Florence 1987: Fine writing instruments from Parker, Mont Blanc and the rest are boring, bland and lacking innovation. Dante del Vecchio, a student of political science and a pen enthusiast, frustrated by not being able to buy a pen that suited his taste, decided to take direct action. In 1988, based in a rented room in a 15th century villa on the edge of Florence, he launched Visconti Pens and the conservative world of fine writing has never been quite the same since.
Over the last 25 years Dante has grown his company into one of the world’s leading luxury pen brands, manufacturing 100,000 units a year and creating many of the most interesting, original and beautiful pens on the market. In 2012, Cult Pens was delighted to be invited on a factory tour and new product presentation at Visconti headquarters.
Still based in the exquisite villa where it first began, Visconti now occupies a sizeable chunk of the premises (alongside the countess!) and conducts all their operations from here including design, production, administration, repairs and despatch. The main offices are high-ceilinged airy rooms in the main part of the villa, with wooden ceilings and frescoed upper walls — the perfect setting in which to mastermind the renaissance of the fine writing industry. Dante’s office is full of vintage pens; an eclectic range of books about design and designers; materials samples; photographic kit; drawing boards and computers, but is tidy and organised. All Visconti pens are designed by Dante, and rendered first as beautiful hand-drawn artwork by Dante’s wife Carla, a trained architect who now works with Dante full time. Prototypes and CAD drawings are produced in-house — impressive considering the level of inspiration, ingenuity and innovation that goes into Visconti designs.
All manufacturing, with the exception of the German-made nibs and pen refills, is carried out in Florence. Barrel materials include such traditional items as resin and celluloid, but also astonishing new materials, such as the lava and neoprene mix conceived by Visconti for the Homo Sapiens range. Dante is not afraid of turning difficult concepts into reality, including the exquisite Divina with its spiralling metal inlays in a glossy black pentagonal Lucite barrel. In the rear part of the villa, Visconti’s state-of-the-art CNC machines exactingly mill selected materials into Dante’s graceful designs. Dante has frequently developed his own processes or heavily-adapted existing processes for use in his factory — for example the polishing, washing and drying stages are all custom to Visconti. All Visconti pens are assembled and polished by the same people using the same processes, regardless of whether they are the entry-level Rembrandt or the most exclusive limited editions.
Since developing his first range of celluloid pens in 1988 Dante has gone on to patent several new ideas including the power filler (1993); double-reservoir power filler (1998); the simple and ingenious My Pen System personalisation method (2004) ; the Travelling Ink Well (1997) and the magnetic pen lock for pen caps (patent pending). Dante also claims to have created the concept of the limited edition pen, and Visconti produce an enormous range of editions each year varying from a few hundred pounds to tens of thousands of pounds. The range of limited edition concepts is quite startling. Dante says that ideas can come to him in flashes of inspiration at any time.
Despite the high-tech machines and the innovative designs, Visconti also apply traditional methods, such as with silver trim bands. Historically these added strength, but with most modern pens these are just glued on and no longer contribute to rigidity. On many models Visconti uses the old-fashioned method of shrinking the bands into place — it’s more difficult, more expensive and more time-consuming to do, but the resulting finish is so fine you cannot detect with your finger where the barrel ends and the trim band begins.
As ever with Visconti there is an ambitious program of new products in the pipeline. New colours will be launched every year in the Van Gogh range, each one inspired by a particular Van Gogh artwork; the new Amerigo Vespucci limited edition marks the 500th anniversary of the great explorer’s death; there’s a new demonstrator model coming out; and a top-secret collaboration with an iconic Italian design house. Dante’s presentation bubbles with anecdotes, product details, stories about materials and suppliers, tales of pen collectors and encounters with famous Visconti owners.
Through all of this Dante and Visconti express their primary aim — Passion, Art and Technology. When you own a Visconti pen, we think you have a little part of Dante del Vecchio’s soul. Our sincere thanks to Dante, Carla, Roberto and Nicole for their kindness and hospitality in Florence.
How would like to own a little part of Dante del Vecchio's soul? Well, we have managed to get our hands on a limited edition Visconti Divina Proporzione ballpoint pen worth over £400 and it could be yours! Only 600 of these pens were ever made.
What makes the Proporzione special is in the translation of the name. In English it translates as Divine Proportion, which relates to the golden or divine number - 1.618. This number is thought by some to hold the key of knowledge as well as being the most aesthetically pleasing of all numbers.
The Proporzione has been painstakingly crafted based on this ratio to represent this perfect proportion and is the first time a pen has been modelled in this way.
So what do you have to do in order to win this piece of perfection? Simple, answer the question in the box below. A winner will be selected at random using Rafflecopter and announced at the beginning of March on our Facebook page and Twitter account as well as in this post's comment box. Good luck! a Rafflecopter giveaway
5 February 2013