NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Patrick Pinkston's heard this question countless times in his five years in the pen business: "Why would anyone part with $40,000 to buy a pen?"|
The founder of the Renaissance Pen Co. has a pat answer, which is that the pens he makes are more than just pens. They write, but they are also finely-crafted works of art.
There's the magnificent Monogram pen, which consists of 23 layers of translucent enamel that are applied to fine guilloche and finished with sterling silver filigree. Inspired by the Faberge Imperial Monogram Egg, these are among Pinkston's more modestly priced pens and sell for between $3,200 and $3,600.
If what you want is something a little more elaborate, you can outfit your desk set with the Dragon, a solid gold piece with layers of black and gold enamel; four Chinese dragons decorate the cap. It is also encrusted with diamonds and retails for just about $48,000.
Limited edition craze
Pinkston's creations, all limited edition pens, first appeared on the market in 1995, about the same time high-end pen spending reached a real fever
pitch. Pricey pens have always been around, such as the $150 Montblanc fountain pen. With the introduction of limited edition pens in the early 1990s, a new market for expensive pens was born. And the clamor for limited editions raised the bar for both creativity and price.
Diamond-encrusted cap of a Michel Perchin pen.|
"They all write," said Terry Wiederlight, president of Fountain Pen Hospital, a pen shop in New York City. "But a lot of them are more like jewelry than pens."
Wiederlight, whose family has been in the pen business since 1946, traces the fancy pen craze back to 1993 when Montblanc introduced its first limited edition pen – a sleek, solid sterling fountain pen. Simple, but at $1,600 a piece, expensive.
Just about anyone who made pens followed suit, save for the most pedestrian brands that sell at office warehouses for a couple of bucks a box.
You can lay down as little as $15 for the Fisher limited edition model that writes upside down. For a couple of hundred dollars you can land a classically pretty Waterford limited edition. A couple of thousand dollars may get you something in sterling silver with a jewel or two.
"We have customers who are looking for anything that's new and in limited edition," said Wiederlight.
If it's really something you want to do, you can drop up to $230,000 on a pen. It's a limited edition model made by Caran D'Ache called the "Modernista Diamonds" pen that's encrusted with more than 5,000 tiny diamonds. But Pinkston doesn't recommend you do that.
"It doesn't look like much to me," he said "If you had a pile of diamonds it would look pretty much the same."
Creativity is bottom line
Pinkston said he has no desire to make the most expensive pen around. At a time when much of what people buy and own is disposable, including our pens, Pinkston said his company is all about creating well-crafted items that will be admired years from now for their beauty.
"Everything we do is about making beautiful designs and great craftsmanship," he said. "Just to put more diamonds on something is not creative."
Whatever the high-end pen lovers' inspiration – collecting, admiring or flaunting – sales of Renaissance's Michel Perchin line have been going well. Pinkston said he sells between 1,300 and 1,650 pens a year and last year took in between $1.3 million and $1.4 million in sales.
Despite the lagging economy, he said his projections for the year 2001 are that sales will remain steady.
Even as other people's jaws drop when the hear the prices of some of his pens, it all makes sense to Pinkston that there are people out there willing to spend tens of thousands for his uniquely designed pens.
"There are people who spend millions on watches," he said. "People spend tons on things like old cars. Who would buy old cars that you can't even drive because it would depreciate?"
At least you can put together a grocery list with your Michel Perchin serpent pen.