Pen for your thoughts
The couple that collects together stays together. Or, at least, so it is for the Tays, who are ardent fans of Montblanc’s writing and timekeeping instruments.
It is not often that a couple shares a passion for collecting the same niche items, particularly when said items tend to be perceived as traditionally masculine pursuits. But this is true for Tay Kim Ann and his wife, who are avid aficionados of Montblanc pens and watches. The couple began their love affair with writing and timekeeping instruments about two decades ago. They profess to owning “a little more" than the 20 pens that they brought for this photo shoot. Montblanc accounts for 90 per cent of their collection.
In the course of their collecting journey, the couple has developed particular quirks. When it comes to limited-edition pens, for instance, they insist on purchasing the piece numbered seven.
“It’s our lucky number. Many things in our lives seem to revolve around the number – even our office’s street address is numbered 25. And when you add 2 and 5 together …" says Mr Tay, who runs Arox, a distribution company for shipping equipment.
For timepieces, the couple has a penchant for his-and-hers watches. On the day of this interview, they were wearing a pair of Montblanc Villeret bespoke pieces featuring enamelled mandarin ducks on mother-of-pearl dials. The watches also feature hunter casebacks engraved with their names.
The process of creating the two watches took almost two years. “It was worth the wait," says Mrs Tay. The idea was seeded when they met a bespoke watchmaker at Montblanc’s Beauty of a Second exhibition at Mandarin Gallery in November 2012. The opportunity to incorporate virtually any design on the dial greatly appealed to them. The motif was chosen as a symbol of their bond: because mandarin ducks mate for life, the Chinese believe that the birds will die of loneliness if separated from their partner. The idiom ‘jin yù măn táng’ is also painted on the dial, an auspicious saying that means ‘may gold and jade fill the halls’. “As it happens," says Mrs Tay, ‘jin’ is also his middle name, while ‘yù’ is my middle name."
Which was the pen that started it all?
I bought my first Montblanc pen in the mid1990s. It was the Montblanc Writers Edition Voltaire – a very simple and classic black fountain pen with an engraved 18k gold nib and cap. That was the one that got me interested. I was later introduced to other pens. I appreciate the craftsmanship and details that are found on the pens. A lot of effort has been put into them. I have other pens too, but I love Montblanc the best.
What about Montblanc appeals to you?
It has the widest range of pens. It even makes pens with nibs that cater specifically to left- or right-handers. Montblanc really pays attention to details because of the continuous research that it carries out. Every time someone from the factory comes to Singapore, I enjoy talking to them – even when they get technical – because I learn a lot.
What criteria do you have when you decide to buy a pen?
Most of my choices are inspired by historical figures and motifs, or have personal meaning for my wife and I. It could be a souvenir of a country that we have enjoyed visiting. For example, I have a Montblanc Gustave Eiffel Artisan Edition that was acquired after our first trip to Paris. Sometimes it is a matter of love at first sight, because of the design or colour. I also like pieces that have a good weight.
Do you use your pens?
Yes, but very carefully! I do not use all of them though, because I tend to be quite rough when using pens. I prefer admiring them to using them. I interact with them on weekends, removing the cap to admire the nibs, or using a magnifying glass to appreciate the details. If I do use them, I will flush out the ink after use; it is important to maintain them in tip-top condition.
Do you have a favourite pen?
It is like asking me which child I love the most! But I suppose if I had to choose just one, it will be the first one that I bought.
Do you ever write love letters to your wife?
No (laughs). Although on our recent trip to Lausanne, Switzerland (in January 2016), it happened to be snowing. The balcony of our hotel was covered in snow, so I drew a heart with the date and the words, ‘We were here’, or something like that. I can be quite romantic; my wife is more pragmatic (laughs).
Have you ever considered customising a pen?
Yes, but we have not done it yet. It is our next project. Montblanc suggested doing something with mandarin ducks, to match our watches. We suggested making a tribute to Lee Kuan Yew, but they were not ready for such an undertaking.