Sunday, May 19, 2019

REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA EXTRA CUSTOM FOUNTAIN PEN

REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA EXTRA CUSTOM FOUNTAIN PEN
Montegrappa - despite being a high-end luxury brand very similarly structured to the likes of Montblanc or Visconti - seems to be mostly known for either their "more affordable" (certainly a term you should use with a grain of salt) products in the 200-400$ range (like the Fortuna, the Game Of Throne collection, the Monte Grappa or even the latest Elmo...), or their extravagantly over-the-top limited editions (looking at you, Chaos). But one pen that always spoke to me a great deal sits somewhere in between: their flagship fountain pen, the Montegrappa Extra.
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA EXTRA CUSTOM FOUNTAIN PEN
Being the Italian brand's top of the line production pen, the Extra model comfortably resides in the 1000$ (and up) range and is therefore - quite understandably - not immediately the most accessible to a wide audience. I also actually never get around to trying one out for myself. However, Montegrappa recently offered the opportunity to test out their latest addition to the Extra product line: the Montegrappa Extra Custom.
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA EXTRA CUSTOM FOUNTAIN PEN
That name already gives away the cool part: the Extra Custom is not just an off-the-shelves luxury pen, it's a complete customizing service called the "Configuratore". The entire concept is simple. So simple actually, that I now wonder why it took so long for a brand to come up with something like this (to my knowledge there's nothing comparable out there, definitely not with the same degree of customisation)! 
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA EXTRA CUSTOM FOUNTAIN PEN
Montegrappa's Configuratore website (from: www.montegrappa.com)
Here's how it works: head to Montegrappa's Configuratore website, and you'll be greeted with an online platform in which you can mix and match a host of materials and finishes on 8 different parts of the Montegrappa Extra fountain pen or rollerball. Choices range from the materials on cap, section, barrel and piston knob, to the emblem on the cap finial or a gemstone on the clip. 

When you settle on a configuration (It's not easy to choose!), Montegrappa's team assembles your custom pen and sends it to you within 2 weeks. The pen comes packaged in a beautiful large wooden box, accompanied by a bottle of Montegrappa ink. The box has a metal plaque on the lid with your name engraved on it. They even accompany it with a polaroid of the craftsman working on your very pen. If one thing, the entire experience is definitely worthy of a four figure $ pen! 

I'd tell you there's a lot of options, but that probably doesn't mean much so I unleashed my inner geek (heck, I'm always a geek) and did some maths: There are 2.802.470.400 possible combinations, that's not counting the option to engrave your initials on the center band, the choice between fountain pen or rollerball, and of course the full range of nib options between extra fine and double broad!

[cue jaw drop]

That's right! Close to 3-freaking-BILLION combinations to piece together, so I'm pretty certain you'll find at least one that you'll truly love. 
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA EXTRA CUSTOM FOUNTAIN PEN
Now having such a wide range of options doesn't mean every one of those 3 billion will turn out great... in fact it's fairly easy to go bonkers and make it look somewhat gaudy (or very gaudy). On top of that, a lot of the more exotic materials will cost you a pretty penny. Nevertheless, you have the possibility to do whatever you want, which is nice.

