The serpent is back! Montblanc continue their Heritage collection with the Rouge et Noir Special Edition. I have the Coral version in my hands, was it worth the price? Read on and find out.
Not for some time in recent memory has there been such anticipation around the release of a Montblanc special edition. Only three weeks ago I reported on the announcement and release of the Rouge et Noir fountain pen, and the price points seem to have attracted a mountain of interest and speculation. You see, normally these special and limited editions pens by Montblanc are beyond the reach of most mere mortals (myself included) and therefore whilst they make great eye candy, they make terrible wallet candy.
With that in mind my initial thoughts about this pen were still extreme lust. The serpent clip present on the older writers edition Agatha Christie has been revered as a tasteful trip back in time to when putting serpents on pen clips were a sign of good fortune and luck. I don’t know if I believe in the luck and hoodoo, but I can tell you that they are an aesthetically pleasing addition. The safety filler-esque cap and logo from montblanc in the prewar era also attracted me to the design of the pen. I pretty much knew as soon as I saw it that I had to have one, the only decision was which version.
Before long and after much agonising, I settled on the coral version for a few reasons.
The first is the differences it posses against the standard black version which includes a two tone nib and jeweled eyes on the serpent clip. Small details I know but features I felt I needed to have if I was going to spend this kind of money.
The second reason relates to the colour of the pen. Just look at it! It’s different, is reminiscent of the vintage aesthetic the design is trying to achieve and it is a standout.
The last reason relates to the relative exclusivity of the coral colour. I hear that only one production run has been completed of the coral colour and no more will be produced in future. Of course, even the black resin model will be relatively limited given Montblanc tend to make special editions for a short period of time, but I felt this was a nice piece of exclusivity. Whilst only an internet rumor, this was the icing on the cake for me.
Reasons lined up, order button pushed, and then La Couronne du Comte was left to do their thing. The pen showed up rather swiftly and as I unpacked their lovely packaging I snapped a few shots of the box.
Name: Montblanc Heritage Collection Rouge et Noir Fountain Pen
Colour: Coral. Available in a Special Edition Black (cheaper), and also a Limited Edition 1906 rubber finish (expensive but worth a look). Ballpoints and rollerballs also available.
Materials: Coral precious resin cap with ivory logo, coral coloured lacquered barrel, serpent clip with vintage finish and green spinels set as serpents eyes.
Nib Size & Material: Fine. Hand crafted 14 karat gold 585, two-tone rhodium coated serpent head finish. Triangular breather hole.
Filling Mechanism: Piston filler.
Measurements: 135mm capped, 128mm uncapped, ~10mm diameter, can not post.
Price: RRP $800 USD for the Coral, $670 USD for the Black, $1,825 USD for the Limited Edition 1906 (pricing for all not yet available in Australia). Actually paid €628 or ~$950 AUD.
Available: Available in Europe & USA. Expected in Australian market in June/July 2016. Check out appelboom.com, fountainpenhospital.com & lacouronneducomte.nl
What Makes It
Aesthetics. The Rouge et Noir draws you in on the basis of the way it looks, it’s undeniable. The coral colour is unique and is really different to the regular swathe of safe fountain pen colours from Montblanc and other manufacturers like Pelikan & Sailor. Both the black resin and coral models are nicely adorned with the ivory Montblanc star and vintage Montblanc logo on the side. The snake clip is really the hero in the design and it does the job both aesthetically and functionally very well. Those green eyes can be mesmerizing to look at, and the two tone nib is nicely detailed, clearly engraved and really compliments the coral colour. Overall, when you look at the aesthetic features and relative simplicity of design of this pen, it is a well deserved winner.
Sharp Price. I know what you’re thinking that I am absolutely bonkers with that statement. It is a little bit ridiculous to call an $800USD pen ‘good value’ but let’s not forget that this is not just something to write with but a symbol of craftsmanship and expression. There is no doubt considering what else is in the market along with Montblanc’s own price laddering that this sits comfortably in the attainable high end category. Indeed versus a writer’s edition and patron of the arts model this almost looks cheap…almost. Aside from the coral Rouge et Noir, I think the standout value equation here for those who are truly shopping in this premium bracket normally is the 1906 limited edition. A truly scarce number exist (1906 in case you were wondering) and the unique finish along with the absence of a metal section should see these snapped up fairly soon. The regular special edition’s offer some great features in design and originality for a decent price.
Vintage References. If you weren’t aware, the Heritage collection from Montblanc draws on the history of it’s vintage pens and aims to provide a modern interpretation. To that end, the Rouge et Noir hits it out of the park with a number of references to the old safety fillers. The domed cap with red highlights (more evident on the black models) is a nice and authentic touch. Ivory as the Montblanc star on the top suits the pen and also give a bit of old world charm. One thinks of the images from the roaring twenties of ladies in gowns, jeweled headpieces and gentleman in their best smoking jackets. It really adds to the charm of the pen. The serpent clip is a masterstroke too with a weathered patina achieved in the manufacturing process. Upon inspection for the first time, I actually thought the clip was silver and had tarnished, such is the authenticity of the manufacturing process. Montblanc have also chosen to utilise one of their older logo’s on the side of the cap and this really adds a nice touch to compliment the vintage aesthetic overall. Overall the Rouge et Noir looks and feels the part.
