Watch companies have upped the ante in the quality of their branded accessories — particularly in the case of fine writing implements, a category near and dear to the hearts of many watch collectors. In this 2009 column by Fine Pens writer Jan DiVincenzo, the first in our online archive of WatchTime’s popular lifestyle columns, we take a look at some of the standouts.
In pairing a watch with a pen, the obvious preference would be for both to be of the same manufacture. And this shouldn’t be difficult, as more and more watch companies now offer pens. However, most of these pens, like other watch-branded ancillary products, come from companies that do not specialize in making them. Cartier, for instance, has been making pens since 1924 and currently offers nine pen models, including the Santos, Pasha and Roadster, which match their respective watch models. But these pens, despite their material preciousness, are usually not as thoughtfully engineered as their timekeeping brethren.
A similar disparity attends those pens that accompany complex and costly timepieces as promotional extras. Some watch aficionados will remember the 2003 Panerai Luminor Chronograph (PAM 162) that came with a matching Montegrappa “biro-pusher.” The pen had a ballpoint at one end and a stylus at the other, ostensibly to set the watch’s date function, and was insignificant next to the watch. So too was the pen that accompanied the 2008 Raymond Weil Nabucco Cuore Caldo Split-Seconds Chronograph. The watch was a complex chronograph limited to 500 pieces at $16,000 apiece. All we know about the pen was that it had a carbon-fiber body like the watch’s dial and rose-gold trim like some of its elements.
But exceptions to this paradigm — the quality of luxury watches eclipsing that of their companion pens — are on the rise. In 2008 Blancpain issued the Grayson Tighe Set. Grayson Tighe is a pen designer in his late 20s, son of knife designer Brian Tighe, who has his own line of luxury pens notable for their metalwork. Tighe partnered with Blancpain to produce matching watch-pen sets, in which the pens — a fountain pen and ballpoint — were as important as the watch. The latter was a Le Brassus model, powered by Blancpain’s Calibre 13R0, which holds three days’ power in its three barrels. The Tighe pens and Blancpain watch share elegant design elements: the pen’s filler knob is shaped like the Blancpain winding crown and the watch’s dial incorporates Tighe’s signature guilloché and scored-steel finish. Blancpain issued 17 Grayson Tighe sets, along with an additional 35 pens, to form “1735.” The number signifies both the year that watchmaker Jean Jacques Blancpain, for whom the brand is named, set up his workshop in Villeret, and the name of Blancpain’s grand complication watch. Unfortunately, the cost of the Grayson Tighe set was as exclusive as its production run: around $82,000.
While the Tighe-Blancpain project proved that pens need not be junior partners to watches, Breguet had already proved that fountain pens need not fall short of the standards of excellence to which watch companies generally hold their watches. In 2003 the Breguet fountain pen made its appearance at Breguet boutiques. Currently available in a set that also includes a ballpoint and rollerball, this pen is a piston filler with a body of deep-drawn sterling carved with fine barley-grain guilloché. Deep-drawing is a process by which plate metal is pounded by a special die into a seamless cylinder, as opposed to the easier process of rolling it into a tube. The nib of this pen is 18k, rhodium-masked gold, its tip polished flat to ease its glide. The spring-loaded clip, in cast sterling, reflects the shape of Breguet’s traditional hours and minutes hands and features a blue cabochon in its circle.
Taking after Breguet, this year both Girard-Perregaux and Hublot issued fine standalone fountain pens. The Girard-Perregaux Three Bridges fountain pen is a piston filler that comes in sterling silver and resin (999 pieces) or rose gold and resin (99 pieces). This pen features guilloché replicating that of the 1945 Three Bridges tourbillon and a clip that derives its shape from the tourbillon’s bridges.
Lastly, Hublot has charted fountain-pen territory with its SP.01.CX.C1, presented at Baselworld 2009. This pen is inspiring for its use of advanced materials (brushed ceramic, titanium body and nib) and its industrial-chic look. One of the virtues of the SP.01.CX.C1 is that, rather than relying on specific cues to its horological heritage, it reflects the general design sensibility of Hublot, which makes it both an apt match for any Hublot watch and a unique pen in itself.