Consider Germany’s leading brands and the first word that usually comes to mind is ‘quality’. In a country where function almost always takes precedence over form, success relies on setting the highest standards and using the finest materials to create understated designs that will stand the test of time. For discerning luxury lovers, this softly-softly approach has proved irresistible, and its leading watchmakers, jewellers and writing-instrument makers are known around the world for excellence and subtle innovation.
The jagged peaks of the Alps might not immediately suggest luxury, but in 1909 the owners of the Simplo Filler Pen Company near Hamburg – merchant Alfred Nehemias, engineer August Eberstein and stationer Claus-Johannes Voss – saw something different. That year, buoyed by the success of its inaugural fountain pen design, the fledgling company launched a second and even more advanced model. To reflect this new peak of technical achievement and craftsmanship, it was called Montblanc after Europe’s highest mountain, and was such a bestseller that it soon became the name of the company, too. This year, 100 years since that change, the label remains a testament to German ingenuity and excellence not just in writing instruments, but in jewellery, watches and fragrances as well.
In a world where email dominates, writing with an exquisite Montblanc pen is somehow all the sweeter, whether it’s in gold topped with a tasteful ruby or in sleekest platinum crowned with diamonds. Each Montblanc nib is made of 18-carat gold engraved with ‘4810’, the height of the mountain in metres, and the trademark white star – representing the six glaciers at its summit – is applied to the end of each cap. The same attention to detail is seen in its watches, made in materials as rare as sapphire or white gold, which take 300 hours to create by hand.
As Katie Baron, a senior editor at international trend analysis group Stylus and a judge for the Design & Art Direction Awards, comments, ‘What sets a brand like Montblanc apart is its adherence to a particular DNA that’s impervious to changes in trends. Even with new collections, there’s a reassurance that investing in a Montblanc piece means it’ll be just as elegant in 50 years time as it is now. Its discreet aesthetic ensures that.’
Former CEO Lutz Bethge confirms, ‘Before launching a product now, we make sure to ask, will our customer love the product in 10, 20, 50 years? That is what is important to consumers. Most people with a Montblanc pen can tell you who gave it to them and have a story to go along with it. The pen becomes part of the owner’s history.’
Timed to perfection
Pieces destined to become part of the wearer’s history are also in evidence at jewellery and watch specialist Wempe. Perusing the gleaming gold and diamond rings or handsome timepieces in its stores from New York to Paris, it’s staggering to think that watchmaker Gerhard Wempe started out in 1878 in his aunt’s living room in leafy Elsfleth in Lower Saxony with just 80 Deutschmarks to his name. By 1907, Wempe had opened a ‘flagship’ store in Hamburg, devoted to watches and jewellery, and over the following years established important relationships with such luminaries of Swiss watchmaking as Omega, Longines and Rolex.
Wempe’s own watch lines, the Zeitmeister Glashütte i/SA and the Chronometerwerke Glashütte i/SA, are as skillfully made as you would expect, featuring everything from crystal case backs to straps in exotic skins and unusual materials such as wood and ceramic. The label’s team of gemstone specialists scours the globe to find the best tourmalines, diamonds, topazes and crystals for its timepieces and its By Kim jewellery line, designed by Kim-Eva Wempe, great-granddaughter of the founder. This provides a contemporary flourish to Wempe’s product line: fluid gold tendrils become intertwined love hearts in the Papillon collection, while the Blu rings and bracelets feature rose gold pieces made from a series of minute beads, some of them dotted with diamonds.
Finding true luxury may be a challenge in today’s fast-fashion retail environment, but these heritage German brands are proving just how exquisite the experience can be.