Celebrating the exceptional high artistry and technical virtuosity of Montblanc’s artisans, the ultra exclusive Essential Moments event showcased the stunning ‘High Artistry Homage to Hannibal Barca Limited Edition’ collection. Jens Henning Koch, executive vice-president marketing of Montblanc International, gives a sneak preview of the €1.5 million writing instrument.

It is not every day that you get to hold a €1.5 million ($2.4 million) pen in your hand. I am sitting in the Colonial Manor in Capella Singapore and laid beautifully before me are bejewelled writing instruments from Montblanc’s new “High Artistry Homage to Hannibal Barca Limited Edition” collection. They are easily worth more than €3 million, and security on the compound is tight.

There is only one other person in the room: Jens Henning Koch, executive vice-president marketing of Montblanc International. Towards the end of the interview, I finally pluck up the courage and ask whether I can hold the pièce de résistance of the collection. “For Instagram,” I justify with a laugh, and Koch gamely passes me a white glove to slip on before placing the “High Artistry Homage to Hannibal Barca Limited Edition 1” in my hand.

There is only one piece in the world and it is beyond exquisite. It is also heavy, weighed down by all those gems. The barrel flaunts a full pavé of blue sapphires, accented by a sparkling series of diamonds set amid white gold and strategically spaced out around the nib, middle and top. Crowning the fountain pen is a stunning 6.03ct brilliant-cut DFL diamond displayed on a stone-holding table set with diamonds — a feat no doubt emblematic of the stone-setting precision of Montblanc’s artisans.

My eye is then drawn to the clip of the pen, fashioned in the shape of an elephant’s head and trunk with individually cut diamonds all meticulously set by hand.

Why an elephant? It was this great creature that helped Hannibal Barca, one of the greatest military generals of ancient times, to victory during the Second Punic War in third century BC. Barca was the general of the army of the ancient civilisation of Carthage, now known as modern-day Tunisia. During the war, he swept across southern Europe and through the Alps, consistently defeating the Roman army, but never taking the city itself.

The design of the new High Artistry editions is inspired by the major events of the war, such as when Barca made his epic crossing of the Alps in 218 BC accompanied by his team of war elephants. When his generals warned him that it would be impossible to cross the Alps on the back of an elephant, he said “Aut viam inveniam aut faciam” (“I will either find a way or make one”).

In a similar vein, Montblanc’s High Artistry editions parallel Barca’s pioneering spirit, as they embody the technical virtuosity and bold creativity of the 110-year-old Montblanc Atelier — while telling the story of one of history’s great figures.

Celebrating Barca’s epic journey to victory, the forepart of the writing instrument is engraved with the general’s route from Carthage to Rome. The Au750 solidgold nib is decorated with a special design representing the Carthaginian deity Baal Hammon and adorned with two brilliant- cut diamonds. In reference to his military exploits, many details also evoke the military armour worn by the Punic army, from delicate engravings on the cone ring to ancient drawings and Punic armour design engraved on the nib.

“Everybody knows Montblanc as the leading maison for fine writing instruments that is very much driven by innovation and technicity. Our High Artistry collection allows us to express at a superhigh level what our artisans are capable of,” says Koch. Shedding light on the creative process, he adds: “First, we decide on the story we want to express, and the level of high artistry in our manufacture allows us to be able to tell that story. The High Artistry pieces are seen as high jewellery for men who appreciate not only the beauty but also the richness of the story behind it.”

(Left): The Montblanc Summit luxury smartwatch is powered by Android Wear 2.0, Google’s latest operating system for smartwatches, and the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor
(Right): High Artistry Homage to Hannibal Barca Limited Edition 1 features a barrel of full pavé of blue sapphires, accented by a sparkling series of diamonds set amid white gold

Wooing the super-rich
It is almost 11am and someone peeks into the room to signal us to wrap up the interview. In minutes, an elite group of Montblanc’s most esteemed clients from all over the world will begin shuffling through the door to have their own moment with this magnificent masterpiece and decide whether they want to purchase the bragging rights of owning this unique piece of craftsmanship.

They will of course also preview several other more “accessible” editions in the High Artistry Hannibal Barca collection. This includes a €480,000 “Limited Edition 5” version with champagne gold fittings and featuring an exquisitely engraved and polished 3D model of the Mont Blanc massif in rough rock crystal, a reference to Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps. There is also a “Limited Edition 10” version clad in anthracite and titanium paired with solid white gold and black onyx at €150,000 and, finally, 86 pieces of the “Limited Edition 86” (€35,000) to symbolise the 86,000 men who crossed the Alps with Barca. It features solid red gold fittings and granite and mother-ofpearl accents, and a cap made of wood lasered with a leopard print pattern, recalling the panther skin that Barca and his generals wore to protect their left arm and shoulder.

Koch expects between 40 and 50 potential buyers at this event, which Montblanc calls “Essential Moments”. This is the third Essential Moments annual event and it is the first time it is being held in Singapore, following Kyoto and Paris. Montblanc is footing the bill to fly in and host most of these VVVIP customers while some prefer to pay their own way and “some come on their own jets”, says Koch.

