WHEN I WAS a kid, my grandfather kept an antique fountain pen in his desk drawer. The pen was ancient, from the 1940s, and it had long since stopped working. But he kept it because it had been a gift and he liked the way it looked. I would take it out of the drawer and pretend to write with it, signing my invisible signature onto whatever documents happened to be scattered across his desk. I appreciated the weight and heft of the pen and imagined it was the sort of thing one might reserve for extra-special moments — like signing a lucrative contract or a last will and testament. I was obsessed with it. Now that I’m actually a writer for a living, I am no less obsessed with pens and writing utensils, but tend to veer toward the razor-pointed and disposable variety, always looking for the next great pen to add to my arsenal. When I find one I like, I tend to buy them in bulk.
Over the past couple of years, in an effort to present as more “adult” in the world, I’ve tried to step up my game in terms of my accoutrements — an adult wallet, a leather carry-on bag, a pair of nondisposable sunglasses. Now I’m adding to that list a fountain pen, a beautifully attenuated writing device that will make everything I write — whether it’s a handwritten note to a friend or a grocery list scratched onto the back of a piece of junk mail — feel important, lending a little inky gravitas to my neurotic to-do lists. In an effort to find that perfect pen, I decided to road test a few. The following are high-end devices that are a joy to write with, not too fussy to refill, and look particularly chic when nonchalantly left sitting on my desk.
In the world of fountain pens, no name is more famous or immediately recognizable than Montblanc. The number and variety of pens they make is vast (they also make incredible bags and accessories), but I was determined to try out their most famous utilitarian pen. While they have lots of pens that are considered classics, I eventually gravitated toward the Meisterstück Le Petit Prince Classique, a special-edition take on their classic Meisterstück that pays homage to children’s classic “The Little Prince.” The pen is cast from a dark-brown resin and includes three platinum-coated rings, a yellow lacquered star on the pen clip, and a 14-karat gold writing nib. Unless you look closely, you might not get the Little Prince reference, but the pen is undeniably stylish and, not surprisingly, writes like a dream.
Another famed brand, Graf von Faber-Castell has been creating writing utensils for nearly 250 years and currently offers a dizzying array of pens, pencils, leather accessories, and luxe collaborations (including a recent collection created in partnership with Bentley). While I tried out many of their pens, I kept coming back to this Tamitio Black Edition because not only does it look chic — matte black, sleek, satisfyingly heavy — it actually uses a refillable rollerball insert rather than requiring liquid ink (something that still makes me nervous). This one is that perfect, do-everything pen that you throw into your attaché case before dashing off to board your private jet … or, in my case, the perfect pen to use when writing a birthday card to your mom.
It’s only recently that I learned that Porsche makes other things besides incredibly fast and beautiful sports cars, including luxurious fountain pens. Described as “a unique expression of the power, ambition and technical perfection of Porsche Design” — a tall order for a writing utensil — this pen actually lives up to its own hype. Covered in woven stainless steel, the Tec Flex is remarkably easy to write with and much lighter than it looks. The woven steel covering, which gives the suggestion of some sort of futuristic chain mail, provides a comfortable grip. The 18-karat gold writing nib is surprisingly sharp, which gives folks like me, who are generally married to the notion of a razor-fine tip, an absurd amount of satisfaction. Given its appearance, this is an instrument that looks like it could double as a spy device or a weapon — the sort of thing that might casually tumble out of the glove compartment of James Bond’s car.
Leave it to the folks at Tiffany & Co. to take something as basic as a fountain pen and transform it into a gorgeous little work of art. The Atlas fountain pen is a sterling-silver tube that is hugged by a gold vermeil band. The graphic Roman numeral motif that surrounds the pen was inspired by the Atlas clock located in Tiffany’s famous Fifth Avenue flagship store, which is where I went to test the pen out (by practicing my signature over and over on a piece of Tiffany stationary, of course). This particular utensil is a little shorter than some of the others I tried, but this just means that it more easily tucks into a clutch or takes up less space when casually displayed on your desk. As if the pen itself were not dazzling enough, when you pop off the cap and get ready to write, you can then flash the fine-tipped writing nib, which is crafted from 18-karat yellow gold. My own personal suggested uses for this pen include writing someone into or out of your will, signing a huge endowment check for a museum that will one day bear your name, or casually making notes for your upcoming presidential address.
T. Cole Rachel Writer
T. Cole Rachel is the deputy editor of Departures. A Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and teacher with over 20 years of experience working in print and digital media, his writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Interview, and the Creative Independent.
Ahonen & Lamberg Illustrator
Ahonen & Lamberg is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Paris. Founded in 2006 by Finnish designers Anna Ahonen and Katariina Lamberg, the studio concentrates on art direction, creative consultancy, and graphic design.