I always get a little excited when a customer comes into the store to buy a Montblanc. I don't show it, of course. I play it cool. But secretly, even though I've been selling Montblancs at Pen Boutique for almost a year now, it always seems like a big deal. Why? What is it about Montblanc?
Reputation and History
There's no question that Montblanc is the most well-known fine pen brand in the world, and it has a reputation for being the best in the market. Although there are other fine pens that compare to or surpass Montblanc in the eyes of fountain pen aficionados, none has the recognition of a Montblanc, and there is something about the very word "Montblanc" that carries with it a feeling that these pens are in a league of their own. Customers who come in looking for a very special pen (either as a gift or as an item of exceptional significance for themselves) almost always end up choosing a Montblanc, even after I show them other highly esteemed fine pen brands like S.T. Dupont, Graf von Faber-Castell, Visconti, Pelikan, and Otto Hutt. They consider the other pen models briefly, hold them in their hands, admire their features, and then say something like, "But it's not a Montblanc."
The Montblanc company had a humble beginning. It was founded in Hamburg, Germany in 1906 by August Eberstein, an engineer from Berlin, along with stationer Claus-Johannes Voss and banker Alfred Nehemias, both from Hamburg. They began as the Simplo Filler Pen company, producing a range of simple to use fountain pens designed not to leak. The "simplicissimus" pen included a built-in ink well. In 1909, they created the Rouge et Noir (a name still given to pens in Montblanc's "Heritage" line), referring to the safest way of playing roulette: betting on both red and black at the same time. This "safe" pen was engineered to eliminate the risk of ink stains.
A year later, in 1910, the company chose their new name: Montblanc. Mont Blanc (meaning "white mountain") is the highest mountain in the Alps and also the highest mountain in Western Europe. The implication is clear: Montblanc is the highest quality; Montblanc is the best.
Note that the brand is properly spelled Montblanc, while the mountain is Mont Blanc (in French) or Monte Bianco (in Italian). Although the mountain is located mostly in France and Italy, it also straddles Switzerland at its northeastern end. The brand Montblanc, however, is not Swiss or French, but 100% German.
You may have noticed the number 4810 engraved on the nib of Montblanc fountain pens. It's also often used by Montblanc as a limited edition production number. This number refers to the height of the mountain in meters above sea level.
Montblanc's famous white star emblem (introduced in 1913) also references the mountain's peak. It represents the six snow-covered glaciers at Mont Blanc's summit, and thus equates Montblanc with the pinnacle. It's fascinating how words like "peak," "pinnacle," and "summit" are used to describe mountains but also refer to the most successful and the highest attainable level of achievement. Montblanc chose their logo well, and they prominently feature it on their pens' caps, so it's easy to see it when you carry a Montblanc in your pocket or if you write with the cap posted on the back of the pen. A Montblanc's cap conveys an unmistakable message.
Today, Montblanc has expanded to other luxury goods, including watches, fragrances, leather goods, and jewelry. But when someone refers to "a Montblanc" they're talking about a pen, and often to one pen in particular: the iconic Meisterstück. Montblanc began using the name Meisterstück (it means “Masterpiece” in English) in 1924 for their best pens, and the Meisterstück 149 model was introduced in 1951. This pen, and its smaller siblings, the 146, 145, and 144, share a timeless and classic shape that will always be in fashion. It was even the model for the pen emoji. The Meisterstück pen is one of the most famous writing instruments of all time.
The Meisterstück fountain pen is known for its cigar or torpedo profile--meaning that it is a thin cylindrical shape with rounded ends. The cap can be removed in one rotation. Meisterstücks have elegant and practical straight clips with slightly raised detailing near the top in a shape that echos the overall clip and adds beauty and interest. The top is attached to a ring that encircles the cap and is embedded within it. It's a very study and functional design. Near the bottom of the cap are two more thin rings surrounding a slightly wider band with the words MONTBLANC and MEISTERSTUCK on it, as well as additional writing, depending on the model of the pen. There is a fifth metal ring toward the bottom of the pen. In piston-filling models, this finial section is partially unscrewed to activate the internal mechanism that fills the pen with ink; in models that use a cartridge/converter system, it is purely decorative.
