Montblanc’s Taj Mahal moment

Tears of the Moon, where the rubies, emeralds and diamonds are set in a style reminiscent of Kundan stone setting   | Photo Credit: Olff Appold

In 2017, Nicolas Baretzki visited an exceptional exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris. It was the Al Thani collection of jewels: From the Great Mughals to the Maharajas. And as he lingered over 278 precious pieces, ranging from jewellery to inkwells and daggers, the smitten CEO of Montblanc had an idea. Earlier this week, at The Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra, famously 600 metres from the Taj Mahal, that idea was presented to an enchanted VVIP audience — as writing instruments using outstanding gemstones, each with a curved barrel inspired by a traditional Mughal dagger, and the cap top recalling the dome of India’s iconic monument to eternal love. In place of the clip, a peacock feather adorns the front of the writing instrument, a reference to the peacock throne made for Shah Jahan in the early 17th century. And on the nib, two engraved lovebirds to symbolise, yes, the love between the emperor and his wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

Montblanc CEO Nicolas Baretzki

Montblanc CEO Nicolas Baretzki   | Photo Credit: Julien M Hekimian

Talking pictures

The day after the showcase, I meet Baretzki, 49, in New Delhi. He is in his customary slim suit and good humour, but unlike earlier occasions, more than willing to admit to his role in this High Artistry edition — A Celebration of the Taj Mahal. Each year, when a host of limited edition writing instruments are launched at high-profile events across the world, the maison is discreet about naming individual ideators. Not so this time. “I saw that exhibition [at Grand Palais] and I said ‘Wow, the stories are amazing, the influence was huge’,” begins the self-confessed jewellery fan who began his career at Cartier. Since the precious pens are still in Agra, he shows me pictures taken on his phone of the three High Artistry ‘unique’ pieces.

Kundan and more
  • Montblanc’s High Artistry Taj Mahal edition has three Unique pieces, and Limited Editions in series of five, 10 and 76. All of them come with meticulous details.
  • For instance, the centre of Black Myth has a white opal cabochon that can be detached to reveal a lotus in mother-of-pearl marquetry.
  • The peacock feather on the Insignia of Power has a ruby cabochon at the centre. Underneath is a miniature enamel painting of a daisy, as a symbol of love.
  • Tears of the Moon is called so because of the emeralds that make this instrument, with the term borrowed from the Mughal period. The centre has a rose-cut diamond and beneath it, a miniature enamel painting of a bird.

His personal favourite, evidently, is Tears of the Moon, where the rubies, emeralds and diamonds are set in a style reminiscent of traditional Kundan stone setting. “It is the best representation of the Kundan technique. If I go back to that exhibition in Paris, this is exactly what I visualised,” he confides, adding, “This was our opportunity to work on innovation and re-establish a [traditional] technique in the modern, high jewellery way.” And as ‘high jewellery’ is the jewel version of haute couture, and the stone is at the centre of this process, he roped in all the help he could get. In this case, head of purchasing at Van Cleef & Arpels. Like Montblanc, the French luxury jewellery company is owned by the Richemont Group. “He has access to stones and gems that Montblanc would have never had access to, as we are not big enough [in jewellery],” Baretzki confesses. It explains the 6.10 carat step-cut emerald, the centre stone on Tears of the Moon.

Black Myth has a white opal cabochon that can be detached to reveal a lotus in mother-of-pearl marquetry

Black Myth has a white opal cabochon that can be detached to reveal a lotus in mother-of-pearl marquetry   | Photo Credit: Olff Appold

The other monument

Swiping up a photo of Black Myth, inspired by the legend that Shah Jahan planned to build himself a mirror image of the Taj Mahal, only in black, the Montblanc chief says, “I love this story because Montblanc has ‘invented’ what could have been the second Taj Mahal, that could have stood on the opposite side of the river [Yamuna].” In thousands of black sapphires and brilliant cut diamonds in pavé-setting, it comes with a 6.2 carat D-flawless diamond at the top. Next up, Insignia of Power, the third piece in the Unique category; the Van Cleef connection also helped in acquiring the spectacular 6.4 carat old diamond seen on this gold and ruby writing instrument. “We acquired it from an old Indian mine and believe it is about 200 years old,” says Baretzki.


Round-trip to India

Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani’s famed collection that celebrates India’s jewelled arts over five centuries was the focus of exhibits in New York, London and Japan before it went to Paris, and earlier this year, some items made headlines as part of Christie’s Maharaja Mughal Magnificence auction. While the collection has never come to India, Baretzki and his Montblanc team certainly gave guests at the Oberoi launch something to covet (or treasure, as it appears several pieces are taken) with their High Artistry interpretation. “The entire edition took about two years to develop, and after the back and forth with the team, and sometimes the disagreements, what connects with me is the final piece. And the emotion. You could call it pride or satisfaction but we have achieved what we wanted to achieve,” concludes Baretzki.

The Unique pieces range from €1.8 to €2 million, with the Limited Edition 76 starting a little below €50,000.


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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 5:34:37 AM |

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