A premium pen from Hungary adds a unique product to the world’s luxury market
A premium pen from Hungary adds a unique product to the world’s luxury market – worked as a designer for Bugatti but decided to write his own story
Gábor Megyeri learned how to design one-of-a-kind premium pens at Montblanc and Montegrappa but recently created one that had never been seen even by the world’s leading fountain pen manufacturers. The Etelburg writing system is modular with interchangeable nibs allowing users to even mix the ink in the colour of their choice. Shortly, Tungsram will be involved in the production as well.
Carbon fibre barrel. Anodised aluminium cap. Quilting engraving reminiscent of the upholstery of luxury cars, cap top featuring a red fine lacquer line. Alternating matte and highly polished surfaces. Palladium, sterling silver and gold. And finally: the barrel end with the Bugatti oval logo and the cap featuring the elegant signature of Ettore Bugatti.
There are only 250 fountain pens in the whole world that match this description as this was the total number of pens made based on Gábor Megyeri’s design after he had been given the assignment to design elegant and unique pens for Bugatti’s 1500 HP sports car, the Chiron.
“Why do you need a baseball cap to go with your car?”, he asks to help me understand why a variety of accessories are offered for luxury cars. “While the selling price of these cars is between EUR 2.5 and 5 million, this brand is hugely popular with a lot of people. Very few of them can afford to buy such a car but many can buy an original cap. A pen is somewhere between these two. A lot of people ask me jokingly that if they buy the car, would they get a pen free. The answer is no.
That pen cost five thousand Euros.
The number of those people who buy that if they want something from the brand is already lower as it is too expensive for them. However, if you own one of these cars, you want to write with a pen that matches your car.”
These are also seen as jewellery and accessories”, joins Gábor’s cousin and business partner, Péter Megyeri. “Just think about car keys, how they have become more or less pieces of jewellery with luxury cars; if you put them out on the table, it shows that you drive a car like that. If you put out a pen like this, you are immediately associated with that brand.”
I had never before been as careful about selecting a pen for notetaking as when I was getting ready for my interview with the founders of Etelburg. I checked every one of my ballpoint pens, fineliners and rollerball pens only to conclude that it did not matter at all which one I show up with as Gábor Megyeri has practically not left the world of premium fountain pens for nearly fifteen years. The most expensive he has ever designed is worth roughly HUF 100 million, i.e. basically ten thousand times more than my best pen. After realising I had no chance, I decided to take my current favourite.
Famous people on fountain pens
Gábor and Péter grew up on the opposite ends of the country: in Miskolc and Sopron but, despite the physical distance and age difference, they were always in touch with Péter closely following his nephew’s career. He graduated as an electrical engineer and later worked for Matáv-Magyar Telekom Group for 20 years in the field of business communications. Gábor graduated from Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design as an industrial designer and it was during his time at the university where became fascinated with the world of premium products. In his fourth year, he took a leap of faith and sent some of his designs to, in all likeliness, the world’s most prestigious pen manufacturer, Montblanc, which was 101 years old at the time and his courage earned him a six-month internship.
In the world of fountain pens, it is not a rarity for a product to be inspired by well-known people. Gábor designed his first pen to mark the centenary of Mark Twain’s death while Montblanc’s fountain pens to honour Otto van Bismarck and Louis XIV were also created based on his ideas. “The pens I had the opportunity to design at Montblanc, a special field I am still extremely fascinated with, had added intellectual context,” he says. “The first step of every design project was a complex research phase: we created the Mark Twain pen after carefully studying his personality, literary career, his objects and those typically used in his time.”
It was often the case at Montblanc that several people were working on the same product.
This was a kind of an in-house competition: a concept for the Mark Twain pen was not only developed by Gábor but also by the company’s senior designer and in the end, the one that was chosen to be put into production from the two anonymously submitted designs was Gábor’s.
In this business, it is not uncommon that the name of the designers is not indicated after a pen is created: “Everything happens namelessly and this is perhaps how things still are at Montblanc today”, says Gábor. There is not a lot of pat on the back. We had to sign very strict non-disclosure agreements; this is the standard approach in this industry.”
He learned a great deal during his six months in Hamburg but it was a time full of hard work and stress; even interns were expected to finish a pen in three to four weeks. It wasn’t always idyllic,” Gábor says to sum up his experiences but Péter quickly adds: “Let me be a narrator a little; what you need to know about Gábor is that his work style is so project-oriented that when he starts one, he is unable to concentrate on anything else until he completes what he originally imagined – and this includes sleeping as well.”
Shortly after this, Gábor was already working as a designer at another company with a long history, the Italian Montegrappa where he created designs for nearly 70 fountain pens including the Bugatti Chiron. This company from Northern Italy was also keen on paying tribute to celebrities; the pens Gábor had to design included the Ernest Hemingway and Sophia Loren pens. The former is a piston fountain pen made from sterling silver while the latter appears less like a pen and much more like a combination of a piece of jewellery and a lipstick embellished with Swarovski crystals and the actress’ signature available in redder than red and blacker than black colours.
