A visit with Montegrappa Pen
Montegrappa's Rich History
Montegrappa is a well known for making a high quality pen. As Italy's first manufacture of pens the company has a rich history. It has been located in the town of Bassano del Grappa, in Northern Italy, since 1912.
Edwige Hofmann, of Austria, started the company to produce fountain pens with gold nibs.
Alessandro Marzotto and Domenico Manea bought the business from Hofmann in 1927 and established the new name of the company - ELMO. The name of the company changed in 1947 to be ELMO-MONTEGRAPPA.
Over this time period the company was successful in its supply of pens to the army. During the World War I, Bassano del Grappa was a centre for military operations. This brought well known writers Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos to the area where they volunteered as ambulance drivers for the Red Cross. They used Montegrappa pens and became part of the company's history.
In 1981 the Aquila family of Italy bought the company and changed the name to Montegrappa 1912.
In 2000 the company was sold to the Richemont Group, a luxury goods company that also holds the Montblanc brand. And now, in 2009 the Aquila Family has again acquired the company.
Visit with Giuseppe Aquila
In September 2009 I had the pleasure to visit with President and CEO, Giuseppe Aquila, at the Bassano del Grappa headquarters. It was a very interesting visit as I had always wanted to know more about Montegrappa as I have admired their pens for many years.
As we talked it was easy to sense his pride and vision for the company.
Create pens of utmost quality and value.
The quality and value of Montegrappa pens is well established. Having owned a Montegrappa Extra 1930 Parchment fountain pen I have enjoyed the writing experience with such a quality pen. I have always found the well-styled look of Montegrappa pens to be very appealing. To me, the Extra 1930, represents a fine example of simple, classic design in a fountain pen. Other lines of pens such as the NeroUno, Espressione, Emblema, and the Miya are all examples a clean, good functioning design.
During our visit we talked about the various lines of regular production and Limited Editions pens that have been created over the years. Giuseppe has an in depth knowledge as his involvement in the pen business extends for a considerable time period. As President of the Aquila Group, he is also involved with other lines such as Tibaldi, Lalex 1938, and licensing of brands such as Ducati and Jaguar.
Some of the very impressive Montegrappa pens were brought to market with the personal involvement of Giuseppe Aquila.
For example, Giuseppe was involved in the design and creation of the Limited Edition Vatican 2000 Papal Pen. The pen was launched in 2000 to celebrate the Grand Jubilee. The pen is engraved by hand and decorated with symbols of Christian iconography and has the signature of John Paul II. Giuseppe met John Paul II to present the pen, an experience he holds very special.
In meeting the people of Montegrappa I was impressed with their sense of pride and commitment to quality.
Montegrappa is known for its celluloid pens. I particularly enjoy writing with celluloid pens because of the rich appearance of celluloid. As a material for pen construction celluloid offers a range of colour and pattern options, is light weight and when cured correctly, is a very sturdy material. In talking with Andrea Zanchetta of Montegrappa's sales team, he explained that celluloid and silver are the DNA of Montegrappa.
Celluloid and silver... the DNA of Montegrappa
As I visited with Giuseppe we walked throughout the factory and he explained the key processes and skills involved in creating a Montegrappa pen. Detailed work, coordination of various production states, and the care and quality of the many parts that make up a pen all come together to create the final product.
In general, there are between 11 and 50 parts in a Montegrappa pen, and with the exception of the nib, all of the parts are produced at the Montegrappa factory.
The pen nibs are made in Germany to Montegrappa’s specifications. However, only the nib is made externally. The ebonite feeds are cut from rods and crafted for the nib section by Montegrappa at is centre. Ebonite feeds are known for enabling a smooth, dependable ink flow as they are slightly porous, and a little rough-surfaced, with allows the feed to nicely hold ink in the nib section.
We talked about the design, prototypes, and then production and finishing involved to create the final pen. The time and work to produce a Montegrappa been is significant, and as we walked through the factory, and discussed the various stages, I became even more appreciate of the final product.
