Tuesday, October 8, 2019

REVIEW: PINEIDER LA GRANDE BELLEZZA ARCO FOUNTAIN PEN

 Review: Pineider La Grande Bellezza Arco fountain pen
You know they say there's no such thing as negative advertisement? Well, ASC (Armando Simoni Club) proved this for me when they caused a bit of ruckus surrounding the -at that time- new Pineider La Grande Bellezza Arco Oak fountain pen... At that point, a pen that previously wasn't even on my radar, suddenly intrigued the hell out of me. I just had to check the Pineider out for myself to see what all that fuzz was really about. Did Pineider just use the reputation of Arco celluloid to make name for themselves, or did they really create a material that can compete with the ever-so scarce celluloid of all celluloids?

My thanks to La Couronne Du Comte for sending over this pen for me to check out! 
Review: Pineider La Grande Bellezza Arco fountain pen
Pineider's Grande Bellezza is an interesting design. The cap is a cigar-like shape with rounded corners that ends in a flat medallion on the finial, while the barrel is fairly straight and ends in a slightly tapered, metal piston knob. The cap and barrel are visually separated by a very wide and ornately decorated center band. Details such as the center band or medallion cap finial are very obvious influences from Visconti. That of course makes total sense because Visconti's creative mastermind, Dante Del Vecchio, made the switch to Pineider a few years ago.
Review: Pineider La Grande Bellezza Arco fountain pen
The quill-shaped clip is another design element that really stands out. It looks slender and fragile from a distance, but it's actually solid metal and is spring-loaded so it's easy to clip onto something. The center band looks good from a distance, as I said very Visconti-esque with the writing in a textured background.
Review: Pineider La Grande Bellezza Arco fountain pen
"The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog"
But Pineider... please. 'The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog' engraved on the back of the center band? I write that in my reviews because I literally don't know what else I should write... surely there would've been other -less cliché- things Pineider could've put on there.
Review: Pineider La Grande Bellezza Arco fountain pen
Top to bottom: Omas Arco bronze celluloid, Pineider Arco resin, Montegrappa Shiny Lines celluloid.
The star of the show is of course the 'Arco Oak' resin that was used for this limited edition of the Grande Bellezza. It's nice. It's not arco celluloid nice, but then again it also doesn't demand the same exhorbitant price that Arco celluloid does.

The Arco Oak has it's own charm. It shows depth and has plenty of chatoyance in the lighter brown layers, strongly dependent on how the light hits it. There's even a slight bit of translucency to it. Compared to arco celluloid, it's warmer in color, a bit darker too, and the layers are noticeably thicker and less crisply defined.

ASC bought the remaining stock of Omas' Arco celluloid, so they publicly expressed their discontent on social media when Pineider announced their take on Arco. My opinion? I don't think it hurts to have some competition from a new material on the market. But when push comes to shove, it's easy enough to tell the two apart. It's different enough so to not cause any reason for ASC to get nervous, and it certainly won't dethrone Arco celluloid. Yet in its own respect I think it's a very pretty material, and it clearly draws inspiration from the iconic celluloid. 
Review: Pineider La Grande Bellezza Arco fountain pen
Review: Pineider La Grande Bellezza Arco fountain pen
L to R: Pelikan M805, Montegrappa Extra 1930, ASC Bologna Extra, Pineider La Grande Bellezza Arco, Lamy Safari, Lamy 2000.
The Grande Bellezza measures 14.2cm (5.61") capped, and 13cm (5.11") uncapped. It's a large pen but not overly large, and has a comfortable girth. The metal parts on this pen certainly weigh in, with a total weight of 42 grams, although uncapped it's not too heavy and well-balanced in the hand. It's interesting to note that this piston-filler version of the Grande Bellezza is a few mm longer than the regular version due to the slightly different barrel design with the piston knob.
Review: Pineider La Grande Bellezza Arco fountain pen
The metal section might scare some people off, but really it's quite a comfy one. The rhodium-plated metal is slick, but the section has a strong tapered shape and flares out towards the front to provide a positive stop for your fingers. There are no threads or annoying steps to get in the way of your grip. Behind the section you'll find a rather interesting ink window. It's basically a bunch of oval cutouts around the barrel that show the actual translucent ink window sitting recessed into the barrel. I looks like some kind of captured converter, but is non-removable of course. The edges of the ink window cutouts are a bit sharp, definitely noticeable when you grip the pen a bit higher up.

