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A Conversation with Giuseppe Aquila: Montegrappa Pen

Montegrappa's Rich History

Montegrappa is a well known for making a high quality pen. As Italy's first manufacture of pens the company has a rich history. It has been located in the town of Bassano del  Grappa, in Northern Italy, since 1912.

Edwige Hofmann, of Austria, started the company to produce fountain pens with gold nibs

Alessandro Marzotto and Domenico Manea bought the business from Hofmann in 1927 and established the new name of the company - ELMO. The name of the company changed in 1947 to be ELMO-MONTEGRAPPA.

Over this time period the company was successful in its supply of pens to the army. During the World War I, Bassano del Grappa was a centre for military operations. This brought well known writers Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos to the area where they volunteered as ambulance drivers for the Red Cross. They used Montegrappa pens and became part of the company's history.

In 1981 the Aquila family of Italy bought the company and changed the name to Montegrappa 1912.

In 2000 the company was sold to the Richemont Group, a luxury goods company that also holds the Montblanc brand. And now, in 2009 the Aquila Family has again acquired the company.

 

Visit with Giuseppe Aquila

In September 2009 I had the pleasure to visit with President and CEO, Giuseppe Aquila, at the Bassano del Grappa headquarters. It was a very interesting visit as I had always wanted to know more about Montegrappa as I have admired their pens for many years. As we talked it was easy to sense his pride and vision for the company.

Create pens of utmost quality and value.

The quality and value of Montegrappa pens is well established. Having owned a Montegrappa Extra 1930 Parchment fountain pen I have enjoyed the writing experience with such a quality pen. I have always found the well-styled look of Montegrappa pens to be very appealing. To me, the Extra 1930, represents a fine example of simple, classic design in a fountain pen. Other lines of pens such as the NeroUno, Espressione, Emblema, and the Miya are all examples a clean, good functioning design.

During our visit we talked about the various lines of regular production and Limited Editions pens that have been created over the years. Giuseppe has an in depth knowledge as his involvement in the pen business extends for a considerable time period. As President of the Aquila Group, he is also involved with other lines such as Tibaldi, Lalex 1938, and licensing of brands such as Ducati and Jaguar.

Some of the very impressive Montegrappa pens were brought to market with the personal involvement of Giuseppe Aquila.

For example, Giuseppe was involved in the design and creation of the Limited Edition Vatican 2000 Papal Pen. The pen was launched in 2000 to celebrate the Grand Jubilee.  The pen is engraved by hand and decorated with symbols of Christian iconography and has the signature of John Paul II. Giuseppe met John Paul II to present the pen, an experience he holds very special.

In meeting the people of Montegrappa I was impressed with their sense of pride and commitment to quality.

Montegrappa is known for its celluloid pens. I particularly enjoy writing with celluloid pens because of the rich appearance of celluloid. As a material for pen construction celluloid offers a range of colour and pattern options, is light weight and when cured correctly, is a very sturdy material. In talking with Andrea Zanchetta of Montegrappa's sales team, he explained that celluloid and silver are the DNA of Montegrappa.

Celluloid and silver... the DNA of Montegrappa

 

Miya Blue Emblema Red Symphony Blue
Miya in blue celluloid with sterling silver trim.

Emblema in red celluloid with sterling silver trim.

Symphony in red celluloid with sterling silver trim.

  Sections of celluloid  

 

As I visited with Giuseppe we walked throughout the factory and he explained the key processes and skills involved in creating a Montegrappa pen. Detailed work, coordination of various production states, and the care and quality of the many parts that make up a pen all come together to create the final product.

In general, there are between 11 and 50 parts in a Montegrappa pen, and with the exception of the nib, all of the parts are produced at the Montegrappa factory.

The pen nibs are made in Germany to Montegrappa’s specifications. However, only the nib is made externally. The ebonite feeds are cut from rods and crafted for the nib section by Montegrappa at is centre. Ebonite feeds are known for enabling a smooth, dependable ink flow as they are slightly porous, and a little rough-surfaced, with allows the feed to nicely hold ink in the nib section.

We talked about the design, prototypes, and then production and finishing involved to create the final pen. The time and work to produce a Montegrappa been is significant, and as we walked through the factory, and discussed the various stages, I became even more appreciate of the final product.

Since Montegrappa is known for its celluloid pens we spent time talking about the specific process to create celluloid pens, however, Montegrappa is well known for its pen in other materials.

It takes about 16 months to make the celluloid used for the pens. Of this time, almost 12 months is required for proper curing. Before final curing, celluloid is relatively unstable and highly combustible. For protection, the celluloid rods are stored in a separate building.

As we walked into one of the storage rooms the smell of camphor was very noticeable.  I could recognize the colours of the rods in terms of some of the final Montegrappa pens I have viewed over the years. Giuseppe showed some rods that he is keeping for a yet-to-be-created lines.

The celluloid rods are cut into lengths for the respective pen part – caps and bodies. They are then drilled in the centre so that the pieces can be used by the equipment in the later stages to create the final components.

There is then a long slow baking in special ovens. Because of the danger of combustion of the celluloid, the ovens are also housed in a separate building. Giuseppe opened up the oven and I saw the pieces of celluloid heaped on the trays looking like pieces of pasta.

The baking takes four to six months. The final time depends on how the material reacts to the baking process. There are frequent tests. For example, the level of the solvent in the celluloid must drop below a set amount for the baking process to be completed. If the level remained too high, the celluloid would be unstable and could be subject to shrinkage. Given the exact  fit of the various parts of a pen, any shrinkage would be unacceptable.

