Inked Happiness: What is new, at Diplomat? Has the “Flame” really set the writing instruments market aflame the way you had imagined? How has MADC’s graffiti inspired creations been accepted by the community? Has the “Volute” given the brand the kind of stability that the Ionic capitals gave to Greek structures, whose name the line shares?
Mathias Ringeard, President – CEO, Diplomat: At Diplomat, we are in a constant process of imbibing a new energy – a spark of life, if you may – into our products. As a matter of fact, we are relentless in our efforts to test the established boundaries, as will be evident from the different surface treatments we have introduced in the immediate past. Our efforts have stemmed from our core belief that “metal can be modern” – which is as much an exertion to shatter age-old, stereo-typed beliefs, as it is an effort to unveil the new!
The “Flaming” process has been a step in the right direction, if customer feedback is any indicator and both the Traveller and the Aero have generated very enthusiastic response from connoisseurs. With Flaming, we have achieved the right mix of the vintage and the modern – an ode to a traditional value system that is modern, bright, colourful and full of a youthful zest for life. Our “Oxyd” process – customised oxidisation that allow us to offer colours of a vibrancy hitherto unavailable, is also a part of this ongoing process of transformation, as Diplomat seeks out to embrace the new, its feet firmly planted on the solid ground of its legacy.
There are other projects that we at Diplomat are working on as well – after the first trial of a limited series of Volute, we are giving final shape to an extension which is expected towards the end of the year. While we are certain that it will be an amazing offering, it is a bit premature to divulge the exact details. In the coming weeks we will also launch new colours of the Traveller: Deep Purple, Snow White and Taupe Grey to give the line a wider palette and in keeping with the colour preferences of the new generation.
Mad C was an extension of this process of experimentation, Diplomat’s efforts to stretch the horizons, as it were. The pen lover community has shown a reasonable amount of interest, though the real excitement was generated among the lovers of street art. We did break into new ground and the experience is extremely interesting to us, though the challenge of communicating with communities that are not traditional pen lovers, is also unique to us. But we are content – secure in the knowledge that we have the ability to attract people, who were not otherwise interested in fountain pens before!
Inked Happiness: Diplomat is now just a year and a half away from the centenary celebrations – what are your plans? How do you propose to mark the year? Being in business for a century is no mean feat, yet, from a brand that is uncharacteristically (I personally feel, unfairly) low profile, what can we aficionados expect?
Mathias Ringeard, President – CEO, Diplomat: Yes, we have a little more than a year, before 2022, to prepare for this huge milestone for the company. We want to make the celebration befitting the occasion and provide our “fans” with special commemorative products that can be treasured – products that will further strengthen our bonds. Suffice to say, the plans are underway.
Unfortunately, a good part of Diplomat’s history has been lost over time as the company has changed hands several times in the past. We know that since its founding by Mr Rauchle it had been a family company for many years and had quite a few innovations in Germany to its credit, including the first push button ball pen in 1953 and the first cartridge pen in 1958. The company was sold in 1981 and moved to Stuttgart, where under the able leadership of its then owner Mr Michaelis, Diplomat had continued its tryst with destiny. However, the tryst was a short lived one, as with the passing away of Mr Michaelis, the company fell into a period of uncertainly which saw it change hands many times, during which most of its historical records were lost.
Now Diplomat is again a family run company and is focused on drawing on its strengths of craftsmanship to reclaim its position in the hearts of aficionados as a maker of top-quality products. With experienced craftsmen leading the surge, Diplomat is now pushing into the future grounded firmly on its legacy as a quality manufacturer with proven expertise in metal crafting that has incorporated modernity into its traditional design elements. The hundred-year celebrations will therefore be about embracing the tomorrow, keeping the core of the brand, the DNA intact.
Inked Happiness: How has the Diplomat journey been? What has been Diplomat’s main-battle-tank fountain pen? How did the brand cope during the war years? How did you successfully ward off the threat from the ball point pens? What has been the one characteristic feature that been the prime driver of your success?
