Pens rarely frustrate me. Most of the time I either like them, or I don’t. I almost never have a shoulder-shrugging moment with a pen and I have yet to be undecided about a pen. Until now.
The Montblanc “M” designed by Marc Newson is quite possibly the most frustrating pen I’ve ever used. And it’s not because it’s hard to use. Or non-functional. Or uncomfortable. Or maybe it’s all of those things. Maybe just not all at once. Heck, I don’t know.
Marc Newson has designed everything from jackets and kitchen appliances to shotguns, katana swords and concept cars. A quick look through his gallery of projects gives the idea that Marc is notorious for “form over function” and the “M” is a perfect example of this. I’m a camera nerd and I remember when Pentax released the K-01 designed by Marc. It was a total flop. Likely because Marc is not a photographer and has no clue what a photographer wants in a camera. So he made this chunky block of garbage that accepted Pentax lenses and called it a camera.
He’s done sort of the same thing with the “M” in that sure, it’s a pen, but is it a good pen? Does it tick the right boxes for pen people? And is it deserving of the Montblanc moniker and hefty price tag? We’ll see…
First off, this pen is rather lovely to look at. It’s piano black (much like the bulk of the Montblanc lineup) with the iconic white star at the top of the cap. Looking to the bottom of the pen, you’re presented with a strange little “flat” cut from the barrel and another white star sitting squarely at the end, tucked neatly in the radius. The clip is composed of two flat bars coming out from the top of the cap with a rounded end slightly thicker than the bars that terminate into it.
At first glance, I thought that the pen may live up to the hype after all and could be a great, modern entry into the pen market for Montblanc who, up until now, really focused on more of the classic pen silhouette.
Uncapping the pen is done with a simple pull as the cap is secured by magnets and a wee little “click” at the end. It just BARELY clicks, though, and if you sort of release the cap as the magnets take hold, they’re strong enough to pull the cap on and seat it securely. Otherwise, you have to give the cap a little bump to get it to seat down on whatever little lip is holding it in place for that last millimeter or so. It’s not the best magnetic implementation I’ve experienced and I’d have thought MB and Marc could have figured this out to make the magnetic closure a bit more secure. As it is now, it feels pretty weak.
Turning the cap while on the pen introduces a bit of resistance fairly quickly. If you turn it 180 degrees and let it go, it sort of “snaps” back around. Marc implemented a rather clever magnetic design that keeps the clip of the pen lined up with the flat on the barrel when closed. Almost. You can turn the cap slightly in either direction and let it go and it’ll hold just out of alignment. It would likely not stay this way for long before centering itself again, but I think that MB and Marc could have used some stronger magnets or another design element to really hold the cap in place the way it was supposed to be. It feels a little off to me. But it’s still pretty darn cool and looks awesome when siting on a desk or table with the clip up and the star showing on that curious little flat at the end of the barrel.
Also, when uncapping the pen, you better have some place to put it because that lovely little flat at the end of the barrel, paired up with the odd shape of the nib and grip (which I’ll get to later) means that this pen cannot be posted. Fine if you’re just sitting at your desk or in a boardroom. But if you’re on a small writing table or in a meeting where your notebook is on your lap, you’ll have no place to put your cap. Dang.
Under the hood, you’ve got a uniquely-shaped, short, squatty nib in two-tone rhodium and ruthenium. The ruthenium plating sort of resembles the flat on the barrel and the flat of the clip, continuing that flat, rounded-end design and repeating it throughout the pen’s build. There’s a round, shiny black feed underneath with no fins or adornments at all. And the nib is engraved with “MN” in blocky, hatched letters.
In my opinion, the nib is a little small for this pen and I found the writing experience to be pretty lacking. It felt a little dry to me and just wasn’t all that inspiring. I have cheaper, steel-nibbed pens (and cheaper gold-nibbed pens) that write significantly better than this one. I found the nib on this pen to be kind of “mushy” like I was having to “push” it across the page to make it go. It felt a little like walking in soft sand. My experience was the same on Rhodia, Tomoe River and DarkStar paper so I have to attribute it to the pen itself. Sampling with two different inks didn’t change the experience either. Definitely not what I expected from a pen that comes in well north of the $500 mark.
The grip section is probably what has confused me most about this pen. It’s a gunmetal section that matches the ruthenium part of the nib perfectly and it’s ribbed with a very fine texture that matches the horizontal engraving of the “MN” logo on the nib. The base of the section has a wider band with “Montblanc” written around it several times. Initially, I found the section to be quite comfortable and easy to use. The lip from section to body didn’t really bother me at all and I enjoyed my first few minutes with the pen. I thought we’d get along swimmingly. And then I noticed that the ridges make the pen want to sort of rotate. Almost as if they’re locking in with the ridges of my fingerprint and acting like a screw mechanism. It was strange. I found myself tightening my grip to keep the pen from rotating on me. And then noticed that the ridges were rather uncomfortable. Your mileage may vary, but I always sort of felt like I was fighting to keep the pen straight. Like a car out of alignment that you just can’t keep in your lane.
Unscrewing the section, you’re presented with just enough room for a short international cartridge. Wait… What? Yeah… A short international cartridge is all that will fit because in true Marc Newson fashion, he’s placed form well above function. Granted, I have other pens that only accept a short international cartridge (Kaweco, anyone?), but they’re still very usable and I would expect it out of a $50 pen.
Sure, the design of the “M” is gorgeous with the rounded-end flat being replicated throughout the design. First on the barrel, then on the clip, then on the nib. But it removes a very important feature found on a lot of Montblanc pens: The piston-filling system. And for what? Because it looks cool? Because Marc just couldn’t stand the fact that his pen might have a round, tapered barrel all the way to the end? Because he just had to be different for the sake of being different? Yes to all of them, most likely.
So here I sit… Still confounded by this pen. The design is awesome to look at. It’s a beautiful, sleek, modern entry into the fountain pen world by Montblanc. If you’re a design nut or a huge fan of Marc’s work, this pen belongs in your collection. It’ll look great next to your other design nicknacks. But at its core, it’s a pen. And as a pen, I just can’t recommend it. The strange grip, uninspiring nib, mushy magnets and crippling shape, all for the sake of something that looks neat on a shelf, completely rule this pen out and show that Montblanc was all about the fashion statement on this one and had little interest in carrying on its legacy of providing fine writing instruments for writers. It’s jewelry. Piano black, beautifully-designed, functionless jewelry. And I love it almost as much as I hate it almost as much as I love it.
Take the $500-600 USD you’d have spent on this and but yourself a Lamy 2000 and a vintage Montblanc 146 and some ink and notebooks and get to writing with instruments that were made to be written with. Leave this one for the collectors and the Newson fans. That being said, this might be a good pen to pick up in the "Artfineliner" model as it'll be a little more versatile and still has that cool design. And it's a good bit cheaper. Just a thought...
Thanks to my good buddy Mike Dudek at The Clicky Post for sending this over for me to review. This pen is part of his personal collection and he was super generous to let me borrow it. I’m going to send it back to him with a glitter bomb in the box as punishment for sending me such a confounding pen.
I’m mostly kidding. I love you Mike. Almost as much as I love and hate this pen.
Thanks for reading,