Grail Pen Review (Part One) – Montblanc Heritage 1912 Fountain Pen

The Montblanc Heritage 1912 fountain pen is described by Montblanc as a reintepretation of a historical writing instrument that honors its innovation and design legacy with a contemporary spirit.

That sounds rather fancy and I wondered aloud whether a pen could live up to that sort of marketing hype. Was I going to be overwhelmed, underwhelmed or somewhere in between? Well then, without further ado let’s do it. Does Montblanc deliver a $1,300 masterstroke or master-fail?

Read on and find out.

The Story

You may have seen my earlier post about waiting to receive this pen and my own ‘grail pen’ expectations. I won’t get into that other than to set the scene of grail pen day.

Using super sleuth tracking of my USPS parcel, I expected to receive my grail pen on Friday. It was my day off and so I geared my plan for the day around the postman’s usual 11.30-12.30 window. I kept looking at my watch through the morning, mentally counting down and preparing myself for the imminent arrival – slightly neurotic, but all in good fun. As the hour grew nearer I prepared myself for the knock at the door to sign for the parcel. Music turned all the way down, positioning myself in my study to make sure I could hear the front door, I tried hopelessly to finish off some tasks.

And then, there is a distinct rap at the door as the door knocker contacts the base. I leap out of my seat as if I was running the 200m hurdle race in the Olympics and charge down the hall to the front door. On the way, I was praying to the pen-gods that Mr. Postmans hasn’t decided to take a longer lunch break, dropped the card and run off. I unlock the latch, turn the handle, open the door and… oh! It’s a real estate agent offering me a ‘free valuation’. Grrrrrr…

As I casually dismiss any requirement for his service, my peripheral vision notices an object. Its moving, shiny and oh my god it’s him! The postman says hello, drops the package in my hand, passes me some bulky touch pad and I scrawl some gibberish on the touch screen device and bolt back inside to my study.

Reflection kicks in.

Ok, be cool. Go slow. Savour the moment. Whatever you don’t don’t rip the box and damage the pen!

*deep breath*

As I open the cardboard box outer I am confronted by this delightful sight.

Firstly, good on the seller for ensuring the box outer carton was well protected. Those giant Montblanc starts peaking through the bubble wrap starts to make things exciting. As I carefully tear all the bubble wrap off the outer box, label, and inner box appear. The inner box is nothing to write home about; it is thick cardboard, glossy and smooth. Certainly not an elegant wooden box or display, but perhaps some of the humble origins of this pen are starting to emerge. Once you open the inner box there is, wait for it, another box. This time it’s grey and has a metal strip across the top (sorry I photographed the grey box upside down in my excitement!) which says Heritage 1912. Also placed carefully underneath is the instruction and warranty booklet, nicely printed and photographed.

So now, all that is left is to open the grey box and reveal the pen – here it is:

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The glorious grail pen reveal
I take it out and fondle it for a bit. The ‘precious’ resin (plastic in the real world) is soft and smooth to the touch, highly polished and the platinum coated clip sparkles in the light. At first I am taken by how compact it is when capped, and when uncapped how large the pen becomes. The cap screw thread is neat, operates well and provides a real sense of engineering perfection. The screw mechanism at the rear of the pen turns smoothly and extends/retracts the nib with great precision. You get the feeling very early on that every detail of this pen has been carefully considered.

Of course I am omitting one of the original reasons this pen appealed to me aesthetically, the mother of pearl star dome on the top of the cap. It’s huge! Surprisingly understated and a real feature of this pen only stylophiles would appreciate. It glimmers even in small amounts of natural light and the star raises from the base elegantly to seem as if it is almost floating. A fabulous looking pen and well worth the wait to behold in greater detail than at a Montblanc boutique.

 

Product Specifications

Name – Montblanc Heritage 1912 Fountain Pen
Colour – Black. Available in a LE steel finish but it’s circa $15k.
Materials – Precious resin cap, lacquered barrel, platinum coated clip
Nib Size & Material – Broad. Retractable hand crafted 14 karat gold 585, rhodium finish. Triangular breather hole.
Filling Mechanism – Two step screw mechanism piston filler with retractable nib.
Measurements – 108mm uncapped nib retracted, 125mm uncapped nib extended, 120mm capped, cannot post.
Price – RRP $1,335 AUD    Actually paid $900 AUD
Available – There is some stock still available in Montblanc Boutiques and a few on the grey market.

In this review I will try to cover a lot more detail about the pen, but as always, will give an honest appraisal of its merits and shortcomings.

What Makes It

Attention to detail and quality.  Logic would suggest that I would not be in the minority to expect to be wowed at the attention to detail and craftsmanship involved in this pen. For me, the fit and finish I expect for this price should be nothing short of outstanding, no ifs, buts or maybes. Compare that to the recently reviewed Visconti Wall Street LE, which has a list price of close to what is asked for the Montblanc 1912 (though in reality a lower street price from authorised dealers). As reported, I received the pen with a factory bent clip and obvious quality quirks. On the Visconti however, the perspective of quality and attention to detail is different. Much like an Alfa Romeo or Fiat, the perspective is more about connecting to an emotion and evoking passion – that celluloid, the impractical filling system, I could go on. The 1912 is an entirely different proposition. You expect elegance, clean lines, bomb proof reliability and so on. You absolutely get it.