Quality & Performance. Every aspect of the Rouge et Noir screams quality to you when you pick it up. I admit, on first inspecting when I opened the box, the thin and long profile of the pen had me worried that it would feel somewhat ‘plasticky’. This couldn’t be further from the truth with the lacquered body quite heavy which gives you a substantial feel in the hand for such a thin item. Weight wise, the pen comes in at 35grams capped and 28grams without the cap. Filling the pen is exactly how you would expect, bulletproof. The piston operates exactly as it should too, smoothly and with no fuss drawing up ink in a predictable manner. The trim elements are very well manufactured with clear engravings, a very smooth matte metal section and threads on the cap that line up perfectly. Roughly 3 turns of the cap and the Rouge et Noir is ready to go back into your pen case. It is clear that Montblanc spent a lot of time refining the materials being used on this pen, very well done.
What Breaks It
Unbalanced Proportions. There is no question this is a slim pen. Think Montblanc 144 and you are pretty much spot on the money about the size and girth of the pen. Many people seem surprised by the slim profile and length of this pen, and I for one can’t understand why. A cursory glance at the Montblanc website reveals that this is indeed the purpose of the design with a ‘longer, slimmer silhoutte’. Whilst I can certainly appreciate this design direction and the references to the historic, for me the proportions of this pen are not balanced. The ratio of length to girth are not correct and it unfairly emphasises the slim nature of the Rouge et Noir. This uneven look makes the pen awkward to look at from some angles and visually is slightly off putting. A shame when you consider that if only a few centimeters were to be trimmed from the length this would make for one absolutely gorgeous compact pen.
Uninspiring Nib Performance. If you have been lucky enough to try the Heritage 1912 that precedes the Rouge et Noir, you will know that the small nib packs a punch in terms of performance. Springy, well flowing, and charismatic strokes are what characterises that nibs, and in my opinion will keep the pen in good stead for years to come. The Rouge et Noir shares a similar triangular breather hole and small size. I was expecting big things (no pun intended) from this nib and I was left a little disappointed. There isn’t anything particularly wrong with the way the pen writes. It flows well, doesn’t skip or gush, and has enough spring/softness to make it stand out from the nail nib brigade. In short, it is dependable and consistent but that’s just it, it doesn’t do anything remarkable either. I can’t help but feel that the nib could have been so much more to differentiate itself from the regular Montblanc classique line. Unfortunately, other than the fantastic nib design, I’m afraid to say it won’t knock your socks off. You might consider that statement a bit unfair if the price was not such a significant difference, however when I’m spending this much on a slim special edition pen I demand a bit more.
Curious Choice of Section. People will argue until they are blue in the face about the merits of a resin section versus a metal one. Sweaty fingers, prints and cheapness all come to mind when considering the debate out there. For me I can see the merits of both and whilst not overly fond of the choice for a metal section on the Rouge et Noir, I am not against it either. Over the last week of use I have yet to experience any sweaty fingers or prints that is spoken about. I have however realised that the section is not as comfortable as it could be. This is largely due to the girth of the section which tapers down to the short threads. It simply isn’t large enough for regular sized hands like mine which make extended writing periods a little difficult. There is a slight taper also where the metal section joins the lacquered body which means the actual section itself is very thin. It’s as if Montblanc decided to widen the pen after it had produced the section and cap. A bad choice considering that grabbing the body of the pen higher than the section makes for a more comfortable grip.
Could Be More Innovative. It’s a piston filler, move on nothing to see here. I do wish that Montblanc had pushed the boundaries a little and designed a retractable nib like the safety fillers it takes it’s cues from. The Heritage 1912 is a great example of this, but I suppose it becomes a price tag trade off.
Colour Variation is Off-putting (Coral version). One of the things not talked much about with the Rouge et Noir in coral is the colour variation between the cap, barrel and piston knob. Montblanc go to great lengths to explain how they manage to get a very close colour match with the coral, and will have you believe they turned water into wine to make this possible. Whilst I certainly appreciate (having worked in manufacturing) the lengths Montblanc went to to make this happen, there is still a noticable difference in colour. The barrel is a shinier richer red, whilst the cap and piston knob is a slightly more ‘faded’ red. On first inspection you might not notice this, but as you live with the pen it will become very obvious to you. This difference may throw out some our OCD (it does for me), and something I feel probably isn’t good enough from the manufacturer. Different strokes for different folks though, and only applicable to the coral version.
Credibility & Comparison. A very small point, but the elephant in the room with this pen (especially in black resin) is the Montblanc Agatha Christie writers edition released in the 90’s. You can’t help but draw comparisons due to the serpent clip. I won’t wade into this argument, other than to say that this is a new pen which provides a different experience to something which was released over 20 years ago. However, there will still be the skeptics out there that will compare ownership of this pen to the Agatha Christie and that is a totally personal affair
This is one of those pens that is likely to capture your imagination and overall I am pleased with it. It presents many convincing arguments about its vintage heritage, aesthetics, and is a nice addition to the Montblanc Heritage Collection. You may find yourself lusting after the serpent clip, two tone nib and ivory Montblanc cap star to no end, I know I did. At the same time the range of negatives listed in this review warrants a pause and food for thought. It may seem like a long list of negatives, but each one in itself is probably only a deal breaker for the few and not the many. Therefore, a trip to the Montblanc boutique to handle the pen prior to purchase is a must before the Rouge et Noir captures not only your imagination but your wallet.
Attached are some photo’s of the pen including a size comparison and writing sample (ink is Montblanc Toffee Brown) to help you decide.
Like the review? Thoughts, feedback, suggestions? Comment below.