Thursday, August 18, 2022

REVIEW: GRAVITAS SENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN

REVIEW: GRAVITAS SENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN
I'm a total sucker for Gravitas pens if you hadn't noticed yet, an addiction fueled by the fact that Ben Walsh (founder of Gravitas Pens) always seems to know exactly what I want in a pen! The last Gravitas pen I reviewed was the Entry, quite a while ago: a well-rounded design, tough construction, great ergonomics, all at a reasonably wallet-friendly price point. 

One of the unique things about the Entry is its slender form factor, something you don't often see on metal fountain pens. Though with my personal preference for oversized pens, I imagined how cool it would be to have a slightly more oversized version of the Entry... Luckily, Ben was already one step ahead of me and by the time I published my review of the Gravitas Entry, he had released this: the Gravitas Sentry
REVIEW: GRAVITAS SENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN
From an aesthetic point of view, the Sentry is probably one of my favorite pens of the moment, at least as far as metal pen designs go. Admittedly, the Entry already ticked a lot of boxes for me, so there wasn't much I'd change about it. It shares the simple flat-top design with pointed finials of the Entry. The cap-to-body ratio of the Sentry is still noticeably exaggerated, with a long barrel and shorter-than-usual cap, which creates a pleasing imbalance in the design. Compared to the Entry, the Sentry just gained some weight (literally). Everything is a bit wider, which is especially noticeable on the barrel: gone is the almost paintbrush-like, thin barrel of the Entry, which is now noticeably thicker, though with a similar gentle taper to it. 
REVIEW: GRAVITAS SENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN
Put them side by side, and the Entry appears even more slender! The Flagship model, on the other hand, makes even the Sentry look dainty!
I find the added bulkyness gives the Sentry more pleasing overall proportions than the rather slim Entry. It's hard to put a finger on it, but the way Gravitas executed the flat-top, pointed finial design on the Sentry is just very pleasing to the eye. The Sentry is not quite as minimal and brutalist as the Namisu Nova (which remains another personal favorite). Also within Gravitas' own range of pens, the Sentry definitely feels more refined and elegantly shaped compared to the super-robust and bulky 'Flagship' fountain pen.
REVIEW: GRAVITAS SENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN
Just like the smaller Entry, the Sentry is unadorned on the outside, apart from the clean and minimal Gravitas logo engraved right above the cap edge. The large Sentry is an ideal canvas to show off the laser-etched designs that Gravitas is known for, though so far only the 'Skittles' Sentry can be ordered with etched designs on it (though I'm certain that'll change in the future).

Just like the Entry, the Sentry is available in a plethora of colors and materials: a bunch of anodized aluminium colors, as well as the special 'Skittles' finish, brushed stainless steel, and polished brass or copper.
REVIEW: GRAVITAS SENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN
Under the cap, we again find the PVD-coated black stainless steel sections that are also on the Entry. The black section provides some visual contrast, especially against the raw steel, copper, and brass versions of the Sentry. I would've hoped for matched section materials to create a more seamless look, though I do agree with Ben's reasoning that the steel section partially mitigates the 'penny smell' typically associated with brass and copper pens. The section has machined grooves for grip, a feature that is now standard on all of Gravitas' fountain pen designs (including the original 'Flagship' fountain pen).

Machining on the edges and finials is super-crisp (Some have even described the pointed finials of the Entry and Sentry as 'sharp'. While they sure are pointy, I wouldn't go as far as saying you can actually hurt yourself on them.), showing off the very precise machining and tight construction tolerances, a constant throughout all of Gravitas' pens. 
REVIEW: GRAVITAS SENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN
L to R: Namisu Nova, Ensso Piuma, Gravitas Pocket, Gravitas Delrin, Gravitas Sentry, Gravitas Entry, Gravitas Flagship, Lamy 2000, Lamy Safari
REVIEW: GRAVITAS SENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN
But also in terms of writing comfort, the Sentry scores high marks. Though that comes with the disclaimer that I always tend to gravitate towards large and oversized pens. The features I already enjoyed about the Entry remain: a grippy concave, ridged section, a smooth and comfortable transition towards the barrel, and threads that are hardly noticeable in your grip. 

