It’s no wonder that Montblanc’s latest High Artistry pen collection is inspired by mountains. The German pen brand’s very name is an ode to the highest Alpine peak in Western Europe, self-confidently chosen as a symbol of the young company’s eventual achievements. And staying true to this motif, the just-released First Ascent of the Mont Blanc collection was so named for the courageous 18th-century climbers who first conquered the namesake massif, as well as the pioneering spirit that has propelled Montblanc since 1906.
First Ascent of the Mont Blanc High Artistry
Alessandra Elia, Montblanc’s Global Managing Director – Writing & Accessories, explained that every new High Artistry collection is an opportunity to expand the boundaries of the company’s craftsmanship, with innovative methodologies sometimes unearthed along the way. This is due in part to the increasingly generous freedom of expression afforded the Hamburg-based designers and artisans, who bring fresh and often-challenging possibilities to the table at every turn.
Like earlier High Artistry pen collections, a number of variations are offered within the First Ascent—in this case, five: the Limited Edition 333, LE 86, LE 10, LE 5 and LE 1. Each version conveys an impressive range of art forms that stretches one’s notions beyond what might be fathomed for a pen. Some techniques were used here for the first time, but even the tried-and-true métiers d’art, like skeletonizing and stone setting, are reimagined in new and inventive ways. It’s all about perfecting—and indeed expanding—the company’s expertise, Elia said.
I was duly impressed by the vivid mountain imagery exhibited in the collection, ranging from the glacier-blue lacquer and the granite Montblanc emblem on the Limited Edition 333, to the cascade of diamonds calling forth the icy Mont Blanc peak floodlit by the sun on the singular Limited Edition 1. So, too, a cap crafted from granite (sourced from Mont Blanc, no less) is fitted on the Limited Edition 10, and miniature alpinist’s tools—alpenstock and ax—decorate clips.
Pioneering as art form
The First Ascent—in story and in fact—is all about pioneering, and it was important to connect with this theme in a creative way while designing the pens. The most pioneering act of all, I think, was the decision to use wood marquetry on the Limited Edition 5.
“We’ve never done wood marquetry before, and it is very complex—and even more challenging on a small cylinder,” Elia shared.
So when it came time to figure out how to artfully yet ruggedly bind tiny pieces of wood to the curvature of a pen, Montblanc looked outward—to French multi-material marquetry artist Rose Saneuil, who effected the décor on each of the five pens at her Paris atelier.
“We seek the absolute best possible people in the industry,” Elia said of Saneuil, adding that Montblanc engages fellow Richemont brand Van Cleef & Arpels for its High Artistry enamel work.
Saneuil has partnered with a number of luxury brands, including Davidoff and Piaget, over the years. I interviewed her a while back at the prestigious Geneva watch show, S. I. H. H., regarding the wood marquetry watch dial she had created for Piaget. I was dazzled by her meticulous work on the Altiplano Rose and equally impressed by her humility. She says of her craft, “…the skill is to make the viewer forget the technique and see only the aesthetics.”
The First Ascent Limited Edition 5 uses various shades and materials to puzzle together what seems a near-impossible example of miniature marquetry, employing leather and mother-of-pearl in addition to varying woods. The pen’s cap top is dramatically crowned with a smoky quartz that opens to reveal a skeletonized “Mont Blanc massif” set with a 2-carat diamond.
I commented on this use of “moveable parts,” which appears to be on the rise within the brand’s High Artistry pieces. Elia explained this is not only a push for increasingly sophisticated in-house craftsmanship, it is also in answer to Montblanc’s clients who appreciate the technical aspects at play.
The 18-karat gold nibs on the First Ascent are decorated with an edelweiss using a three-dimensional engraving technique that is striking in its richness and detail. And since Montblanc takes such great pride in its in-house nib making, this innovation is befitting.
“We are [also] introducing more and more nib options,” Elia commented about the company’s broadening range of writing points, adding what may be considered a metaphor for Montblanc at large. “Aesthetically and functionally, we are developing constantly.”