Talking about the filling mechanism, the piston knob is a bit odd. It's similar to the one found on the Montegrappa Extra, in that it doesn't screw in or out when it's turned. The piston operates smoothly, but doesn't have a very defined 'stop' like a normal piston mechanism where the piston knob just twists tight against the barrel -which is a bit odd. 
Review: Pineider La Grande Bellezza Arco fountain pen
The snap cap is one of my favorite design elements on the Grande Bellezza. Dante seems to have a thing for interesting capping mechanisms, because again magnetic caps are also quite commonly found on Visconti pens. This one is different from other magnetic caps I've used though. It uses a special configuration of magnets that attract and repel depending on the orientation. With about a quarter twist of the cap, the magnets push it off to almost create the feeling of a screw-on cap. It's a clever mechanism and it works quite well. The cap isn't held on super tight, but it doesn't open by itself or by accident.

Interesting seems to be the key word of this review, and it also describes the 14k hyperflex 'Quill' nib quite well. To quote Pineider: "The purpose of the new nib is clear..." -But it's most certainly not!
Review: Pineider La Grande Bellezza Arco fountain pen
The nib has a classic imprint with the Pineider crest logo and some intricate flourishes. It has the geometry of a flex nib (long narrow tines, cutouts, special breather hole,...), and it's named Hyperflex for pete's sake! Yet oddly enough, Pineider doesn't actually market it as such. And they are right not to do so. Sure it allows for some line variation, but it's indeed not a true flex nib. More like semi-flex at best (although the line variation is probably better with the EF or F nibs, my test pen had a medium nib so that's not ideal).
Review: Pineider La Grande Bellezza Arco fountain pen
The nib seems a bit mushy to me. It's soft and has good snapback, but it doesn't feel super responsive. There is some pencil-like feedback when you write, which I find quite pleasant. Flow starts out quite heavy, but noticeably dials back after a few lines. It never really starves, but technically the feed (a stock plastic feed from Bock) could use some modification to keep up with the ink demand, especially when you push the nib for some line variation. It doesn't railroad too often when flexed, at least not when you take your time. To be honest, the Quill nib confuses me. Sure it's a pleasant writer for normal use, with the bouncy character providing comfort and subtle character to your writing. But then it also tries to be a flex nib and at the same time it doesn't... I don't quite follow in Pineider's reasoning.
Review: Pineider La Grande Bellezza Arco fountain pen
The Grande Bellezza is an interesting pen from a brand that wasn't on anyone's radar a couple years back. The arco resin is a respectable attempt at creating a more modern interpretation of Arco, and it looks good in its own right. But it's certainly not a definitive replacement of the 'real deal'.

The Pineider Grande Bellezza Arco Oak retails for 700€ (700$). That's a hefty 300 premium for a piston filler and the Arco Oak resin. Of course if this was made from celluloid Arco, you'd probably be looking at a 1000$ pen, but that still doesn't make this a bargain. The Grande Bellezza is a limited edition of 888 pieces and has been around for a while, but can still be bought online (at least for the time being).
This product was provided on loan by La Couronne Du Comte, 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: Pineider La Grande Bellezza Arco fountain pen