The Sentry and Entry are much closer in length than I first thought, only about a millimeter apart (the Sentry measures 14.6 cm/ 5.75", the Entry 14.5 cm/ 5.71"). Uncapped, the Sentry still measures 13.9 cm/ 5.47", plenty long enough to fit comfortably in any hand. Posting the cap is technically possible, but makes little sense. It doesn't extend the pen very much, yet adds a whole lot of weight that you definitely don't need.
REVIEW: GRAVITAS SENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN
Sentry on the left, Entry in the middle, and Flagship on the right, note how the Sentry's section is even wider than that of the Flagship!
Roughly 2 mm added to the overall diameter, that's the key difference between the Sentry and Entry. While that may not sound like much, it drastically changes how the Sentry looks and feels. The added diameter continues in the section, which is a substantial 13 mm/ 0.51" at the widest point (even at the narrowest point, the section still measures a generous 11 mm/ 0.43"). Together with the pronounced concave curve in the section profile, the added thickness makes the Sentry a very comfortable and fatigue-free pen to write with, whereas the Entry feels a bit narrow at times - at least in my hand.

The Sentry being an oversized and chonky pen made out of metal, you can of course expect some weight. If you don't like too much heft, turn straight to the aluminium version for your best bet at a fairly nimble pen - even that one, due to its stainless steel section, still weighs in at a hefty 40 grams! For the stainless steel, brass and copper versions, the total weight jumps up to 84, 89 and 94 grams respectively. 

It goes without saying that the Sentry caters specifically to those that like large, heavy and oversized pens. If you're not certain about what type of pen you prefer, the Entry remains an easier pen to recommend to a wider audience, because of its more middle-of-the-road dimensions.
REVIEW: GRAVITAS SENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN
*Note that these are JoWo nibs, not the new nibs that Gravitas now uses!
Not pictured here (because I got these pens a while ago!) are the new custom nibs that Gravitas now uses. Due to supply issues with JoWo, Ben recently made the decision to design his own nib units and have them manufactured by a different supplier (though to the same spec as the JoWo nib units, so nib units can still be interchanged). 

Unfortunately the new nibs are a tad smaller than JoWo's #6, but compared to the flourished design of JoWo's nibs, they do provide a more clean and minimal look with just the stamped (not laser-etched!) Gravitas logo on them. The new nibs are tuned very well (something Ben does in-house for all his nibs). It's quite smooth, with a line width that runs a touch finer compared to JoWo and Bock (I tried the fine and it's definitely more like a JoWo extra fine). Ink flow also seems to be a bit more towards the balanced side compared to similar JoWo nibs. 
REVIEW: GRAVITAS SENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN
The Gravitas Sentry starts at 95€ for the anodized aluminium versions, steel or brass versions move up to 100€, while the copper version comes in at 105€. While that does put the Sentry at a slight premium over the Entry (which starts at 80€ for the aluminium versions), both pens are close enough in price to not let that be the main differentiator between the two. 

The choice then boils down to a simple matter of preference, between the very reasonably-sized Entry or the oversized -though very comfortable!- Sentry. To nobody's surprise, I think both are great pens, but my personal choice definitely goes to the Sentry. It has rapidly become a new personal favorite, and I expect it to remain a top pick in my daily carry for quite a while!

Some of the products featured in this review were sent to me by Gravitas. 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 affilate links.
REVIEW: GRAVITAS SENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN

Monday, August 8, 2022

REVIEW: ENSSO PIUMA POCKET FOUNTAIN PEN

REVIEW: ENSSO PIUMA POCKET FOUNTAIN PEN
The first half of 2022 has been a hectic one for me. Between ramping up the pace on my PhD project, teaching courses, grading papers, guiding student interns, and preparing for my first scientific conference last month, little time (and energy, to be honest) remained to direct towards new reviews - sorry! 

