Curtis Australia rewrites the rules for luxury pens

In the market for the ultimate writing instrument? It could be yours if you have the means - $1.6 million, to be precise - and without a flight to Paris or Geneva to bring it home.

But you might need to be prepared for a road trip to country Victoria instead.

The pen should be an extension of the hand to allow for the writer's natural thoughts to flow seamlessly and without distraction.

Glenn Curtis

Bairnsdale-based Curtis Australia has a bigger profile outside Australia than here at home, as the only pen maker listed in the prestigious Robb Report's annual Christmas gift guide in 2014.

Two super-luxury writing implements that currently only exist in sketch books await a fat enough chequebook to bring them lovingly to life: the Racing The Wind pen, which depicts a horse and an eagle in motion, and the Artistry pen, which is more decorative with art nouveau and art deco reliefs.

Each extravagant creation would be set with 230 white diamonds and 350 rare Argyle pink diamonds, totaling approximately 16.5 carats, and accompanied by an exclusive invitation to the Western Australian mine the pinks are sourced from. The designs also conceal a compartment in their cap end in which a secret message can be hidden, and a clip with a removable lapel pin.

Prior to the homegrown luxury house's most audacious design concepts they have launched a number of landmark pens. The Morning Mist pen and necklet set, at $117,390 for the pen and $164,875 for the necklet, has striking natural motifs that evoke the morning mist over a lake, including diamonds as the sparks of light that strike the water's surface and a yellow gold crisscross pattern for reeds on the shoreline.

The Colours of Australia and Wildlife Warrior pens, respectively $104,200 and $164,875, join other memorable creations from the Curtis Australia headquarters where 10 craftsmen – across designers, pen makers, jewellers and diamond setters  – work to bring these one-of-a-kind designs to life.

Having everyone involved in the stages in the life of the pen based at the same workshop guarantees the care and thought that goes into these complex pieces.

An investment of labour

The concept pens are predominantly designed in solid yellow gold, which Curtis Australia CEO Glenn Curtis explains is the perfect medium to carry gems. But it's not just the precious materials that account for the exorbitant end price: "Literally hundreds of hours are spent creating a bespoke pen; on design, pattern making, diamond setting and finishing. The time involved is a key factor to its value," he says.

Advertisement

Curtis Australia began as a jewellery business and started making pens in 2002 as a way of expanding its skills onto a larger canvas. Together with attractive articulated necklaces and wedding jewellery, the company now counts hundreds of pen models in its line-up.

Low-end models range from $200 to $1000, with solid sterling silver and solid gold pens from $1000 and $25,000 respectively. Bespoke pen commissions begin around $15,000 for sterling silver examples.

Ease of expression

Design is the first stage of the pen's life and any idea is always hand-drawn to start with. For individual commissions, a client can incorporate features such as a family monogram or even a favourite scene.

"Pens, like watches, are an extension of the owner's personality and personal style," Curtis says. "Because a pen becomes a very telling accessory, people like to reflect their own character when considering a design."

He has been inspired by his grandfather, whose family had a background in building and repairing watches. It is some of his ancestors' tools that he uses today, such an engraving block that has an 1886 patent on it, and gold and silversmith reference books from the Victorian period.

The family history on both sides can be traced to luxury items, with the other arm of the family once involved in making high-quality leather goods such as saddles.

Curtis, who has been creating jewellery since he was a teenager, explains the link between jewellery and pen making: "All of our pens have a precious element that reflects our jewellery-making heritage, from a diamond set in even one of our least expensive models to bespoke masterpieces embellished with gems. We understand the incredible malleability of gold and of course, the importance of ergonomics."

The best balance and weight of pens can be tricky when working with precious metals and their inherent weight, and a Curtis Australia pen's feel in the hand is a noteworthy feature.

"The pen should be an extension of the hand to allow for the writer's natural thoughts to flow seamlessly and without distraction," Curtis says. "We consider the balance of the pen at a very early stage. Form really has to follow function for a pen to work well and this is even more so when gold is being used. Optimum weight distribution is critical to allow for handwriting over long periods without tiring."

Curtis' team will sometimes choose not to make a pen in 18k gold because it will be too heavy to hold; other pens might be made in 18k gold with a cap that is not posted on the end of the barrel but completely removed for writing to achieve a comfortable balance.

Building an ink arsenal

If you're not ready to pay the equivalent of a house for a truly unique pen, you can always check out the brand's most popular model, the more modest Dream Writer. It comes in many variations from $545 to $695, with the 'Belle' design a favourite, and including striking two-tone pairings of silver and colourful resins, with the pink and black version particularly coveted.

Golfer Jack Nicklaus admired the Dream Writer enough to become a Curtis Australia brand ambassador.

As for the pointy end of the matter, Curtis Australia's nibs, often formed in solid gold - a material ideal for imparting the perfect feel and flex to the nib - are stamped with the brand's monogram before being hand-ground, slit with an incredibly fine saw and polished to form the perfect writing tip.

Most high-end pens of this nature are fountain pens but the owner gets free rein over the nib and can opt for a roller ball or ball point. And some of Curtis Australia's models arrive with more than one nib type for a simple swap when the mood strikes.

The debate over whether fountain pens are best for considered handwriting, especially on occasions when you want to make an impression, with roller ball pens sidelined for notes, is a mooted consideration compared with keeping watch over your special collectable, which is paramount.

With each nib of a Curtis Australia pen with a tip of iridium - a hard-wearing but accommodating material that will wear in to the individual's writing style - entrenched and aspiring writers in the literal sense of the word will have another fine reason not to share their fountain pen, even for a moment.

THE WRITE STUFF

  • The earliest historical record of a reservoir or fountain pen dates to the 10th century in western North Africa.
  • The current title holder for the world's most expensive pen is the Fulgor Nocturnus fountain pen by the famous Florentine pen-maker Tibaldi, the company that created Italy's first fountain pen in 1916, that fetched US$8 million in a 2010 auction in Shanghai. The pen was decorated with 945 black diamonds and 123 rubies. Apple Founder Steve Jobs was said to be a fan of Tibaldi and Pharrell Williams has a Tibaldi encrusted with black and brown diamonds, blue and orange sapphires, and rubies.
  • Italy, with its long traditions in jewellery craftsmanship, especially with gold, has long dominated high-end pens with brands such as Visconti, Aurora and Stipula (all in Florence), Omas (Bologna), and Montegrappa (near Vicenza and whose pens were used by Ernest Hemingway during the First World War when he was in Italy as a volunteer ambulance driver.
  • Montblanc (Germany) is no stranger to producing six figure pens for heads of state and captains of industry. Hugh Jackman was announced at Montblanc's global brand ambassador in January 2014. The actor likes to use the Montblanc Meisterstück pen, the 1924 classic that President John F. Kennedy used and his modern-day successor, Barack Obama, has been spied with.