibly only comparable with Cartier within the Richemont group. In particular the limited editions such as the “Great Characters”, “Patron of Art” or the “Writers Edition” are literally little piece of Art and have become highly collectible items. Let’s be honest, in the pen’s world, they are the undisputed leader. Whenever you gift someone with a Montblanc pen, the lucky chap (or even better, the lucky lady) will immediately recognize the reputation of the object and will appreciate the gift even more. More important, he will potentially use your gift every day and write some nice letters, sign some important contracts or sketch his dream on a leaflet. What a wonderful feeling!

The purists under us will now claim the part, where we would talk about the nibs that Montblanc produces rigorously in-house and about their bespoke nib service. But we wouldn’t do them justice if we would dedicate a couple of lines to such an important topic. We will do an extensive post about the Montblanc nibs soon on inkstable.com.

A huge compliment

In conclusion, I really think that Montblanc deserves a huge compliment from everyone of us since, as hinted in the beginning of this post, they have always been able to combine tradition and innovation in a way that only few were able to do. Therefore, next time you look for a pen ask yourself how the history of this manufacturer reflects my values and priorities. In doing so, you will suddenly understand why you like the one more than the other and will therefore rejoice longer in your purchase.

If you are interested in particular in the Meisterstück Collection, check out our post from last week where we talk about the Meisterstück in particular and the legendary Porsche 911.

Image credits: Montblanc, Hodinkee

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