Luxury company Montblanc, makers of writing instruments and Swiss mechanical watches, has broken into the digital product territory, but its makers don’t see this to hurt the heritage products it’s known for.
“We don’t see any conflict,” Matthieu Dupont, president of Montblanc Southeast Asia, told Inquirer Lifestyle Tuesday, at the unveiling of the brand’s new and expanded concept store at Rustan’s Makati.
He was referring to recent launches of the brand that included smart watches and the so-called Augmented Paper and “smart pen” set, which was previewed by Rustan’s guests that evening.
“The fact that you have a technological element to a product such as Augmented Paper is in line with maybe a different audience, or the same audience who’s after a separate product. That doesn’t mean [when you have one], you can’t have the other,” he said.
Augmented Paper is a gadget that allows the user to write or sketch longhand on paper with a smart pen—a Montblanc Star Walker—and it transfers the writings to one’s digital device with a press of a button.
It sold out in Singapore when it launched and now has a three-month wait list. (Orders from the Rustan’s event are estimated to be delivered by December, pending local patent registration. It retails for about SG$1,000.)
“There’s beauty and soul to writing things by hand,” Dupont added. “That doesn’t change. Let’s not forget that Augmented Paper is still a writing instrument. It only means that it combines the best of both worlds, because you can transfer what you write to a digital object. We are able to do that because Montblanc has such a strong heritage in writing instruments. Not anybody can just come up with that product.”
Last month, it launched the Montblanc Summit smart watches in Singapore and the “reaction was very good, we’re pretty much sold out,” he said. At SG$1,300, the Summit is priced way below the typical Montblanc mechanical watch.
“Smart and mechanical are two different things, but they’re not incompatible,” he pointed out. “It’s for a different clientele—young, very connected, likes to travel. Maybe you can wear your smart watch in the day and the mechanical watch in the evening. One keeps you informed, the other is about the beauty of craftsmanship.”
He sees the Summit as a sort of entry-level to the world of Montblanc Swiss watches. “We’re seeing our younger audience thinking, ‘Now I’ve had my Summit, I want to move on to a mechanical piece.’”
Dupont and his regional sales team were also here this week to launch Montblanc’s special collaboration with Unicef in support of its child literacy program. This is the 13th year of Montblanc’s initiative, which has already raised over $10 million for the education of underprivileged children in the world. Three percent of the sales of every purchase of a Montblanc x Unicef product will be donated to the project.
The goal this year is to raise $1.5 million, earmarked for projects in Brazil, China and Djibouti.
“It’s not about boosting sales in any way, it’s about doing things very well,” Dupont said of the Unicef collaboration. “When a brand does well, it’s also about doing things right and doing good around us. It’s about the message that accompanies the product. It’s about our capacity as a top global luxury company to be able to give a message and support projects concerning child literacy. These are limited edition, and they only give us so much.”
The Unicef collection redesigns the iconic Montblanc Meisterstück pen with inscriptions of the first letters children learn to write, in six different languages—Roman, Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, Korean and Hindi. The design is inspired by the Rosetta stone.
Dupont—who has handled IWC and A. Lange & Sohne, brands that, like Montblanc, are under The Richemont Group luxury conglomerate—believes Montblanc has a “fantastic proposition for modern men and women because it offers the best of European craftsmanship.”
Its heritage products, writing instruments, are made in an atelier in its Hamburg headquarters. It made its first Meisterstück pen in 1924. The leathergoods are from its workshop in Florence, while the jewelry and accessories are made in France.
Montblanc began making Swiss mechanical watches only in 1997, and has its own atelier in Villeret called Manufacture Minerva, founded in 1858 and known for exceptional handmade movements.
Asked if it’s easier for Montblanc to foray into smart watches—a category frowned upon by most luxury Swiss watchmakers—because it’s not traditionally known for mechanical watches, Dupont said: “I would actually [buck] that statement. Historically maybe we were known for other segments then. However, if you see the history of Minerva, it has a strong history of watches, chronometers, mechanical timepieces. Today, Montblanc is recognized as a global luxury player. In certain references [for the watches], we can’t supply demand. Whether that growth is lower than leathergoods or something else depends on the market, consumer maturity, and understanding of the watch market.”
In the Philippines, Montblanc is seeing “growth in watches, continued growth in writing instruments, and very, very strong growth in leathergoods… I think it’s a matter of exposing the products in the four collections,” he added, which explains the new concept boutique—a sleek, plush design that features walnut wood, copper and lacquered finishing to highlight each product category.
Montblanc is located at Rustan’s Makati, Rustan’s Shangri-La Plaza, Rustan’s Cebu, Greenbelt 5, City of Dreams Manila and Newport Mall.