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Montblanc’s Franck Juhel: Digital didn’t kill the analogue star

The president of Montblanc Middle East, India and Africa highlights how the two complement each other as the brand’s diversified approach stands it in good stead 

“Even as our world becomes more and more digitised, we need an analogue connection to reality.”

Pens have been around since the time of the Ancient Egyptians, and ink goes back even further — as early as the 23rd century BC in China. Even paper has evolved beyond being merely a material to write on, and yet writing instruments are still being perfected and even redefined to this day. 

But when did the pen become more than just a writing instrument? “Thousands of years ago,” says Franck Juhel, president of Montblanc Middle East, India and Africa. “The first time that writing instruments were used to transmit knowledge from generation to generation. 

“Then it wasn’t just a tool to write with any more, but a tool to ensure that knowledge is being passed from generation to generation.”

And these symbols of the analogue world are as relevant in the digital age. “We still use ink to write, like we did in the past. Even if we don’t write as much, we still use ink to sign our most important documents — from contracts to cheques.

“In a sense, it’s probably even more important, because we might sign more than in the past but when we do it’s more significant today.” 

“Even as our world becomes more and more digitised, we need an analogue connection to reality.”

Franck Juhel, president of Montblanc Middle East, India and Africa

But the German brand balances that stoic nature with whimsical flair — its ink bar is 26 colours deep and even contains scented ink, including leather, tobacco and vetiver. 

“Even as our world becomes more and more digitised, we need an analogue connection to reality. And when it comes to simple communication — like writing — then writing instruments offer the best solution.”

He points out the different experience derived from reading a traditional book versus on a tablet. 

Montblanc wants to highlight its craftsmanship heritage and calligraphy, a link that stretches back more than a century. “Calligraphy, like writing instruments, is passed down from generation to generation,” Juhel says. “Any Montblanc product is a life companion. When you buy a writing instrument like a Meisterstück, you don’t buy it for a month. You buy it because you know it will go to your son or your daughter and to your grandson or granddaughter.

“The same goes for the watches. And in order to achieve that, you cannot only think about the future — you also need to tap into the roots you have from the past.”

The latest in its Great Characters collection pays tribute to Hollywood icon James Dean, while the Heritage Collection Rouge & Noir pens reimagine one of the Maison’s first product lines, created in 1909. The pieces in the limited-edition high artistry collections can take as long as seven years from conception to delivery. 

Montblanc is well-versed in straddling the analogue and digital worlds, aided in no small way by the expansiveness of the Montblanc universe, encompassing writing instruments, leather goods, smart devices, watches and accessories, with artisans in Hamburg developing its writing instruments, a team in the Swiss Jura in Le Locle and Villeret producing its timepieces and another in Florence crafting its leather goods. 

Montblanc’s stylish Augmented Paper notepad digitises notes and scribbles, and the brand is one of the few luxury watchmakers successful in the realm of smartwatches. “We’re very lucky that we can draw on these diverse product categories,” he says. 

“As a mono-brand, it would be more difficult to produce complementary products.

“The one doesn’t negate the other,” Juhel explains. “They can exist alongside each other and go hand-in-hand.”

After a trial run with connected straps, the maison launched the Summit One, followed by the Summit Two. “Owning a mechanical watch doesn’t prevent you from buying a digital one, and vice versa. They complement each other. We didn’t lose any sales on mechanical watches when we introduced the smartwatch.” 

Anecdotally, Juhel shares visiting the Bond Street boutique in London to find a waiting list of 150 for the Summit Two. This is a blessing a curse, he says. “You don’t want to frustrate clients by having them wait too long. 

“You might lose the magical appeal the client had for that piece.” 

Juhel ascribes part of that success to testing the water with the e-strap some 18 months before launching the first smartwatch, which helped the brand see if the market was ready for a luxury watchmaker in that segment. 

And it’s an approach Montblanc won’t retire any time soon. “Digital products are part of Montblanc’s strategy, but our strategy is not to replace analogue by digital. 

“We knew it was going to work, but we didn’t know it was going to work as well as it did.” 

montblanc.com

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