Friday, September 27, 2019

REVIEW: MONTBLANC WRITERS EDITION RUDYARD KIPLING FOUNTAIN PEN

Review: Montblanc Writers Edition Rudyard Kipling fountain pen
Exciting stuff! This is my first experience with one of Montblanc's revered Writers Editions, and interestingly this year's release is one I never thought I'd actually like: The Montblanc Writers Edition Homage to Rudyard Kipling is an oddball pen, and it's certainly quite 'out there' - which is usually not my cup of tea!
Review: Montblanc Writers Edition Rudyard Kipling fountain pen
All Writers Editions come appropriately packaged in a beautiful book-shaped box.
First of all, thanks to Appelboom for letting me loaning me this pen. As I said it's not one I'd usually be inclined to buy myself, but It was nice to spend some time with it and appreciate the insane level of detail Montblanc puts into these pens!

The Kipling is an homage to... y'know: Rudyard Kipling, author of Jungle Book. That's really the only reason his name rang a bell with me, to be honest. I just so happened to be a huge fan of Disney's animated movie adaptation of Jungle Book growing up, watching the VHS tapes (remember those?) at my grandparents' house. This entire Writers Edition of pens, notebooks, pen cases,.... is inspired by Kipling's Jungle Book. So maybe that's where my out-of-character fascination for this pen comes from?
Review: Montblanc Writers Edition Rudyard Kipling fountain pen
As I said, the Kipling is quite out there. Writer's editions in general tend to be quite extravagant designs, so that's something you can expect. Especially in the last few years MB has been experimenting with very prominent decorative elements in these pens (like last year's Homer with the horse head design). That's usually enough for me to back away, as I definitely lean more towards more conservative or minimal designs. The Kipling is a very top-heavy design that tapers down strongly from the top of the cap towards the back of the pen. It's a 'stout' and bulky shape, much like last year's Homer Writer's Edition.
Review: Montblanc Writers Edition Rudyard Kipling fountain pen
The Kipling feels oddly shaped, in a large part that's due to the brushed metal cap and barrel finials that sort of flare out. The cap finial especially, looks absolutely massive with its' huge white star - so you definitely don't mistake this for another brand - on top. The metal center band on the cap has the word Montblanc engraved on it in a very modern all-caps sans serif font.
Review: Montblanc Writers Edition Rudyard Kipling fountain pen
'If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs'...
Review: Montblanc Writers Edition Rudyard Kipling fountain pen
...'You'll be a man, my son'
The cap and barrel finials sport the first and last line of Kipling's poem 'IF'. It's a nice reference to the author's work, but I find it interesting that they chose to put it on there in an ever so slightly different font from the one on the center band. It's almost the same but not quite, which -to me- makes it feel mismatched. It's a small detail, but I don't really like how it turned out. I may have preferred a cursive font better for this. Maybe I'm just being picky, I don't know...
Review: Montblanc Writers Edition Rudyard Kipling fountain pen
Cap, barrel and section are made of resin, in a rather interesting green-grey shade that reminds me of an old school safari outfit. The barrel and cap are both matte, while the section received a glossy finish. I really quite like the muted color palette of this pen. It offsets the rather bold design of the pen nicely,  and I wish they had made the R. Kipling Jungle ink to match it - alas they did not. Like all Writers Editions, Rudyard Kipling's signature is engraved on the cap.
Review: Montblanc Writers Edition Rudyard Kipling fountain pen
Of course I've been avoiding the most important design aspect of the Rudyard: the big freaking wolf's head on the clip! It's what really makes (or breaks) the design of this pen. On one side, I think it's overkill. I mean, It's MASSIVE! On the other hand, it really defines the pen in a daring way (this is definitely NOT Montblanc playing it safe!) and it actually looks quite cool. Yeah I'm honestly surprised I like it as much as I do, given I'd usually steer clear from pens that scream for attention.
Review: Montblanc Writers Edition Rudyard Kipling fountain pen
Review: Montblanc Writers Edition Rudyard Kipling fountain pen
L to R: Pelikan M805, Visconti Homo Sapiens Oversize, MB 149, MB R. Kipling, Lamy Safari, Lamy 2000
At 14,6 cm capped, the Kipling is a rather large pen and the imposing shape further accentuates that size. It uncaps to a fairly average but comfortable length of 12,8 cm, with a section diameter around 11 mm. That chunk of wolf-shaped metal on the clip obviously adds some heft in the mix, coming in at a total weight of 57 grams. The shape of the barrel finial doesn't allow for the cap to be posted.
Review: Montblanc Writers Edition Rudyard Kipling fountain pen
Review: Montblanc Writers Edition Rudyard Kipling fountain pen
Comfort is a bit of a mixed bag. The section is not super long, so you'll naturally rest your grip on the threads and on the step behind it, which is rounded but noticeable. Despite a lot of metal parts, it's actually surprisingly balanced, but it is of course a rather heavy pen (even without the cap!). Clearly, function was not the number one priority on this pen, but it's not terrible either.
Review: Montblanc Writers Edition Rudyard Kipling fountain pen
A classy depiction of a globe adorns the nib face of the R. Kipling
The nib is fantastic. At this point I can't tell head from tail anymore on Montblanc's nib sizes. I've had mediums write like fines and fines write like mediums. This Fine nib too, writes more like a medium to me. But regardless, it's an excellent writer. It requires zero effort and just glides smoothly over the page with just enough feedback so you still notice that you're writing. Ink flow is dead-consistent and juicy, and the nib never hesitates or skips a beat. It's such a well-rounded and balanced writing experience. Hard to explain really, but it just feels right.
Review: Montblanc Writers Edition Rudyard Kipling fountain pen
Would I recommend this pen? Well it's a Montblanc, so you can already expect that it's not for everyone's budget. With the Writer's Editions, Montblanc generally targets an even more premium segment, mainly focused on collectors.

