Wednesday, August 12, 2020

REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA MIA FOUNTAIN PEN

REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA MIA FOUNTAIN PEN
The Montegrappa Mia is perhaps one of the most classic embodiments of the Montegrappa style. It's the general type of pen I think of when you say the word 'Montegrappa'. Not too surprising, given that it shares its design language with a variety of the brand's pens, such as the Monte Grappa, or the Miya. Even the flagship Extra 1930 shares a lot of its DNA. One could say it's an unoriginal pen, then. But I think that'd be doing it a disservice, because it does have some strong selling points.
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA MIA FOUNTAIN PEN
So then, what is that Montegrappa design language I'm talking about? Pick up the MIA, and you'll immediately notice its strikingly curvaceous line. Even down to the nicely rounded clip, the MIA is a bulbously-shaped, elegant, flat-top pen. Notice that all but one or two Montegrappa pens are flat-tops, a subtle but consistent element throughout their entire collection! 
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA MIA FOUNTAIN PEN
In the middle of the pen, a wide center band - also not unlike many other Montegrappa pens, although surprisingly simple in its execution on this particular pen. How I see it, the Miya, which is similar in both name and design, distinguishes itself with a more elaborate (and even larger!) center band design... but also a much higher price tag.
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA MIA FOUNTAIN PEN
Talking about elaborate details, apart from the sort of ornamental sterling silver coin insert in the cap finial with the new Montegrappa logo (It doesn't really stand out that much if I'm being honest), the MIA features a strikingly simple design. I actually find it funny that Montegrappa tends to still be associated with its extravagant special editions (admittedly, a large part of their business), yet the bulk of their collection are actually very simple, elegant and sometimes even very modern pens! 
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA MIA FOUNTAIN PEN
Subtle details like the wide decorative metal band at the back of the barrel, or the slightly domed barrel finial with a little edge machined into it... It's the seemingly small and simple elements like this that make the design of the MIA. I'd maybe wish that all the trim (clip, cap band and decorative bands) was sterling silver, just like the medallion on the cap, but you get what you pay for with Montegrappa... and apparently, you're not quite paying enough yet! In any case, I think they did a good job keeping the design simple and straightforward, which creates a strong focus on the material.
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA MIA FOUNTAIN PEN
Because let's face it: we're all here for that incredible, jaw-dropping, surreal, [insert any superlative here] 'Montegrappite' material. Yes, this material is developed and made by Montegrappa itself, and it's absolutely stunning. It may just be a humble acrylic, but the amount of depth and complexity, the extremely fine hairline striations of orange, red, transparent yellow, white, grey, and black of this 'Meteor Shower' colorway combine into a material that's unlike anything I've ever seen before. It may sound like I'm talking in hyperboles about this material, but I hope the pictures can at least sort of make you understand why! 
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA MIA FOUNTAIN PEN
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA MIA FOUNTAIN PEN
L to R Platinum #3776, Montegrappa MIA, Montegrappa Zero, Montegrappa Elmo, Lamy Safari, Lamy 2000
The MIA is a mid-sized pen. At 14 cm/ 5.51" capped, it's certainly not small, but it also doesn't feel as large as a Pelikan M800 for example, even though it's only 2 mm shorter. It IS, however, a rather wide pen (16.5 mm/ 0.65" at the widest point), which makes it appear shorter and stout. Without the cap, the MIA is a decently sized pen for my hand, at 12.6 cm/ 4.96". The cap can post, and it does sit rather deep on the pen to make for a total length of just 15.6 cm/ 6.14" (very manageable), but I don't find it posts particularly secure. With a total weight of just 31 grams, the MIA has just enough substance to it, but still feels lightweight and nimble when writing.
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA MIA FOUNTAIN PEN
So the dimensions are promising, but that doesn't tell you much, does it? What's more important is that the MIA is just a very, very comfortable pen in the hand. The gently curved shape naturally fits the hand and directs your grip towards the strongly tapered section, which comes down from the rather wide barrel to a relatively normal width. The section is extremely short, which sounds bad on paper, but the block threads (man, Montegrappa really has a knack for threads!) are beautifully machined and rounded off, so they are noticeable at best, but never bothersome. The way it steers your grip is precise and secure, without feeling restrictive. And for those that don't like metal grip sections, you'll be happy to note that it has an acrylic section that matches the rest of the pen.

