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‘Even in this super digital world, writing is not a lost art’

Montblanc India’s chief executive on the joy of writing, the new Jimi Hendrix collection of pens and watches

A pen from Montblanc's Great Characters Jimi Hendrix Limited Edition collection.
A pen from Montblanc's Great Characters Jimi Hendrix Limited Edition collection.

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In today’s world of digital signatures, transcription services, online forms and e-journals, do we really need a pen or even stationery? Neeraj Walia insists we do. He’s the managing director and chief executive officer of Montblanc India, a brand known for decades to produce the finest of writing instruments, luggage and watches, all dipped in luxury and style.

“Writing with a pen allows you to log off and spend time with yourself,” he told me recently when we met over coffee at Delhi’s Chanakya mall. “You can’t possibly derive a similar joy from any app or digital tool, and people are realising this more now, especially after covid.”

In an interview, Walia talks about the change in consumption patterns of writing instruments, the recent Jimi Hendrix collection (part of the brand’s Great Characters Edition, a series of limited edition writing instruments that celebrate changemakers), and watches. Edited excerpts:

With the increased use of digital tools, what kind of change have you witnessed in the way people consume stationery?
Writing is like meditation. It is a way to spend time with yourself. Even in this super digital world, writing is not a lost art. Covid was an unprecedented time for everyone across the world. However, it was also a time to reconnect with ourselves, slow down and spend time on self-reflection. This was the time we connected with several writing instrument collectors who mentioned how much time they were spending on journaling and writing.

As a brand where writing instruments are at the heart of everything that we do, we try to engage our audience with art of calligraphy workshops to nurture their love for handwriting.

Neeraj Walia, managing director and chief executive officer of Montblanc India
Neeraj Walia, managing director and chief executive officer of Montblanc India

When it comes to writing instruments, how important is the role of Gens Y and Z? Are they even buying them?
Surprising as it may seem, we have customers spanning generations. A writing instrument is like a family heirloom, handed down from one generation to the next. Our younger clients may often go for leather as their first purchase, however they do purchase across categories, including writing instruments.

You recently launched the Jimi Hendrix collection. Could you tell us about it?
The Great Characters Edition this year is dedicated to Jimi Hendrix, one of the best guitarists that ever lived. We took the iconic Meisterstuck shape and broke it to make it something new. When he was a kid, Jimi would stare at the dormant volcano Mount Rainier that dominated Seattle and imagined that one day he would break it down and make something new. This was exactly where he got inspiration for his song Voodoo Child.

From the shape of the writing instrument inspired by his electric guitar, to his portrait engraved on the nib of the fountain pen and, of course, references to the Tremolo bar and the iconic Purple Haze, it’s a collection meant to celebrate one of the biggest artists of the 20th century.

What’s the role of a pen in the era of digital signatures?
It’s a completely different experience using a fountain pen to sign, isn’t it? There’s something more intimate about it.

While Montblanc has a rich legacy when it comes to producing instruments, it’s a relative newcomer to the world of horology in its current guise. How has been the response, considering watches are now slowly moving towards the gender-neutral category and sustainable materials.

Actually, this is a misconception. Writing instruments may be at the core of our business but we have an equally rich legacy when it comes to horology.

The Montblanc watchmaking story began in 1858, when Charles-Yvan Robert founded his workshop in Villeret, in the Swiss Jura Mountains. Though he didn’t realise it at the time, this marked the beginning of the historic Minerva era. Over the century and a half that followed, Minerva would become one of the world’s leading specialists in precision chronometry for professionals.

Today, Montblanc timepieces continue the journey of Minerva’s over 160-year legacy in four fine watchmaking explorations: Star Legacy, 1858, Bohème and Heritage. Each links the past and the present through design, style and technical innovation.

Your favourite pen?
My favourite writing instrument is the Writer’s Edition Rudyard Kipling that takes its main inspiration from Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The overall colour is inspired by the cover of the book’s first US edition, with the clip taking inspiration from the wolf pack featuring Akela. The cap is engraved with Kipling’s handwritten initials R.K. The beginning and end of the poem “If” is engraved on the cap top and cone ring—“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…You’ll be a man my son”.

The level of detailing captured in one writing instrument is one of the reasons it is my favourite.

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