If I were to start a collection of animal-themed pens, the Montblanc Writers Edition R. Kipling would be high on my list. It's exceptionally well made, and the design - odd as it is - leaves an impression. It writes beautifully, too, so I can't really fault it. But do you really buy this pen to write with? Looking at it from a usability point of view, this 1000$ hunk of pen would probably not be my first choice, but take this out during a meeting and you'd most definitely turn some heads. The R. Kipling is limited to 9800 pieces and retails for 955€, or 1115$ (920$ without tax, from Appelboom)
Appelboom pen store banner
This product was provided on loan by Appelboom, 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: Montblanc Writers Edition Rudyard Kipling fountain pen

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

REVISITING THE WANCHER DREAM PEN URUSHI FOUNTAIN PEN

REVISITING THE WANCHER DREAM PEN URUSHI
Wancher's Dream Pen True Urushi project left quite an impression on the community last year. For a very good reason of course. A way to get your hands on 'affordable' urushi fountain pens? Count me in! 

I reviewed one of the early prototypes of the Dream Pen Urushi back then (you can find this review HERE). But I wanted to revisit my original thoughts about it in a follow-up once the production pens that my father and I ordered, arrived. At this point I've had the Dream Pen with me for about five months, and it's been inked ever since it got here -that on itself is already quite a testimony to how much I like it. 
"...if Wancher can make their promises true and deliver a product as good as the prototype I have in my hands right now, this can become a game changer for the Urushi fountain pen industry..."
Back in early 2018, judging by the prototype they sent me, I knew Wancher had a great product in their hands. But of course at that point they still had to prove that they could provide the prototype-level quality on the final production version.
REVISITING THE WANCHER DREAM PEN URUSHI
Now having those final pens in hand, I think it's safe to say they succeeded in creating a quality product. The urushi laquer is perfectly applied, and the level of craftsmanship is easily on par with that of a Nakaya or Danitrio. The finish is smooth and consistent, perfectly polished, and the colors are vivid.