Being on the lower end of Montegrappa's offering (notice I don't say the word 'affordable', it is after all still a Montegrappa so you'll still pay a pretty penny!), you don't get some of the niceties like Montegrappa's ratchet-style piston mechanism. But the screw-in converter does the job just fine. 
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA MIA FOUNTAIN PEN
You also don't get a gold nib, but since Montegrappa switched to JoWo, you can still expect more than adequate writing experience. In terms of looks, at least, there's certainly no reason to go for a gold nib, since both look more or less identical. 

The writing experience is as you could expect from a JoWo steel nib. The MIA comes with a #6-sized nib, and my particular example was an extra-fine, which I find typically has a bit more feedback than the wider nibs in JoWo's offerings. That does make it feel more in line with how Montegrappa's super-feedbacky steel nibs used to be, but it's still a considerable upgrade. The EF nib receives more than enough ink to lay down a rather wet line, and it's precise and consistent in its performance. Nothing new from JoWo, nothing overly exciting either, but there's no denying that they're just all-round good writers. 
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA MIA FOUNTAIN PEN
The MIA rekindled my interest in Montegrappa, and it shows that they're able to innovate even in a lower - for them, at least - price bracket. The Montegrappite material alone should be worth it to give it a try, but it's also just an excellent pen overall. I can already tell that I'll have a hard time sending it back to Italy!

There's a catch though: for some reason, Montegrappa made this pen an Italian exclusive, which seems to have hampered its success so far, a shame for such a nice pen! And then there's the price... I already mentioned that it's in Montegrappa's 'lower' price bracket of pens, but Montegrappa being Montegrappa, that still translates to 290€ (or roughly 280$ outside Europe). Not cheap for a steel-nibbed fountain pen, but it's more or less in line with the pricing trend that most manufacturers are following these days. Of course, you can snag one up from our site sponsor, Casa Della Stilografica, so you can get 10% off with the discount code 'Firenze'.
Casa Della Stilografica

This product was provided on loan by Casa Della Stilografica, 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 contains affiliate links.
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA MIA FOUNTAIN PEN

Monday, August 10, 2020

REVIEW: KARAS PEN CO. INK V2 FOUNTAIN PEN

REVIEW: KARAS PEN CO. INK V2 FOUNTAIN PEN REVIEW
It was only very recently that I familiarized myself with the Karas Pen Co. INK fountain pen - A metal pen I considered buying at least a million times, because what metal pen collection would be complete without. A few months ago, I traded pens with a member of the Dutch FPNL Facebook group for a brass INK. A few weeks after that, Karas introduced the special edition Ink Pony Express, a precursor for the INK V2 that arrived just this week! So I OBVIOUSLY had to give that one a try as well, to see what's new! 

When Karas sent over one of these special edition Pony Express pens, my initial intention was to review it as such, showing the Pony Express with all the accompanying paraphernalia that come with the pen, referencing the short-lived horse-powered courier service connecting Missouri and California from 1860 to 1861. For super-speedy deliveries...in just ten days! (Given the instant gratification zeitgeist, I find the story of Pony Express delightfully ironic). But of course, me being slower than a sloth on sleeping pills (I felt like doing an alliteration!), this limited edition sold out long before I was ready to post about it. So instead, I decided to make this review about my first experience with the Karas Pen Co. INK fountain pen, and how V2 improves on it! 
REVIEW: KARAS PEN CO. INK V2 FOUNTAIN PEN REVIEW
The INK V2 is - IMHO- a pretty significant update over the previous version. And yet, from the outside you won't be able to tell the two apart. The INK has always been a rather unique and recognizable pen though, so I think it's good that they kept the rugged, industrial design language unchanged. While I wouldn't describe the design as 'minimal', the overall shape of the pen is kept very simple, with a straight cylindrical cap, and a featureless, round barrel that tapers slightly towards the back. 

