Ask Nicolas Baretzki, the chief executive officer of Montblanc International, and he will tell you that consistency, exquisite craftsmanship, and a large number of boutiques have helped the writing instruments brand survive in a market where other luxury brands have had a precarious existence.
Baretzki, who was in India to launch Meisterstück Le Petit Prince Special Edition, talks about the brand’s strategy in India.
Edited Excerpt: Q. You have launched a new collection of luxury pens in India. What is it inspired by? A. The special edition Meisterstück Petit Prince collection draws inspiration from the much-loved literary character of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic novel, Le Petit Prince. It is among the most translated novels in the world, with over 200 million copies sold.
The allegorical story about a chance encounter between a pilot and a little prince from a distant planet explores the universal themes of imagination, open-mindedness, and the value of human relationships — topics as pertinent in today’s world as they are relevant to the essence of Montblanc.
The novel provided our teams with so many references to articulate in this collection that we have created a series that will include three annual collections. Le Petit Prince collection is the very first Meisterstück writing instruments to be crafted in a colour other than the regular black resin, which makes it an iconic piece since 1924.
Made out of an innovative blue precious resin, the series of luxury writing instruments has a fox face pattern, a reference to the character that instructs the young boy. Le Petit Prince is engraved along with his friend, the fox, on the handcrafted 14K rhodium-plated nib.
Q. What has the journey of Montblanc in India been like since its launch? Which has been your best-selling collection? A. Montblanc has been a pioneer in India. We were the first luxury Maison to enter the country approximately 25 years ago. While the brand leads the luxury writing instrument market, we are seeing strong growth for our other categories, too. Thanks to the breadth of our timepiece collection, we are opening the category to both new and established watch-lovers.
There is strong brand awareness and recognition of Montblanc in the country. It underpins our leadership in India as the luxury Maison with the largest network of boutiques.
We expect to open 15 boutiques by the end of the year. The primary challenge in India lies in the lack of luxury infrastructure, most particularly real estate. As a luxury Maison, it is essential for us to be in the right premium environment.
We just opened Montblanc’s second boutique in Chennai, in Palladium Mall. The new Neo² design concept offers an immersive retail environment, reflecting the brand’s constant quest for aesthetic innovations. Judging by the immediate interest the official opening attracted, we look forward to it being as successful as our first boutique in Express Avenue.
Chennai is an interesting choice for a city, given that not too many global luxury brands have a presence in this southern city. We find Chennai to be a dynamic city, rich in culture, and we are fortunate to have some exceptional collectors there.
Q. What are the fastest growing categories for Montblanc in India, besides writing instruments? A. In terms of the fastest growing category, it would have to be our leather goods. We are witnessing an increase in sales of our large leather goods, which is an expansion from the smaller gifting items that were earlier popular. There is a steady sale of timepieces.
Underpinning the growth of all our categories is the fact that we have dedicated manufactures for each one, and they are uncompromising in the excellence of their craft, the materials used, their design, and their functionality.
Whether it is our leather pelletteria in Florence, our watch manufactures in Switzerland, or our writing instrument manufacture in Hamburg, our craftsmen are highly skilled, passionate about what they do, and ensure that quality remains consistent.
Q. Has the Indian luxury market lived up to its expectations? A. The luxury market is growing at a rapid rate, and according to ASSOCHAM, is expected to expand five-fold in the next three years. By 2025, the forecast is for the luxury sector to reach $100 billion in the country. Premium quality is a must-have for Indian consumers, who appreciate craftsmanship and heritage, which is why Montblanc enjoys the loyalty it does here. Q. What are the key marketing strategies that Montblanc has adapted for the Indian market, which keeps it ahead of the game? A. We are a global Maison, but we are also local, so when we launch a new collection, we do it in all the markets around the world at about the same time, and that includes India. Consistency is very important for us, so if a customer visits a Montblanc boutique in Paris, Dubai, or Chennai, we ensure that the experience is the same. Our focus in India, exactly as it is in other parts of the world, is to be as accessible to our customers as possible. There is excellent opportunity for Montblanc beyond the Tier-1 cities. We are currently following up on opportunities in Ahmedabad, Kolkata, and Chandigarh, to name a few. Q. Are you looking at metros such as Jaipur, Chandigarh or Hyderabad as a growth market? What is the strategy in these markets? A. We are. There is excellent opportunity for Montblanc beyond the Tier-1 cities. We are currently following up on opportunities in Ahmedabad, Kolkata, and Chandigarh, to name a few. That is why we not only have our growing network of boutiques, but are now also present in India on the Tata CLiQ Luxury e-commerce platform, which makes the writing instruments far more accessible to people across the country. Q. Do Indians see writing instruments as good investments? A. We have a strong collectors’ community in India, and one that continues to grow every year. Montblanc writing instruments have always appealed to collectors globally, which is why they are considered good investments and hold their value over time.
The fact that each writing instrument has its own story, told through carefully crafted design details, colours and materials, adds to their value.
Q. What sort of innovations have Montblanc experimented with as far as writing instruments go in the last few years?
In a first for the Maison, we partnered with designer, Marc Newson, for the Montblanc M collection, balancing biomorphic style with function. The writing instrument featured a platinum-plated clip with magnetic alignmentto, a white precious resin Montblanc emblem on the perfectly flat ‘plateau’ of the barrel.
A. Innovation is part of Montblanc’s DNA, and began when we created the first leak-proof fountain pen in 1906. We have been pushing the boundaries of innovation ever since with materials and craftsmanship. The device pairs the enjoyment of a natural Montblanc writing experience on real paper, with the efficiency of digital world. With the press of just one button, written notes and sketches can be seamlessly transferred from paper to a mobile device, so that the content can be edited, shared with others and translated into digital text
We have also innovated with true personalisation by capturing a customer’s handwriting to create a bespoke nib based on the nuances of their writing. Owning your own writing instrument that has been crafted specifically for your handwriting is very special. Montblanc’s Bespoke Nib Service is offered in our key flagship boutiques globally.
Beyond the traditional writing instruments, we have also extended the writing experience to cater to today’s digital world with the Augmented Paper. The device pairs the enjoyment of a natural Montblanc writing experience on real paper, with the efficiency of digital world.
With the press of just one button, written notes and sketches can be seamlessly transferred from paper to a mobile device, so that the content can be edited, shared with others and translated into digital text.
Deepali Nandwani is a journalist who who keeps a close watch on the world of luxury.