The Art of Writing

Exclusive writing instruments elevate the tradition of putting pen to paper — a ritual technology cannot erase — into fine art.

Writing a check or signing a document is generally a routine task, one far too often facilitated by an 89-cent piece of plastic and aluminum. But a bejeweled, limited edition writing instrument can transform a simple signature into a truly artistic expression.

Nancy Olson, a leading authority on fine writing instruments, reports, “Unlike many other luxury collectibles, a pen is portable, user-friendly and has a cultural element because of its link to writing and the arts.” Olson, who is also a prominent commentator on timepieces, notes the parallels between the two instruments, stating, “Pens and watches are both small, mechanical objects that provide a healthy hit of extravagance and enjoyment when worn or used.”

Among Olson’s favorite designers are German manufacturers Pelikan and Montblanc, the latter the high-end brand with the greatest mainstream name recognition. Montblanc pens have long been considered luxury items, but many are surprised to learn that some of the company’s limited edition writing instruments cost not hundreds, but hundreds of thousands, of dollars.

Montblanc collaborated with elite jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels on a $730,000 pen bejeweled with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires to commemorate both companies’ 100th anniversaries in 2006. The manufacturer’s Meisterstück Solitaire Royal LeGrand fountain pen is copiously embellished with more than 4,600 diamonds and valued in excess of $200,000.

Olson reports the qualities collectors admire most in pens are craftsmanship, scarcity and the ability to convey a story. 

Les Quatre Couleurs from David Oscarson commemorates the evolution of playing cards. Courtesy of David Oscarson.

The 1010 Timekeeper by Caran d’Ache celebrates the watchmakers that share the company’s hometown of Geneva.           Courtesy of Caran d’Ache.

Few brands have mastered storytelling better than St. Louis-based David Oscarson, whose eye-popping writing instruments encompass a remarkable diversity of themes. In addition to celebrating the natural world, art or architecture, Oscarson pens commemorate historic figures such as the Romanovs of Russia, Lewis & Clark and Sir Alexander Fleming, the bacteriologist who discovered penicillin. Most Oscarson issues are priced at about $5,900, but special editions command more than $250,000.

One David Oscarson pen — a blue and silver piece featuring the Star of David and the Three Crowns of Sweden — honors Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who harbored thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. The limited production of each theme often involves a bit of trivia, such as the 63 pens honoring Alfred Nobel (the philanthropist’s age when he died). For most David Oscarson pens, enamel is applied over metal manipulated through the painstaking technique of guilloché, an ornamentation process pioneered by Fabergé.

“There aren’t a lot of choices for gentlemen who like accessories,” states Oscarson. “Beyond wristwatches, there are very few pieces of men’s jewelry that are sustainable in style,” adds the industry veteran.

A one-of-a-kind special edition fountain pen from the company, crafted from solid 18-karat gold and encrusted with nearly 35 carats of white, yellow and caramel diamonds, has been offered on the resale market for $755,000.

“I judge a manufacturer by the quality of its pens and its creativity in putting a fresh face on what, in essence, is a very small canvas,” says pen commentator Olson. She cites Caran d’Ache’s 1010 Timekeeper, a limited edition that cleverly pays homage to the art of watchmaking, the industry that dominates the company’s hometown of Geneva. 

That fountain pen ($11,500) features a reinterpretation of the elements of a watch dial. Its silver- and rhodium-plated cap was inspired by watch strap design and a piston pump with a ruby accent is reminiscent of a watch’s winding crown. This model follows a 2008 limited edition of ten 18-karat gold 1010 pens, currently priced on the resale market at about $150,000.

Caran d’Ache also produced an 18-karat gold fountain pen — another piece valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — sheathed in more than 4,100 brilliant diamonds and accented by a band of 108 emeralds. This unique writing instrument, whose precious stones were set by Geneva jeweler Pierre-Yves Bonzon, took about six months to complete.

Gregory Hengesbaugh, national sales manager for Creative Art Materials, Ltd., the exclusive distributor of Caran d’Ache in the U.S. and Canada, reports the venerable firm enjoys a worldwide cult following. 

