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Pens: Making Your Point

Montblanc’s flagship pen—the big, black Meisterstück 149 capped with the brand’s trademark white snowflake—bears an uncanny likeness to the sleek German cars that speed along the autobahn. The instrument is smooth but firmly sprung. The nib (the crucial point where pen meets paper) is made of 18-karat gold with a platinum bridge for stiffness, and its tip is a finely ground ball of iridium, one of the hardest elements known to man.

In the early 20th century, the typical pen maker offered dozens of nib sizes and tip styles that could be paired to suit one’s writing style. Today, the stock choices are limited, by comparison. Even a top-tier manufacturer such as Montblanc offers only eight nibs, ranging from extra-fine to extra-broad, and most customers opt for medium.

Still, the German manufacturer realizes that true connoisseurs are rarely satisfied with off-the-shelf options, so it has introduced a custom nib-grinding service that shapes the nib tip to complement your idiosyncratic penmanship precisely. The service—which can be applied to both older pens as well as new ones—is available only by appointment in the Hamburg headquarters, where one of Montblanc’s master nib-grinders will evaluate your handwriting at length before making subtle changes to the nib tip using a sophisticated lathe. He may, for instance, bevel one corner to allow for the angle of attack or to eliminate the possibility of the nib catching on the paper when it is drawn in a particular direction. “A tailored nib surpasses off-the-shelf products because it is uniquely altered for the individual and should not be shared,” says Montblanc spokesperson Ingrid Roosen.

Pen connoisseurs are quick to recognize the practical benefits of writing with a custom nib, but Roosen emphasizes an inherent value that draws heavily on the heritage of pen making. “A bespoke nib celebrates the art of writing by emphasizing what money cannot buy,” she explains. “The craftsmanship involved is the product of years of experience. We have two master nib-grinders with over 50 years of experience between them.”

In my case, I wanted to give my wife the perfect fountain pen as a highly personalized anniversary gift. While she was satisfied with Montblanc’s standard extra-fine nib, she preferred an even finer point. Montblanc accommodated this request with an extra-extra-fine nib, near to what was historically referred to as a “needle point.”

Montblanc’s custom nib-grinding service is a perfect marriage of exclusivity and fine workmanship, but before meeting with the nib-grinder, it is beneficial to experiment with standard nibs to better determine what is ideal for you.  After moving beyond the mass-production mentality, you find that bespoke craftsmanship has almost no limits. But to take full advantage, you have to know what you want.




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