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Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Bespoke Nib: The Final Frontier In Making The Perfect Writing Instrument

A model of the Montblanc bespoke nib.

HAMBURG, Germany — Among those who collect and use fine writing instruments there is nothing more personal than the nib. Collectors, writing enthusiasts and artists constantly debate which nibs are best. It’s a conversation that will never have a conclusion.

What we are talking about is the part of the dip pen or fountain pen that comes into contact with the writing surface to deposit ink.

I was at Montblanc’s headquarters on the outskirts of Germany’s second-largest city to get a first-hand look at how they manufacturer nibs. What I was surprised to learn is that the company has set up a department for creating personalized nibs through its boutiques in nine cities. The bespoke service combines modern technology with old world craftsmanship and service. Axel Nier, technical setter of the Nib Department, and Frank Derlien, Nib Department manager, put me through the process that is available in its boutiques in New York, Hong Kong, Dubai, Singapore, Tokyo, Shanghai, Milan and Mexico City as well its Hamburg headquarters.

The service of testing and then creating a personalized nib costs 1,200 euros ($1,577), Niersays. Depending on its acceptance in these boutiques, it may become available at more boutiques.

“We have a lot of VIP customers who really love this tool,” he says.

Other than the fact that I’m doing a story, Nier also is also interested in turning me into a user of fountain pens for my daily work. I tell him I don’t think it’s a good idea since I tend to destroy pens while working. But he’s determined.

A pen with a transmitter on it that, along with an digital desk pad, provides details about handwriting styles.

The process begins with Nier handing me a pen with a digital transmitter attached to it. With it, I print a prepared statement along with my signature. I write on paper but below the paper there’s an electronic desk pad that provides details about my writing style. Even though it’s actual pen on paper, it feels a bit less comfortable.

Montblanc software measures a person’s writing style based on speed, pressure, pen rotation, swing range and inclination angle.

Montblanc designed its own software that measures a person’s writing style based on five key measurements: writing speed, writing pressure, pen rotation, swing range and inclination angle. As I write lines appear on a computer screen that measures the five areas. In the end of the process a certificate prints with my writing measurements and a recommendation. Based on those measurements, Montblanc can now have an accurate guide to specify a writing instrument. The recommendation is for me to use a “fine” nib, which is typical for someone who constantly takes notes.

From here, there are two options. The person can either buy a writing instrument at the store that best fits his writing style or he can have a writing instrument designed at Montblanc’s headquarters that exactly fits his criteria. The determination is based on the computer data analyzed by the writing experts at the nib factory.

“We can make your DNA fountain pen suited for your hand and we will hand make everything here in Hamburg,” Nier says. “The data will be sent via Internet and we can analyze each step. We have 2,500 measurement points that we can analyze and we can make a perfect nib for your hand.”

My writing characteristics report.

To top it off, the service includes a personalized statement engraved on the nib.

In my case I did some additional freestyle for Nier. Through this he concluded that I should use an extra-fine nib for my daily writing and a medium-sized nib for writing my signature.

I am certainly convinced to the superiority of a fountain pen over a standard pen. However, I’m not convinced that a fine writing instrument should go undergo the daily abuse my pens go through.

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