The attention is immediately drawn towards the top of the cap, where the interesting stuff is happening: The massive stonewashed clip made from thick stainless steel (note: the Pony Express has a similarly styled clip, made out of titanium) makes the entire design of the pen. The clip runs through the cap finial (extending a millimeter or so above the finial itself), and is attached by two hex screws that are prominently visible from the side of the cap.
REVIEW: KARAS PEN CO. INK V2 FOUNTAIN PEN REVIEW
Pony Express/V2 (top) vs. old INK (bottom), a noticeably beefier profile
When I think of Karas products, I think chunky and rugged vintage industrial looks, and the clip perfectly ties the INK in with that philosophy. Rugged is a keyword here, as it certainly doesn't look like the sort of clip that'll bend or break. It's a rather stiff clip, but the shape makes it surprisingly easy to use. On an interesting side-note, I noticed that the new clip has a noticeably thicker profile than on the old INK. I'm not sure if that design carries over to the steel clips on the INK V2, or if it's specific to the titanium clip of the Pony Express?
REVIEW: KARAS PEN CO. INK V2 FOUNTAIN PEN REVIEW
REVIEW: KARAS PEN CO. INK V2 FOUNTAIN PEN REVIEW
L to R: Ensso Piuma, Namisu Nova, Karas INK, INK V2, Lamy Safari, Lamy 2000
The INK is a beefy pen, but in a side-by-side comparison it's surprisingly not that large. With a length of 13.8 cm/ 5.245", it's only as long as a Lamy 2000. Without the cap, the INK measures 12.7 cm/ 5",  a comfortable size for my hand. With a maximum diameter of almost 1.5 cm/ .575" though, the INK certainly is a lot thicker than that Lamy 2000. 

The INK isn't just beefy, it's also heavy. The aluminium version weighs a little over 40 grams, hefty but probably still comfortable for a lot of people. The Pony Express I have in my hand is made of bronze, which is comparable to the 'standard edition' brass and copper INK V2 in terms of weight. All three of these surpass 110 grams total, which makes this probably one of the heaviest pens I've ever used. It's very heavy, for sure. And yet it's still surprisingly manageable, which I think is at least partially because of the comfortably shaped section design that provides a positive grip on an otherwise slick, metal pen. The cap does not post, but I never missed that.
REVIEW: KARAS PEN CO. INK V2 FOUNTAIN PEN REVIEW
V2 on top, old version below
We're getting to the meat of this review, and why the INK V2 is such a drastic improvement over the previous version. Through some clever internal reshuffling underneath the cap, the inside of the INK looks drastically different from what we're used to seeing. The 'old' INK was one of the first pens to my knowledge that implemented a full-sized #6 nib into a pen that was originally designed to hold a smaller #5 nib (Let's not forget, the pen I now call 'old' is actually already an updated version, that came out back in 2015, 2 years after the original). To make space for the nib, it was recessed 5 mm into the section. 

In the meantime, Karas Pen Co. started doing custom laser-engraved designs on their nibs, so it's only reasonable that they'd like to show it off as best as they can. The section is therefore made shorter about 2 mm, and the nib itself extends 2mm further, relative to the rest of the pen. The section retains the same pinched shape but is actually more comfortable to hold, and that has everything to do with the threads right behind it. 

