Interview with Carole Hubscher, President, Caran d’Ache

In an age when communication takes place almost exclusively via screens, why should we still value the pen?

Handwriting is an important tool for our cognitive development; it’s proven that handwriting has a direct impact on our reading and recall capabilities. Writing by hand, not on a device, provides a complete individuality and freedom to the scribe, signalling elegance, creativity and personality. Computer notebooks and smartphones are absolutely a new competitor but they will never replace the wonderful simplicity of the pen. Today, people certainly write less, yet everybody still carries a pen or a pencil to jot down a quick note or doodle. Over the past few years the market has remained fairly stable but we are now experiencing firm growth – people are beginning to go back to basics. The fact of the matter is that a pen remains a perfect gift; you will never make a mistake offering a beautifully made pen to someone. The enduring appeal or a pen applies to men, women and to people of all ages. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t keep a pen in their pocket or bag. New technologies are a modern necessity, but the pen will last the test of time and always be a must-have.

What would your ancestors who built Caran d’Ache in 1915 think of the digital age?

Good question! I guess they would probably have seen it as an opportunity just like any entrepreneur. In 1915, they bought a factory that was manufacturing soap in the centre of Geneva and transformed it into a factory that could produce black lead pencils. At the time everybody was writing and it was an important opportunity to develop a high end, quality product. Caran d’Ache invented the water-soluble coloured pencil in the 1920s and we have continued to invent ground-breaking new patents ever since. It is imperative that we continue to bring innovation and I think my ancestors would have embraced these new challenges.

Has technology stunted creativity? Do you think there is something therapeutic about drawing and writing?

Technology is often associated with consumption, whereas drawing and writing is linked to self-expression.  Partaking in either of these activities has proven to have therapeutic effects such as relieving stress, increasing clarity of mind and encouraging out-of-the-box thinking.

With growing standardisation and digitalisation, creativity has become increasingly important. Our mission at Caran d’Ache is to provide the best drawing and writing instruments for all generations to express their imaginations.

Through drawing and writing, we keep our sponaniety and personalities alive. This type of creativity and self-expression helps us avoid society becoming completely anonymous. That said, the popularity of talented artists and illustrators that are sharing their work through platforms such as Instagram is on the rise – this is a perfect example of how digital and analogue can work together to enhance the wonders of creativity and bring it to the masses!

How has the digital age transformed the way Caran d’Ache approach the design of pens and pencils?

Our products are truly timeless. The design of a pencil has not changed for centuries. The principals behind the design remain elementary – they are made from natural wood and have the same purpose as they always have done. The difference at Caran d’Ache has always been that our customers look for the best, for example: the ability to sharpen a pencil easily derives from the quality of the wood. The high class of the lead, the high lightfastness of the pigment and the fact that it is safe and ecological are other elements that, for our customers, are of the utmost importance.

As for the pens; the shapes, design and materials form our brand identity. Our 849 ballpoint has not changed since its creation 50 years ago. The success of this product is thanks to the iconic design, inspired by industrial design principles. The consistency of the design and quality have made the 849 an icon that that people love collecting, especially when we bring out limited edition pieces. Why would we change design that our customers love?

When it comes to fine writing, we cherish beautiful “métiers d’art” such as guilloches, engraving, polishing, Chinese lacquer and stone settings on precious metals. These artisanal skills are passed down from one generation of artisans to the next and are still used today within our Geneva workshops. Even in the digital age, people appreciate these fine details provided by historic techniques.

Caran d’Ache was an early adopter of e-commerce, back in 2013 –and we are now very active on social media and our online shop. The digital age allowed us to be more efficient and to build a remarkable community with whom we can engage on a regular basis. Digital is a brilliant opportunity for us and one in which we will continue to invest.

Do you think the digital age has altered the quality of peoples’ penmanship?

In the past everybody had beautiful handwriting and it is most certainly true that handwriting has changed quite substantially. Today people do not write as much as they did before and so we really do see it evolving. Teachers in particular are worried to see children’s handwriting abilities diminishing significantly. On a positive note, there has been an exponential increase in the past few years of people drawing thanks to the adults’ colouring book trend, as well as the trend for modern calligraphy. We are slowly coming full circle.

Have you produced any writing or drawing products to work in conjunction with digital gadgets?

Yes, we launched the 849 Genius in 2015. The design incorporated the best of the 849 with a clever touch-screen tip. The double function means that you can use the pen on your phone, tablet and on paper.

The rest of this editorial will be published in the January 2020 issue of I-MAGAZINE.