A Mumbai-based senior corporate executive recalls the time when, as a marketing manager, he met a business customer – the head of a company who was double his own age – who gave him a spot lesson in elegance. The customer removed a regular, decent looking ball point pen from the manager’s shirt pocket and replaced it with another pen, saying, “Make that impression count.” The casual gift that came with the well-meant advice was a Montblanc fountain pen.
“I still remember those leaky nibs and stained uniforms in school. But technology has evolved and I have my latest and very dear fountain pen which I only take out for signatures,” said Anil Narang, 43, vice president of a multinational insurance company, who uses a Sailor 1911 fountain pen to sign cheques and deals.
Narang’s style is no different from those who think e-mails and QWERTY keypads have taken all the romance out of writing.
Harkirat Singh, managing director, Woodland, said, “I love to write with a fountain pen. I have always loved the feel of putting pen on paper – the sense of coherence is remarkable. Ideas seem more fluid and flushed out than when you try to type them.” Singh uses a Montblanc Ingrid Bergman fountain pen. “It is beautiful, super smooth and comfortable in the hand,” he stated.
In the writing instruments category that has been witnessing a 10% growth annually, fountain pens’ growth rate at just under 5% should come as no surprise in an age of digital communications and ball point pens. And yet, there has been a surprising spurt in innovations on fountain pens by major writing instrument brands, spurred by the growth of the premium category of fountain pens. Ranging from a number of reasons such as a necessary accessory, to a tool to improve handwriting, to a reflection of heritage or status symbol, fountain pens are on a comeback trail.
“Ten years ago, our sales of fountain pens stood at 15% of total pen sales whereas currently, the share stands at 40%,” said Nikhil Ranjan, CEO at William Penn, India's only multi-brand retail store chain that boasts of the most premium brands in fine writing instruments.
Talking of innovations, Parker recently announced a new pen technology that merges the ease of use of a ball point pen with the eloquence of a fountain pen. The company took 18 months to create the technology, called the Parker 5th Technology.
“Our fountain pen segment is growing at over 20% annually, which is supported by a series of product launches and innovations,” said Pooja Jain, executive director, Luxor Writing Instruments, which brought Parker into India. Parker’s fountain pens come for upwards of Rs. 450 in India.
Priced at a more accessible Rs. 300 is the Pierre Cardin Masterpiece fountain pen that claims to combine form and functionality.
Companies are innovating with material as well. One can find pens made of homo-sapiens lava, right down to pens made of bones. The La Modernista from Caran d’Ache is a rhodium coated gold nib pen that comes for a cool Rs. 1 crore. The Shri Ganesh pen by Sailor is more affordable but strictly limited to 36 pieces worldwide. It carries a Rs. 4.5 lakh price tag.
“The older a fountain pen, the better. It is like a good painting or a vintage machine. The rarer it is, the more expensive,” said Deepak Jalan, managing director, Linc Pen & Plastics, the distributor of German- made fountain pen brand Lamy. Jalan claims the brand is registering an annual growth rate of over 25%.
All major pen brands are also pushing their products through an expanding number of exclusive brand outlets across the country, besides some of them selling out of multi-brand stationery stores. William Penn has 25 outlets in India, set up over the last 10 years. Luxor plans to add 40 more pen boutiques called Luxor Express this financial year to its existing 60. Montblanc, which uses its fountain pens to frontline its appeal to consumers, is actively working on expanding its presence across India. Montblanc has already penetrated into Pune, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh and Ludhiana with exclusive boutiques, besides the major metros.