The threads were redesigned completely, which is the biggest merit of the INK in my opinion. The old threads were extremely sharp and I found them genuinely bothersome in my grip. The redesigned block threads have a shallow and flat profile, making them very unobtrusive. It's a night and day difference over the old design and a welcome change. The step behind said threads is still very much present and remains noticeable in the hand, but the edge is rounded enough to the point where it's not uncomfortably sharp. 
REVIEW: KARAS PEN CO. INK V2 FOUNTAIN PEN REVIEW
Inside the cap, the V2 brings another change that has already been implemented on other Karas pens: the 'Sta-Fast' cap system, as they call it. "The what now?" It's essentially just a rubber O-ring on the inside of the cap, right behind the threads. It catches on the section with just the right amount of friction to give a very satisfying resistance to the final quarter turn when capping and uncapping the pen. Not only does it make the cap stay put  (indeed somewhat of an issue on the old INK), it also creates an airtight seal to keep the nib from drying out. Nifty!

Overall, aside from the improvements that the V2 brings, It seems to me that the machining quality and finishing has also been bumped up a notch. Machining lines are still visible (giving the typical 'brushed' finish that pretty much all metal pens have) but the finish is much tidier and consistent across the entire pen. A few sharp edges here and there that I noticed on my old INK have also been addressed in the new version.
REVIEW: KARAS PEN CO. INK V2 FOUNTAIN PEN REVIEW
The nib, as mentioned, received an aesthetic overhaul with a completely laser-etched design that spans the entire surface of the nib. They started offering in the most recent years (my REVIEW of the Karas Vertex was the first time I saw them IRL), and it's a breath of fresh air amidst all those JoWo nibs with a mismatch of traditional stamped scrollwork and a tiny laser-etched logo in the middle (you'll undoubtedly know what I'm talking about). 
REVIEW: KARAS PEN CO. INK V2 FOUNTAIN PEN REVIEW
Underneath the very clean design, it's a stock Bock nib though. But! BIG BUT! Karas has taken on to individually testing and adjust each and every nib that leaves their factory. A small test sheet included with the pen reminds you of the extra mile Karas went into providing a more hassle-free writing experience. With Bock having the hit-or-miss reputation that it does, I can't stress enough how much peace of mind this brings (also for me as a reviewer, because I feel much more at ease recommending a Bock nib if I know it has been individually tested and adjusted!).

The QC shows, because the writing experience has been nothing short of excellent! The steel medium nib is glassy smooth yet remains surprisingly responsive at the same time. The nib lays down a true-to-size line. Ink flow is balanced, very consistent, and doesn't run dry even with fast writing. No skipping or hard starting to speak of, either (the latter probably in part due to the Sta-Fast cap!). Color me impressed.
REVIEW: KARAS PEN CO. INK V2 FOUNTAIN PEN REVIEW
It's taken me a while before trying the INK, but I'm glad I finally did! The design strikes me as typically Karas: rugged, definitely EDC-minded, but also with a quirky or unique edge that sets it apart - In this case, the unique clip that really ties together the entire design for me.

What's more impressive, is that Karas basically took every point of criticism I would've had about the old model, and improved on it, creating a pen that leaves me surprisingly little opportunity to fault it. Build quality and overall fit and finish are excellent, and clever details like the Sta-Fast cap and redesigned section and threads show the amount of thought that went into this redesign. Where I would've had my doubts with the original INK, the INK V2 is now a pretty comfortable pen to use - perhaps not perfect, but definitely much improved. And last but not least, the individually checked and tuned nibs are a fantastic selling point in and of itself. 

The Karas Pen Co. INK V2 starts at 95$ for the aluminium base model, and goes up to 185$ for the copper version. That's considerably more expensive than comparable metal pens from other brands. If I were reviewing the old INK, I would've made cost an issue (perhaps it's the reason why I held off on this pen for so long?). But in the case of the INK V2, I think the price is more than justified.