Mathias Ringeard, President – CEO, Diplomat: Want as much as I may, I cannot answer all your questions for the lack of historical information. However, as of today, the Aero is definitely Diplomat’s flagship offering, which, as fountain pen puritans and experts will agree, highlights all the characteristics of a classic Diplomat pen. The mastery with which the aluminium is used, the different finishes that are achieved through anodising or flaming and the gentle, yet pronounced curves of the shape that resembles the famous Zeppelin design are all emblematic of an era – a golden age that is re-imagined, using modern sensibilities and without compromising on the values that made Diplomat pens what they were in the first place.
Inked Happiness: From where you stand, how does the fountain pen market look? Is it making a comeback? Or is the demand pull that we are witnessing over the last couple of years too tepid to be termed a resurgence / revival? How do you propose to adapt to the changing taste and preferences of the market in the future?
Mathias Ringeard, President – CEO, Diplomat: I do not have the necessary facts and figures to comment on the fountain pen market definitively and my guesses will be as good as your’s. However, as is evident to all of us, it is not a market that is booming, far from it. But what is definitely encouraging is the entry of new fountain pen lovers and collectors, who were not there in the market even a few years back. Many groups and communities of fountain pen lovers too are coming up with some becoming extremely active, which too is a very positive sign.
We believe that the global pen community will keep decreasing, as writing itself diminishes, but a small segment, the market for niche products – high-quality writing instruments, will continue to grow and evolve. I say this because I feel that hand writing will become less of a necessity and will be driven more for the pleasure and the desire to personalise messages, which in turn will create the demand for high quality writing instruments. The move towards the use of durable pens as opposed to disposable ones will also become more and more pronounced. And finally, the pen will increasingly to be viewed as an accessory, like a watch: people will carry the pen for the same reasons they wear a watch, for the sheer pleasure of it, for the brand associations, for the statements they make.
Inked Happiness: Post Corona and into the global depression that is almost inevitable, what are the major changes in the writing instruments market that you foresee? Will more people junk the very art of writing and go digital? Or, will the young and the upwardly mobile pick up the fountain pen increasingly as a protest against the digital damnation of their lives? Will e-commerce be the prime mover for pen sales? Or will brick and mortar stores, with their personalised service and ability to offer the experience of testing a fountain pen before buying, increase in their importance?
Mathias Ringeard, President – CEO, Diplomat: It is so difficult to look into the future and draw a definitive conclusion as to how the pandemic will impact us and our products. There will certainly be a high amount of risk involved as fountain pens are generally sold through independent shops and establishments which are run by extremely passionate people. One emerging solution may be to move towards better, more user-friendly online shops, as perhaps, more people will feel comfortable in shopping from the relative safety of their homes, but the “look-try-feel” experience of brick and mortar stores, or the sheer passionate involvement of the people who have traditionally facilitated the purchase and sale of writing instruments, will be near impossible to replace. Either way, I think it is a bit premature to be talking about this now, even a little unreasonable.
Inked Happiness: Diplomat mechanical pencils – neither is much known about them nor do they enjoy the kind of cult following they deserve, considering their excellent built and robust functionality. When did diplomat start making them? What are the major models? How collectable are they? How do they compare with the best in the world? What according to you are their killer features?
Mathias Ringeard, President – CEO, Diplomat: I am not in a position to reply to this question and will certainly get back to you with the details as and when I come across them.
Inked Happiness: What are your plans for India? Do you think that you are doing enough to maintain your stature as a hundred-year old brand in a market that has as much potential as India offers?
Mathias Ringeard, President – CEO, Diplomat: Mr Anish has been handling Diplomat for us in India. We are overwhelmed by the kind of response that we are getting from India, which is, quite frankly, beyond our initial expectations. After almost two years in India, we are certain of having built a strong foundation and will now work towards building on the same. The potential of the Indian market is mind-boggling and we at Diplomat are looking towards India as one of our major markets – stay tuned, for we plan to have many exciting announcements for the pen lovers here, including India specific models in the near future!
Inked Happiness: Anything that you would like to communicate to our readers.
Mathias Ringeard, President – CEO, Diplomat: Wars, pestilence, natural calamities come and go. The Diplomats continue to do the job assigned, silently and with unfailing efficiency, often far from the glare of public consciousness. Pick one up if you still haven’t got one – I can assure you, the experience will be unique, one that will test the travails of time.
And stay tuned. The excitement is about to begin.