This "Coffee with" is different to the rest of our interviews as our guest doesn't drink coffee.
Giuseppe Aquila, CEO of Montegrappa, describes himself as a lover of handwriting and of course, fountain pens, having a personal collection of hundreds of pieces. With a life that has always been close to Montegrappa, even when he worked for the Richemont Group, Giuseppe Aquila shares with us the story of his company and the novelties for 2017 while he drinks a black tea.
How did Montegrappa start as a company?
Montegrappa started in Bassano del Grappa, a small Italian city, thanks to the partnership of a local entrepreneur with an Austrian lady called Edwige Hoffmann. Mrs. Hoffmann called the company Elmo after an "Italianization" of the name of her production manager, Mr. Heinrich Helm Elmo. After the First World War the name changed to Montegrappa, in honor to the Monte Grappa, symbol of the country. The name Elmo is still used for a smaller lower-range pen line of the brand.
In 1938 my grandfather started to collaborate with Montegrappa as a client. He made his own inks and papers, but he wanted to start in the writing industry. Therefore, he negotiated with Montegrappa which created for him some pieces under the name "Aquila". Such was the success of these collaborations, that in the 70's, my father he decided to purchase the company.
Which was the first Montegrappa best-seller?
Montegrappa is a company with more than 100 years of history, so choosing just one product is difficult. One of the most important collections was the first Limited Edition that we launched in 1992 to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the brand, it was limited to 1912 units. Another is the Dragon Limited Edition which was launched in 1995. This fountain pen was used by Boris Yeltsin when leaving Russia's presidency in the hands of his successor, Vladimir Putin.
If we focus on our most recent collections, one of the most important is the Q1, because it was the first fountain pen with multiple cartridges.
How did Montegrappa join the Richemont group and why did your family decide to purchase the company again?
In life there are things that happen because you make them happen, while other happen when the opportunity arises.
The Dragon Limited Edition was very successful and caught the attention of everyone in the market. Montblanc started to offer us collaborations for Limited Editions and later, for larger projects. They wanted to purchase our company and in 2000 some members of my family accepted their proposal.
Years later, I found myself accidentally seated next to Norbert Bert, CEO of Richemont at that moment, on the occasion of a charity dinner.He suggested to me the idea of purchasing Montegrappa again. In 2009 we signed the purchase agreement. Our good relationship with Sylvester Stallone and other celebrities allowed us to invite them to be a part of the business and they accepted. This helped us to promote the brand in the right sectors.
What are the main characteristics of the writing pieces?
You can easily recognize Montegrappa pieces. We have some key elements, for example our signature clip with the revolving sphere, or the use of exclusive materials and manufacturing techniques, especially in our top products.
At the beginning of last century our pens were made of ebonite. Currently we still use this material for the feeders of our top range pens along with celluloid for their bodies.
How is luxury represented through Montegrappa products?
I don’t like the word luxury, it is overused and over-rated. I think people define luxury as a matter of price, for me this idea is wrong. The most important thing in a luxury brand is to preserve the craftsmanship and know-how. In Montegrappa we have some lines that are hand-etched or hand painted, so we train people since they are young in order to be able to preserve our craftsmanship. This is really important for us.
What kind of clients do your product target?
Our products target a wide range of people that are able to afford our prices. We have products for people with different kinds of lifestyles, age ranges and mindsets... We have a huge range of products that reach almost everybody. Unfortunately our price sometimes acts as a barrier to the diffusion of our products. However we always try to make more affordable products.
Who are your main competitors?
Our competitors are not something that bother us, we have our own vision. We just focus on understanding what our clients demand. That is how we operate. We have our own vision and it is not influenced by our competitors.
What is the most iconic Montegrappa collection?
If we focus in our regular lines I would said the Nero Uno, because of its contemporary designs. Another one would be the Montegrappa Extra 1930, which is also iconic of the brand.
And the most successful?
Again, is difficult to choose one because of our history, but if you focus on our Limited Editions one of the most successful because of its unusual design has been the Chaos collection.
How did you get the idea for this collection?