Of course you can also do things my way and keep it simple. You could argue I'm boring for sticking with a fairly basic configuration and I honestly can't even blame you! But there's a good reason why I stuck to a simple combination of Montegrappa's Shiny Lines celluloid with sterling silver trim, and that's to show that the Extra Custom also makes for an excellent opportunity to easily get your hands on one of Montegrappa's exclusive celluloids. 
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA EXTRA CUSTOM FOUNTAIN PEN
More and more brands are steadily moving away from celluloid, as the production process is dangerously combustible and time consuming. Remaining stock is already being used quite sparingly and almost exclusively for special editions. For all we know, there may come a time where stock of these exquisite materials runs out (as has already happened with Omas celluloids, for example). So it's nice to see Montegrappa go the other way and give their customers access to all the different materials. With that reasoning in mind, I went with their fantastic silver-grey Shiny Lines celluloid, which also spoke to me because of its' resemblance to the legendary Omas Arco Bronze! I'll let the pictures speak for themselves...
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA EXTRA CUSTOM FOUNTAIN PEN
The design of the Extra Custom has always been on my radar. It's definitely one of Montegrappa's simpler and more subdued pens. The stout, bulky flattop shape provides an excellent canvas to experiment with (combinations of) exotic materials like wood, hand-engraved precious metals, celluloids or even mammoth ivory (!) as you please. The simple design is accentuated by a curvy clip and wide center band. In true Montegrappa style, all metal trims come in solid sterling silver, so you definitely get your dose of luxury. If that's not enough, you can upgrade most - if not all - parts to gold-plated vermeil or even solid gold with hand-etched designs. But with prices easily jumping up in the 20k (!) regions I doubt if those options are very realistic, even for the seasoned collectors among us.
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA EXTRA CUSTOM FOUNTAIN PEN
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA EXTRA CUSTOM FOUNTAIN PEN
L to R: Pelikan Souverän M805, Visconti Homo Sapiens Oversize, Montblanc 149, ASC Bologna Extra, Montegrappa Extra Custom, Lamy Safari, Lamy 2000
For a flagship pen, I expected the Extra to be a sizeable piece, but it turns out I was wrong. Measuring only 13.8 cm (5.4") and with a maximum diameter of 1.7 cm (0.7"), the Extra is a chubby, rather compact pen. Uncapped it measures 12.7 cm (5"), which - in my opinion - is long enough but definitely not large by any means. Obviously the final weight depends on the materials you choose. But as a reference, the pen I created is almost completely celluloid and already weighs a hefty 44g due to the extensive sterling silver trim.
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA EXTRA CUSTOM FOUNTAIN PEN
The Extra Custom scores high marks on comfort for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the grip has a nice, gently concave shape, and you can opt for a different material if metal sections are not your thing. Behind the section are quite possibly the smoothest threads ever, which is definitely a strong suit of many higher-end Montegrappa pens. The threads are rounded and shallow, which makes them unobtrusive and also gives a buttery smooth capping-uncapping action. The relatively short size of the Extra when uncapped may be an issue for some people, although I find it just long enough. The cap can be posted, but adds a considerable backweight to the pen (again, depending on the materials you choose). 
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA EXTRA CUSTOM FOUNTAIN PEN
The Extra is fueled by a pretty neat differential piston filling system. What that means is that it fills just like any piston filler, by twisting the piston knob at the back. But in contrast to most piston fillers, the knob does not extend and retract while turning it. Montegrappa says this helps you to always find an orientation in which the material on the piston knob aligns with the barrel, which is a nice detail (all celluloid parts do indeed always line up perfectly!). I did find that the mechanism is rather stiff, probably to prevent accidentally rotating it. The Extra does not have an ink window, so you're left guessing how much ink is inside.
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA EXTRA CUSTOM FOUNTAIN PEN
Under the hood, Montegrappa's flagship is equipped with a flagship-worthy nib that's recessed a bit inside the section. This makes it visually appear a bit smaller, although the width still indicates that it's indeed a large #8 variant. Montegrappa's trademark geometrical octagon pattern returns in the nib imprint, providing a clean and intricate look to the nib. Another benefit of the Configuratore is that you get instant access to their entire catalog of nib sizes: EF, F, M, B, BB and Stub, some of which aren't generally available from retailers (especially the BB and Stub).
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA EXTRA CUSTOM FOUNTAIN PEN
Seeing a stock BB always brings a smile to my face, so I obviously had to go with that. It's definitely not the widest nib I've ever come across, I'd say this BB lays down a line that's typical for a Western broad. The large ebonite feed provides an excellent consistent flow that I'd describe as medium-wet. The nib is very smooth with just the slightest hint of feedback (definitely way less feedback than on other Montegrappa pens I've used) so it's not glassy smooth. There's occasionally a slight hard start when you first pick up the pen, but flow picks up right after that first stroke, a common issue with broader nibs. I expected the large #8 nib to offer a slight amount of bounce, but it's actually stiff-as-nails. Overall it's a very pleasant and well-tuned nib that offers a balanced, consistent performance.
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA EXTRA CUSTOM FOUNTAIN PEN
At the end of the day, the premium for the Montegrappa Extra Custom built in their Configuratore is about 300$ over a production version of the 'stock' Extra fountain pen, so yes, you certainly pay for the possibilities it offers and the service that comes along with it. Price is a hurdle that's hard to ignore, and at 1400$ or up you can question wether or not a pen can actually be worth THAT much. 

