For most of my three years working at a luxury writing shop in Perth, the most expensive pen was the Mont Blanc Marlene Dietrich, a special-edition fountain pen in commemoration of the actress.

It had an 18-carat solid gold nib (of course), inlaid mother-of-pearl on the top of the cap and a diamond adorning the clip, which was shaped like the ties of which its namesake was so fond.

That, in turn, was not the most expensive pen the store had ever had — that honour went, I was told, to a Caran d'Ache fountain pen that was literally encrusted with hundreds of diamonds.

It was worth $1.7 million and travelled pen stores worldwide. Wherever it went, it apparently came with its own security guard.

It makes my most expensive sale look like utter peanuts, but thankfully it doesn't cost thousands to partake in the joy of writing.

From working at the pen shop I learned that no matter how bad one's handwriting is, or how rarely they put pen to paper, almost everyone harbours some kind of love for stationery.

Industry experts say that no matter how flash the newest iPad might be, pen and paper are here to stay.

Fountain pens rose to prominence in the first half of the 20th century by replacing the more cumbersome steel-nibbed dip pens, before themselves being edged out of the market by the now-ubiquitous, mass-produced, smudge-free ballpoint pen.

But fountain pens were never considered entirely obsolete, and companies from around the world continued making popular models and bringing out new editions.

"There's this whole generation that's grown up on keyboards and iPads, but there's a real shift back to actual writing and connecting with pen and paper," Scott Druce, CEO of Australian stationery company Telegram, says.

Telegram started as an online store about 10 years ago, and in the past few years has opened five brick-and-mortar stores in Melbourne under the name "Milligram". They're planning to expand to Sydney next year.

Telegram are also the Australian distributors for German pen brand LAMY, who manufacture the cult favourite "Safari" fountain pen.

The Safari — and its aluminium sibling the Al-Star — have been made since the 1980s, and their high quality and relatively low price point mean they're a popular entry-level fountain pen.

"We took over the LAMY business in Australia in 2014 and we've actually more than doubled in size in that time," says Mr Druce, who himself uses a special-edition LAMY Safari that he picked up from Japan.

And contrary to the running joke that kids these days can't read cursive, let alone write it, Mr Druce says the overwhelming majority of pens are being purchased by millennials.

"It might be the first time they're buying a fountain pen but they're really interested, so we've actually seen really great skews to younger people engaging with what could be called traditional stationery — notebooks, diaries and fountain pens," he says.

According to Euromonitor International, the global sales of fountain pens were up 2.1 per cent in 2016 compared with the year before, reaching $US1.046 billion ($1.51 billion).

However, the research firm's 2019 report focusing on Australia noted the "growth in electronic communication has proved to be one of the toughest challenges for the traditional stationery industry".

The sales of writing instruments have been forecast to reach $167 million in 2019, including $64 million worth of pens.

"While the shift of younger generations to technological gadgets is expected to reduce demand, the pleasure of writing with a pen or viewing it as an aesthetic accessory is expected to boost demand at the same time," the report said.

Another market research firm, Technavio, forecasts the global writing and marking instruments market to potentially grow by $US6.07 billion ($8.8 billion) between 2020 and 2024.

The Asia-Pacific region will account for 44 per cent of the growth, with China and India identified as the key markets in the region.

"High-end luxury pens have gained significant popularity as gifts and fashion accessories over the last few years," Technavio said.

"The growth of the market in the pens segment is expected to be faster compared to the other segments."

The pace of school and the workplace often precludes handwritten letters and notes, as we turn to emails and word processors, but when it comes to personal stuff it seems we still love writing things down.

Anecdotally, I've spoken to literally hundreds of people over the years who insist they remember things better, and find them more meaningful, when they write them down by hand.

The science backs this up — studies have repeatedly shown that when we write things down by hand we have better long-term recall than if we typed them.

Researchers Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer of the University of California concluded in a 2014 paper that students who took notes longhand performed better on conceptual questions than those who used a laptop.

"Laptop note takers' tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning," they wrote.

Meanwhile, a 2012 study led by Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University, showed the learning benefits of physically writing letters.

As part of her study, children who hadn't yet learned to read or write were asked to copy a letter or a shape by typing, tracing or drawing freehand.

When they were placed in a brain scanner and shown the image again, children who drew it freehand displayed increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated when we read and write.

According to the CEO of stationery supplier Debden Collins, Connie Chan, people are still using notebooks and diaries — they're just using them differently.

The Instagram-driven trend of bullet journaling, or "BuJo" — a creative take on list-making that its disciples swear by — can't hurt either.

Subsequently, the popular diary company is developing more products that cater to the varied ways people are writing down their thoughts.

"When we go into all this digitalisation, things are just too fast and then you end up feeling like nothing's precious anymore," Ms Chan says.

"People want to go back to something that's more tactile, more touchy-feely, [that] gives you that connection."

Ms Chan says calendars and appointment reminders are being handled well by mobile technology, meaning diaries are becoming more about reflection and decision-making than practical record-keeping.

It's why you may have noticed different diary layouts springing up that didn't exist five or 10 years ago, that put less emphasis on appointment times and day-to-day tasks and allow more space for free writing.

A big argument for the shift to digital is the fact that it's cutting down on the production of paper — an invariably single-use product that conjures up images of scarred landscapes where old-growth forests once stood.

Consider using a single fountain pen in place of dozens of disposable ballpoints — often broken, misplaced or lost to colleagues before they're used and thrown away.

"Every pen we sell is refillable," he says, noting that if you choose to refill your fountain pen with bottled ink, you're not only eliminating plastic refills completely, but you can even recycle the glass bottle itself once you've finished (a feat in itself, given a bottle of ink will last an average writer months or years).

"We are a very, very strong proponent that all of our paper is only from certified sustainable sources, so we make sure that we [cause] as little hurt to the environment as possible," she says.

Like most retailers, Christmas and New Year were always the busiest times for the pen shop where I worked.

People were looking for meaningful gifts for family and friends, and would find them in old school journals, fountain pens and stationery.

We inevitably reflect on things this time of year, and whether or not you're a subscriber to the idea of New Year's resolutions, the beginning of another calendar seems the ideal time to start a journal; to put more effort into writing; to focus on ourselves.

And when we get that urge, we're less likely to take to our keyboards than we are to reach for our favourite pen.

Topics: business-economics-and-finance, community-and-society, visual-art, information-and-communication, australia

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