I found the  polishing room to be very  interesting as I was unaware of the range of materials used to polish the various parts of a pen. From fine powders to small pellets, each provides a different end result. Hand polishing, with rotating brushes of different hardness, are part of the finishing process.

Detailed engraving is also important to create a Montegrappa pen. Deep drawings, low relief engravings and hand-etchings are all skilled processes that can be part of the final Montegrappa pen.

For some of the engraving, two dimensional drawings are converted to three dimensional formats with the use of computer software. But it would be wrong to assume that is a straight forward software process. Each component of the drawing has to be calculated to determine the appropriate incline of the cut. This determines the amount of reflective light and the final appearance of the engraving.

Watching various pieces of the pen go through the process brought a new awareness of the attention to detail. For example, the Montegrappa logo has to properly align with the engraving on the nib and other parts of the pen. Some pens also have individual serial numbers that also have to be engraved on the pen.

In talking about the various steps Giuseppe was very clear on the importance he holds to quality.

There is extensive testing of the individual parts and the overall pen to various conditions. Pens are subjected to various levels of heat and cold to ensure there will be no problems in the variety of climates. A machine tested clips to simulate the ongoing use of the pen clip for many thousands of times. Pens and parts were dropped from various heights to ensure that the final pen will stand up to the range of user experiences!

There are quality checks through out the manufacturing process. One piece of equipment was very impressive. In essence a microscope that magnifies the part of the pen and then compares readings to the original technical drawings. Calibrations are checked and can be adjusted so the particular part of the pen is exact in terms of the design specifications.

In fact, his mother is often part of the last quality checks as products are packaged to leave Montegrappa and make their way to retailers around the world.

Montegrappa classic lines of pensThe future plans for Montegrappa include building on the established quality of Montegrappa, and to continue to build a presence in established and new markets.

Montegrappa has seen growth in markets such as Russian, the Ukraine and Asia. He looks forward to greater presence in the North American market and Kenro is the North American distributor. Kenro is well established and this should all work well to increase Montegrappa's presence in North America.

Giuseppe explained that the current economic market conditions require products that are of a high quality and hold a good value to the purchaser. Those are two proven characteristics of a Montegrappa pen.

I was glad to hear that lines such as the Extra 1930 will continue, and work is underway for new lines of regular and limited edition pens.

 

 

Montegrappa Extra Black Miya in Blue Emblema in red
The Extra 1930 was designed for those who love classic design and original colours and decorations. The Extra 1930 was inspired by models from the Montegrappa museum. Trim in sterling silver, body and cap in celluloid, nib 18 kt gold. the fountain pens are piston filled. They are available in fountain and roller ball. The fountain pen nibs include: Extra Fine, Fine, Medium and Broad sizes. The Miya is another of the Montegrappa pens that can be said to have a timeless look. The body is in celluloid, the caps are either in celluloid, or as shown above, in sterling silver. The nibs are 18 kt gold and available in Extra Fine, Fine, Medium and Broad. The Miya comes in Fountain Pen, Rollerball and for the regular Miya, in twist-action ballpoint pen models. The Emblema is considered a Montegrappa icon that represents Italian style and pen technology. The pen is a sleeker than the Extra 1930 but again the body is in celluloid, trip in sterling silver and the nib 18 kt gold. Nibs available in Extra Fine, Fine, Medium and Broad. The line is available in Fountain pen, Rollerball and twist-action ball point pen.
Expressione in Black NeroUno Privilege

The Espressione is clean in style with not fuss. The body is resin, the trim is in Sterling Silver, the nib is 18 kt gold. The fountain pen is available with Extra Fine, Fine, Medium and Broad nibs. The line comes in fountain pen, rollerball and ballpoint models. It comes in passion red, deep blue, mystery black and classy brown colours.

The NeroUno goal was to reflect minimalist simplicity while hold all the values and features of a Montegrappa pen.The body has an octagonal shape in black resin with platinum-plated finish for the trim. The nib is 18 kt gold and comes in Extra Fine, Fine, Medium and Broad widths. The NeroUno comes in fountain pen, rollerball, ballpoint pen and mechanical pencil.

Part of its metal collection, this pen is inspired by s model from the thirties in its museum collection, the Priviledge Déco is considered a new version of a classic. Octagonal in shape, sterling silver decorated with a guilloche engraving. The pen is available in two sizes: large and small; and both come in a fountain pen and roller ball model. The small also has a twist action ball point available. The pen is in sterling silver, with resin trim. The nibs are 18 kt gold. The fountain pens use a convertor or cartridge for ink supply.

 

Montegrappa Modigliani Montegrappa La Traviata Montegrappa Paulo Coelho Montegrappa Stradivari

Each year Montegrappa's Genio Creativo collection celebrates an historical figure who has led to a new way of experience the world. This second limited edition celebrates the great Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani.
A blue topaz tops the resin version and a diamond tops a version in pink gold.

This is part of the Emozioni in Musica limited edition collection. La Traviata is the world's most famous and most frequently performed opera.
The barrel is decorated with a camelia created with a refined low-relief engraving technique. The body is in celluloid and sterling silver.

This pen celebrates author Paulo Coelho. The limited edition is made using the fret-working technique that has lustrous precious metal and black mother-of-pearl resin. The body is inspired by the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

This is the 2007 Genio Creativo collection dedicated to Antonio Stradivari.
The previous resin of the pen body reproduces the colours of the wood used for his creations.
The soft line of the pen is reminiscent of the tapered lines of the violin.