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Fountain Pens and Mechanical Watches: Why New Isn’t Always Better

Paul Altieri

Today, many of the things that bring us the greatest joy are not necessarily those that are the most practical or logical by nature. Technology has enabled us to efficiently solve many of our day-to-day problems and obstacles, and by doing so, has allowed us to spend more time focusing on the experience of doing things, rather than simply the task that needs to be done.

Many items that were once seen as indispensable necessities and were relied on daily to perform crucial tasks have either been rendered obsolete and relegated to luxury/specialty markets – or have been so well-integrated into our day-to-day lives that we hardly notice their presence as they unassumingly carry out their intended daily tasks.

Both mechanical watches and fountain pens are two items that once held very important roles in our lives; however as they are now considered antiquated technologies, both primarily only exist as luxury/specialty items. Additionally, despite the advent of newer, more efficient technologies, both mechanical watches and fountain pens continue to be manufactured, with each occupying the highest price bracket of their respective industries.

rolex oyster vintage stainless-submariner rerfernce 5512
Vintage Rolex Submariner Reference 5512 is a perfect example of a mechanical watch

In recent years, smart-watches and other wearable technologies have made traditional mechanical timepieces more obsolete than ever before. However, decades before the first smart-watch was ever created, the mechanical wristwatch had already been rendered obsolete by the advent of the quartz timepiece. Today, an inexpensive but reliable quartz watch can be purchased for as little as the cost of a round of drinks, and will likely keep as good of time (if not significantly better) than a brand-new, COSC-certified, mechanical timepiece. Furthermore, that same inexpensive quartz watch (if digital) will have enough additional features to out-perform even the most elaborate of grand complication mechanical movements.

In the world of writing instruments, a similar situation has unfolded. Many fountain pens cost hundreds to thousands of dollars (and some cost a lot more); however an entire box of plastic ballpoint pens can be purchased almost anywhere for less than the price of a cup of coffee. While the precision-crafted tip on a fine fountain pen makes it inherently somewhat fragile and requires periodic cleaning, an inexpensive plastic ballpoint pen is virtually indestructible and will never need any routine maintenance as long as there is ink in the cartridge.   

Fountain Pens may not be the most practical, but their beauty is undisputed
Fountain Pens may not be the most practical, but their beauty is undisputed

And yet, undeterred by their clear and definitive obsolescence, both fountain pens and mechanical watches continue to be manufactured, and treasured – arguably now more than ever – by countless individuals throughout the world. Despite being objectively less functional than their contemporary equivalents, people value these antiquated technologies due to the enjoyment and unique experience that they provide their owners. There is a certain degree of art and craftsmanship that goes into the creation of a fine timepiece or writing instrument, one that transcends the function of the object itself. The quality of the materials and the execution of the fit and finish augment the user experience, and the inherent, minor irregularities that exist within these antiquated technologies give them a unique sense of life and personality. While they will never again be the most practical options for accomplishing their intended tasks, our fondness for fountain pens and mechanical watches seems to only grow as they become increasingly less essential to our daily lives.

Paul Altieri