This product was sent to me by Karas Pen Co. 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 affilate links.
REVIEW: KARAS PEN CO. INK V2 FOUNTAIN PEN REVIEW

Friday, August 7, 2020

REVIEW: NAMISU NOVA STUDIO FOUNTAIN PEN

REVIEW: NAMISU NOVA STUDIO FOUNTAIN PEN
Back in 2016, Namisu launched the Nova. A pen that caused a short circuit somewhere in my brain I guess, because it was this pen that marked the beginning of my love for minimal design, metal fountain pens. Well, it actually took me about half a year to catch up to this relatively unknown -at that point- trend, because I didn’t buy a Nova straight away. 

The Namisu Nova Studio Ebonite (reviewed HERE) that I bought a while later - while not a metal pen - was my gateway into the brilliantly simple (Nakaya-like) shape of the Nova - to this day one of my favorite pen designs on the market. The Studio Ebonite also turned out to be the foundation for the pen we'll look at today, which is the latest iteration of the nova: The Namisu Nova Studio
REVIEW: NAMISU NOVA STUDIO FOUNTAIN PEN
The original Nova featured an ultra-minimal design, an exercise in clean lines, without unnecessary features or parts. Namisu turned to a bit more experimental and complex - but still minimal - designs after that, with combinations of different textures, metals, and shapes. The latest Naos (reviewed HERE) - another excellent pen - is probably the best example of this style. It seems to be the general direction they're trying to go in with their brand, and I think it fits their overall futuristic design language quite well. 
REVIEW: NAMISU NOVA STUDIO FOUNTAIN PEN
With minimal design, it's the small details that matter. And one of the small details that the Naos, Ixion, and Studio Ebonite all have in common is their coin-insert finials (ok, the Naos only has one on the barrel finial, but still). This is also what sets the Nova Studio apart from the regular Nova: it's all about those finials!

While an absolute design purist may find the separate finials on the Studio break up the clean lines, and distract from the ultra-minimalist, clutter-free look of the 'original' Namisu Nova, I think the finial design adds an understated but cool update to an already understated and cool pen. It makes the Nova appear a bit more refined - a bit more modern, even.
REVIEW: NAMISU NOVA STUDIO FOUNTAIN PEN
In essence that's about it, though. You can skip through the rest of this review if you just catch this: the Studio has coin insert finials, on which the Namisu - Studio name is engraved in a very small and subtle font. That’s the gist of it. I mean, of course, it’s still a Nova after all, the rest of the design is pretty much identical. 

Pretty much identical... But you know me, I'm the kind of person to ramble without end about the small stuff, so here are the other things that changed:
REVIEW: NAMISU NOVA STUDIO FOUNTAIN PEN
The bronze Studio (top) has a reddish hue almost like copper, both get a heavy patina over time.
The Nova Studio comes in titanium or bronze, with bronze replacing the usual brass or copper variants. Bronze seems to be all the hype these days in metal pen-land. It has the same heft as brass and copper, but the color is somewhere in between those two (leaning more towards the red hue of copper). The bronze studio has a lightly stonewashed finish on the cap and barrel, which contrasts with the polished cap and barrel finials. Under the cap, the section has a brushed/machined finish, which also has a bit more shine to it.

The titanium version of the Studio, on the other hand, has a more uniform brushed/machined finish on all parts of the pen, including the finials. It makes for a sleeker-looking pen, not in the least because the stonewashed bronze Studio gets a very dark brown patina over time, while the titanium pen retains its shiny, clean look.
REVIEW: NAMISU NOVA STUDIO FOUNTAIN PEN
REVIEW: NAMISU NOVA STUDIO FOUNTAIN PEN
L to R: Ensso Piuma, Namisu Horizon Ti, Namisu Naos, Namisu Nova, Namisu Nova Studio (bronze & Ti), Lamy Safari, Lamy 2000
While the Nova Studio is still very much recognizable in terms of the general design and shape, its size hasn't remained completely unchanged. The Studio version is ever-so-slightly less tapered towards the barrel finial. It's a minute difference - we're talking less than half a mm (1/50th of an inch) thicker! - yet it's enough to give the pen a more robust appearance in my opinion. The Nova Studio also measures 14.1 cm (5.55") capped and 13 cm (5.12") uncapped, which is overall just 2mm (1/16th of an inch!) longer than the regular Nova. The changes are so subtle, you can see the difference when putting both pens side by side, but it's hardly noticeable when writing with them.

