CHARLES NAHHAS

Dubai 2020 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

Founded over 100 years ago, Montegrappa seeks to keep the fountain pen tradition alive through beautiful workmanship and limited edition collections.

Charles Nahhas
BIOGRAPHY

Charles Nahhas is the Middle East distributor of Montegrappa and other luxury brands. After his family escaped the Lebanese civil war, he grew up in the UK where he studied electronic engineering and worked as a telecoms engineer for 10 years before moving to Dubai in 2004 and embracing his passion for luxury goods. He is an advocate of writing and literacy through his support of the Montegrappa prize at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, as well as being involved in other community projects in the fields of music and sports.

What makes the Montegrappa brand unique?
Montegrappa was founded in 1912 in a part of Italy traditionally well-known for metal, silver, and goldsmith work. Just before World War I, the refillable fountain pen was a crucial means of communication, and during the war, the company found itself on the frontline of the fighting. The Montegrappa building was one of the few that remained a pen factory; most of the other buildings in the area were converted into ammunition factories to support the war. The company survived the war, and its building remains almost unchanged to this day. What is great about Montegrappa is that there is a genuine history around the brand; it has been in the same building for 108 years and is one of the region's historic traditions of craftsmanship.

How has the making of the pen evolved over time?
In the early days, the company made gold and silver pens because people just wanted a good quality refillable fountain pen for function. As the brand evolved, it started making increasingly exclusive, high-priced, limited-edition products. One example is its famous dragon pen, of which only 1,912 were produced to celebrate the company's founding. These sorts of limited productions created an increased demand for exclusive items, changing the luxury industry. In the luxury business today, consumers want their own, personalized objects that no one else has. Our talented craftsmen and others who work in our factory and design studio can create a piece of art on a pen in silver or gold, which plays nicely into customers' demands.

How has technology influenced this niche segment?
There is a great similarity between pens and watches. The Swiss watch industry was an industry that lasted for hundreds of years. When quartz watches appeared in the 1960s, this beautiful industry suddenly became obsolete. Thankfully, people recognized the beauty of the craftsmanship involved and wanted to preserve it, as it is such an important representation of a human achievement. Today, there is a flourishing industry in fine watchmaking, supported by watch collectors and aficionados, beyond the hedonistic pursuit of creating beautiful items, that is preserving a crucial part of human history and creativity. Pens have a similar story. The pen changed society and civilization forever. The pen represents knowledge being passed on and transferred from generation to generation. While we may not need a Swiss watch to tell us the time today, or an expensive pen to write notes, these fine accessories are incredibly important symbols, and it is only fitting that these should be highly valued and treasured items. It is also about the aesthetic and tactility, as one's brain is physically connected through their arm and the paper they write on. More recently, it has been discovered that hand writing is important for brain health and delaying the onset of degenerative brain conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer's. We are seeing a significant increase in the demand for fountain pens, with a movement toward retro and vintage.

How does the brand fit within the Dubai market, and how do you foresee it evolving in coming years?
The demand for customized products in the region is not just at the individual level. The brand has developed some collections to celebrate local historic and cultural events. In 2011, Montegrappa produced a 40-year national day pen and, more recently, a pen dedicated to the UAE's national anthem, with the words of the national anthem inscribed around its barrel. In terms of demand, a peculiarity of the UAE market is Arab hospitality; as a result, there is a culture of gifting. People still gift high-value items to a great extent, so people are not always buying for themselves. Other regions have cultures of giving as well, though in Dubai and the GCC the price point of gifts might be higher.