Hermès Puts Pen To Paper With The Nautilus
by Nancy Olson
It’s not news that some manufacturers known for their great watch collections also offer pens, perhaps driven by the widely recognized truth that the target audience is quite similar for both.
Pens and watches under the best of circumstances also share several characteristics: they’re both collectible, relatively small, handcrafted, and intrinsically valuable materials are often used to create them.
Finally — at least in the case of the watches we love best — they’re mechanical and appeal to those who love finely tuned, multi-part objects that require less storage space than a garage.
There’s also an anachronistic quality of both pens and watches that appeals to many of us techie types. While we wouldn’t be caught dead without our smart phones and laptops, we are still shamelessly romanced by the notion of handcraftsmanship and the gentler days of letter writing.
Brands like Cartier and Breguet have offered beautiful pens for quite some time, and in past years traditional pen makers have introduced watches as well. Montblanc is the most prominent among these, but smaller pen brands like Visconti and Montegrappa have also jumped on the watch bandwagon.
Hermès, whose 177-year-old roots are in saddles and harnesses, has “grown up” to become a multifaceted luxury brand whose oeuvre today includes leather goods, fragrances, serious watches . . . and the new Nautilus pen collection.
Designed by Marc Newson, the prolific Australian industrial designer who has also designed watches for Ikepod and clocks for Jaeger-LeCoultre, the Hermès Nautilus was purportedly conceived in 2009 during a conversation between Newson and Hermès’ artistic director Pierre-Alexis Dumas. In 2010, the two then consulted with the Pilot pen company in Japan, which eventually produced both the fountain and ballpoint pens.
Anyone familiar with Pilot knows the quality of the pens it produces, and is probably also familiar with its retractable Vanishing Point capless fountain pen – a pen that is firmly ensconced on my own desk 24/7. In fact, I like the carbon fiber model so well that I’m now on my second after losing the first one on a hike in Tikal (and mourning it for the rest of the trip). I digress.
The Nautilus, named for the fictional submarine conjured by Jules Verne, who was an inspiration for Newson, reminds me of the Vanishing Point in that it, too, is a capless fountain pen. But the similarities end there.
While the Pilot Vanishing Point has an ingenious click-top mechanism much like a ballpoint that withdraws the nib into the body and closes an air-tight seal to prevent it from drying out, the Hermès Nautilus requires one complete rotation of the “back end” of the pen to either reveal or withdraw its writing point.
“Designing this pen was no simpler or more complicated that conceiving the inside of an airplane,” says Newson in reference to his aircraft design experience, among his many other credits. “The main constraint was having to fit a complex rotating mechanism into a very small space.”
The stainless steel and aluminum pen comes in ebony, carbon blue and Hermès red (all matte), and at first glance one wouldn’t even know it’s a pen, so organic is its design. The only embellishment — if you can even call it that — is a subtle Hermès logo on the pen’s flat bottom. I find this flat bottom to be an interesting and functional Newson-esque design feature, since it means the pen won’t roll off a desk and will even work as a light paperweight.
The twist mechanism is extremely smooth, as I’d expect from a brand of this caliber. And in another demonstration of high quality, there are six rhodium-plated white gold fountain pen nib widths and two widths for the ballpoint available — an impressive and uncommon range of choices in the writing instrument world.
As an important aside, Pilot is one of the very few pen manufacturers that manufactures its own fountain pen nibs in-house.
“Every time you twist it to get the nib out there’s a moment of wonder, of enchantment, like a child’s game,” says Dumas. “And you get exactly the same feeling when you close it: just one little movement and the nib retracts, it disappears … as if by magic.”
The fountain pen is filled by proprietary cartridge, and the colors available are black, carbon blue, ebony, blood orange and Hermès red, the latter three shades exclusive to Hermès.
Ballpoint cartridge colors include carbon blue and black. Not surprisingly, thanks to the Hermès penchant for fine leathers, the pens come in a Box calfskin leather pouch, while the cartridges come in a stainless steel box with a Box calfskin sheath.
The Nautilus is part of the Hermès Writing Collection, which comprises notebooks, various writing papers and envelopes, as well as leather accessories. Some of the silk-covered, Hermès scarf-inspired postcards are really incredible, with vibrant colors and whimsical motifs that would strongly encourage anyone to forgo email and drop someone a line. A real line.
Pen body: stainless steel and aluminum; matte ebony, carbon blue and Hermès red
Number in edition: unlimited
Nib: rhodium-plated white gold
Filling system: proprietary cartridge
Price: $1,650 (fountain pen); $1,350 (ballpoint pen)