Generally, the fountain pen is regarded as as outdated as the horse-drawn Zeppelin, but in upmarket circles it's still a symbol of luxury and status. Precision mechanical watches are still made for a similar reason, and Richard Mille is taking the simile even further by creating the US$105,000 RMS05 fountain pen that runs off a self-winding Swiss movement.
In the first half of the 20th century, fountain pens were the great liberator of writing folk. Instead of carting around a box full of pens, nibs, ink wells, wipes, and blotters, all you needed was an all-in-one pen with a steel nib and a barrel full of the ink of your choice. True, the downmarket ones tended to leak, skip, run out of ink when most needed, and left one with blueish-black fingers, but until the biro came along, it was the cutting edge in scribbling lists and writing novels.
Today, fountain pens are largely the denizens of junk drawers and curio shops, but they're still being manufactured for niche artist markets and the very rich. As with luxury watches, upmarket fountain pens are less about everyday use than they are as status symbols that are showcases for materials and craftsmanship, as well as demonstrations of technical innovation.
According to Richard Mille, it took the Swiss watchmaking company four years to develop the RMS05, which incorporates a mechanical movement on par with an RM watch calibre. The Grade 5 titanium, 12-jewel movement sits inside a barrel of NTPT (North Thin Ply Technology) carbon, which is a laminate of thousands of parallel layers measuring less than 30 microns thick. The layers are built up out of resin-impregnated carbon fibers that are woven on a special machine that modifies the direction of the weft between layers by 45°, then heated to 120° C (248° F) at a pressure of 6 bars to create a distinct pattern before moving on to a CNC machine for forming.
As to the self-winding mechanism inside, it's visible thanks to a pair of 1800 Vickers sapphire crystals with antiglare treatment. The movement is made from a lightweight, skeletonized titanium baseplate that's been electroplasma treated. The bridges are also made of grade 5 titanium and have been micro-blasted and PVD treated, while the gears are rhodium plated.
This is all very well and good, but what does this piece of Swiss precision engineering winding do? The answer: it extends the hand-polished 18K white-gold nib automatically from the barrel at the press of a button. That may seem simple in a world of retractable ballpoints, but Mille wanted the action to be smooth and precise, and hence the mechanism, which is regulated by a recoil-type escapement to keep the speed of extension under control.
In addition, the pen is self winding. Replacing the cap rewinds the mechanism and primes it again for use. It may not seem like much for a hundred grand, but it does give writing the grocery list a sense of occasion.