“The brand benefits from Swiss manufacturing traditions, whose exacting precision in watchmaking carries over to fine writing instruments,” says Hengesbaugh.

Top: Italian manufacturer Aurora is renowned for its meticulous craftsmanship. Courtesy of Aurora.

Above: David Oscarson’s elegant Russian Imperial series reflects techniques pioneered by Fabergé. Courtesy of David Oscarson.

The limited edition samurai fountain pen reflects Montegrappa’s elaborate themes. Courtesy of Montegrappa.

No company on the planet celebrates the pen as an objet d’art as well as Montegrappa, Italy’s oldest manufacturer of fine pens. Last year it released a limited edition Samurai fountain pen ($15,000) that is a wealthy grown-up’s version of a toy soldier. Each of the 177 sterling silver sets (packaged in a black lacquered box) includes an armored warrior, along with a katana sword case that contains a letter opener.

Aurora

www.aurorapen.it

Caran d’Ache

www.carandache.com

David Oscarson

www.davidoscarson.com

Montblanc

www.montblanc.com

Montegrappa

www.montegrappa.com

Pelikan

www.pelikan.com

Tibaldi

www.tibaldi.it

Prices of limited edition luxury pens can be stratospheric, but the $8 million reportedly paid at a Shanghai charity auction has remained a safe record since 2010. Commanding that astonishing figure was the Fulgor Nocturnus from Italian manufacturer Tibaldi (a subsidiary of Montegrappa), copiously embellished with 945 black diamonds and 123 rubies.

Aurora, another venerable Italian pen maker, claims its Diamante fountain pen — whose graceful platinum form is sheathed in 1,919 De Beers diamonds totaling 30 carats — is the most exclusive writing instrument in the world. Almost too exquisite to use, just a single Diamante, priced at more than $1.4 million, is available each year.

Nancy Olson reports many collectors place a premium on the provenance of pens, collecting almost everything produced by a specific brand. Acknowledging pen aficionados’ diverse motivations, she states, “Some use all the pens in their collections and really appreciate the art of writing while others keep their pens in their original boxes, never to see a drop of ink!”

Either way, luxury writing instruments are in no danger of going out of style. “There’s something about a fountain pen that’s majestic,” suggests pen maker David Oscarson.

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The Art of Writing

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Bedding for a Cause

Are you looking for a way to help out this new year? Rest easy with these new sheets. 

The Good Sheet, a luxury bedding brand based in Tasmania, Australia partnered with non-profit organization, One Tree Planted, is planting five trees in its home state of Tasmania with every bedding set sold.

The ability to allow customers to make a positive environmental impact with their purchase is in harmony with a recent change in business direction towards sustainably produced bedding, which draws inspiration from the beauty of Tasmania’s nature.

Founder of The Good Sheet, Kamila Scholz said, “We are absolutely thrilled to have found a partner in One Tree Planted who shares our values and helps make our business a force for good. We’re very happy that beyond creating beautiful bedding, we can also do something positive for our local environment, right here in Tasmania. We want our customers to sleep even better knowing they helped plant a forest while they sleep.”

Over 80-percent of native species in Australia are not found anywhere else, and Tasmania is where many of the country’s threatened species can find refuge. Some, like the Tasmanian Devil, Eastern Quoll, Eastern Bettong and Eastern Barred Bandicoot are virtually extinct on the mainland so protecting their last remaining habitat in Tasmania is critical. The Good Sheet will work together with One Tree Planted to help restore vital wildlife corridors in the midlands region of Tasmania which has experienced significant habitat depletion.

This project will not only help protect and restore Tasmania’s biodiversity and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere but also revitalize local farming and create jobs. “When you think about tree restoration, it’s not only about fighting climate change it’s also about maintaining ecosystems,” says researcher Jean-Francois Bastin from the Institute of Integrative Biology in Zurich.

Trees planted through this project are chosen for their suitability and benefit to the local environment. They include several types of Eucalyptus and Acacia trees and sometimes others, depending on the specific needs of the local habitat.

Photos courtesy of The Good Sheet

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Modern Midwestern Makes

All photos courtesy Room & Board.