Anyway, I decided to pick up again with a review of a product that I really, REALLY like. Somewhat contradictory, for someone who keeps telling himself that he doesn't like pocket pens, I do find myself -surprisingly often- enjoying the heck out of them! Over the last few years, there has been a surge of fascinating and novel pocket pens, but probably one of my favorite ones to date is the one we'll be looking at today: the Ensso Piuma Pocket
REVIEW: ENSSO PIUMA POCKET FOUNTAIN PEN
The Piuma Pocket perfectly embodies what I like to see in a pocket-sized pen: no compromises (or at least, as few as possible!). Ensso went with sort of a top-down approach here: taking their known and loved full-sized Piuma fountain pen and turning it into a very pocketable design. But it's not just a scaled-down version of a full-sized pen, nor is it an exercise in pushing dimensions dangerously close to the edge of usability (like what you see on the extremely small Ensso XS or Kaweco Lilliput). The Piuma Pocket doesn't trade off portability for comfort; you're not confronted with a pen that, even posted, is barely long enough to hold comfortably, has a ridiculously narrow and short section or a tiny #5 nib. Instead, Ensso created one of the shortest pocket pens out there, simply by clever implementation of a postable cap, and by taking design elements that work (such as the overall cigar shape, or fantastically comfortable grip of the full-sized Piuma fountain pen) and building a pen around that. 
REVIEW: ENSSO PIUMA POCKET FOUNTAIN PEN
The overall shape of the Piuma Pocket is indeed very reminiscent of the Piuma. The barrel is short and the cap takes up most of the length, as if they took the full-sized Piuma and cut off half the barrel. The Piuma Pocket looks rather stout because its diameter is almost identical to that of the regular Piuma, so  it's quite a bit wider than your average pocket pen. The back of the barrel has a short, threaded section, with very shallow and unobtrusive block threads that don't break too much with the overall clean design of the pen. Talking about the threads: they're short and smooth, making capping and posting the pen swift and easy.
REVIEW: ENSSO PIUMA POCKET FOUNTAIN PEN
L to R: Kaweco Sport, Schon DSGN P6, Ensso XS, Ensso Piuma Pocket, Ensso Piuma, Lamy 2000, Lamy Safari
REVIEW: ENSSO PIUMA POCKET FOUNTAIN PEN
L to R: Kaweco Sport, Schon DSGN P6, Ensso XS, Ensso Piuma Pocket, Ensso Piuma, Lamy 2000, Lamy Safari
REVIEW: ENSSO PIUMA POCKET FOUNTAIN PEN
Even though I did say that Ensso didn't go above and beyond to create the smallest possible design, they still somehow managed to make the Piuma Pocket very, very small! At 9.3 cm capped, it's shorter than Ensso's own XS or a Kaweco Sport, and just a hair taller than the super-compact Schon DSGN P6! Even better: when write-ready, the posted cap on the back boosts the length of the Piuma Pocket up to a whopping 13.9 cm. To give some perspective, that's half a centimeter longer than the P6, and about the same size as a capped Lamy 2000! 
REVIEW: ENSSO PIUMA POCKET FOUNTAIN PEN
Posted, the Piuma Pocket transforms into a very large pen!
So, maybe it's even a bit too long? They certainly could've shaved off a few millimeters and still end up with a perfectly comfortable pen for most, if not all, hands. As mentioned, the Piuma Pocket does look and feel noticeably wider than most pocket pens, because it takes over the exact diameter of the regular Ensso Piuma, which is around 15 mm at the widest point. The Piuma Pocket feels incredibly solid in the hand. It seems like they took extra care machining all parts with thicker walls for extra robustness, never a bad idea for a pocket pen! So, regardless of which metal you choose, these pens have some noticeable heft to them (aluminium: 24 g, titanium: 38 g, brass: 67 g). There's now also an ebonite version though, which weighs in at a dainty 12 grams - for those who like the design of the Piuma Pocket, but not the heft.
REVIEW: ENSSO PIUMA POCKET FOUNTAIN PEN
The Ensso Piuma (left) and Piuma Pocket share an almost-identical section design
Take the cap off, and you're greeted by an almost one-to-one copy of the section found on the regular Ensso Piuma. And that's where I think this design really shines. Could Ensso have slimmed the Piuma Pocket down to make it even more portable? Sure, but I'm glad they didn't trade writing comfort for that extra bit of pocketability - I highly doubt that those few millimeters in diameter wouldn't have made a difference anyway. Instead, now you're getting a proper, full-sized section that is extremely comfortable in the hand. The pen in its entirety is just very comfortable to hold, and plenty long enough of course. There's a slight step behind the section and threads, but the edge is sufficiently rounded off for it to not be all that intrusive in my grip. In terms of writing comfort, this pen is a 10/10 for me. 

