Giuseppe Aquila, CEO of Montegrappa, shares the journey behind his family’s century-old business, handcrafting writing instruments as objets d’art in Northern Italy.
With the increasingly indefinable rise of the luxury good, and the idea of luxury itself as a position rather than a product, few brands remain the exclusive domain of the truly affluent. The luxury property market has opened itself to fractional ownership, expensive supercars can be reduced to monthly payments, private aviation has become accessible to those willing to pay yearly membership and designer fashion can be rented from a host of online websites.
Suddenly, it has become inexpensive to be luxurious and unsurprisingly the concept of luxury is changing. Most recently, the idea of luxury at its purist, has been recently described as ‘meta-luxury’ – the human quest for unique achievements that endure and evolve from one generation to the next. Though perhaps a romantic interpretation of a now commercialised industry, the idea of human experience, longevity, craftsmanship and excellence ring true.
“ Unapologetically expensive, the objects d’art are produced in 18 carat gold, silver and various other precious metals, commanding prices of up to $40,000 ”
Enter Montegrappa, Italy’s oldest writing instrument company. Founded in 1912 in Bassano del Grappa – approximately an hour north of Venice – the manufacturer still crafts its limited range of products in the same building in which the company was launched. Unapologetically expensive, the objects d’art are produced in 18 carat gold, silver and various other precious metals, commanding prices of up to $40,000 depending on the materials used.
“Montegrappa is defined by its roots in Bassano del Grappa,” reveals CEO Giuseppe Aquila. “The company has been operating from the same factory on the same site on the bank of the Brenta River for 100 years which we have refurbished and expanded of course to modern standards.”
“We are in an area of northeast Italy, famous for resistance during the two World Wars. In fact it was on the Monte Grappa mountain range, immediately to the north of Bassano del Grappa, that the Italians heroically held back the Austrian army and prevented them reaching the plains of the Veneto region.”
Sylvester Stallone’s Chaos Pen, a surprising bestseller
“Our Italian ancestry that defines strength of character, no matter what the economic climate, is a fundamental reason why Montegrappa is still in existence. The Monte Grappa is a symbol of national pride in Italy, representing the heroic resistance in two World Wars, while also being a name synonymous with art, craftsmanship and literary accomplishment.”
A surviving sprit and the brand’s diverse associations throughout history has forced a complex array of brand ambassadors, clients and messages. Limited edition products have celebrated the achievements of Muhammad Ali and Bruce Lee, alongside celebrated authors Ernest Hemingway and Paulo Coelho, both users of the pens.
Testament to the brands deliberate diversity, Sylvester Stallone is counted as a key ambassador, whose Chaos pen has been a surprising best seller. “He symbolizes our DNA,” clarifies Giuseppe. “Italian heritage, global recognition, strength of spirit, deep intelligence and an underlying sense of artistry.”
“ We think we may be reaching another demographic with the Chaos pen. The self-made millionaire who sees the art of writing in terms of strength of identity ”
“And with such substantial sales, we think we may be reaching another demographic with this writing instrument. The self-made millionaire, and billionaire, who sees the art of writing in terms of strength of identity, and sees a pen not only as a writing instrument but as a collectible objet d’art.”
The brand has continues to attract the elusive Ultra High Net Worth (UHNW) consumer, those who as yet, have remained unaffected by the concerns of the global economy. “Last year, 2010-2011, our sales volume grew 42%,” enthuses Giuseppe. “Q1 2012, we grew 25% more than this time last year, so we are doing very well”.
“In emerging markets we are also becoming more well known. Our most Montegrappa brand ambassador is Brazilian Paulo Coehlo, who is helping to raise our understanding in Brazil. China is still underdeveloped for us, though they certainly appreciate luxury. And in India, they have great awareness about our brand.”
It would be nigh impossible to have a conversation about a $40,000 pen without discussing the ubiquitous use of the computer. The sensual nature of touch, design excellence and unparalleled craftsmanship become an undeniable case for sales. Yet the ease of the computer threatens the idea of use a fountain pen as a consistent writing tool, as does the decreasing interest in teaching cursive to young students.
The Alchemist Pen, now dedicated to the work of brand ambassador Paulo Coelho
“No matter how much we use the computer, there are always occasions when handwriting with the fountain or roller ball pen,” suggests Giuseppe. “A writing instrument will remain the only way to effectively communicate, with strength and with deeper artistry. Take for example the Alchemist concept – now a pen dedicated to the work of Paulo Coelho – the Montegrappa could be considered an Alchemists’ tool, in that it weaves thoughts into words.”
“From an historic perspective, western culture moved forward, partially because the pen was used to transcribe, to copy and to create. I often think we may have still been in the Dark Ages without the use of a writing instrument. Writing words must first commence before one can read words.”
Despite conviction in the future of writing instruments and artistry, Montegrappa has gone on to launch a lifestyle brand called NeroUno. “We recently introduced a wristwatch line, cuff links and men’s fragrance. Soon, we will be introducing ladies fragrance, leather goods, stationery, travel and desk accessories and eyewear.”
“ A project still in the conceptual stage is the Brain Pen. It will deal with neuroscience, specifically with regard to how handwriting benefits brain function ”
Though Giuseppe remains most passionate about the creativity and innovation possible with his family’s pens. “One is a writing instrument dedicated to the genius of Salvador Dali, others to the genius of Modigliani and Stradivarius,” he beams. “Another project I truly love, and it is still in the conceptual stage, is the Brain Pen. It will deal with neuroscience, specifically with regard to how handwriting benefits brain function.”
It becomes obvious through our discussion that family, legacy, the DNA of the brand and even its physical surrounding area are inseparable concepts to Giuseppe, his passion and commitment is infectiously evident.
“If you love your family and its business, if you have grown up around pens, inks, paper, handwriting, you understand this particular business,” he digests. “Our 100 year old family business, housed in an old, historic town, balances history and individuality, mechanics and the artistry together.”
To further investigate our Spotlight conversations on Luxury Society, we invite you to explore the related materials as follows: