On the eve of 100 distinguished years as the world's most wanted writing instruments (never say pens; pens aren't served by gloved hands) Montblanc decided it was time to gear up for another 100. So they turned predictability on its head and unveiled a new vision.
"We actually began our process of diversification in the '90s, when we looked beyond writing instruments to include other categories of desk accessories, and men's accessories," says Sonke Tornieporth, vice president sales, Montblanc.
What Montblanc hadn't addressed, however, was the swelling numbers of women shoppers in their boutiques. "We had products that could be picked up by a woman but very few products for women."
A men's brand with female buyers, but few female users? Tornieporth is keen to make a distinction, "We differentiate between a man's brand and a masculine brand. Montblanc is a masculine brand, our product design is male, our boutiques look all male, but we've never said our products can't be used by women. A pen is androgynous isn't it?" Nevertheless, Montblanc initiated the process of inclusion, more subtle at first, by introducing editions in sunglasses and writing instruments that leaned towards femininity.
Then, in September this year, they went the whole hog -- they launched a jewellery collection. Tornieporth explains, "We carefully monitored worldwide trends and needs in the market before the designing and launch of our jewellery. Our apprehension was acceptance -- within the organisation, thankfully, it went smoothly because we've always maintained a very balanced male to female employee ratio, and customer acceptance has been fabulous too."
In the finest silver with coloured stones, the teeniest diamonds and mother-of-pearl, they call it affordable luxury, priced between Rs 3,000 and Rs 20,000.
"If you think it's reasonably priced, it's because it's made for everyday wear; please don't stash it in your safe. If you think it's expensive, remember, a Montblanc product is timeless -- a lifetime companion," says Tornieporth.
At Montblanc's design studio in Hamburg, the design code of the brand -- the monochromatic colour code and the emblematic star (which incidentally, isn't a star, but the snow covered peak of the Mont Blanc mountain) -- is sacrosanct.
But even within the strictest parameters of design, Montblanc succeeds as having designed a jewellery collection that's sometimes playful, sometimes classic -- dangling charms, flexible pendants with different precious stones on each facet depending on your mood, and the wish ring -- two rotating interlocking silver rings.
"Make a wish, turn the ring and your wish will come true, is Montblanc's promise to its customers," Tornieporth smiles. It's hard to miss the fact that the jewellery dons a lively youthful spirit.
"The idea was to make Montblanc available to a younger audience," he agrees. So, it's a double whammy -- creating new audiences and potentially longer associations.
Says Tornieporth, "With Montblanc it will always be an evolution; never a revolution. In some ways getting into jewellery was a logical progression; some of our writing pieces at 100,000 are like pieces of jewellery anyway".
He promises more surprises next year what with new designs and strategies. "We love experimenting with new materials -- brass, steel, resin, fibre glass; we like to add surprise whenever we can."
And they have often managed to hide a surprise in the predictably refined offering. In September Jim Davis penned three Garfield comic strips exclusively for Montblanc featuring the themes of love, friendship and thanks. Each strip serves as a motif for a gift box that, when opened, displays the comic strip and two writing instruments.
"Writing instruments will always be our core business though today we're a diversified brand, but with more and more options for our female clients," he concludes.Montblanc pens automatically proffer great virtue upon the simplest scribbles and scrawls, and it took them only a few years to hold firm place among the best watchmakers of the times, but will their jewellery razzle-dazzle you?