How I see it, a high-end luxury pricetag should yield something unique or special in return for it to be worth a premium like that (and even then, 'worth' is of course always a matter of personal opinion). In that regard, I think Montegrappa certainly delivers just that 'something special' with the Extra Custom. It's a blank canvas ready to become your own masterpiece, or as Montegrappa puts it: 'The most interesting pen in the world'! 

In a day and age where everything is digitized and automated, the kind of custom aspect that Montegappa's Configuratore offers, could be the next big thing that sets products apart in our very specialized and niche market. I'm certainly hoping this is something we'll see more brands do in the future...

NOTE: This product was provided by Montegrappa, so I could write this review. I was in no way influenced in the making of this review, the opinions shared in this review are completely my own. This post does not contain affiliate links.
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA EXTRA CUSTOM FOUNTAIN PEN

Monday, May 13, 2019

WINNER ANNOUNCEMENT PEBBLE STATIONERY NOTEBOOKS!

Last week's giveaway is over, and the results are in! The lucky winner is...

DAN GOLDMAN!

Congrats, an email will soon drop in your inbox to get your prize heading your way!

Saturday, May 11, 2019

REVIEW: INVENTERY INTERCHANGEABLE PEN + PENCIL

REVIEW: INVENTERY INTERCHANGEABLE PEN + PENCIL
Inventery is a young luxury design and lifestyle brand based in Los Angeles that has made a strong come up in the last few years. I've been following along on their journey, taking a look at a couple of pen-related Inventery products here on the blog. At a glance, you'll notice that Inventery's style is unmistakably uniform across all of their products, and is dominated by an industrial minimalist design language. While simple in looks, Inventery definitely likes to experiment with packing a lot of functionality in their products, as they displayed last year with their impressive customizable pocket fountain pen (reviewed HERE).
REVIEW: INVENTERY INTERCHANGEABLE PEN + PENCIL
Their latest pen is even based completely around a modular concept, being able to switch between ballpoint and mechanical pencil in a single writing utensil - all while maintaining that super-sleek and minimal aesthetic. If you want to check them out, they are on IndieGoGo right now at a really tempting introductory price!
REVIEW: INVENTERY INTERCHANGEABLE PEN + PENCIL
The straight, cylindrical shape of the Interchangeable pen + pencil (and any Inventery pen, for that matter) is clean and simple. What you see is what you get, no unnecessary details - as you'd expect from a minimal design. There's not much to talk about in terms of design, really. But there's just something about minimal pens, and how they reduce the experience to the barebones functionality, that pushes all the right buttons for me. Nevertheless, the hard, industrial design and all-metal construction makes for a pen that's probably not for everyone.
REVIEW: INVENTERY INTERCHANGEABLE PEN + PENCIL
The choice of knurled or smooth top adds just a hint of customisation.
In terms of construction, Inventery continues to loyally use brass for ALL their pens, with three different finishes to choose from. The brass construction means that they are essentially all the same, and have the exact same heft. The raw brass starts out as a sleek gold pen, but the finish is at its best after a while of use when the patina builds up. For some reason I've always been a fan of Inventery's brushed nickel finish. I'm normally not the one to go for silver pens, but this one I like a lot. The brushed finish adds a slightly weathered, satin look to the shiny silver, and the brass base shows at the corners of the pen. Finally, the matte black oxide coated option is stealthy and the finish has a great tactile feel in the hand where the other two are slick.
REVIEW: INVENTERY INTERCHANGEABLE PEN + PENCIL
REVIEW: INVENTERY INTERCHANGEABLE PEN + PENCIL
L to R: Tactile Turn Mover, Inventery Mechanical pen, Inventery Pocket fountain pen, Inventery Interchangeable pen + pencil, Lamy 2000, Lamy Safari
The Interchangeable pen hits a comfortable sweet spot with its 13.7 cm (5.4") overall length. It's longer than Inventery's own Mechanical Pen (reviewed HERE), yet not quite as long as the Tactile Turn Mover or Glider (which I'd consider large pens). At 50 grams, the brass construction is immediately noticeable when you pick it up. But it's not as hefty and fatiguing as some brass/copper fountain pens like the Namisu Nova or Ensso Piuma, which easily go into the 70-90 gram territory. Still, if you don't like heavier pens, this one might not be for you. 
REVIEW: INVENTERY INTERCHANGEABLE PEN + PENCIL
The clip is the same as on the pocket fountain pen, but with an added ball at the end to add tension. Branding is laser engraved on the underside to retain a clean look.
In terms of build quality; the all-metal outer construction feels solid and is well put together. As a testimony to its durability, the nickel-plated pen has been in my EDC for a few weeks now, and came out remarkably unscathed of an unpleasant meeting with a tile floor.

