Giuseppe Aquila stands there at the celebratory event, surrounded by Bentley owners and enthusiasts, a part of the group yet apart from the group. The festivity marks the 60th anniversary of Bentley manufacturing at Crewe. He’s one of many guests, but he stands out, in no small, part due to his immaculate appearance. Clad head to toe in what could only be the finest of Italian tailoring, Aquila is the personification of Via Montenapoleone versus Savile Row. Two pinnacles of style, certainly, but worlds apart in detail, in form.
Clearly, Aquila’s been behind the wheel of more than one of the venerable firm’s creations, yet his inimitable, inescapable Italian-ness begs the eye to find other links to Bentley, other precedents: the reason he’s there is more than mere ownership of a Bentley. Aquila has been chosen by Bentley to contribute his company’s talents to the anniversary commemoration. Maybe it’s enough that Italy makes the best pens, that his company, Tibaldi, makes the best pens in Italy, and that Tibaldi is producing the pen that marks the same event he’s there to acknowledge. Discreetly, too, Tibaldi was celebrating an anniversary of its own: 90 years at the pinnacle of pen manufacture.
Somebody did his or her homework when forming this collaboration, for Bentley has enjoyed Italian input in the past. Cognoscenti would recall the occasional presence of Pininfarina, with rarities such as the 1949 Mark VI Drophead and the T Coupe of 1968, as well as a run of gorgeous Mulliner Park Ward Convertibles in the mid-1990s. The Anglo-Italian marriages work beautiful: Cool Britannia meets Latin passion. Perfect.
For over a decade, the pen industry has been obsessed with commemoratives, almost to the point where pen collectors and enthusiasts have been overwhelmed. As a result, the art of pen design has been pushed to the limits in order to reflect the subjects being honoured, with their creators experimenting with materials and forms far removed from the simple black plastic cylinders most people regard as sufficient for a decent writing tool.
Tibaldi, then, faced a serious challenge. The validity of the anniversary was beyond question, with Bentley currently enjoying one of the greatest comebacks in automotive history. Its glory restored, its reputation as probably the finest car on the market assured – any pen representing six decades of production would have to marry form and function of the exact same calibre as the cars themselves.
Functionality was a given, because Tibaldi pens address writers’ concerns not yet even acknowledged by other makers. For a ‘machine’ that seems so simple – a cylinder that holds ink which emerges from one end – the real-world complexities are eye-opening. Even something as ostensibly basic as the pocket clip has been ‘re-thought’: Tibaldi’s necktie-shaped clip is hinged and supported by a heavy spring to ensure that it grips the fabric when placed a pocket, without falling out by accident. Its end holds a small wheel to effect smoother movement into the pocket, thus protecting the material of the shirt or jacket. And another thing: the clip opens far enough to allow its owner to store it in a pocket made from material thicker than that of a silk or cotton shirt, such as a jacket’s inner pocket. And you thought pens were simple?
Another Tibaldi trademark is a clear, see-through ring around the barrel, which allows the owner to view how much ink remains. Yet another is a form that adheres to art and architecture’s Divine Proportion, the ratio of 1.618 that is applied to the Tibaldi’s cap, barrel and form when both open and closed.
Still more: while Tibaldi doesn’t want to shout about it, their fountain pens are among the very few that do not eject their ink when carried in airplanes. And another: the end of the pen twists to operate the filling action. But unlike other pens using a similar technique, Tibaldi has fitted a patented system reminiscent of a watch winder, one that provides aural and tactile effects to communicate precision to the user. Moreover, it ensures that accidental movement won’t suddenly eject ink when it would least be welcomed.
So, how could Tibaldi retain all of these signature fillips while embracing Bentley values and character?
Working with Bentley, Tibaldi drew its design cues from the two limited edition cars produced for the Diamond Jubilee of the Crewe factory: the Arnage and the Continental GT Diamond Series. According to Robin Page, Bentley’s Head of Design, ‘We have transported the principles of vehicle interior design and design codes from the commemorative Diamond Series cars into the Tibaldi for Bentley collection and we’re thrilled with the result. The instruments of Bentley interiors have to feel as good as they look, just like the details on the Tibaldi for Bentley pen. They’re there to make you feel special.’
It’s enough that any Tibaldi pen makes its user feel special: the heft, the balance, the form. They glide across the page. They encourage the user to write thank-you notes, invitations, RSVPs by hand. They are not just an antidote to e-mails: they are a backlash. With the all-metal construction of the Tibaldi for Bentley pens, an added frisson of force, of mass enhances an already-peerless experience.
A glance at the pen instantly provides an overall sensation of ‘Bentley-ness’: Tibaldi’s traditional tie-shaped clip, a feature of their pens from the beginning, has been delicately re-styled by Bentley designers while retaining its original form, sophisticated spring mechanism and polished rotary wheel. The finish on the barrel echoes precisely the Bentley dashboard texture, while achieving at the same time a world-first.
Known as engine turning, these distinctive overlapping circles were traditionally found on racing cockpit interiors and revived in recent times by Bentley designers as a more sporting alternative to wood veneer. To achieve this on a curved surface is technically challenging; Tibaldi cleverly employed sophisticated 3D engraving technology to cover the pen with this distinctive, purely automotive pattern.
For the compound, three-dimensional areas, such as the end of the cap and the area where the barrel meets the filler, Tibaldi positioned delightfully tactile etching and engraving. These patterns are known as ‘knurling’ and are found in Bentley cars on surface areas where drivers and passengers make operational contact, such as the handles or knobs. In decorating the parts of the pen which involve turning – the cap and the upper and lower parts of the pen’s barrel – a secure grip is guaranteed.
Further details delight the eyes of both Bentley enthusiasts and pen aficionados. The tip of the cap recalls precisely the tip of the gear shift of the Mulliner edition Continental GT Diamond Series. The cap features a smooth band for personal engraving, such as the car’s chassis number. Even the pen’s accompanying case, crafted with a unique symmetrical diamond-quartered oak wood marquetry technique to reflect the Arnage Diamond Series interior, is measured in multiples of the Divine Proportion coefficient and is a collector’s item in its own right.
Or should that be write?
NOTE: Every Tibaldi for Bentley pen is a limited edition writing bearing the Sheffield Assay Office Bentley hallmark. Tibaldi will produce this very special pen in the following editions:
400 silver fountain pens
200 silver roller balls
40 solid white gold fountain pens
20 solid white gold roller balls
(Bentley Magazine, 2007)