Earlier in 2012 I traveled to Bassano del Grappa in Italy to visit the headquarters of high-end writing instrument maker Montegrappa. The brand has an interesting history both in product and business. Partially because it was acquired by the Richemont Group, and then re-acquired by the family which owned it. I did an interview with their esteemed CEO Giuseppe Aquila here on Centurion if you care to learn more about the brand.
Montegrappa's primary business is the manufacture of nice pens. Though in that world it is apparently low-class to simply call their products "pens." They prefer the more high-brow term "writing instrument." The brand produces fountain and roller ball pens, as well as pencils. They even use a material that no one else uses in some of their more esteemed products - celluloid. Celluloid is derived from plants and must be specially aged before being used. Montegrappa offers writing instruments with celluloid bodies ranging in many different colors. The material feels warm and soft like quality plastic, but has a special visual depth that almost looks like polished stone. They add some special materials which give the celluloid more sparkle and a range of colors. It is a cool feature and I believe other pen makers only use plastic or metal in their pen bodies.
The writing instrument enthusiast community considers Montegrappa among the top marques in the world for what they do. Being Italian, and in the luxury sector, Montegrappa has branched out a bit. In addition to pens they now have cuff-links, watches, and fragrances. Mmm... the sweet scent of ink and aging celluloid for a romantic evening out. Now in a spray (actually, I am not sure if a spray is available).
Watches are relatively new for the brand and their watch collection falls under the Nero Uno family. Which is also the name of one of their most popular writing instrument collections. The timepieces are nice, and positioned as good looking entry-level luxury pieces. Here, I explore a collector's set that includes a Nero Uno Automatic watch, Nero Uno roller ball pen, and Nero Uno cuff-links. The set does come in a really nice presentation box. As an interesting note, according to Montegrappa's CEO, matching sets like this for men's items are particularly popular in the Middle East.
The Nero Uno watch collection includes both automatic and quartz movements. The automatic models have what Montegrappa calls a "partially skeletonized" dial, which shows the date wheel under a semi-transparent window. The rest of the dial on this reference # IDNRWSBM watch is a deep metallic brown with slightly raised Roman numeral and baton hour markers. The hands are more or less properly sized which made me quite happy. They also help the dial look its best. It makes for a nice dress watch dial that isn't too typical in its looks. The hands have a bit of luminant applied to them. Over the dial is a sapphire crystal.
What really makes the Nero Uno watches shine is the case. It is complex and interesting, but not overly done. The design is quite architectural and meant to suggest the octagonal shape of the pens without copying them. The Nero Uno watch has a lot of Montegrappa DNA in the design, but is also something new. Each case is in steel, with PVD black or rose gold choices as well. Size is 42mm wide. This PVD rose gold toned model comes matched to a nice brown leather strap (with crocodile embossing), and the slight brown metallic and rose gold colors on the dial.
It is hard to dislike the crown which is eight-sided like the pen bodies and comes with a black cabochon stone (perhaps onyx). The watch case is water resistant to 50 meters. On the rear of the case you'll find a sapphire crystal display back with a view of the movement. Montegrappa makes use of the Swiss ETA 2824-2 automatic movement in these mechanical models. The movement isn't decorated, but it does have a Montegrappa logo plate on the rotor. There are two quartz models as well in the Nero Uno watch family. These have either a chronograph or small seconds Swiss movement.
An interesting thing about the Nero Uno case design is how it adopts classy and sporty looks quite well. This model is rather classy in its appearance, but in PVD black with the available rubber strap (which is grooved to look like the pen body), or the steel bracelet, it looks quite sporty. Overall, it is an impressively versatile design. The straps and bracelet all are designed to be flush with the case. For me, this is an important design element to help the watches look their best. Having the leather strap not match the contours of the case would have not resulted in as nice a design.
Each of the Montegrappa Nero Uno Automatic watches are limited edition pieces of 999 pieces. I believe they can be purchased alone, but the set is quite nice. The Nero Uno cuff links are really rather large, and done in a shape that clearly matches the theme. In the video I mistook the cuff links for having celluloid in them but the shiny brown inlay is actually tiger's eye stone. Both the pen and cuff links match the PVD rose gold tone of the watch. The included Nero Uno pen really seals the deal and is certainly a nice item for watch and writing instrument lovers alike. I have to say that the grooved plastic body combined with the octagonal shape makes for a welcome grippy design when using it to write.
The attractive Nero Uno Lifestyle collection is a good way for writing instrument enthusiasts to enter the watch world. Montegrappa has not exactly "reinvented the watch," but the Nero Uno Automatic is a decent piece with an attractive style. As I said, I found it pleasantly versatile even though watches are not exactly Montegrappa's main area of focus. The obvious comparison is Montblanc and their more recent focus on timepieces more than writing instruments. Is that what Montegrappa is doing or wants to do? I don't think so. Instead, I think Montegrappa wants to remain primarily a writing instrument maker that has a lifestyle element. To that end they will always have a collection of attractive timepieces, but none that will overshadow their primary talents. Price for the watch, pen, and cuff links set is like many things Italian - optimistically priced. Retail is $4,100 for the Nero Uno Lifestyle Collection.