Montblanc uses the Meisterstück shape in many of their limited edition pen lines, such as Around The World In 80 Days, Le Petit Prince, Great Masters, and UNICEF, and it is also available in beautiful variations like their Calligraphy series and their new blue-tone Glacier line, but in this article I'm going to keep it simple and just focus on the iconic classic black Meisterstück fountain pens.
In fact, I was nervous about taking Monblanc pens home with me, so I just chose three representative pens to photograph and examine--one to represent each of the sizes we carry (149, 146, and 145) and in each of the trim colors (gold, red gold, and platinum). The 149 size is always a fountain pen, but 146 and 145 are also available in rollerball and ballpoint, and there are sometimes pencil versions as well. A lot of the information I will be discussing in this article pertains to all Meisterstück writing instruments, so please keep reading even if you aren't interested in a fountain pen. As I started to think about all the exponential Meisterstück variations, I got overwhelmed very quickly, so I decided a simple and focused approach was best. Let's begin with the first and largest.
149, or "Diplomat"
The original Meisterstück model is known by various names: "Diplomat," "Presidente," "sign pen," or "signature pen." It's the preferred pen of CEOs, diplomats, and heads of state because it's perfect for signing things and makes your signature look spectacular! Because of its size, it's showy and instantly recognizable. It has a very important look when you are holding it in your hand.
The number 149 seems pretty obscure, but it actually had meaning. The "1" denoted the Meisterstück grade. (The other grades, 2 and 3, are no longer used, and are only found on vintage pens.) The “4” referred to the filling mechanism (pens with "4" were piston-fillers), and the “9” referred to the size of the nib (1 was the smallest, 9 the largest). So a Model 149 was a Meisterstück piston-filler with a #9 nib. Because this nib is the largest and therefore has the most surface area, it has the most flexibility and is the springiest feeling to write with. The nib is 18K gold (Au 750 in German), which also adds to its flexibity as compared to the 14K gold used in the smaller pens' nibs.
Knowing that the final number refers to nib size makes it easy to remember that 145 is the smallest model, 146 the medium, and 149 the large one. (Although, really, it's more like medium, large, and extra-large. I wouldn't call any of them small!) All three have beautiful two-tone nibs with an elegant and timeless design.
The 149 model originally only came with yellow gold plated trim, but all the current models are now available in rose gold (Montblanc calls this "red gold") and platinum plated (silver colored) trim as well. The rose gold color was released to celebrate 90 years of Meisterstück. I'll compare the trim options more later in this article!
Note when comparing the three pens that the 149 and 146 are both piston-fillers (so, you fill them from an ink bottle), and current releases of these models have slim vertical ink windows near the top of the barrel that allow you a glimpse into the pen so you can check on your ink level. These cool windows are most noticeable if you hold the pen up to a light-colored background or a light source, and they are hidden beneath the cap when it is on.
146, or "LeGrande"
The 146, also known as the LeGrand, is the most commonly used Meisterstück because it's so versatile. While the 149 is a beautiful and very impressive pen, it may be too big for everyday use unless you have large hands. The 146, on the other hand, is a happy medium and is comfortable for both men and women. I used one of the store tester pens, a 146 with an extra fine nib, to take all my notes when I researched this blog article, and I wrote with it so much that I used up all the ink! This size is similar to an Esterbrook Estie.
I like smaller pens, so I wrote with the 146 unposted, but it is well-balanced both with the cap posted on the back of the pen or with it set to the side, and this is a matter of hand size and personal preference.
The 146 has a piston filling mechanism (and ink windows in current models), just like the 149, but, like the 145, it has a 14K gold (Au 585) nib, so the nib is less soft. This pen feels great for note taking or letter writing. It's very smooth, with a nice wet flow.
145, or "Classique"
The smallest currently produced size is the 145, designated as the Classique. This is a little confusing because the 144 size, which has been discontinued, was also called the Classique! The 145 used to be known as the Chopin, so you may also hear it referred to that way.
