What we carry everyday inspires devotion. That’s why people obsess over watches and bags, and know their phones’ width and weight and texture without even looking. Not many set out with a fountain pen, but those who do leave an impression. This group of hearty souls has feelings, some quite strong, about all details of their pens. And that’s a good thing—it’s refreshing to know there are still people who obsess over the width of a nib. (We see you Big Apple Pen Club.)
So it was natural that when Montblanc approached Marc Newson to design a pen, it made an impact. Both are defining names in their fields. Newson, of course, is the industrial designer who’s rumored to take over at Apple when Jony Ive moves on. He’s worked with everybody from Jaeger Le Coultre to Heineken, designing furniture, airplanes, backpacks—it’s not uncommon to see his work at Gagosian gallery or setting records at auction houses. Montblanc of course needs no introduction, they’ve been making pens since 1906, in their Hamburg factory (they’re German, not Swiss, despite the name). The company’s line has expanded to include finely made watches, bags and leather accessories. But the fountain pen still represents the soul of the company.
Montblanc had never worked with a designer outside the company. They turned to Newson, who draws regularly, and gave him free rein. The result is the new Montblanc M. It’s singular and elegant, something you want to look at and want to use. The cap snaps shut with a satisfying click, and an internal magnet aligns it with the base of the pen. It has a perfectly measured weight and writes beautifully (even for those of us who are left-handed, and notoriously struggle with fountain pens).
It looks progressive and reassuring at the same time. It feels the right object for the moment, and, like all insightful design, that moment looks like it will last a while. You will age, but the pen won’t.
Montblanc pens are not for everybody—they’re expensive. The new fountain pen costs an ice cold $565 (a rollerball and a ballpoint each cost $400). That makes it a non-starter for most, and you can’t quarrel with them. But that doesn’t diminish its fascination, any more than it diminishes the handmade bamboo fly rod that I covet but will never acquire. (You might consider the Lamy Safari pen, a classic piece of German design. I’ve carried one most days for nearly twenty years. Cost: under $30.)
“Pens are the way that I choose to connect with the world,” Newson says. That connection is real—you think at a different pace when you write on paper, and it takes you away from the screen. “I still like to do my drawings by hand,” Dieter Rams once said.
The pen is of the moment, but when you use it you slow yourself down. Newson has instilled a sense of modernity in a classic enterprise. Ultimately, design provides a sense of clarity—in making our lives easier we better understand our needs. Design recognizes our motivations and, in a sense, what makes us human. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does the mark is lasting.