Write stuff: Can classy pens still hold their own against the ubiquitous PC/Laptop/Tab etc.?

Let’s assume you’ve got a few wagons of cash parked in a super safe bank ( at least for a day let you consider yourself as a sole occupant of this planet) and you can’t think of anything to do with it. Perhaps-just perhaps-you might be tempted to whip out a pedestrian ballpoint pen and write a cheque of $2.1 million which will buy you the Montegrappa Peace Pen. At this price, boy, the pen had better be mightier than the sword. Even our well-known Hollywood action hero Sylvestra Stallone “Rambo” designed a Montegrappa Chaos model fountain pen worth $5,000.

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What’s the peace pen? Well, it comes in platinum and Baccarat crystal and is studded with an extraordinary number of diamonds. And guess what? You can even write with it. Montegrappa is reckoned one of the world’s topmost creators of fine writing instruments.

We live in the age when Laptop/PC (even PC is almost on the verge of being archived) and other smart digital handheld gadgetries have replaced ballpoints and fountain pens. Inky-fingered schoolchildren and ink pots are things of the past. So why are the super-rich and the merely middle class spending more than ever before on classy fountain pens? Is it, as one suggests, just looking good when signing cheques?

Anyone who thought fine pens might be pushed off the page by the digital writing by pressing keypads from the computer should think again. A few years ago LVMH (Louis Vuitton Mo’t Hennessy, French multinational luxury goods conglomerate company) bought and Italian pen manufacturer called Omas ( Writing instruments handcrafted in Italy since 1925) to India for smart Indians who want the right label sticking out from their breast pocket. Similarly, Montegrappa has been snapped up by Swiss luxury from Richemont.

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Why are the fine writing instruments making a comeback in the age of digital writing and the internet? The answer almost certainly seems to be that they are one more accessory for the well-heeled. “Pens are important as they are complementary to other accessories such as watches, cufflinks and also reflect the personality of the person, “says Patrick Normand, managing director of, Cartier, Middle-East and South Asia.

Indian add model Miss Nibs Indrani Dashgupta who made an appearance at the Omas launch couple of year ago: “It can accessorize your dress. You can choose a matching pen with your dress. They are like pieces of ornaments you carry.”

Amazingly enough, choosing a fine writing instrument isn’t all that simple. Pen-making is an art that hasn’t died yet and there are several specialized firms that turn out the write stuff. But the most well-known and probably marques like Waterman and Montblanc. Even a JU student confesses that they keep a Montblanc presented by her father handy. “I’m fond of nice writing instruments. I have a Montblanc gifted to me by my father. It’s a short black pen with a blue stone which looks stunning.”

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In fact, all the famous names in the luxury game are out there with their finely crafted writing rapiers. You can sign on the dotted line with Cartier, Christian Dior, or Bvlgari that are all available in India. And, of-course, there is always Parker, once the only name known by Indians and now available at surprisingly cheap prices.

But remember one thing. There is no point in being sniffy about ballpoint pens. Take a look at the Montblanc Platinum Ballpoint for which you’ll have to write off a whopping Rs 5.4 Lakh. Even the cheapest Montblanc ballpoint, the Starwalker series comes in for Rs 11,850.

Similarly Bvlgari ’s Gift collection series ballpoint and roller ballpoint pens made in sterling silver and cotton resin are available at anywhere between Rs 13,600 and Rs 23,000. Or there is C De Cartier collection ballpoint pens with a platinum finish that covers about Rs 12,000.

If it’s good old fountain pens you are after, one hot-seller in this season is Louis Cartier Dandy pen with gold-leaf and gold-pleated detailing for Rs 57,500. And there is a limited edition Christian Dior’s pen numbered S604-121DIOR, which has 44 diamonds on its clip and ring for Rs 20,000. However, there are also some luxurious ballpoint pens available like Christian Dior’s Pattern grooved Gold ballpoint pens and Gold/Silver rimmed ballpoint pens at around $89. For the truly choosy there’s always a classic like the Waterman Man 100 Gold in solid 18-carat gold or sterling silver which will cost a six figure Rs 4.5 lakhs.

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And how about Omas which had come a decade back to India? It’s pen are selling in anywhere between Rs 8,400 and Rs 26,900 and it offers instruments like the 360 Yellow Rhodium Finish ballpoint and the 360 Blue Black Piston filed fountain pens.

Who are those luxury items aimed at? Says Pooja Jain, director, Luxor: “These pens are aimed not only at the achievers but also at those who aspire to achieve. The pricing is such that we cater not only to those who drive a Mercedes with iphone6 but will gradually upgrade everything in life be it car, house, phone or the pen they use.”

But do we really need such luxurious writing tools? Confesses one of the city based interior designer, “I’m no more pen freak I used to be earlier. Now I don’t have the time to write. I love Waterman fountain pens but when it comes to making a fashion statement or as a status symbol, I’d rather use them as writing instrument first. Making a fashion statement comes secondary.”

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Brushing the main issue of our discussion off from luxurious point of view, if we do comprehensive research on worldwide writing instruments category within the personal goods industry then we can monitor and analyze industry trends around the world, including in-depth data on market share and market size. Euromonitor International has done rigorous research on world’s writing instruments market research that can answer some questions such as:

  • How have sales of writing instruments evolved over the past few years?
  • What’s the potential of writing instruments sales via the internet?
  • Just how dominant are pens compared to pencils, highlighters and accessories?

Obviously, the sale of Fountain and Ballpoint pens has dropped so far in most of the developed of the countries like UK, Australia, Poland, USA, and Mexico as the increasing usage of electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets that has a negative impact on writing instruments, as consumers opt for writing using their electronic tools as a faster and easy going mode of communication rather than writing instruments. However the Fountain pens put in the best performance within writing instruments in South Korea in 2014, recording current retail value growth of 4%, followed by roller ball pens with 3%. Interestingly in middle-east Asia and few other European countries like Romania, France, the sale of the writing stuff has escalated despite of being increasingly tech savvy. The prospect of using writing instruments in India is will be driven by an increasing population, which is the second largest in the world. Almost 65% of the population are also under the age of 35. The potential market for companies providing educational services is thus immense, compared with other nations. Hopefully the literacy rate in India will drive sales further.

As an individual, I still prefer writing using fountain pain. Unfortunately, the immense pressure of living in jet-age has made me choose the insipid way of digital writing using electronic handheld devices. When I delve down in my memories, I can clearly visualize the charming bygone days of writing using fountain pain on papers. Quoting John Green from his New York Bestseller Fault In Our Stars : “It was really written by him (Peter Van Houten). I licked my finger and dabbed the paper and the ink bled a little, so I knew it was really real.” (page 113)…. Hope to be really real once again