Room & Board​, the modern American-made retailer of furniture and home décor, today announced a collaboration with ​Cambria​, the nation’s leading provider of American-made natural quartz surfaces.

The two Minnesota-based brands, both with a reputation for timeless design, American craftsmanship, and a commitment to sustainability, service and innovation, will debut the Pren Collection, a versatile series of tables, desks and storage cabinets, in January 2020. 

“We’re thrilled to bring together two iconic Midwestern brands,” says Gene Wilson, Room & Board Director of Vendor Management and Merchandising. “Because of our shared values, this partnership felt like a seamless alignment. Cambria’s signature design capabilities pair perfectly with our modern style and together we’ll raise the bar on livable luxury.”

The initial assortment, suitable for both residential and commercial environments, will consist of dining/conference tables that can also easily work as desks for the home or office, coffee tables, console tables, and dining/bar cabinets. The expertly crafted series is available with domestically sourced walnut or white oak wood bases and one-centimeter Cambria quartz pieces in three signature designs: Brittanicca™, Brittanicca Gold™, and Mersey™.  

The natural quartz surfaces are finished with modern rounded corners, which mirror the form of each piece and offer a nonabsorbent, scratch and stain resistant, maintenance-free top surface that is backed by the Cambria Full Lifetime Warranty. 

“This is a classic pairing of like-minded brands joining together to achieve something beautiful, lasting and highly adaptable,” says Mackenzie Weldon, VP of Corporate Partnerships for Cambria.

“We look forward to working with such a reputable and forward-thinking brand to reach new audiences and bring Cambria to the marketplace in a new and innovative way.” 

The collection will be available online through ​Room & Board on January 4, 2020 and through Room & Board Business Interiors on February 4, 2020, and available at all 16 Room & Board retail locations after January 16th. 

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Concrete-Inspired Gift Guide

Looking for inspiration this holiday season? Check out this gift guide with an edge. These concrete-inspired items are perfect for your home or office and will stand the test of time to celebrate for years to come. Concrete is an environmentally friendly material. The fabrication of concrete uses fewer fossil fuels during the whole production process than traditional ceramics, making it an ideal addition for those interested in sustainable living.

Photo courtesy of Tom Tailor

Mensch Made Concrete Vase with Gold-plated Leaves

http://www.thedesigngiftshop.com

The design of this Concrete Vase plays with the contradiction between culture and nature. A bold geometrical shape is combined with a texture of organic ornaments, delicate foliage imprints, some of them gold-plated. Natural grey concrete contrast with genuine gold. A very special object that can be appreciated by itself and of course be used as a vase for flowers or twigs. 

Photo courtesy of The Design Gift Shop

Block Concrete Disc Pendant

https://www.blockdesign.co.uk/

This concrete pendant necklace is inspired by iconic British Brutalist architecture.

The hand-cast concrete necklace celebrates the dynamic monoliths of the controversial movement. Statement concrete jewelry embraces the character of concrete, a lively material. Its surface reflects its history, presenting imperfections and changing with you and your environment.

Photo courtesy of Block Design

Concrete Cubic Pendant Light 

http://www.limelace.co.uk

This eye-catching Concrete Cubic Pendant Light by German label GANTlights combines light gray concrete with silver, gold or copper, resulting in a timeless and elegant designer lamp.

Part of the B series collection, this handmade lamp is ideal for illuminating a long dining table, a sideboard, a desk or a bar and is suitably hung individually or in a group. The high-quality gilding of the insides emits a pleasant warm light. Due to its minimalist design and the contrasting materials, the designer lamp can be combined with any style.

Photo courtesy of Lime Lace

Ava & I Pretty Little Things Concrete Trinket Pot

http://www.kitchencraft.co.uk

This trinket pot is from the Ava & I collection, combining influential on-trend elements for a collection that embodies empowerment with modern style and a dash of sass. A real quality design, the pot is made of concrete with gold detail and a sweet ‘Pretty little things motif. A stunning addition to any dressing table or a useful piece generally for the home, the heavy nature and lid of this pot will not be knocked over easily.

Photo courtesy of Kitchen Craft

Featured image courtesy of Lime Lace

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