It’s hard to reconcile values of a humongous luxury goods company with the ideals of the free-spirited 1960s, but Montblanc may lie somewhere in that cross-section. The German company (yes, it’s Hamburg-based, and neither Swiss nor French—perhaps a second misconception) has just rolled out a John Lennon commemorative pen for what would have been the deceased singer-songwriter’s 70th birthday on October 9. “In this masterpiece,” touts a press release, “Montblanc has captured Lennon’s incredible soul and philosophy.” How many global corporations advertise their products as synonymous with “independent minds,” “intellectual mood of an era,” and “social, ideological and artistic change”? It’s of course fitting for a maker of pens, which writers, philosophers, and lyricists use.
Last week, Lutz Bethge, the tall, genteel CEO of Montblanc, came to New York to laud the pen and celebrate Fashion’s Night Out, in which the company participated. It was an eerie coincidence that Lennon’s assassin, Mark David Chapman, became eligible for parole that very day and was immediately denied. At the showroom on Madison Avenue (one of its 31 American stores, with two in Manhattan), an array of pens and other Montblanc instruments sparkled behind glass cases. There, Bethge succinctly explained the company’s philosophy.
“We like to celebrate the great patrons of the art,” he said, as he went over each edition of the Lennon pen: a standard special edition with a gold nib that retails for $900; a “1940” edition, symbolizing the year of Lennon’s birth, engraved with the release date of “Imagine” (2/10/1971); and then the most special of the specials—one of the 70 extant limited edition “70s” in the world. The 70 is composed of white gold and set with sapphires and diamonds, putting the price at a breathtaking $27,000. Those proceeds help support the John Lennon educational tour bus, a nonprofit.
Lennon is not the only pen honoree: Montblanc has created ones for Lorenzo de Medici, J.P. Morgan, and Mark Twain. Betghe himself prefers Montblanc’s relatively affordable (around $300) Meisterstuck, German for “masterpiece,” and pulled a perfectly used one from his breast pocket to show.
“We like to celebrate the great patrons of the art.”
Then the store had to open for regular hours, and Betghe had some serious business to attend: not only was there Fashion’s Night Out, but the following the Sunday, the company would host a global smattering of celebrity parties. Tokyo, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Berlin, where Yoko Ono lives, and New York, where Susan Sarandon was mistress of ceremonies, hosted simultaneous celebrity-packed dinners for the pen and the pen’s namesake. So for a moment, you could say, the world lived as one.