This collection was very fun to design. We were having dinner with Sylvester Stallone, talking about new launching products ideas, and at that moment he was going to release the film “The Expendables". He was very tattooed and he said “I have an idea!” I gave him a pen and a napkin and he started drawing the idea of the Chaos design. Stallone is very expressive and he said “I want skulls and snakes”. This was the fountain pen he used when promoting “The Expendables", and he graciously included it in a scene of the movie's sequel.
After the Chaos collection, My Guardian Angel and Pirates, what will be Montegrappa's next ornamental novelty?
Is too early to say... We are currently working on new technologies in order to obtain something amazing in 2018, but I can’t tell you more yet!
How did you decide to collaborate with HBO?
Since 2009 we have made a lot of collaborations, like the DC Comics collection. We had the opportunity of collaborating with HBO UK and we decided to evaluate it. At first, I was not very convinced, but my family and mostly my daughter who manages the brand's communication were on board, so we decided to go ahead. It was a good decision because the Game of Thrones collection is working better than expected. At the moment we have introduced the regular line, but next June there will be a Limited Edition inspired on the Iron Throne.
Will there be more collaborations with HBO?
We have signed with them for three years and the series is going to continue for at least a couple of years.
What other novelties will Montegrappa launch this year?
This year we will launch new editions for all pockets. Due to the success of the Montegrappa Mule edition we will develop a new line based on the cocktail Flambé. It is a piece made of stainless steel, decorated with blue flames. In terms of Limited Editions we are going to introduce a new piece that will be interesting because it is aimed new target due to its price, around 1000€.
What Montegrappa products do you use in your daily life?
I use the Extra 1930 fountain pen every day. I love fountain pens, they are an important part of my life, I have a personal collection of hundreds of pieces. Also I frequently wear cufflinkslike Chaos, DC Comics, Nero Uno… depending on what I’m wearing and my look. I also use the UEFA trolley or briefcase. I use a lot of products, mainly because I love them and also because it's the best way to test them (or at least this is the excuse I use...)
The Sailor 1911, Large, is perhaps, not as big as you may consider; it is not small by any means, rather more, a medium sized pen. That said, this will sit well in anybody’s hand (except the most diminutive). Finished in a high gloss, black resin, & this model, accented in Rhodium - you can select the gold or Rose gold, but my preference is for silvered cap bands, clips & nibs.
In all the fountains I possess, Sailor has to have the most beautifully decorated nibs on the planet - & I am not alone in that assertion: laser etched engraving, then finely polished, make this writing instrument stand out in the crowd. As with many Sailor models, it comes in a variety of colours & three sizes - Standard, Large, & ‘King Of Pen(s)’, & accordingly, vary in price range.
The model I chose is outfitted with a Medium Fine 21K Rhodium plated nib, with the smallest degree of flexion (this is not categorised as a semi-flex/flex nib - all Sailor nibs are of a Hard designation); if you’re careful you may be able to squeeze a little line variation out - but do not push it ! Feedback with this nib is more than with, say, a Medium, but it does offer both fine & medium lines, dependent upon the attitude of blade to paper (angle).
The writing experience is pleasant & consistent; build quality, superb.
If you favour a piston-fill mechanism, the Realo range - in both ‘1911’ & ‘Professional Gear’ is readily available, but again, commands a commensurate price tag.
Delightfully engineered writing implement.
This is my first Sailor Professional Gear (ProGear) fountain pen. Initially, it was the Blueberry colour to the cap & barrel that attracted my attention, accented beautifully with Rhodium plating. The 14K nib, in Medium, glides over the paper, effortlessly - & given that Sailor’s reputation for feedback, well known, I found no such evidence in this particular nib width; ink delivery by way of a cartridge or converter (proprietary fit, only).
The pen itself comes in the standard Navy Blue box, encased in a white card outer sleeve; the interior to the case, an off white, cushioned pad.
This isn’t a huge pen, but sits comfortably in (my) hand, posted. I like the squared-off cap & blank of the barrel, & the attention to detail is unsurpassed.
Do be aware, the aforementioned “feedback” may be present in their finer nib widths ~ EF & F, but I suspect this is not untenable. Those that I am acquainted with in the Fountain Pen Community, prefer a small amount of resistance whilst writing.
A fine writing instrument in whatever colour-accent combination you may choose. Highly recommended.