Wow, so this is how one woos the super-rich and seduces them into parting with €1.5 million for a pen, I think to myself. Each client has an individual appointment to spend precious moments one-on-one with the different editions in the collection, with Montblanc’s high artistry experts — who have been specially flown in from the company’s headquarters — present to share more of the artistry behind each creation and answer any queries the client may have. In addition, the Montblanc boutique managers from the client’s respective countries will accompany them as they preview the beauties residing in each of the four rooms.

“It’s a very friendly approach with a close group of collectors; their boutique managers have an idea of what they would be interested in and can take good care of them during the event,” Koch explains.

Who are these people who would spend €1.5 million for a pen, I ask Koch curiously. “They are very charismatic persons and, of course, very successful. They are very knowledgeable collectors of writing instruments as high jewellery pieces. And here, you not only have the beautification of high artistry; you not only have the finest materials and diamonds and sapphires and gold; what is very important here is the story behind the instrument, which in this case is Hannibal Barca and the significance of his military strategy. So, I would consider them perfectionists who place high expectations and demands on themselves, who are looking for inspiration and looking for the highest level of what you can have in jewellery, while embracing that story,” he elaborates. Singapore was selected to host this edition of Essential Moments because of a growing interest in the Asian region for such high artistry pieces.

“Our high artistry events are a very strong phenomenon in Europe. We are here [in Singapore] with global customers from Europe, the Americas, etc. But we are also seeing high interest in the Asian region for these high-end pieces. So, we wanted to enable greater convenience for those Asian customers who want to come and take a look, and not have to travel for one or two days to Europe. And Singapore is a great destination,” says Koch.

Later in the night, these hand-picked group of clients will be entertained VVVIPstyle at an exclusive gala dinner at Fullerton Bay Hotel, along with a select group of guests from the media.

Aspiring to new heights in challenging times
“In challenging times, you have to think about the consumer who is highly knowledge able; it is the consumer who is looking for what is new, what is special, what is genuine and what has a really unique background. It’s not ‘Can I afford to?’ It’s ‘Do I want to?’” says Koch. “This is where brands and maisons have to come up with great launches and novelties. We at Montblanc embrace that and, with the High Artistry launches, we have the background and the story and the inspiration behind it. Montblanc is always about inspiring and aspiring to new heights.”

Writing instruments still remain the biggest product category for the globally recognised brand that has successfully diversified into other business categories. Yet, writing instruments now represent “less than half of our whole” business, says Koch. “All our categories are growing and our two other strongholds are watches and leather goods.”

Montblanc watches made their debut in 1997 to a cynical audience, largely comprised of purists in the world of mechanical watchmaking. The lifestyle brand has since earned the respect of both the watch industry and collector alike with its impressive and growing repertoire of supremely complicated Swiss-made haute horlogerie pieces powered by Montblanc’s own calibres.

But do customers still need convincing? “Those customers who are very knowledge able, we don’t have to convince. On the one hand, it’s about further communicating the legitimacy of Montblanc. We have two manufactures, including Minerva (in the Swiss municipality of Villeret), which dates back to 1858. So, we are kind of seen as a pure watch player and, over the past three years, that has evolved a lot,” says Koch.

The TimeWalker Collection is a great example of the technical dexterity and savoir- faire at Minerva, which was already known for producing high-quality instruments for measuring brief intervals of time with remarkable precision in the 1900s. Vintage-themed, though contemporary in look and feel, the racing-inspired chronographs were reportedly well received when they were launched earlier this year.

Then, there is the Montblanc Summit, the first high-end smartwatch that looks nothing like a smartwatch, which the company also introduced earlier this year. The luxury smartwatch is powered by Android Wear 2.0, Google’s latest operating system for smartwatches, and the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor — one of the most advanced and powerful wearables processors in the market for smartwatches.

Embracing the future
“Hugh Jackman puts it perfectly: ‘Montblanc always has one eye on the past — the heritage, craftsmanship, etc — and one eye to the future,’” says Koch, referencing the international superstar who has been the global brand ambassador for Montblanc since 2014. “Thus, we are completely embracing the digital, and we are a good example of digital transformation on both a product level, like with the Summit watch, as well as in our communications: embracing the new media landscape and social media and how we shift our media spending. And we play on craftsmanship with these sorts of events, where we are in close contact with our customers.”

The Montblanc staffer peeks into the room for a second time and I take the cue. It is 11am. The well-heeled guests are about to arrive and several million dollars in different currencies are about to be exchanged. I exit the room and notice a change in vibes; the air is now filled with a curious mix of excitement and tension. There are even more black-suited security personnel guarding the grounds. I bump into two other journalist friends and joke, “It’s like The Secret Service.”

Jamie Nonis is a lifestyle journalist with an appreciation for all things beautiful

This article appeared in Issue 802 (Oct 23) of The Edge Singapore.