The clip is centered perfectly, the engravings spot on and aligned. The knob works smoothly and switching from retracing the nib to activating the piston produces a satisfying click. The piston itself if silky smooth and the nib engravings are perfect. You can see the thought that has gone into the filling system with the clearance and design of the nib when retracted. The pen has a great weight to it which reinforces the quality perception. In summary, ‘Built like a tank’ comes to mind and huge points to Montblanc for pulling that off.

Aesthetics.  When a pen gets into this kind of price territory, it needs to connect with you emotionally, as well as through the writing experience. A sense of personalisation needs to exist in its aesthetics, an extension of character. Personally, this was an important factor in the purchase of this pen, I didn’t want to have my grail pen jump up into your face and shout ‘Look at me I’m expensive! No really, check me out’.Thankfully, the 1912 does not jump out at you and is by and large an understated and elegant affair.

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The design is based on the Simplot Safety Filler (pre the Company being known as Montblanc) of course, and the homage the design pays to the original is outstanding. It’s worth googling the images to see the overall shape and significance of the large star on the cap of the 1912. When I first heard about this pen a couple of years back, I pictured a corny reference to the original. Maybe a date stamped onto the barrel of the pen or the word heritage plastered somewhere. Thankfully that is not the case as the overall design choices integrate well with a more modern interpretation. The 1912 prefers to let you pick up any historical connection in a quiet appreciation, it would be lost on most people I would imagine. As you behold it in the daylight, a glow emerges which reflects a quiet confidence and elegance to the pen. There is a strong connection to the minimalist design school, with a contemporary black silhouette. To me this shows great restraint on behalf of the designer, and something they should be commended on.

Remarkable filling system design. Let’s be honest, a retractable nib with a piston filling mechanism could have been ridiculously complicated (Visconti I’m looking in your direction here), or the easy converter filled option could have been taken. There could have been levers, gadgets, cursing of the instruction manual and so on, but in truth what has been designed here is simple and doesn’t require an engineering degree to use. The instruction manual diagram actually makes it seem more difficult than it really is.

There isn’t too much more to say regarding the filling mechanism other than that it is reliable, quick and easy to use. For a German pen, the ‘coolness’ factor is also off the charts into the territory you would expect more flamboyant brands. Ink capacity is fairly good too and I find it holds a reasonable amount of ink.

The Nib. For me, the nib is special in two ways. One in the aforementioned retraction mechanism, but secondly it is in relation to how it performs. Many will have you believe that the nib is too small, and granted compared to a Meisterstuck 146 it is a fair bit smaller. Considering the girth of the barrel (and more on that in the next point), the nibs size is decided by function rather than form. This to me is an acceptable principle with which to design the nib size around. It looks like Montblanc tried to maximise the size of the nib without making the girth of the barrel uncomfortable or too distant form its Simplo safety filler origins. The result is a simple yet rather springy nib with good detail and an interesting triangular breather hole and fins. It writes wet, is very communicative and performed straight out of the box. What more could be asked for from a grail pen nib? Writing sample to follow in part two of the review.

Writing comfort & experience. On first glance I wondered how the lack of a defined section would affect how the pen writes. Was this an all for show, ‘cool factor’ screw cap with little thought towards actually using the pen. After I picked up the pen and wrote a few lines with it, any thought of discomfort was quickly dispatched.

On the body of the pen, from the nib hole backwards, the short step in the resin leads to a small screw thread design. I initially thought my fingers might rest on the screw threads but in fact, after a lot of use they sit just above the screw threads in a very comfortable grip. This may differ for people with different sized hands (mine are average I’d say) but all in all the girth of the barrel is a fraction smaller than say a Duofold centennial. What surprised me is that the writing experience and feel of the pen does not change even after writing continuously with it for around thirty to fourty minutes. And therein for me lies the biggest positive of the pen; it serves its purpose remarkably.

The supreme balance and weight distribution that Montblanc have managed to engineer are spot on. I don’t think I have used another pen which writes this well after a lengthy time, even my trusty Parker Duofolds and 51’s are left in the dust. In itself, this should be one of the biggest draw cards to those contemplating picking up any remaining stock of the 1912. It is hard to shake the feeling that the designers of this pen wanted you to have a somewhat special experience when they were prototyping the model and trying out different combinations. Every time you sit down to use this beautiful pen you firstly need to unscrew the cap, turn the knob to reveal the nib and therefore you are preconditioned for a solid writing sessions. I see the mechanism as largely impractical for quick note taking, its an extra step that is not required in most pens and slows down the process.

Next Stop, Reality Check
So that’s in for part one, I hope you have enjoyed it! Tune back into part two which will wipe the gloss off, force me to take a step back and get stuck into what ‘breaks’ the pen. I will also follow up with the overall verdict, a writing sample and some more photos.

Cheers!
Manllectables

Like the review? Thoughts, feedback, suggestions? Comment below.

 

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