Is the taste for handwriting still alive?
By Cristina D’Agostino01 avril 2021
While 300 billion emails are sent daily around the world, how can younger generations be inspired to write? Nicolas Baretzki, CEO of Montblanc International tells us why the power of writing will be key to the future.
Does writing one’s thoughts on paper during the digital era still make sense? We know it though, letting a pen or a pencil wander can unlock thoughts and desires. Create letters, shape thoughts, with blue ink, black or red, regardless.
Tomorrow, technology promises worlds of ultra-sophisticated communications. But will the simplest graphic expression, the one of a hand maneuvering a writing instrument, survive it? The new book published in the Assouline collection “Montblanc, inspire writing” of the author Alex Fury, tells this desire to write. But it is first and foremost a bet Montblanc needs to take up with the younger generation, if the company wants to continue symbolizing the highest level of writing. Nicolas Baretzki, CEO of Montblanc International since 2017, tells why raising a pen to express emotions and ideas will always be the language of tomorrow. And how he intends to drive the house, based in Hamburg since 1906, into the digital era.
In the book “Inspire Writing”, it is said that writing meant power. Today, more than ever, does the will to write only belong to the powerful?
I don’t entirely agree with the link between writing and power. It is reductive, including in the ancient world. Of course, written communication was in the hands of those who owned knowledge, but it was first and foremost a way to connect with those who didn’t master it. To link writing to power is a syllogism. Today, the written word relies on a personal transmission of thought or emotion and less on the specific handwritten transmission of texts that need to last in time.
Would writing then be a luxury today?
No. On the contrary. It’s the ability of each and every one to express a personal element with their own words and thoughts. Back then, writing was elitist. Today, it is totally democratized. Luxurious would mean rare and exceptional, whereas this digital world we live in enhances the will to write with a pen and paper. I have noticed it increasingly. For me, to write on a page is a way to remember. When I have to write a speech, for example, I handwrite it, otherwise I don’t remember it. To handwrite enables the search a personal emotion. And I believe that digitalization will further drive us to this road, because of a nostalgia perhaps. It’s completely correlated to the world of vintage by the way. Why does it provoke such excitement? I believe it is about a need to revert to a more inspiring world, a happier one perhaps.
Speaking of vintage, is there an important market for pre-owned writing instruments?
That’s a very good question. There is a great market, but very secret, direct and private. Many communities exist and get together in the scope of forums or blogs, like the “Montblanc Societies”, in which I am registered, as I find it very interesting. It is very developed but not very organized. Some auction houses offer writing instruments, but this is still very rare. However, this will strongly increase.
Would you play an active role in the vintage market?
Yes, absolutely. And I say this without arrogance, but in the world of writing, Montblanc is truly the leader. We have to actively communicate on the interest of collecting writing instruments. And it is not a secret to say that the Montblanc Haus we are preparing in Hamburg will be the ideal location for this. It is built to inspire and drive the will to write, through a museum, a writing school, a place for experience. Clearly, Montblanc has a role to play.
What is the value of this market?
It is difficult to have the true value of pieces, since this market is not yet organized, but I know that some Montblanc pieces are actively sought after by collectors. Some “artisan” collections that are about 30'000 euros a piece are sold up to three times their value. A heritage Agatha Christie piece with the snake clasp, for example, is much sought after.
The book is paved with quotes. Which is your favorite?
There is one I love in particular, the one from Virginia Woolf: “Every secret of a writer’s life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his words”. To write reveals a part of ourselves. In a very personal way, I will tell you an anecdote. For my twentieth birthday, I had planned a big party and one of the guests couldn’t join us unfortunately, as she was sick. But as a present, this friend sent me for my birthday, ten postcards that retraced my life. She had taken the time to choose each card, to write a text in the back of each one of them and I must admit this was a turning point for me. This revealed so much of who this person was…that I married her! This sentence inspires me. As in writing, strong elements are revealed.
Which strategies does Montblanc deploy against the exponential growth of written exchanges via email?
I have never opposed the digital world to the handwritten world. The digital world is an accelerator for writing. It enhances and reinforces the significance of handwriting. It is a more complicated journey but a deeper one. I am therefore not worried. It is the same concept as to wear a watch. We don’t wear it to know what time it is. It is a status. And the writing instrument is one as well. The sector of writing instruments remains the key department at Montblanc in terms of business as well as in terms of rich artisanship.
Both worlds intertwining can also exist. With that in mind, is Montblanc developing digital writing, and Montblanc fonts?
It is an interesting aspect. Of course, we have developed the Montblanc stylus, a bridge between two worlds. But this only needs to happen if Montblanc brings added value. We have developed a digital font linked to calligraphy with the Chinese artist Feng Teng, to write in simplified Chinese. We have also developed a leather phone case with Samsung, that, when connected to the smartphone, directly enables the installation of Montblanc writing styles, just like a pen or a rollerball.
Can this be the connection to the new generation?
Again, I hope we will continue to learn to handwrite in school. New generations are interested in handwriting. Of course, there isn’t an interest in its functionality. And I will not fight this evolution. But the young generation wants to understand the interest in the luxury object, the status, the stories that we tell, that are related to culture. The Montblanc Haus in Hamburg really has this ambition. The younger generation appreciates capsule collections we create, like the one with Red or with Marc Newson. Or our communication with the film maker Spike Lee. And let’s not forget our collaboration with the Louvre Museum of Abu Dhabi around calligraphy. To drive desire is crucial, as desire enriches the world and writing reveals it.
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