Shoppers here like colourful pens and larger, sportier watch faces, says Montblanc

The new Montblanc TimeWalker Pythagore Ultra-Light Concept. Montblanc chief executive Jerome Lambert says the brand's strong aesthetic code, identity and consistent innovation will keep it relevant.
Montblanc chief executive Jerome Lambert says the brand's strong aesthetic code, identity and consistent innovation will keep it relevant.PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
The new Montblanc TimeWalker Pythagore Ultra-Light Concept. Montblanc chief executive Jerome Lambert says the brand's strong aesthetic code, identity and consistent innovation will keep it relevant.
The new Montblanc TimeWalker Pythagore Ultra-Light Concept. PHOTO: MONTBLANC

The German label's Singapore customers prefer colourful pens, larger watch faces and metal wristbands, says its chief executive

Luxury pen brand Montblanc has got its Singaporean customer all figured out.

Fans of the German label here like colourful pens that make a statement, larger watch faces, sportier styles and prefer metal wristbands over leather ones, according to Montblanc's chief executive officer Mr Jerome Lambert.

Speaking to The Straits Times last month in Singapore, Mr Lambert, 47, says: "Because of the climate, customers in Singapore prefer metal wristbands over leather ones. Sleeves are also shorter or rolled up, so the watches reflect that casual style, rather than dressing more formally with a tie."

The preference of shoppers here is also closer to the American style and less similar to the style of other South-east Asian countries, he says.

As a result, stores here stock a different range. Half of the pens at the five boutiques in Singapore are coloured ones, compared to only 30 per cent at stores in Europe where "most of the range would be black and white", says Mr Lambert, who is French.

Montblanc's adaptability and attention to such preferences could be what has kept the powerhouse afloat. The label, which means white mountain in French, is based in Hamburg, Germany. It celebrates its 110th anniversary this year.

The last few years, however, have been rough.

Although Montblanc declined to provide revenue figures, its parent company, luxury conglomerate Richemont - which owns other labels including Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier and Jaeger-LeCoultre - saw sales fall by 13 per cent across all regions over the five months to August.

The company says that "the current negative environment as a whole is unlikely to reverse in the short term", but that it "remains convinced of long-term prospects" of watches and jewellery.

Mr Lambert agrees that Montblanc's strong aesthetic code, identity and consistent innovation will keep the brand relevant.

"The product of Montblanc is very easy to recognise," says the father of two.

Montblanc's logo, which looks like a star, is actually the snowcapped peak of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps which the label is named after, seen from the top, with the curves representing the valleys.

When asked about the challenges the label faces, Mr Lambert says one is to keep development of craftsmanship within the maison continuous.

The brand seems to have kept up with the times so far.

It created the iconic Meisterstuck pen in 1924, a fountain pen that became well known for its classic resin barrel and engraved nib, ventured into leather goods such as pen cases in the 1920s to complement its products and made waves in the industry by introducing luxury watches at a lower price bracket.

Pens at Montblanc start at about €300 (S$456), watches start at €2,000 and leather goods range from €100 to €5,000.

More recently, the label unveiled the Montblanc TimeWalker Pythagore Ultra-Light Concept - one of the lightest mechanical timepieces in the world at only 14.88g - roughly the weight of three sheets of A4 paper. The watch was designed for Montblanc ambassador and Chinese professional badminton player, Lin Dan.

The brand was founded by a Hamburg banker, Alfred Nehemias, and a Berlin engineer, August Eberstein, in Germany in 1906, originally trading as the Simplo Filler Pen Co. The company became known for its non-leaking fountain pens and adopted the name Montblanc in 1910.

It opened its first boutique in Hamburg that same year. A second opened in Paris a year later and the label spread quickly through Europe. It established a subsidiary in the United States in the 1930s and made its first steps for distribution in Asia in the 1940s.

The label also started including leather goods and watches in its portfolio, moves which Mr Lambert says were "natural steps" as it catered to the demand of their primarily male clientele.

Today, Montblanc has about 3,500 points of sale and 450 boutiques worldwide in countries including Germany, Spain, Brazil, Japan and China.

Looking ahead, Mr Lambert, who owns about 30 Montblanc pens, says the brand has to keep "forging new territories and building our collection of watches".

He also says there will be a focus on e-commerce over the next few years. The brand opened its online store about seven years ago, "but it has been booming in the last three years", he says.

He adds: "Though e-commerce is not yet developed in this region, it will be soon."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2016, with the headline 'Montblanc more colourful in Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe