Power Accessory: Mighty Fine Pens
by amy elliott
photography by evan sung
Cross Year of the Dragon fountain pen
|Ailing pens come here to be healed|
|Visconti inkwells, for a well-appointed writing desk|
|Vintage desk pens from the 1930s, used for parts to repair other pens|
With luxury personal papers, customization can be taken to the nth degree. Need a notepad with the tail number of your Gulfstream? Top stationers will be happy to oblige. As for specialized writing instruments, the variations of limited-edition, collectible fountain pens are legion. But in the past year, fine-pen customization has reached a new level of precision with the introduction of a service that designs nibs suited to an individual’s writing style.
“The idea that something has been handcrafted to be ultimately and totally for you and no one else is truly what luxury is all about,” says Jan-Patrick Schmitz, the CEO and president of Montblanc, which developed the technology for custom nibs at its werkstatt in Hamburg in 2010. Here craftsmen evaluate the physical and aesthetic characteristics of a client’s penmanship to create the ultimate couture writing instrument. Sophisticated computerized technology that took years of research now allows the company to offer the Bespoke Nib Service to New Yorkers.
How does it work? You’re asked to provide several writing samples on a digital pad that records handwriting speed, pen angle, pressure applied to the page, rotation (how much your hand moves back and forth when writing), and the swing range (how often you move your wrist). After the report is reviewed, the personal handwriting data is transmitted to Hamburg, where the sample is analyzed and a craftsperson grinds a nib exactly to the computer’s specs. The process takes several weeks to complete.
As for the advantages of a custom nib, Schmitz says it makes the experience of writing feel like moving through butter. The ultimate splurge: ordering custom nibs for several different fountain pens, each intended for a specific activity such as writing thank-you notes, reviewing paperwork, or signing important documents. Schmitz himself owns several pens with custom nibs, one of which has been designed just for his signature—thick, lavishly swooping letters rendered in a brilliant, bespoke orange-colored ink. “Your handwriting is an expression of your personality and character,” says Schmitz, “so having a personalized ‘signature-only’ pen will be a wonderful thing for fashionable, self-confident New Yorkers to experience.”
It will be interesting to see if the city’s business elite will give up their Montblanc Meisterstück power pens for this latest innovation. Or maybe they’ll just add it to their writing-instrument mix, along with the company’s bespoke Personal Code Ink, which contains an invisible botanical code that allows forensic scientists to verify whether that person’s ink has been used on a document.
Like any luxury product, fine fountain pens require tender loving care. New Yorkers can be reassured that, in addition to the luxury firms designing innovative and servicing innovative fountain pens, there’s an “only in New York” institution that merits a visit if you have a pen in need of TLC—the Fountain Pen Hospital, in Lower Manhattan. The low-key storefront on Warren Street could quite possibly be this city’s greatest red herring, as the time-worn navy awning and vintage signage give little clue to the antique treasures inside. Basement cupboards are filled with rare fountain pens and writing accessories from the 19th century. “When we opened in 1946, there were no ballpoints, rollerballs, or felt tips,” says Terry Wiederlight, the Fountain Pen Hospital’s third-generation president. “We sold fountain pens and employed five repair people to fix the pens when they dried out or the nibs broke.”
Today the store maintains and repairs these instruments. In addition it has become a collectors’ mecca, attracting visitors from all over the world. “They’re so passionate,” says Wiederlight of the people who come in search of the latest, rarest treasures. One highly coveted collectable is Krone’s Abraham Lincoln pen, made of ebonite and embellished with a cabochon amethyst that contains the president’s reproduced DNA in the form of a porous glass powder obtained via a patented technological process. Pieces by Visconti are also in demand. The firm recently created an elegant pen, fashioned of satiny ivory resin sheathed in rose-gold filigree, which commemorates the recent marriage of Prince Albert of Monaco to Charlene Wittstock. The Fountain Pen Hospital also has offerings from Italian pen maker Montegrappa, and the ne plus ultra of luxury writing instruments, Montblanc. Montblanc, 598 Madison Ave., 212-223-8888. The Fountain Pen Hospital, 10 Warren St., 800-253-7367