What best proves how highly Gábor is recognised in this industry is that Giuseppe Aquila, Montegrappa’s CEO remembers the Hungarian designer’s projects to this day; he says they have been working with lots of designers over the years
but he thinks Gábor is one of the most talented of them all and he described his new models as “sheer genius” when I went to see him.
“I am familiar with this new brand. In today’s world, it is a huge challenge to enter the market with a new brand, especially in the current business environment. I admire Gábor for his courage and dedication and I am very fond of his novel ideas. Each designer has a style of their own; Gábor’s approach is very “contemporary”, he is open to new technology solutions and using high-tech materials.”
Interchangeable nibs, ink mixer you can control from a mobile phone
Gábor’s new brand, Etelburg is truly unprecedented in the world of fountain pens, which is undoubtedly going through a revival but is not the field of many technology innovations. The Rainbow product line is not only a fountain pen but a complete system featuring an ink mixer that is controlled with a mobile application and a modular, customizable pen (e.g. through its adjustable weight balance or interchangeable nibs).
“The way it works is that you are, for example, in a spice market in India and you see a very pretty pile of saffron, you take a photo of it and then you can simply mix this colour. The same application controls the equipment as well."
The equipment and the ink were specially designed and developed because we needed a unique type of ink to allow any colour to be mixed in 45 seconds. We had to endow the ink with physical and chemical properties to ensure that they properly mix.”
They spent three years developing the product line; M and M Productions Ltd., the company behind the brand was founded in 2015 after Gábor had decided to establish his brand instead of working for Montegrappa as a designer on an occasional basis. Péter left Telekom one year before that, in 2014, to try his hand at doing his own business. In addition to M and M Productions, he also has a telecommunications and business consultancy company and he managed and oversaw the sale of three companies so it is mainly Péter who supplies the funds for building the brand while they also used a grant of HUF 47 million from the EU’s Economic Development and Innovation Operational Programme to finance their initial research and development operations. Up until now, they have invested a total of HUF 150 million in this project.
While it may not be as expensive as the pen designed for the Bugatti, R.feather still costs EUR 700 but the price is relative, in Gábor and Péter’s opinion, it is considered very low in the Middle East. They recently launched their webshop and at the same time removed their products from Amazon; they were selling quite well but they realised it was not the right place for such products.
Since the production started in 2019, roughly 50 R.feather pens have been sold, mainly in Hungary. In the US, plans were made to sell the pens through Kenro Industries, a company specialising in luxury pens but they had to cancel their “east and west coast tour” because of the pandemic and hope that they will be able to resume their business negotiations in 2021. Their sales revenues were HUF 1.1 and 47 million (roughly HUF 5 million for the Etelburg brand) in 2019 and 2020 respectively.
The ink that tells you when it was put on the paper
Manufacturing has been mostly based in Hungary with the nibs bought from Germany and the clip sourced from Taiwan while everything else was supplied by Hungarian producers and the assembly was performed by the Megyeris,
however, a few weeks ago Etelburg signed an agreement with Tungsram, which will relocate the complete process into Tungsram’s factory in Hajdúböszörmény.
Tungsram has undergone a major strategic restructuring since it was acquired by Jörg Bauer, the former chairman of General Electric (GE) in Hungary in 2018. Recently, they have been regularly offering their engineering and manufacturing capabilities to start-ups, said Ferenc Pongrácz, innovation director. “Normally, we do not work with companies in such an early phase but we are interested in innovative ideas where we see significant growth potential then we get involved. We see this potential in Etelburg too, it is an exciting product and world-class as well as far as I’m concerned.”
Etelburg is pleased to benefit not only from Tungsram’s capacity but also from the very high-quality requirements the company maintains as it works as a supplier of not only the motor industry but also the aircraft and space industries.
“Of one million products manufactured, fewer than ten need to be scraped,” says Pongrácz. “As these are luxury goods, this is important for Etelburg’s fountain pens as well.”
Before the pandemic, they planned to make ten thousand pieces from the writing system but the pandemic foiled their plans, which are now back on the table as a result of their cooperation with Tungsram. Gábor and Péter are determined to not stop here but move further ahead: “We want to prove that it is not a “one-hit” product, that it has other potentials: we can make these products using plastic and turn it into a mass product or rather a premium product made from titanium even,” says Péter. “It may be sold as part of a development kit for children
while we can also offer a special ink for the business community that gives you information on when it was put on the paper. We have a long list of development ideas but these are already beyond our possibilities.”
Few people know what handwriting means
Gábor has been studying for his PhD degree at Corvinus University since 2018 focusing his doctoral research on handwriting and how to save it in the digital age. Last year, he started a crowdfunding project on Kickstarter; the four-stage campaign aims “to define the writing instrument of the future”. The first stage was a success and led to the creation of a product: the Digital Pasts Analog Futures I rollerball and fountain pen, which, for EUR 150, is significantly cheaper than the previous models.
“We are not trying to renounce technology, we are trying to save and maintain certain past values for the future.
One such value is handwriting. It helps learn and improve fine motor skills and keep the mind fresh as people age; it is the simplest way to self-test for the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and in case of a positive diagnosis, it can be part of the therapy. Nonetheless, only very few people can define what handwriting means to them.”
Cover photo: László Sebestyén
Click here for the original article published on Forbes.