Montblanc thinks the pen is mightier that the smart phone, even in the digital era
With most people these days using their mobile phone or computer for writing text, will the old fashioned pen become a museum item?
Montblanc chief executive Jérôme Lambert said the same question was raised when mobile phones began to become more widespread in the late 1990s, but now those concerns have disappeared.
“About 10 to 15 years ago there was debate over whether digital technology development would eventually replace writing. Now we have proved that even in the most digitalised cities in the world, the digital and traditional way of writing can live together well,” Lambert told the South China Morning Post at the Montblanc boutique in Tsim Sha Tsui.
The 110-year old company is well known for its deluxe pen collection, but also sells leather goods, watches and jewellery. Lambert said even in the digital era, the pen is still its flagship product line, representing 40 per cent of all its sales, while watches and leather goods each represent about 25 per cent, while jewellery makes up the remaining 10 per cent.
“It is true that some people may not use a pen for everyday use. However, when it comes to the important moments in life, such as weddings, signing a deal or contracts, people would use a high quality pen to mark the important occasion,” he said.
“Everybody want to leave a mark and the digital message is not long lasting. The pen has become less used for its functionality but more for pleasure, passion and experience to mark the long lasting commitment between people and businesses. The pen will not disappear in the digital world,” Lambert said.
The list of Montblanc deluxe pen users includes US presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and his wife Hilary Rodham Clinton, British royalty Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles, and Hollywood movies stars Nicole Kidman and George Clooney.
To address the trend that deluxe pens have become more useful for pleasure and symbolism, the company has issued collectable items for writers, explorers, politicians and artists. This year, it released a collection for William Shakespeare to commemorate 400 years since his death.
Founded in Hamburg in 1906 by Alfred Nehemias, August Eberstein and Claus Voss, Montblanc came about out of the need for functionality. The trio met on a cruise to America where they found it difficult to have reliable writing instruments for long distance travel. Subsequently they created the non-leaking fountain pen and named the company after the highest mountain in Europe, as a symbol of excellent and fine craftsmanship.
Lambert said quality and innovation were key factors that enabled the company to survive the many ups and downs over its 110 year history, including two world wars and many economic crises, including the latest one triggered by the Brexit referendum on June 23. Global stock markets tumbled and the pound sterling fell to a 31 year low after Britons voted to leave the European Union.
“That’s life. There are always opportunities arising from risks,” said Lambert. “We take the Brexit risks as an opportunity to expand. The falling pound has made Britain more attractive to tourists. We have prepared to promote retail sales in Britain to capture this opportunity.”
Dunhill Holding acquired Montblanc in 1985, which subsequently became part of Richemont, now the the world’s largest conglomerate.
The company entered the Hong Kong market in 1990. It now has 135 shops in 63 cities in mainland China, with the latest two outlets to open this year.
Lambert said China was an important market with a growing middle class and educated population.
“We have a large network in mainland China because we believe we need to develop very strong proximity to our customers,” he said, adding that the expansion of shops are important as mainlanders have changed their buying habits.
“Previously, many mainlanders liked to buy luxury products when they travelled overseas. But now, we have found there are an increasing number of mainland clients who like to buy at home,” he said.