Of course, one limitation can't be circumvented when designing a pen of this size, and that's the filling system. With barely any space to spare, standard international cartridges are the only way to go on this pen. Pretty much par for the course on a pocket pen, and so not a dealbreaker for me, but note that even something like the Mini converter from Kaweco simply won't work (Kaweco's old aerometric mini converters should fit, but they're... well, not great). 
REVIEW: ENSSO PIUMA POCKET FOUNTAIN PEN
The new ebonite Ensso Piuma and Ensso Piuma Pocket
REVIEW: ENSSO PIUMA POCKET FOUNTAIN PEN
The ebonite pens have a similar machined satin finish as Ensso's metal pens
HOWEVER! Ensso did just release the Piuma and Piuma Pocket in ebonite. The ebonite version of the Piuma Pocket comes with an O-ring attached to the barrel threads, so it lends itself perfectly to eye-droppering!
REVIEW: ENSSO PIUMA POCKET FOUNTAIN PEN
On the other hand, because Ensso started from the full-sized Piuma, they did manage to fit in a full-sized #6 Bock nib on the Piuma Pocket. We're seeing somewhat of a general trend towards pocket pens with larger nibs. I fully agree with that change, as I generally find Bock's #6 nibs offer a better writing experience than their #5 counterparts. They also offer the Pocket with a titanium nib as an add-on, which bumps the writing experience up another notch (at least, if you're a fan of the slightly bouncier feel of Ti nibs). I reviewed this particular pen with a fine titanium nib, and while it's noticeably stiffer than some titanium nibs I've come across in the past, it did come perfectly tuned to my liking, straight out of the box. It's pencil-like (as all titanium nibs are) yet surprisingly smooth, and has a nice rich ink flow.
REVIEW: ENSSO PIUMA POCKET FOUNTAIN PEN
Am I inclined to call the Ensso Piuma Pocket the best pocket pen I've ever used? Yes! I know that's a substantial claim to make... but it simply ticks all the right boxes for me! It's a pocket pen that doesn't feel like one when you're writing with it, exactly how it should be! Construction is super-durable. Form, or rather size, does not overtake function here, and yet it remains just as pocketable. And as the cherry on top, you get a large #6 nib. With the added introduction of an ebonite version, you've also got plenty of material options to pick from, depending on your personal preferences.

Ensso typically makes their pens available in batches, so most models are only available periodically. At the time of writing, the titanium Piuma Pocket is available for pre-order at a nice discount (89$ from 139$) - which is a great deal for a solid titanium pocket pen. The new ebonite Piuma and Piuma pocket were just released on Kickstarter and are now available on the Ensso website for pre-order. Their full retail price will be 172$ once they are released (premium Japanese Nikko ebonite is expensive!), but you can still get in on the pre-order Kickstarter price of 79$! 
Note: Ensso is a sponsor of The Pencilcase Blog. This product was provided by Ensso, 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: ENSSO PIUMA POCKET FOUNTAIN PEN

Monday, June 6, 2022

REVIEW: WINGBACK MECHANICAL PEN & PENCIL

REVIEW: WINGBACK MECHANICAL PEN & PENCIL

From the UK comes Wingback, a small and relatively young EDC-focused brand with a strong focus on creating sustainable, durable products that last, manufactured on UK soil! 

Wingback's commitment to sustainability and durability is immediately noticeable when unpacking their flagship writing products: the Wingback Mechanical Pen and Mechanical Pencil. No materials are wasted on packaging, as the pens come wrapped in a simple but durable Wingback-branded cloth sleeve - ecological, saves on shipping, and practical too. I like it! 

In the hand, the solid metal construction of both pen and pencil immediately gives off a feeling of longevity. Though small in size, the pen and pencil have a surprising amount of density  (especially the Mechanical Pen!) and substance to them, in part due to the all-custom, fully metal internal mechanisms. 
REVIEW: WINGBACK MECHANICAL PEN & PENCIL
The design is kept very minimal, with a clear industrial and rugged look due to the knurled elements and pronounced, crisp chamfered edges all around. The surface of the mechanical pen(cil) is kept in its 'raw' machined state, you'll still be able to pick up on the CNC machining lines - which are extremely clean and precise. Going clipless is the only option here, so some uncontrolled rolling around on your desk is to be expected.

