Montblanc Celebrates Its Centenary

Montblanc, the German luxury brand that built a worldwide empire atop a pen, has devised its own diamond cut, crafted in the shape of its famous star logo, to celebrate its centenary. The Montblanc Star Diamond appears this year in the logo’s usual spot on every pen, watch, and accessory in Montblanc’s 100 Years collections.

Eight years in research and development—“to achieve maximum brilliance and light refraction,” says a company statement—the 43-facet patented cut is a first. While other brands have had diamond cuts with inscriptions or logos engraved on the girdle, Montblanc is the first with one replicating its signet—“the world’s first logo-cut diamond,” says Jan-Patrick Schmitz, president and chief executive officer of Montblanc North America. The new cut also evokes the famous Mont Blanc peak in Switzerland, Europe’s highest mountain and part of the company trademark.

Montblanc debuted its new cut here and spotlighted its 100th anniversary in March with a celebratory event at the New York City club New Space, hosted by popular young actress Claire Danes and attended by hundreds of guests, which featured a performance by nine-time Grammy Award winner Lauryn Hill and the unveiling of the cut by illusionist Criss Angel.

CENTENARY COLLECTIONS

The yearlong celebration isn’t built only on promotion of the Star Diamond. The company is launching several anniversary collections and also has a new ad campaign called “Soulmakers for 100 Years”—so named because “every artisan who works on a Montblanc writing instrument, watch, or accessory puts a piece of his or her soul into it,” says a company spokesperson.

One anniversary collection is the Meisterstück Solitaire 1906, a limited edition (1,906) of Montblanc’s best-known pen, capped with the Star Diamond. However, most of Montblanc’s centenary collections aren’t pens, but luxury watches, including an impressive array of limited editions. The timepieces in its Swiss-made Star Collections—all Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres–certified automatics, with a Star Diamond in the crowns—include:

  • The men’s Montblanc Star 100 Years, in platinum (three only); white, yellow, and red gold (100 each); and the stainless-steel Star 100 Years: 1906 Edition with “1906” silver dial (unlimited).

  • The Montblanc Sport Tantalum 100 Years watch, made of solid tantalum (twice as sturdy as steel), water resistant to 1,906 meters, and featuring a helium valve for decompression (100 only); and the Montblanc Sport Tantalum 1906 Edition chronograph, coated with PDV tantalum, water resistant to 300 meters, and featuring a helium valve (unlimited).

  • For women, there are the white gold Lady Profile Elegance Collection 100 Years, with mother-of-pearl dial, diamonds, and gems in three limited editions of three each (with 9.85 cts. of diamonds or 5.10 cts. of diamonds plus 9.70 cts. of either rubies or blue sapphires); the white gold Lady Profile Elegance Crossover 100 Years: 100 Edition, in three styles of 100 each, with 1.24 cts. of bezel-set diamonds, diamond numerals, and shiny alligator straps (pink, red, or black); and the stainless-steel Lady Profile Elegance Steel Jewelry Crossover 100 Years: 1906 Edition in three styles of 100 each, with diamond numerals, mother-of-pearl dial (blue or purple), and alligator strap.

  • The unlimited Chrono GMT Perpetual Calendar, which tracks date, day, month, year, leap year, and century.

CREATING A ‘MEISTERSTÜCK’

What today is a global luxury brand began humbly in Germany in 1906. Three entrepreneurs (Claus-Johannes Voss, a stationery dealer; Alfred Nehemias, a banker; and August Eberstein, an engineer) were beguiled by the potential of the new “fountain” pen, which contained its own ink tank and didn’t need an ink well. They founded Simplo Filler Pen Co. in Hamburg, Germany, (still the company headquarters) to produce fountain pens to sell to stationery dealers. Their first model came out in 1908, but it was the technically superior 1909 model—which they called “Montblanc,” after Switzerland’s Mont Blanc—that made the firm.

It was so successful, they registered the name and snowy-peak symbol as a trademark and renamed company, as well as all the writing instruments it would produce, “Montblanc.” In 1913, the now-famous logo of a white star with six rounded points—reportedly representing Mont Blanc’s snowy top—was introduced. Within a decade, Montblanc was doing business worldwide.

In 1924 it debuted Meisterstück (German for “masterpiece”), its most famous line, with the 149, its most famous pen. From 1929 onward, all Meisterstück pen nibs were engraved with “4,810” (Mont Blanc’s height in meters). During the Great Depression in the 1930s, Montblanc gave customers a lifelong guarantee, a first for a pen.

Meisterstück not only revolutionized the pen industry but also left its mark on popular culture. Its award-winning design has been showcased in museums worldwide. It’s been used by leaders in politics, business, and culture in the past 100 years, and has even appeared in the movies. Roger Moore as James Bond used a Meisterstück 149 in The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) to shoot the villain.

In 1983 Montblanc debuted the Meisterstück Solitaire collection (in solid gold, sterling silver, or gilded silver), and in 1994 it entered the record books with the Meisterstück Solitaire Royal—covered with 4,810 pavé diamonds, each individually cut with 35 facets—as the world’s most expensive fountain pen ($150,000). In addition, since 1992 Montblanc has produced Meisterstück limited editions of 4,810 each, honoring famous arts patrons, writers, or musicians, for the collectors’ market.

‘DIVERSIFYING DNA’

About 20 years ago, Montblanc began changing in several ways. One, as Jan- Patrick Schmitz puts it, was through “strategic decisions to diversify [Montblanc’s] brand DNA” into other luxury products. In 1992, it added leather accessories. In 1997, it entered the upscale watch market via its Montblanc Montres watchmaking facility in Le Locle, Switzerland, and its first watch line, the Meisterstück collection.

It followed up in 2003 with two new lines, a series of writing instruments called StarWalker and a watch collection called TimeWalker, both aimed at younger affluent adults. In 2005, Montblanc launched its first women’s jewelry collection, in sterling silver. It’s had great success, but there are no plans to expand it with the new Montblanc Star Diamond or add another line featuring it. “We want to cement a firm relationship with our female customer base by promoting the current jewelry, which is still very new,” said Schmitz.

Since the late 1980s, the company has also been actively involved in cultural sponsorships around the world, like the Montblanc de la Culture Arts Patronage Award (1992), honoring writers and patrons of the arts; the Montblanc Cultural Foundation (1995), based in Germany; the Philharmonia of the Nations (1995); the Women’s World Awards (2004); and its own “Sign Up for the Right to Write” project against illiteracy (2004), in cooperation with UNICEF.

The company also has made operational changes. Alfred Dunhill Ltd., a British luxury goods firm, acquired Montblanc in 1985, and in the 1990s, Dunhill and Montblanc became part of the Vendome group, now known as Richemont, the Swiss luxury goods holding company that still owns it. In 1999 Montblanc entered retailing, opening its first boutique in New York City.

Today, Montblanc makes and sells not only luxury pens, watches, jewelry, and leather goods but also eyewear, perfume, and cologne. Its products are sold in some 9,000 authorized outlets (including jewelers) and 260 Montblanc boutiques in more than 70 countries. Montblanc North America alone operates 41 boutiques and 80 shop-in-shops in selected jewelry and department stores. “It’s a very focused distribution, working with leading luxury retailers,” says Schmitz. “Montblanc has always held quality far above quantity. Our goal is to be available through only the finest luxury retailers across the country.”