The interchangeable pen + pencil (not exactly a catchy name, but at least you know what you buy!) obviously tries to set itself apart through its dual functionality. With each pen you get two refills accompanied by two complete inner mechanisms. The important nuance to make here, is that the system isn't exactly made to swap out on the go. You'll need to do a bit of dissasembly to switch the parts, because the entire knock mechanism has to be replaced when you opt for the pencil mechanism - and vice versa. Switching isn't necessarily dificult, but it takes a minute of fiddling, and I wonder why they didn't just machine a single custom mechanism that works for both the ballpoint and pencil refills (which I think should have been possible). The final production version will also include a separate eraser-topped push button to use along with the pencil insert (not shown here).
REVIEW: INVENTERY INTERCHANGEABLE PEN + PENCIL
Both pen and pencil refills are Schmidt-made, and are hard to knock (terrible pun intended). On the ballpoint side, you'll find the excellent Schmidt Easyflow 9000 - a perfect ballpoint/gel ink hybrid that's smooth and lays down a pitch-black line. The Schmidt Easyflow 9000 has been a personal favourite ever since I discovered them in the Baron Fig Squire Click, and it makes me reach for this pen a lot. As far as ballpoint pens go, it's hassle-free and reliable, yet the more liquid-like ink provides the comfortable, smooth flow that a gel pen would have. On top of that, it also lays down a much darker and consistent line than the average ballpoint pen.
REVIEW: INVENTERY INTERCHANGEABLE PEN + PENCIL
The Schmidt DSM 2007 mechanical pencil mechanism - while rather generic - does its job perfectly fine. The mechanism threads into the front section of the pen, which provides a rattle-free and steady writing experience. The 0.5mm lead size mechanism that comes with the pen is a good standard size for writing. As other reviewers indicated, the lead does seem a tad prone to breaking, but going for a different brand of leads is an easy fix. Another nice feature is that these mechanisms are very cheap and easy to replace if you'd want a different lead size.

The mechanism of the ballpoint pen seems to be a generic plastic two-piece knock,whereas the pencil refill itself has a partially plastic construction but comes with a metal click mechanism. So in both cases there are some plastic parts on the inside Time will have to tell whether or not that means you're trading in a bit of durability for the option to swap between writing modes.
REVIEW: INVENTERY INTERCHANGEABLE PEN + PENCIL
Whereas earlier Inventery products mostly reside in the higher price segment, they explicitly chose to go for a more affordable offering this time around. The retail pricing on the Interchangeable pen + pencil will be 60$, but for now there's still some time to get in on the IndieGoGo campaign, where they are offered at just 42$, or 72$ for a two-pack. I'd be comfortable putting this pen up to the likes of Karas Pen Co., or Tactile Turn, where it offers a similar quality writing instrument for the same price or less. Yes, the mechanism is somewhat generic, but it doesn't impact the user experience, and both pen and pencil systems are well thought-out.

NOTE: This product was provided by Inventery, so I could write this review. I was in no way influenced in the making of this review, the opinions shared in this review are completely my own! This post does not contain affiliate links.
REVIEW: INVENTERY INTERCHANGEABLE PEN + PENCIL