The Studio is also heavier. I wanted to write that it's noticeably heavier than the regular Nova, but to be honest I only found out when I actually weighed the pens! I guess I've grown so accustomed to heavier metal pens, I was surprised to see the bronze Studio tip the scales at 106g, and even the titanium version could be considered a true heavyweight at 55g (that makes them both about 10 to 15g heavier than their respective Nova counterparts!). It's not often that even a titanium pen weighs over 50 grams, so take that as a word of caution if you're not a fan of heavy metal...pens!

Since the Nova and Nova Studio aren't quite the same anyway, I'm a bit curious as to why Namisu didn't change up the overall shape and dimensions of the Studio more drastically, to clearly differentiate it. Although why change something that isn't broken, right?
REVIEW: NAMISU NOVA STUDIO FOUNTAIN PEN
New threads on the left, old on the right.
The section design has always been an area where the Nova still has room for improvement, yet it remained unchanged on this iteration. Ok, not entirely. Just like the rest of the pen, the section is about a millimeter or so longer, but again that's not the kind of change you'll actually notice in use. The straight, tapered section offers enough space to hold the pen, but you'd be hard-pressed to not at least brush up against the threads and the rather large step towards the barrel. In fact, comfort might've actually taken a slight step back as they redesigned the shape of the block threads on the Studio for some reason, which no longer has chamfered edges, making them noticeably sharper to the touch. I was surprised to see that since there isn't a single sharp or unfinished edge to be found on the rest of the pen.

While I aesthetically find the Namisu Nova one of the most pleasing pen designs out there (at least when looking solely at minimal designs), it does make a few compromises for the sake of minimalism. Especially the threads and step are possible downsides to take into consideration when making a purchase decision.
REVIEW: NAMISU NOVA STUDIO FOUNTAIN PEN
The writing end of the Studio is of course still a steel or titanium Bock-made #6 nib. While not perfect, I do feel like I've had a noticeably higher success rate with stock Bock nibs recently (I don't know if that's because the QC improved, or just pure luck on my part). The nibs on these two pens are both very close to perfectly tuned. 

The broad nib on the bronze pen is my favorite. It has a slightly stub-like line variation and is perfectly smooth. The medium-wet ink flow keeps up well. As broad nibs tend to be, it does have a slightly more noticeable sweet spot if rotated. It occasionally hard starts - though briefly, only on the first pen stroke after sitting unused for a while - but otherwise doesn't skip.
REVIEW: NAMISU NOVA STUDIO FOUNTAIN PEN
Some people have had enough of the 'minimal pen' trend of the last few years. Not me though. I can still very much get excited about a good minimal pen, and I'd certainly categorize the new Namisu Nova Studio as good. Aesthetically, I still think the Namisu Nova is one of the best designs in its category. If you agree with me and - just like me - are a bit of a fan of the Nova, the Nova Studio might be a welcome addition to your collection. The design is a nice evolution from the regular model, and I like that that they made a bronze version to change things up a bit. I don't consider it as an upgrade necessarily, it still very much looks and feels like the pen it's based on. 

That being said, no matter how positive my ramble about the design may be, these are very heavy pens, and the section design won't play nice with every grip. Two caveats that prevent me from calling it a great pen. Whether or not they're a dealbreaker for you, is of course highly subjective.  

The Namisu Nova Studio Bronze and titanium have an MSRP of 79£ and 110£ (approx. 105$ and 145$) respectively, but Namisu often runs sales so you can usually find them for less (at the time of writing, both are available at 15% off). That's slightly more expensive than the regular Namisu Nova, but in my mind still a very fair price point.

One of the products shown in this review was sent to me by Namisu 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: NAMISU NOVA STUDIO FOUNTAIN PEN