This model takes a cartridge or converter, and does not have a built-in piston filling mechanism, so it is lighter weight and allows the option of disposable cartridges if you prefer not to deal with ink bottles. Montblanc recommends using Montblanc brand ink bottles and cartridges only, but other Standard International size cartridge will also fit, because it was Montblanc cartridges that created the standard size that so many other manufactures now use! It is up to you if you want to use other brand inks, but many Montblanc owners do without any dire effects. (Montblanc inks are really nice, though.) The pen comes with a twist-style converter installed, so you can use that to fill the pen from bottles and have access to a myriad of color options.
As with the 146, the nib is 14K gold (Au 585), but smaller to match the size of the pen. This pen is a great size for women's hands or for men who want a more portable pen that is easy to carry in a shirt pocket. It is also the most comfortable size for some men, so don't discount this size if you are a man or buying a gift for a man! I had my father try all three sizes and he liked the 145 the best. He has average sized hands. It's almost exactly the same size as a Pilot Metropolitan, so it's not as if the 145 is tiny... it just looks that way next to its larger siblings!
The grip section on the Classique is narrower and longer than on the other two models, and I prefer it. It feels more comfortable in my hand, but this is a very personal thing, of course.
Still having trouble deciding which size Meisterstück is right for you? The best way to judge is to come into Pen Boutique and try holding them all, but, if you don't live near a Montblanc retailer, these handy charts might help. This is my first time creating charts, and I'm not really a numbers person, but I thought it would be a useful reference. Thanks to my mom for letting me borrow her digital scale!
In these charts, I'm including the 144 (original Classique) size, which we don't sell at Pen Boutique because it's no longer made. Store owner Leena owns one and loaned it to me because she thought it might be helpful as a reference to customers who already have that size and wonder how the other sizes compare.
Length w/o cap:
Weight w/o cap:
Here's a photo of the little 144. It's easy to distinguish from the 145 because it has an additional gold ring right below the nib, and a snap cap instead of screw on. It's cute and extremely lightweight.
Summary of differences between the Diplomat, LeGrand, Classique, and discontinued Classique models:
The current models are available with extra-fine, fine, medium, and broad nibs, and in a choice of gold, red gold, and platinum trim. Double broad, oblique medium, oblique broad, and oblique double broad nibs are also available for special order, but that takes at least 2-3 months.
When choosing a nib size, think about what the pen will be used for. If you want a pen for distinctive and dramatic signatures, choose a broad nib or even one of the special order nibs. If you have smaller handwriting and will be taking a lot of notes or writing in a journal, I'd recommend a fine or extra-fine nib. Montblanc's nibs are wide, so my favorite when I tried our store tester pens was extra-fine! I normally like a medium or fine nib in most other brands. I think the extra-fine nib wrote more like what I would expect from a fine or from a Japanese medium-fine. If you love the Meisterstück, there's also nothing wrong with owning more than one of them in different models and/or nib sizes. Maybe you have a special signature pen with a wide nib and also a fine nib pen for writing letters.
Here's another photo comparing the three color options and sizes. All three trim colors are beautiful, and it's hard to choose between them! When helping a customer decide, I often suggest thinking about what color jewelry or wristwatch you (or the people you are buying gifts for) usually wear. Not that your Montblanc and your jewelry have to match, but sometimes we gravitate toward certain tones. I usually choose white gold or silver jewelry and prefer silver colored (platinum) pen trim, but I have a lot of gold trim pens, too. Red gold (rose gold) is also an intriguing choice and is a good one for someone who likes to be a little different. It's elegant and warm, and more modern feeling than classic yellow gold. The difference between Montblanc's gold and red gold is subtle, but each one has its own distinct feel. Yellow gold is definitely the most traditional and classic choice of the three.
What Are You Paying For?
