Up four flights of stairs in a converted mill in England's old industrial heartland is the bright and spacious workshop-come-showroom of AJOTO. The Manchester based studio designs and manufactures high quality, elegant pens and other goods with custom components sourced from across Europe. From visiting the studio and talking with the brand's founder and creative director, Chris Holden, it's clear that for AJOTO and their customers, the journey is just as important as the destination.
The name AJOTO is the compression of "A Journey To.." , a philosophy which encapsulates Chris' belief that it's the moments in-between where we find the most rewarding experiences - the train ride, the airport lounge, the calm before the storm. It's often these moments that we forget - time filled with endless screen scrolling, connected but not connecting, waiting to reach our destination. The appeal of the AJOTO pen is its presence; its weight, balance and shape are an almost talismanic reminder of the physical - something to hold on to as we slip between transits, keeping us grounded in the lost arts of both manufacture and penmanship.
To build a pen like this, as simple as it might seem, takes superlative design application, a cadre of the finest and most experienced craftspeople in the UK and the best materials you can find - elegant rose gold, hardwearing brass, bright stainless steel, lightweight aluminium and cork-rubber gaskets made from the same composite as those found in performance cars. Only six components make up an AJOTO pen, but they are purposefully designed to assemble harmoniously with the tolerances you would expect to find in precision engineering.
These pens are the product of hours and hours spent prototyping every aspect of the design, from the packaging to the refill, millimetre by millimetre, micron by micron. Many iterations of pen and packaging fill countless boxes in a back room of the studio - testament to the level of research and development that Chris has poured into making the perfect pen. Empty cigar tubes sit amongst card cutouts and cork moulds nestle in nets that take you back to schoolroom maths. This is what sets Chris and AJOTO apart from their competitors; he's done the work. He's designed and made a hundred or more versions of the same pen and packaged them in dozens of boxes, tubes and containers in a quest for perfection. And he's still doing it, always learning and always growing.
For AJOTO, the journey to production is a celebration of people, places and processes. With almost 20 suppliers forming the supply chain, from cork farmers in Portugal to Aluminium refiners in Belgium and Uxbridge springmakers - every part of the pen has a journey and a story to tell. The story continues once the pen leaves AJOTO's studio, bound for somewhere and someone new. Lawyers, doctors, designers and creatives around the world have turned to these solid, sleek pens to document their own journeys. Each pen is identifiable by a unique number, hand stamped on a card, denoting how many seconds had elapsed since the company was founded the exact time that particular pen was manufactured.
As well as fine writing instruments, AJOTO also design and manufacture small leather goods with the same level of attention to detail. Pen pouches and wallets made from full grain Tuscan vegetable tanned leather are cut stitched are designed in Manchester and finished by hand in Melton Mowbray. But this is just the beginning of AJOTO's journey. With an international client list and a recent collaboration with the Wall Street Journal, the bright and spacious studio is busier than ever.
The AJOTO pen has the strange and unique ability of no other tool: To slow you down, to inspire you, to connect you to the physical. Since I've had mine, my written output has almost tripled. Writing is a pleasure again, my notebook is filling up daily and I'm more connected to my work. This is a pen for the writers and for the journey.