12 Apr 2019

Visiting Geneva + the Caran d'Ache Stationery Factory, Switzerland

geneva lake at sunset
abstract street photography in geneva, switzerland
vintage cars in geneva, switzerland
archiecture in geneva switzerland 
 In partnership with Caran d'Ache

From the early days of starting this blog - just over 11 years ago now - I said that sharing creative ideas + interesting stories from people and brands was one of the main factors why I actually started Buckets & Spades. If I was sharing a fashion piece, a city break, a interesting magazine layout, some cool looking packaging or a more personal journal I always wanted there to be a narrative and reason behind why I decided to share it.

My own journey - from a slightly lost student bursting with ideas but no clue how to make them happen, to a 30-something full-time freelancer with mortgage and fulfilling yet hard-to-explain job - has definitely been colourful. A mixture of rewarding opportunities, anxiety, self-doubt, and sometimes weeks of hardly having any time to think about what I've experienced at all.

An email dropped into my inbox a few weeks ago, simply entitled, "Visit the Caran d'Ache stationery factory in Geneva"...I don't think I've ever been more excited by a line of letters sitting next to each other before. I've been using Caran d'Ache products for a couple of years, after receiving one of their iconic 849 pens from their collaboration with Paul Smith, and since then used their pens on a daily basis. But the name Caran d'Ache might not ring bells to a portion of you, so here's a super brief bio on the brand;

Caran d'Ache started life in 1915, in the centre of Geneva - an area of Switzerland known for its natural mountainous materials. Originally known as"Fabrique Genevoise de Crayons", the brand was renamed to something a little more catchy.

Across Europe the name Caran d'Ache became synonymous within the world of pens, pencils and art equipment. It's one of those brands that you'd be exposed to from an early age at school, grow fond through your teens, and become attached to as an adult. The words Caran d'Ache originally come from the Russian word for pencil, “karandash”, which in turn derives from the Turkish root “kara tash”, referring to the origins of graphite.

In 2015 Switzerland's first pencil factory turned 100 years old; a testament to the brand's ability to evolve over time, stand by its original values and eagerness to collaborate to create something new.

A month later I found myself stepping off the train in Geneva Central Station, for the second time (the first time was back in 2015). Buzzing from the fact that in a few hours I'd be taken around a stationery factory - for someone who absolutely loves stationery and "how it's made" documentaries, the next morning couldn't come quick enough. The first afternoon wasn't wasted though; me and Emma Jane Palin - a travel, culture + design writer from Margate - took to the streets to see what the city was made of. It's a whole lot more colourful that expected!

geneva old town at sunset
abstract street photography in geneva, switzerland colourful
geneva old town streets at sunrise
aesop store in geneva switzerland shop window
colourful architecture in geneva

The 8:30am bus ride to Eaux-Vives region of Geneva couldn't come soon enough. Never has a building took me straight back to the school classroom quite like the Caran d'Ache factory; the smell of wax crayons and Californian cedar wood wafted through the corridors just like freshly baked bread in a bakery.

We heard from longstanding members of the team: the enthusiasm for the smaller design details such as the weight of an ink refill or the hexagonal shape of the aluminium body on the Caran d'Ache 849 ballpoint pen (so it doesn't roll off your desk!) is the kind of passion I love to be around.

First let's take a look around the pencil making process:
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland colourful details
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland natural dye
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland school crayons
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland school crayons
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland pencil making process
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland pencils
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland yellow pencils

If you've been reading my blog for a few years you'll know that I've visited a bunch of factories - from baseball jersey to distillery - and while not all of process can be shared, what I can say is that I've never been inside an operation with such grace, curiosity + science lab-like precision than these walls. If Wes Anderson designed a factory...super ordinary details every direction you turn. 

We followed the pencils from start to end; starting with the colourful pigment room and cutting line, to their inception inside cedar wood blocks and the mesmerising seven stages of vanishing finishing room. Living inside a "how it's made" documentary is fun!

And then it was time to see how they make their pen range + the iconic 849:
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland claim your style collection
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland machines
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland offices
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland

There's something very pleasing about being involved in the making process of a product. It's a similar feeling to cooking a meal from scratch, then serving it to friends - a sense of accomplishment. On my visit to the factory had the opportunity to have a hand in constructing my very on 849 Caran d'Ache ballpoint pen from the new Claim Your Style collection, and it gives me the same satisfying feeling every time I see that pen sitting on my notepad at home. A timeless piece of  I made an item that has become a huge part of my own creative process. My craft skills might not have been up to much, but you can't knock my enthusiasm!

"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be 
useful, or believe to be beautiful."
William Morris

Sometimes a fleeting visit to a new city happens so quickly that I don't always fully appreciate what I've experienced, but there's something about these two days in Geneva that felt different. There's a great excitement towards a brand, and I was also surprised by just how much I enjoyed the city. There's good stuff here, you just gotta know where to look for it.

The recipe for a meaningful relationship between a brand and individual cuts much deeper than using a product. To build a genuine connection over time in a way which feels natural isn't easy, that's exactly what I'm experiencing here with Caran d'Ache. True, I am a part of a paid partnership with the brand, but I'm never told what to write on these pages. These are for me. If I could tell my younger self that he'll one day get to visit a stationery factory to build his own pen, the answer would be the same every time: "It's a big yes from me".

To be in with a chance of winning a set of the new Claim Your Style collection 849 pens head over to my new Instragam post to enter.

This blog post is in partnership with Caran d'Ache. Thank you for supporting the people and businesses that help make this blog happen.

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