Graf von Faber-Castell Pens of the Year - Part 1 of 2
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]These ultra limited edition writing instruments are all produced from some of the rarest materials found on earth and are akin to works of art rather than pens, owing to the sublime craftsmanship required to produce them[/quote]
This week, we are looking at one of the most expensive collections of fountain pens in the world; Graf von Faber-Castell's Pen of the Year. These ultra limited edition writing instruments are all produced from some of the rarest materials found on earth and are akin to works of art rather than pens, owing to the sublime craftsmanship required to produce them. Before we take a look at the pens, a quick history lesson.
Graf von Faber-Castell is the luxury subsidiary of the Faber-Castell company, one of the world's largest manufacturers of stationary and art supplies. Founded in 1761 in Stein, Germany by Kaspar Faber (a cabinet maker by trade), production soon began on his first batch of pencils. The business enjoyed steady growth with three generations of the family all at the helm, that is until difficult economic and political times lead to a sharp decline in production and revenue, threatening the very existence of the company.
Step up, Mr Lothar von Faber who takes over control of the pencil factory, following his father Georg Leonard's death. He completely overhauls and repositions the business, developing modern, hexagonal quality pencils marked with the name A.W Faber and as a consequence, the world's first branded pencil is born.
Fast forward to the 20th century
Faber-Castell had the long and arduous task of reclaiming all of its overseas sales points in the aftermath of WWII, but this didn't prevent them from becoming the first German pencil company to produce a ballpoint pen in 1949, however it wasn't until 1996 that the premium range was expanded to include fountain and rollerball pens. Then things started to get a little more interesting. In 1999, Faber-Castell and Porsche Design collaborated on a high-tech range of writing instruments, many of which utilised racing car technology and typically German minimalist design. But without further ado...
2003 Pen of the Year - Snakewood
The first GvFC pen of the year was produced from snakewood, one of the densest and hardest types of wood in the world. A relatively rare wood found in Suriname, South America, it get its name from the dramatic black blots and splotches which looks like the skin of a snake. Typically used for luxury umbrella handles, walking sticks and violin bows, the eye-catching barrel of the pen is accentuated by the platinised metal fittings. The 18 carat solid gold nib (available in fine, medium and broad widths) is 'run-in' by hand before leaving the workshop for the optimum writing experience. Each pen is individually numbered on the mechanism of the magnum-sized plunger (in other words, the part of the pen which holds the ink reservoir).[gdl_gallery title="2003-poty-snakewood" width="170" height="160" ]
Presented in a luxury gift box with a certificate of authenticity, the first Pen of the Year edition set an extremely high precedent. How would the following year's model measure up?
2004 Pen of the Year - Amber
2004's offering was much more visually striking, in my opinion. The aesthetics of the pen were modelled on the Amber Room in Catherine Palace, St Petersburg which had recently been reconstructed by Russia's finest architects and craftsmen (the original Amber Room was looted and destroyed after the Siege of Leningrad at the end of WWII). The head of the workshop, Boris Igdalov personally designed this Pen of the Year, where the barrel is made from genuine amber (each ring is individually processed and polished), whilst each metal appointment of the pen is adorned with precious platinum.[gdl_gallery title="2004-poty-amber" width="170" height="160" ]
As previously, each writing instrument was individually numbered and the 18 carat gold nib was 'run-in' by hand before leaving the workshop. Enclosed in an exclusive wooden case with a certificate of authenticity personally signed by Igdalov himself.
2005 Pen of the Year - Stingray
This was the most unusual Pen of the Year to date, with its barrel entirely made of stingray leather and the fact it was available in two colours: olive and anthracite. Stingray leather is unique in that it is soft and smooth to the touch but also remarkably durable, to the extent it is both waterproof and fireproof. The design was heavily inspired by the art-deco era, during which time the use of chagrin (sharkskin to you and I) was highly prized in the production of luxury goods. The 2005 Pen of the Year was no exception; following careful selection the skin is meticulously subjected to a vat-tanning process, before careful buffing and polishing gives the barrel such a distinctive appearance. Essentially, every unit is unique as each stingray exhibits a slightly different pearl mosaic pattern. A highly unique addition to any discerning collector's arsenal, perhaps not one for the animal lovers, however.[gdl_gallery title="2005-poty-stingray" width="170" height="160" ]
Like its predecessors, each pen is individually numbered and possesses an 18 carat gold 'run-in' nib as standard, whilst being packaged in an equally stunning gift box.
2006 Pen of the Year - Ebony & Ivory
We've clearly established that each Pen of the Year will only be produced from the rarest materials on earth. The 2006 edition was no exception, requiring a special expedition to the Arctic Ocean, Siberia in order to source only the finest mammoth ivory. Frozen in solid ice, the ivory retains its immaculate beauty and only comes to light in the brief Siberian summer. The ivory cannot be exported without a license which is not granted until a thorough scientific examination has taken place. Even then, it must be dried out for 3-5 years before it can be cautiously cut, ground or turned. This required the skills of a grand master guild ivory cutter, so who better than Jürgen Schott, one of the best Germany has to offer. The ebony, widely regarded as one of the most beautiful and valuables in existence compliments the ivory perfectly.[gdl_gallery title="2006-poty-ebony-ivory" width="170" height="160" ]
In addition to the 18 carat gold 'run in' nib, the exquisite gift box and the certificate of authenticity, its crowning jewel is in the cap; where you will find a solid disc of ivory to protect the knob of the plunger mechanism.
2007 Pen of the Year - Petrified Wood
The theme of the 2007 edition was petrified wood, perhaps paying homage to the company's illustrious history of using wood for its products, which would certainly tie-in with the first Pen of the Year released back in 2003 being made from snakewood. This year's offering, however, was much more ambitious. The primeval fossil used to craft the pen barrel was formed over 360 million years, during which time the wood undergoes a unique metamorphosis process whilst buried under water, mud and volcanic ash. Minerals, metals and lime dissolve and fine their way into the fallen trees, gradually replacing the wood whilst retaining their organic structure. The result? A very rare, hard and dark fossilised wood laden with semi-precious gemstones. So hard in fact, that the Herbert Stephan gemstone manufacturing company were tasked with performing the cut, a cut so precise there is no unevenness between the metal and the stones.[gdl_gallery title="2007-poty-petrified" width="170" height="160" ]
The usual 18 carat gold nib, gift box and certificate accompany the pen, whilst the cap is accentuated by a plate of petrified wood; faceted with diamond-like precision and polished for a gleaming finish.
And that's almost it for part 1. If you've got this far, you may notice that I haven't mentioned the price of any Pen of the Year. This will vary wildly depending on how many of each were manufactured (production of each model only lasts 12 months), but to give you an indication the 2012 Graf von Faber-Castell Pen of the Year has an RRP of £3,500. In part 2 we will look at the 2008-2012 models in greater detail, but for now I leave you with this video commissioned by Faber-Castell which gives you an insight into the production of its fine writing instruments.
Until next time.