Montblanc's Writers Edition 2018: In pursuit of the Trojan horse

Kissing distance from the blue Ionian sea, ancient olive trees standing as sentinels and free-flowing Louis Roederer Champagne — all guaranteed to tease ‘skeletons’ out of the closet. It is an intimate mid-week gathering, at the launch of Montblanc’s 27th Writers Edition collection in Costa Navarino, a luxury resort in the Greek region of Messinia. And these Skeletons are the kind that must be celebrated — Black Widow 88, Antoni Gaudi, the Genghis Khan… meticulously handcrafted pens from Montblanc where parts of the barrel are exposed, with metal fretwork overlay, all limited editions and costing a fortune.

The owners, having travelled from South Africa, the Middle East and Israel (there is a real estate baron from Chennai as well) on the invitation of Montblanc, have brought along their favourites. They are generous with descriptions of their prized collections, but mostly off the record. We are at Villa Koroni, where Franck Juhel, President of Montblanc Middle East, India and Africa, has invited his 70 guests to dinner and to watch the FIFA World Cup semi-final match. With Croatia playing against England, the mood is upbeat.

Making memories

There is some talk about Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo spending his post World Cup vacation in the same villa and checking out a few hours before we arrived. I also hear snatches of fountain pen-speak regarding ‘‘saturation’’ and “shading” of inks. A collector from Dubai, on being introduced to us, confides that he uses his bottle of the elusive Mahatma Gandhi ink (saffron) sparingly. A South African ophthalmologist, with a very impressive beard and a charming disposition, has brought his university student son along to be a part of the proceedings. Nobody does storytelling like Montblanc, he insists. They all agree that they cannot wait to take home their next acquisition and the star of the season, the Homage to Homer Limited Edition 1581.

Montblanc's Writers Edition 2018: In pursuit of the Trojan horse

Writers Editions in the past have honoured other literary greats like Leo Tolstoy, Ernest Hemingway, Agatha Christie and, last year, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The 2018 offering, inspired by the Odyssey, Homer’s second epic poem about the journey undertaken by Odysseus returning home from the Trojan War, borrows its silhouette from the body of the famed wooden horse. Early the next morning, I meet Montblanc’s Juhel at his villa once again, this time for a white-gloved presentation of the two limited edition pens. The first comes with a matte black resin cap and barrel, with the clip referencing Achilles’ spear, and his helmet engraved on the gold nib. The second, more precious variation, is what catches the eye. In Greek coral and champagne gold, it has all the bells and whistles you now expect of the modern Writers Edition pens. It is numbered, of course (1,581 pieces worldwide, referring to the year when Homer’s Iliad was first translated to English), with gold-coated inlay on the cap reminiscent of Achilles’ armour.

Keeping secrets
  • As for the secrecy that surrounds each special edition launch, with “non-disclosures”, heated discussions on forums like Fountain Pen Network, and a year-long wait, Juhel only shrugs and smiles in response. A perfectionist when it comes to getting his customers’ preferences right, he says it takes about five years to develop a special edition pen, in collaboration with historians and designers. “Once the product has been finalised, we have prototypes, to be shown in exclusivity to our collectors,” he says, adding, “Previews are organised a year in advance, one for each special edition. If collectors are not able to attend them, they lose out; due to the secrecy and exclusivity involved, the pen cannot be shown anywhere else.” It is then up to the teams at the stores to describe the pen to their regular customers. “I’d say 70-85 % of bookings of limited edition pens are made by collectors who haven’t seen the product!” he tells me.

Nib satisfaction

It is the first Writers Edition that does not have the signature of the writer engraved on it. And it uses the biggest nib, the 149. Later, collectors tell me that this, another first for the Writers Edition in 22 years, is what draws them to Homage to Homer. Some, like the collector from Johannesburg, whose first Montblanc was the Hemingway Writers Edition, say they will have the 1581 edition fitted with a double-slit signature nib. These nibs “put an even brighter cherry on top” he shares, adding that Montblanc’s tradition of adding stories and memories to their products is what sets them apart from other brands.

There cannot be a trip to Greece without some ancient ruins, especially when you are paying homage to Homer. Thus, later that day, groups of VIP collectors and the media head out for a cultural tour of Pylos and Nestor’s Palace. According to Homer, Pylos was the home of his hero Nestor, the eldest and wisest of the Greeks who fought at Troy. The site made for some serious introspection, as we relived myths and soaked up the sunshine from a hill overlooking the Bay of Navarino in the southwest Peloponnese. “These memories will come to life every time I handle the Homer pen,” shares our bearded collector, a feeling that is seconded by the Montblanc aficionado from Chennai.

Montblanc's Writers Edition 2018: In pursuit of the Trojan horse

Advantage India

Making travel plans
  • Several VIP collectors had brought Montblanc luggage to Greece, including Juhel. It is a recent addition to the brand’s portfolio and was launched in Florence last month. Why did it take the brand this long to enter the category? “Before launching a new category within a category, you must make sure the main one is well seated and globally strong. This is the case with the trolley, and we now have five references in four sizes, priced from ₹36,000 onwards,’’ says the frequent traveller, listing special features like the Italian leather handles, which can be adjusted to any height, and the tiny compartment for phone chargers (a Montblanc charger, of course!).

At a more formal dinner that night, Juhel admits that he is constantly surprised by the knowledge of Montblanc collectors in India. With the undeniable geographical penetration of the brand in the country — there are 10 stores at present and they are on track to reach 15 this year — the maison is making good on lost time. Also, their introduction on e-platform Tatacliq three months ago, has resulted in buyers from remote towns like the hill-station, Coonoor. “About 80% of the orders are from cities where we don’t have a boutique. E-commerce will help us plan for the future,” he says, in a way reiterating what Johann Rupert, chairman of Richemont (that owns luxury brands like Montblanc and Cartier) told financial analysts in May last year, “The change that’s going to come in the next 10 years, it’s exponential change… we better be ahead of that curve.”

Priced at ₹83,800 (fountain pen WE Homage to Homer) and ₹3,33,600 (Limited Edition 1581). Ink from the collection at ₹2,600. In stores from August. Details:

The writer attended the launch on the invitation of Montblanc.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2021 4:03:59 PM |

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