Pens, it seems, have evolved from necessities to seasonal gifts. Few people bother to write notes any more using ink-on-paper, and tablets require either typed input or – if you use a writing recognition app – a “stylus” with screen-friendly nib.
Some of us, though, keep pens handy for those rare occasions when a cheque may be written or a bill needs signing. Admittedly, this is not exactly the justification for a writing tool more substantial than a disposable Bic or Biro, but, hey, luxury is defined as “anything more than you actually need”.
As this is one of the two seasons when pens are gifted to family, friends and colleagues (the other being early summer and the occurrence of school, college or university graduations), the pen companies are primed. The choice has never been wider nor more inventive, which is an odd claim to make about a moribund technology. When it comes to luxury goods, necessity isn’t always the mother of invention.
A perfect example is Parker’s Ingenuity, which uses the “5th” writing system, as announced in these pages with the debut models. The range has now settled into regular production, and the catalogue includes something for everybody, with a variety of materials and colours on offer.
I’m partial to the stealthy, all-black, rather macho edition, and I can see the pearl Ingenuity Slim winning friends among writers. Of course, you could always opt for that all-time classic, the Duofold – a personal favourite – if you prefer fountain pens, in order to make a statement about history rather than novelty.
To recap, the brand's 5th Technology offers an alternative to fountain pen, ballpoint and rollerball formats, all which have distinct strengths and weaknesses. 5th combines the look and feel of a fountain pen – you have to love the mock “nib” – with the instant drying capabilities of a fibre-type tip.
Every enthusiast I’ve shown it to during trials with a pre-production model fell in love with it, especially as a “day-to-day” pen and one that’s also ideal for travel, if you’ve ever suffered a leaky fountain pen but can’t give up the nib.
At the far end of the price scale is a wild collaboration. Watch brand MB&F has turned to Caran d’Ache, Switzerland’s most respected manufacturer of writing instruments, to assist with the development of the Astrograph Limited Edition pen.
A must-have for well-heeled science fiction addicts, Astrograph at first appears as an exceptionally well-crafted model rocket ship on a launch-pad plinth, complete with tiny magnetic astronaut figure.
Explore its hidden purpose, and you find that it’s a fountain pen with innovative features, in which the spacecraft’s movable details segue into the functional parts of a pen. It is an executive toy of limitless “playability”, and I would fear a lack of productivity if one sat on my desk.
Astrograph is limited to 99 pieces in each finish of high-gloss rhodium, sandblasted matt rhodium or anthracite ruthenium; the retail price is £19,950 irrespective of finish. Warning: to see it is to want it.
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Too futuristic? Then you will swoon at the sight of the reborn Yard-O-Led, now enthusiastically re-establishing its position as England’s premier pen manufacturer. Fashioning its pens entirely of sterling silver, Yard-O-Led still produces the mechanical pencils that provided the company with its name.
The rest of the range is suitably Victorian in look and should find favour with that rare hipster who can still abide something new rather than pre-owned, as well as traditionalists and those who remember the brand from their youth.
Yard-O-Led’s design team are purists in full accord with the need not to tamper with history. The brand disdains pen styles from the continent, dealing solely with manageable sizes and cap-and-barrel decoration that recalls early 20th century cigarette cases, through patterns such as “barley” engraving.
If Yard-O-Led ever decides to advertise on TV – which I would imagine to be at odds with its corporate karma – I have the perfect theme song: the Kinks’ “Village Green Preservation Society”. But only because it’s less in-your-face, if no less patriotic, than “Rule Britannia”.