Wingback's entire product portfolio (which isn't super extensive, but still) is characterized by the same design language. Pronounced knurling, industrial rugged designs, and three distinct colorways to choose from: raw brass, raw stainless steel, or black-coated steel (a tough tungsten-carbide coating). Even some of their leather goods feature machined metal accents that tie their product designs together. I quite enjoy that level of consistency.
REVIEW: WINGBACK MECHANICAL PEN & PENCIL
... Although there's also one inconsistency on the Mechanical Pen that does look somewhat out of place. There's a subtle, yet noticeable (both tactile and visual) difference between the knurling on the section and the twist mechanism of the pen. The section's texture is less deeply cut and less aggressive to your fingers. It still adds some grip (though not as much as with more pronounced knurling), and it's more comfortable to hold for longer periods of time. Yet I don't quite understand why they didn't just match the texture on the twist mechanism.
REVIEW: WINGBACK MECHANICAL PEN & PENCIL
L to R: Kaweco Sport, Tactile Turn Glider, Ensso Giro, Karas EDK, Modern Fuel Pen, Wingback Mechanical Pen, Wingback Mechanical Pencil, Lamy 2000, Lamy Safari
The Wingback Mechanical Pen and Pencil are much smaller than I originally anticipated. I guess it's just one of those designs that don't really convey scale very well in pictures. Hence, the above size comparison ought to bring some clarification. As you can see, Wingback's pen design is quite compact in nature, hovering in-between full-sized and truly pocket-sized pens.
REVIEW: WINGBACK MECHANICAL PEN & PENCIL
REVIEW: WINGBACK MECHANICAL PEN & PENCIL
So, how 'pocketable' are we talking then? Both Mechanical Pen and Pencil share identical dimensions: 11.8cm (4.64") in length and 10 mm (0.39") in diameter. They do differ in weight, though. The pencil is the lightest, as the much larger mechanism takes up most of the internal space, whereas the pen is machined much thicker on the inside (which is what gives the pen that very dense feeling!). This translates into a weight of around 37 grams for the pencil (still by no means light for such a compact pencil!) and 50 grams for the pen. Of course, the choice between steel or brass will also make a slight difference (the brass options being heavier), though it'll only differ a few grams.

In terms of comfort, the more compact size of the Mechanical Pen and Pencil is noticeable but not bothersome. For my average-sized hands, neither pen nor pencil felt too short or uncomfortable to hold. You still get a writing experience similar to that of a full-sized pen. It's worth pointing out that the knurled section - while comfortable in diameter - sits quite far back on the barrel, so you'll tend to grip the pen a bit further back. For people with larger hands, that may make the difference between a comfortable pen, and one that disappears in your hand.
REVIEW: WINGBACK MECHANICAL PEN & PENCIL
The Wingback Mechanical Pen is outfitted with a custom-made, solid metal, twist mechanism. It unscrews at the back (which is also how you change the refill) and is held securely in place with a rubber o-ring. The mechanism turns smoothly without play and has a very satisfying snap when it clicks into place. 
REVIEW: WINGBACK MECHANICAL PEN & PENCIL
The Pen comes equipped with a pressurized ("writes in all conditions") Fisher Space pen refill, and I have to say either Fisher upped their game or I've become more lenient towards ballpoint refills because I'm quite enjoying the writing experience. Granted, I'm still not a huge fan of ballpoint refills, but this one does lay down a smooth and relatively dark line of ink. Perhaps a bit more consistent than the average ballpoint pen, though still not quite as consistent as I'd like (hence, why I gravitate towards gel refills most of the time). Unfortunately, the Fisher Space refill is proprietary, so there's not a lot of leeway in terms of alternatives that will fit in the Wingback Mechanical Pen.
REVIEW: WINGBACK MECHANICAL PEN & PENCIL
The Mechanical Pencil - just like the pen - also comes with an impressive custom-made internal mechanism. All-metal parts, again solidly put together with little to no play or rattle between the parts, and the knock has a nice soft click action. The tip also has a retractable lead pipe, an essential feature for an EDC pencil that's bound to live in your pocket. 

Refilling the pencil requires some disassembly, but Wingback deliberately designed the mechanism so that you don't have to refill it very often. The large mechanism holds an absurd amount of spare leads inside (the website says 40 pieces for the 0.7mm mechanism, which seems about right), so you can basically drop in an entire tube of fresh leads and be good to go for ages... well, depending on how much you write or sketch of course! 
REVIEW: WINGBACK MECHANICAL PEN & PENCIL
So there you have it: my first encounter with Wingback's products, and quite a positive one I must add. I appreciate their "Buy once" philosophy, and find that it is truly reflected in the impeccable production quality of their Mechanical Pen and Pencil. In terms of EDC, I have no doubt these pens will serve well for years to come. 

Pricing starts at 95 GBP (around 110€/ 120$) for either Pen or Pencil. A substantial price tag, but one that I feel is justified by the excellent build quality, and the fact that these products are made locally in the UK. The black steel version adds a specialized tungsten-carbide coating, which ups the price to a rather hefty 140 GBP (165€/ 175$)! 

As it stands, the Mechanical Pen and Pencil are the only writing-related products in Wingback's catalog, though I hope they'll expand the range further in their design style... perhaps with a full-sized pen, or even a fountain pen? That'd be neat.

Note: This product was provided by Wingback, free of charge, 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: WINGBACK MECHANICAL PEN & PENCIL