Saturday, 27 February 2016

A pen heroine - Francine Gomez

I get so cross when catalogues arrive towards Christmas, with fountain pens firmly pushed to the "for him" category. It's not always easy being a woman who collects fountain pens.

That's one reason Francine Gomez is a bit of a heroine for me - a woman who ran one of the biggest pen companies in the world, Waterman. Not only that, she  took over a company that was - like many others at the time - really failing to compete with competition from cheap disposable ballpoints, and forged a new and stronger company with strikingly new designs.

The Waterman brand wasn't even under single ownership when she took over in 1969: Bic owned the US rights, Stephen the UK and Commonwealth.

Gomez presided over the launch of really classic designs: the Waterman Concorde (1972), which is an underrated pen but striking in its lines, then the Gentleman (1974), Watermina (1975), Master (1980) and Man 100 (1983). In 1987, after the sale of the company to Gillette but while Gomez was still in charge, the Lady Elsa and Lady Patricia were launched - delightful pens with a nod to 1930s Waterman designs. (Lady Elsa was even made with galalith, from old stock that Waterman had managed to acquire.)

She didn't design the pens herself. But she unerringly found great designers. Alain Carre, who was designing tableware for Puiforcat, was hired in 1970, and came out with the DG - taking off from the already well known Waterman C/F but with a redesigned swing-clip. He carried on working for Waterman after Gomez retired, and was responsible for the overall design of the Serenite, launched in 1999. (Continuity was also provided by the fact that Jean Veillon, who took over as President of Waterman after her retirement, was her protege.)

I love the old vintage Watermans - the Patrician, the Hundred Year Pen, and all those pens with mysterious numbering systems - 42, 94, 58, 3V and the humungous 20. After that, apart from the glorious C/F, Waterman seems to have gone through a bad patch. But then it had a second golden age - and I think a lot of that can be put down to Francine Gomez's drive and innate eye for good design.

She also introduced Waterman's lacquering facility, and I think that became key to the success of the 1980s and 1990s Waterman models. Waterman lacquers are incredibly beautiful, particularly the variegated lacquers found on, for example, the Laureat - even though it was not a particularly upmarket pen.

I know that my pen collection would be much poorer without Mme Gomez. In fact, because the Laureat was my first serious fountain pen, and I fell in love with the fountain pen through buying a new Laureat every year or so, I probably wouldn't even have a pen collection if it weren't for her.

Thank you, Francine Gomez. Thank you very, very much.

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