Yes, Montblancs are expensive. Why? Well, first of all, Montblanc is a recognizable luxury brand. You are paying for that designer name just like someone who buys a Louis Vuitton handbag or a Rolex watch. Montblancs are used by influential people like world leaders, celebrities, and royalty. They have a reputation for luxury, and are only sold at select authorized retailers, restricting supply and making them more exclusive. A Montblanc is a great pen and a beautiful writer, but it is also a status symbol.
In addition to the recognition factor, Montblanc puts years of engineering, skill, and repeated testing into their designs. Meisterstücks are classics that have stood the test of time. Making a single pen takes over 100 meticulous steps, with the pen's nib requiring more than 30 steps. After it is finished, every Montblanc Meisterstück nib is given a handwriting test by a trained craftsman, making sure the nib writes smoothly and feels right. This level of attention to detail is costly.
Each Montblanc also has an international guarantee for two years from the date of purchase, covering all defects in manufacturing and materials. When you purchase your pen at an authorized retailer, it will include a certificate of authenticity and warranty. We stamp your booklet to show that you bought it from an authorized Montblanc dealer.
Because Montblancs are so desirable and well known, they are often counterfeited, so it's very important to get your Montblanc from a trusted source. Montblanc has introduced a lot of fascinating measures to combat the fakes. Each pen has its own nine-digit serial number laser-printed on the ring of the clip or the side of the clip, and, when you buy a Montblanc from us, we record this number and make sure that it matches the number in your accompanying booklet. The number is very small, so I use the magnifying glass app on my phone to see it when I am checking that it matches! It's usually extremely hard to see, but it caught the light just right when I took this photo.
Another cool way to recognize a genuine Montblanc is that its black resin has a translucent reddish tinge that you can see when you hold it up to strong light. It is revealed in this photo I took outdoors in bright sunlight.
The security measures have changed over the years, so, on the new Montblancs I borrowed from the store, there is a secret "Made in Germany METAL" hidden under the clip, whereas, on the older model that belongs to Leena, the underside of the clip says "Pix" written in cursive.
Montblanc introduced their Pix trademark way back in the 1930s as an anti-counterfeiting feature.
On a Montblanc fountain pen's nib, you'll find another registered Montblanc hallmark: StøD. This is Montblanc's designation for precious metal products.
A Montblanc nib will include:
- an M inside the six-pointed snowcap circle logo
- the gold content (Au 750 = 18K; Au 585 = 14K)
(Montblanc is tricky, so the information isn't always in that exact order.)
Note the nib's iridium tip. Iridium is a silvery metal of the platinum group, notable for its hardness, resistance to corrosion, and rarity. It's considered the second-densest naturally occurring metal, and is the most corrosion-resistant metal known. The iridium tip keeps your nib from wearing, while the gold part gives the flexibility, warmth, and smoothness to your writing. The gold will naturally adapt to your handwriting style, becoming better and better as you use the pen more. Montblanc's nibs are a beautiful, thoughtful design with a lot of elegance and class.
The body of a classic black Meisterstück is made from what Montblanc calls "precious resin." People sometimes make fun of this term because it sounds like Montblanc is claiming their resin is a rare material like precious metals or gemstones. The word they use in German is actually "Edelharz," which translates crudely into "precious resin" but actually means something more like high grade resin. "Edel" means "noble, superior." It's not cheap plastic, but is an incredibly strong high quality plexiglas type material that is scratch resistant and feels nice to the touch. Yes, a Montblanc will show wear and tear with time and stop looking brand-new if you use it a lot, but it can be polished with a soft cloth and will develop character like any well-loved high quality belonging.
The other thing to remember when you own a Montblanc is that they are a great investment. If you take care of your pen, the value will increase over time. If this is something that is important to you, keep in mind that while all Montblancs appreciate over time, the fountain pen version has a higher value than rollerballs and ballpoints, and appreciates more. But when you're choosing a pen, the most important thing is that you feel comfortable using it, so a ballpoint or rollerball Meisterstück is a better choice for someone who wouldn't be interested in a fountain pen lifestyle. Any Montblanc will become an heirloom, passed from generation to generation, and will make a big impression if you give it as a gift.
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