Since Montegrappa is known for its celluloid pens we spent time talking about the specific process to create celluloid pens, however, Montegrappa is well known for its pen in other materials.
It takes about 16 months to make the celluloid used for the pens. Of this time, almost 12 months is required for proper curing. Before final curing, celluloid is relatively unstable and highly combustible. For protection, the celluloid rods are stored in a separate building.
As we walked into one of the storage rooms the smell of camphor was very noticeable. I could recognize the colours of the rods in terms of some of the final Montegrappa pens I have viewed over the years. Giuseppe showed some rods that he is keeping for a yet-to-be-created lines.
The celluloid rods are cut into lengths for the respective pen part – caps and bodies. They are then drilled in the centre so that the pieces can be used by the equipment in the later stages to create the final components.
There is then a long slow baking in special ovens. Because of the danger of combustion of the celluloid, the ovens are also housed in a separate building. Giuseppe opened up the oven and I saw the pieces of celluloid heaped on the trays looking like pieces of pasta.
The baking takes four to six months. The final time depends on how the material reacts to the baking process. There are frequent tests. For example, the level of the solvent in the celluloid must drop below a set amount for the baking process to be completed. If the level remained too high, the celluloid would be unstable and could be subject to shrinkage. Given the exact fit of the various parts of a pen, any shrinkage would be unacceptable.
I found the polishing room to be very interesting as I was unaware of the range of materials used to polish the various parts of a pen. From fine powders to small pellets, each provides a different end result. Hand polishing, with rotating brushes of different hardness, are part of the finishing process.
Detailed engraving is also important to create a Montegrappa pen. Deep drawings, low relief engravings and hand-etchings are all skilled processes that can be part of the final Montegrappa pen.
For some of the engraving, two dimensional drawings are converted to three dimensional formats with the use of computer software. But it would be wrong to assume that is a straight forward software process. Each component of the drawing has to be calculated to determine the appropriate incline of the cut. This determines the amount of reflective light and the final appearance of the engraving.
Watching various pieces of the pen go through the process brought a new awareness of the attention to detail. For example, the Montegrappa logo has to properly align with the engraving on the nib and other parts of the pen. Some pens also have individual serial numbers that also have to be engraved on the pen.
In talking about the various steps Giuseppe was very clear on the importance he holds to quality.
There is extensive testing of the individual parts and the overall pen to various conditions.
Pens are subjected to various levels of heat and cold to ensure there will be no problems in the variety of climates. A machine tested clips to simulate the ongoing use of the pen clip for many thousands of times. Pens and parts were dropped from various heights to ensure that the final pen will stand up to the range of user experiences!
There are quality checks through out the manufacturing process. One piece of equipment was very impressive. In essence a microscope that magnifies the part of the pen and then compares readings to the original technical drawings. Calibrations are checked and can be adjusted so the particular part of the pen is exact in terms of the design specifications.
In fact, his mother is often part of the last quality checks as products are packaged to leave Montegrappa and make their way to retailers around the world.
The future plans for Montegrappa include building on the established quality of Montegrappa, and to continue to build a presence in established and new markets.
Montegrappa has seen growth in markets such as Russian, the Ukraine and Asia. He looks forward to greater presence in the North American market and Kenro is the North American distributor. Kenro is well established and this should all work well to increase Montegrappa's presence in North America.
Giuseppe explained that the current economic market conditions require products that are of a high quality and hold a good value to the purchaser. Those are two proven characteristics of a Montegrappa pen.
I was glad to hear that lines such as the Extra 1930 will continue, and work is underway for new lines of regular and limited edition pens.
The Extra 1930 was designed for those who love classic design and original colours and decorations. The Extra 1930 was inspired by models from the Montegrappa museum. Trim in sterling silver, body and cap in celluloid, nib 18 kt gold. the fountain pens are piston filled. They are available in fountain and roller ball. The fountain pen nibs include: Extra Fine, Fine, Medium and Broad sizes. Above are the stunning Black and White and Marble Green models.