At a dramatic dinner at the Rainbow Room in New York City this month, Montblanc celebrated its 110th anniversary surrounded by luminaries such as Hugh Jackman, Kate Bosworth, Charlotte Casiraghi, and Matthew Morrison.
The brand revealed a number of wonders, perhaps most notably a $1.37 million pen, which was paraded slowly around the ballroom by a model in a ballgown who carried it on a soft, red pillow. That pen, the Ultimate Serpent Limited Edition 1, was emblazoned with 15.34 carats of dark blue sapphires and wrapped with a hand-engraved rose gold serpent, which itself featured 153 embedded, individually cut diamonds. A big 6-carat diamond in the shape of the Montblanc star logo sits on the crown of the cap. (Put your checkbooks away; it was one of a kind and someone had already bought it.)
There was also a one-of-a-kind steamer bag, a tall, unstructured thing in beautiful black leather with a coiled red snake painted on the exterior. And there was a new group of pens that also carried the black-and-red theme, as well as the snake motif. Both visual cues are callbacks to the brand's early days, when it sold its first-ever fountain pen in those colors and called it the Rouge et Noir. Back then the pens were made with black ebonite and a red cap head, and some featured a serpent undulating around the cap. The new Rouge et Noir collection looks very similar.
But most exciting was Montblanc's totally original watch novelty, the Villeret Tourbillon Bi-Cylindrique 110 Years Anniversary Limited Edition. It's a dramatic 18-karat rose gold timepiece with a huge 18.4mm one-minute tourbillon at 12 o'clock and interesting floating hands on the dial. (The hands are actually painted on two incredibly thin sapphire disks that rotate above the hour indicators.) All 95 of the tourbillon components are hand-beveled, chamfered, angled, and polished in-house by Montblanc craftsmen, and the effort shows. Also, the watch has a 46-hour power reserve.
Oh, yeah. And there's a snake in it.
The most striking feature of the watch is definitely the three-dimensional, hand-engraved anthracite serpent that is coiled around the inside of the bezel, with its head resting just at 9 o'clock. It will turn heads, and for $318,000, it probably should.
(Earlier in the day, at an event for bloggers, Montblanc had draped the watch over an actual living snake, which handlers in turn draped over the steamer bag for a kind of extreme photo op. The snake moved, knocking the watch down to a glass table, and one of the sapphire crystals cracked—marring the exquisite timepiece before the big dinner. But never fear, it will be repaired, and two others will be made. You can bring that Montblanc leather checkbook back out again.)
Later, Montblanc Chief Executive Officer Jerome Lambert told me that contrary to the Judeo-Christian image of the snake as a symbol of darkness, he sees it as uplifting and symbolic. "The serpent is a symbol of life for many cultures, and Montblanc is important in so many moments of life," he said. When questioned whether people might confuse a snake-themed watch for something made by rival Bulgari, he noted that "Bulgari is speaking to women primarily, not men as we are. And the presence of serpents is so key to the Montblanc brand."