For most people, writing entails putting pen to paper – with little thought of the pen’s mechanism. But for connoisseurs of writing instruments, there is nothing more important than a tiny and often overlooked feature of the pen – the nib.
A search online will bring up thousands of pages and forums dedicated to discussing nibs, with their shape, style and size debated endlessly.
Mr Axel Nier’s life work has been written by the nib – at least over the past 25 years he has spent as a fountain pen and nib expert at German luxury goods manufacturer Montblanc, which specialises in luxury writing instruments, jewellery and leather goods.
“The way you write is akin to a fingerprint,” the South Africa-born craftsman says while discussing the eight pen tips Montblanc offers for its pens. “You might change your pen over the years, but you will always keep your handwriting.”
The 47-year-old studied tool-making in a specialised school in Hamburg, Germany, and says it took him over a decade to perfect the art of designing and handcrafting nibs at Montblanc.
For Montblanc pens, which are known for their trademark star logo and 18-or 14-karat gold nibs, the technicalities of handwriting are constantly being analysed, so as to create writing instruments that offer a constant flow of ink which does not fade or smudge.
Besides some of its best-selling ranges such as the Meisterstuck, the brand also creates limited-edition High Artistry pieces every year, which are shown to selected VIPs at private viewings.
Pens in this range are often created in collaboration with artists and are handcrafted with premium metals and gemstones, so each piece is a one-of-a-kind work of art. They are released in limited quantities and can cost more than €1 million (S$1.6 million).
With such precision at the heart of its products, it is no surprise that the company set up a department for creating personalised nibs nine years ago. There are now 50 specialists across the brand’s three writing instrument manufacturers in Hamburg, Germany, where the nib department and Montblanc’s bespoke programme are based.
Clients who choose to get a customised nib will have their handwriting analysed, taking into account nuanced factors such as writing speed and handwriting size, writing pressure, pen rotation, swing range and inclination angle.
The Montblanc experts based in Hamburg will then take six to eight weeks to handcraft a nib that works specifically for the client’s hand, including the engraving of a name, signature or an inscription such as a wedding date, directly onto the pen or the nib to complete the personalised order.
Costing an additional €1,400 above the cost of the pens – which are priced between $750 and $2,540 for the Meisterstuck Le Petit Prince Special Edition range – customisation can be expensive.
But demand has grown, as evidenced by a notebook which Mr Nier carries, containing handwritten messages, calligraphy and drawings from clients who have created customised nibs with him.
“It is indisputable that the handwritten note is coming back,” he says, adding that he is seeing a trend of more consumers in their 20s and 30s investing in luxury writing instruments. “We use our phones a lot but… more people these days want to write notes by hand for that personal touch.”
This article originally appeared in The Straits Times.