BY SANDY STRASSER
To let one’s thoughts run free in a surrounding that is both beautiful and exclusive: the feeling to write on paper by Montblanc with the respective pen or fountain pen remains unparalleled for many. For more than a hundred years, the label is synonymous with writing culture and master craftsmanship. The unmistakable white star that adorns all Montblanc products stylises the snowy peak of the mountain of the same name and symbolises the brand’s ambition of highest quality at the same time. For us an occasion to speak with CEO Jérôme Lambert about his latest product – Augmented Paper – on which both the analogue and digital world meet in a marvellous embrace.
Monsieur Lambert, at the IFA last September, you presented ‘Augmented Paper’ to the world for the very first time. What was the response?
What we already can say is that the first presentation has been really, really impressive to our visitors. We launched the product during the IFA in Berlin beginning of September and the resonance so far has been great. We still have to await the feedback from our long lasting clients, but until now we are very satisfied!
How does your latest writing innovation work in detail? What special elements does it comprise?
The beauty of Augmented Paper is pairing the enjoyment of a natural Montblanc writing experience on real paper with the efficiency of digitising work. For me, there is no obstacle between the writing, the digital and the analogue part. There is no rupture between technology and the classical type of writing. On the contrary, you keep your habit of writing, but you can have this additional dimension. And that is indeed something which is functioning very well. Augmented Paper is the pure writing instrument of Montblanc plus a little bit of great electronic. Besides that, with the cover you have an excellent leather good that makes the whole product very special.
How are you managing to transfer the traditional art of the handwritten word into the digital age?
The first point is to keep the key elements of the world of Montblanc safe. Augmented Paper offers a StarWalker pen giving its user an authentic writing experience with the added benefit of being able to digitise work. With that said, this new product takes the simple functionality of paper and enhances it to open up a variety of opportunities in the digital world. And in the end, this match of experiences makes the difference. We have kept an earthy element linked to the pure pleasure of the experience, working on a very technical level at the same time. I would say, these are the key elements to make it possible and to have a good bridge between the analogue and the digital world.
How legible does handwriting have to be to ensure it is recognised and can be correspondingly transmitted to, and saved on, mobile devices?
In fact, it can be as bad or as good as you want because firstly, it considers the lines for what they are. If you are drawing even a small sketch or design element, it will keep it as it is. When you want to transform your written notes into characters, then a certain readable writing manner is required, of course, but having one of the most precise and accurate digitiser technologies available in the market makes the translation into digital text almost flawless. The software is even done in a way that the pen adapts more and more to the way you write. So it starts with about covering 75 percent of the things you write, then, if you write in a consistent way, 85 and one day over 95 percent.
In how many languages is handwriting recognition available?
The technology offers best-in-class offline handwriting recognition in 12 languages including English, German, Russian, Spanish, Italian and Chinese. I think more than 80 percent of the spoken languages worldwide which is a very large spectrum.
What role does the right paper play for a good result?
Augmented Paper comes with a notebook of A5 paper (5.8 x 8.3 inch) specially made for this product to ensure an optimal experience. The right paper is a requirement for the most accurate way of digitising your work so that it can be organised and shared from everywhere.
If Montblanc does something, it does it very systematically. How long did it take to develop Augmented Paper?
First I have to say that for us, Augmented Paper was more than just two years working on technology. Sure, for Montblanc, two years is short, but the same period of time in technology feels like three times this duration.
Who was your technology partner in the case of Augmented Paper?
Montblanc has been working with one of the world’s leading manufacturer of pen tablets, interactive pen displays and digital interface solutions to create a superior user interface experience with advanced features and reliability. We are working with many partners when it comes to such a product because there is not only one technology involved.
What was particularly important to you with regards to the design?
For us, it was quite clear. We wanted it as pure as possible because the idea itself was very clear, too: you can start, continue and finish your thoughts everywhere. So finally, the symbolic relation to what you want to say is very strong.
Summarising, what distinguishes Augmented Paper from comparable products that are already available on the market?
The biggest feature of Augmented Paper is that everything is interactive and functional in an easy way. The second one is the very robust technology. It is very consistent and the transfer is quite easy. Also, the material that our Augmented Paper is made of is very tough. In combination with the perfect paper you have a great writing instrument.
What clientele are you hoping to attract with this product?
The product is designed for anyone who is reliant on digital notes and work but wants to be able to experience a quality writing experience. The ability to digitise more than words including sketches makes it a functional tool for creative professionals. Certain characteristics of the product, including the long battery life, the ability to work offline and the practical size of the organiser, make Augmented Paper an ideal travel companion for use on a plane or on a train.
What significance does working with pen and paper have for you? And when do you prefer to use digital tools?
I think there is a tradition and heritage for writing which will never be lost. Even though technology is pertinent in our everyday lives, there is an art to writing that cannot be replaced by computers or phones. With that said, traditional handwriting will always be very significant for me and the Maison that will continue on this trajectory of giving people an enhanced writing experience. I think at this point, with everyone being so globally connected, there is no such thing as people who are only digital or only handwriting. You don’t have to choose anymore. For me, it’s more about the balance and bringing together the value of writing by hand and the functionality of digitising. And that’s exactly what we did with the Augmented Paper.
To what extent does one’s choice of writing implement reveal something about one’s own personality?
Writing on nice paper with a good writing instrument is pure enjoyment. It is a very easy way to create a nice extension of your mind. That is something I always find quite remarkable. And what I also like is the fact that when you have a nice tool for writing it can reveal the sophisticated side of the character of the person who is working with it.
What is your opinion: where will classical writing take us over the coming years?
There are many things. First, I would say there is a big return to analogue. It is important for reading and drawing books and, of course, it is important for fine writing. But the best bridge between the digital and the analogue world is Augmented Paper. With that, you can create connection between these two different worlds.
How much digitalism is acceptable for a long-standing company such as Montblanc to ensure that it does not lose sight of its roots and its authenticity?
Montblanc is not moving away from traditional handwriting. Products like Augmented Paper reinforce Montblanc’s passion for traditional handwriting and the Maison will always ensure that people continue to experience the pleasure of writing by hand. However, we will continue to explore new ideas that provide performance and functionality, and some of these will be digital. Stay tuned.
Jérôme Lambert has been Montblanc International’s Chief Executive Officer since 2013. The 47-year-old previously headed Swiss watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoultre, that also belongs to the Richemont Group, for eleven years.
This article was published in The Produktkulturmagazin, issue Q4 2016. Picture credit © Montblanc