A Dialog With History
Text: Volker Albus, Photos: Gerrit Terstiege
In digital times fountain pens are becoming a collector’s item and a status symbol. Manufacturers are riding the wave and producing special design lines. Franco Clivio has now developed a new fountain pen for Lamy’s Dialog series that comes complete with intricate technology. So let’s play Devil’s advocate for a moment and ask who might buy this fountain pen and in particular, why would one want to buy the latest product from Lamy?
The first reason would of course be the brand: Lamy! Which per se spells quality, and you would surely not be making a mistake as far as both function and workmanship are concerned. The second reason would be the truly astonishing technology the pen boasts, which Franco Clivio designed and developed over the course of eight long years. According to the marketing division, Dialog 3 is the only capless fountain pen in which the nib and clip can be retracted. And even though the Dialog 3 is not the very first of its kind (the predecessors are the Pullmann  and the Pilot [as of the mid 1960s]), it still definitely deserves the label of “innovative.” Because it is not just the nib which appears with a light turn, the clip is also attached to the swivel mechanism of the nib and can be raised and lowered by turning. When writing, the clip is retracted so as not to get in the way. When the fountain pen is closed, the clip reappears.
That said, it is not these technical refinements alone which make this fountain pen an object of desire … and here we come to the third aspect: it is above all the design, which is extraordinarily stringent. You have to look very closely to discover, roughly in the middle of the 140-mm-long and 13-mm-wide cylinder, that it has a groove that runs round the circumference of the pen, so small it can only be measured in Mµ. Now this is the sole indication that this archetypal form might perhaps be some kind of device. Were it not for the clip you probably would not even realize that it was a writing instrument.
Indeed it is this clip which is most likely to be debated – at least among the purists. Because even if it is practical, not to mention absolutely functional, it is precisely this practical aura which lends the sublimeness of the fountain pen’s pure form a touch of conventional assiduity. This may be a subjective feeling but it is this detail which reminds one of that act of sticking it into a breast pocket, an act which is so commonplace, not to mention somewhat old-fashioned. And that does not jive with such a unique item at all. A standalone such as this needs space, it has to lie free on a top, should not have to constantly justify its functional existence. In short, a unique design such as this (and in this regard it is reminiscent of Enzo Mari’s Putrella tray , Sapper / Zanuso’s Black television  or the up-to-date Apple devices) has the power in its introversion to liven up the entire table-top – and this ought to be allowed. In 1987,
Deyan Sudjic coined the term “cult objects” to describe the array of products which do not satisfy all functional and aesthetic demands and yet, due to their uncompromising uniqueness, make all those who are inspired by them into lifelong champions of their design philosophy. Dialog 3 has the potential to achieve this cult status, but only without the clip. In that case it would no longer have to do justice to the name “Dialog” which so promises communication. You could also self-confidently call it Manifesto 1.