Finding the Perfect Pen

I love pens. I love the way they suit different moods, how my handwriting changes subtly depending on the pen I’m using, the way pens can remind me of people, places and times in my life. Like a watch or a pocket square, cuff links or eyeglasses, pens represent my own style—especially in an age of generic smartphones. They are what an anthropology professor of mine from college used to call “a flash of the spirit.”

So, in theory, I am an ideal consumer for Peerless, a beautifully designed, painstakingly engineered line of pens made by Cross, the oldest pen maker in the western hemisphere. Cross, which is headquartered in Providence, R.I., launched the Peerless line three years ago to commemorate the 125th anniversary of its first fountain pens, which were introduced in 1889 and described in Cross advertisements at the time as “peerless.” With a comfortable heft and a wide body that’s a break from Cross tradition, the new Peerless line is gorgeous. And, like all Cross writing instruments, the Peerless pens come with a lifetime guaranty.

But I haven’t bought one. The reason? Peerless pens start at $200 for a ballpoint and go up to $3,900 for a stunning, 23k gold fountain pen. It’s not the price per se that holds me back. It’s knowing that the more I love a pen, the more frequently I’ll use it—which means that I’m that much more likely to lose it.

And I’m far from the only pen lover to feel this way: The marketing folks at Cross tell me that fear of losing a pen is far and away the most common reason consumers give for not buying one that costs more than, say, $50. That is a frustrating roadblock for a company that aims to be known not just for its affordable classics, but also for its industry-leading high-end writing instruments.

So Cross solved the problem by doing something really smart, something that no one has done before. They made a pen, called the Peerless TrackR, that is almost impossible to lose.

About two years ago, Cross started working with TrackR, a web-based company that makes the TrackR Bravo, a small disc about the size of a quarter that connects wirelessly to a smartphone. People use TrackR to help find things they lose a lot—keys, for example. Attach the Bravo to your key chain, download the TrackR app to your smartphone, and the app will show you the Bravo’s location—and, hence, find your keys. You can then use your phone to signal the Bravo, which will emit a mellifluous beep. And if you can’t find your phone, you can press the Bravo and your phone will sound with a customizable ring. Smart.

Cross’ idea was simple. In order to make a pen that is extremely hard to lose, they reengineered the inside of the Peerless to accommodate a TrackR chip. Simple in concept, hard to do: To make room for the chip batteries, which are actually larger than the chip, the ink cartridge had to be shrunk in half. (Now, instead of 10 miles of writing, you get five, which still sounds substantial to me.) To optimize the range of the signal, Cross worked with an engineering firm to resolve questions like where best to place the chip and whether any of the pen’s materials dampened its signal.

Cross made a pen, called the Peerless TrackR, that is almost impossible to lose.

The resulting pen seamlessly combines form and function. Available in two colors, a robust black and an elegant cerulean blue, the Peerless TrackR has a comfortable balance to it and writes beautifully. You almost don’t notice the small, circular LED embedded in the back of the barrel. When you use your phone to find the pen, the LED lights up and chimes; it’s also what you push to find your phone.

I’ve used a Peerless TrackR for several weeks now, and I’ve misplaced it multiple times—at first just for fun, later because of my own carelessness. Each time the app located the Peerless quickly, and the chime led me to the pen. The impact has been greater than I expected: Especially when I’m running to a train or a meeting, it’s a relief to have this small but nagging source of stress eliminated. Best of all, I have no excuse not to use this beautiful pen all the time.

With Father’s Day and graduation gifting in mind, Cross is releasing the Peerless TrackR this spring. It costs $250. For pen lovers who can’t bear the trauma of another unintentional breakup, it is a small price to pay.

Richard Bradley is chief content officer at Worth. This is part two of a four-part series.



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