The pens come with a certificate on who actually did the urushi work: a laquerware studio in Wajima called Taya Shikkiten. Wajima is regarded as the capital of Urushi laquer, and has a high reputation for the quality laquer that comes from this region. 
REVISITING THE WANCHER DREAM PEN URUSHI
So how did Wancher manage to cut costs? I have a theory: Judging from my dad's Aka-Tamenuri ("Aka"=red, "Tamenuri"=pooled laquer) , and comparing it to a Nakaya in the same finish, the Dream Pen seems to have fewer laquer layers. Aka-Tamenuri is created by covering a red base color in many layers of semi-transparent smoke-grey laquer to create a darker finish. By sanding each layer, the edges reveal more of the red base, creating the effect of a pooled liquid on the surface of the pen. So in the case of the Dream Pen, less semi-transparent top layers create a more transparent finish and thus a lighter overall color. On the Shu ("Shu"=red) finish of my own Dream Pen, the fewer layers also show on the edges, where the black ebonite of the pen shows through slightly. 
REVISITING THE WANCHER DREAM PEN URUSHI
While this is just a hypothesis (read: I do not know if what I'm saying is actually true!), it would make sense. Urushi takes up to months to apply because many consecutive layers have to be applied, dried and sanded one by one. Cutting the amount of layers in half for example, would translate into twice the production capacity and half the cost. At the same time, I think the sacrifice of a few coats is relatively harmless and not at all detrimental to the quality. Urushi laquer is incredibly durable when it hardens, so the Dream Pen -regardless of how it was actually made- should last a very long time.

So what else is new? 

For one, the cap threads were updated since the original prototype. I already discussed this in my review of the Dream Pen Ebonite. The block threads are smooth and easy on the fingers. The step behind the threads is a considerable jump up from the section, and it's definitely noticeable. Although the edge is not super sharp because of the rounded edges that the urushi finish provides. Despite being a larger pen, I still find this a really comfortable writer. The section is nicely shaped and the ebonite construction is lightweight. 

Having had this pen inked up continuously, I can say the spring-loaded inner cap works great. I haven't had any issues with the nib drying out, and it starts up as soon as it hits the paper. 
REVISITING THE WANCHER DREAM PEN URUSHI
Left: Wancher 18k gold nib, Right: JoWo 18k gold nib.
Talking about the nib, this is really the highlight of the Dream Pen I think. After the Kickstarter there was some fuzz about Wancher not being able to outsource all nibs from JoWo, and they would reside to using their own, new 18k gold nibs on some orders. Some people were not at all pleased that this would mean their original nib choice would change....

Well having received one of Wancher's nibs (made in-house, which is pretty awesome), I can say I'm VERY glad that they took the decision to go this way! 
REVISITING THE WANCHER DREAM PEN URUSHI
The nib is fantastic. It's a straight-out perfect nib in almost any way. Like most Japanese nibs, it runs about one size finer than Western nibs, so my broad is more like a medium. However unlike most Japanese nibs, it's very smooth, has almost no feedback (compared to something like a Sailor, which has more of a pencil-like feedback) and provides a rather wet ink flow, regulated by the same custom ebonite feed from Flexible Nib Factory that we've seen before. It also has a distinct bouncy softness that adds some character to your writing. Wancher warns not to put too much pressure on it, but there is certainly some line variation with mild pressure.
REVISITING THE WANCHER DREAM PEN URUSHI
The only thing I don't like about it is the laser-engraving. For some reason it looks a bit fuzzy on my Wancher nib, whereas on the JoWo nibs it's perfectly crisp. Overall though, I think they made the Dream Pen even better by complementing it with their own gold nibs. If you order a True Urushi dream pen from their website now, they will automatically come with their own Wancher gold nibs.
REVISITING THE WANCHER DREAM PEN URUSHI
So that's it. I was a bit wary to put a final conclusion on Wancher's Dream Pen Urushi project, as I wasn't sure if they were going to be able to live up to the hype. Now I'm completely certain: Wancher created a beautiful pen with a fantastic nib to boot. Even at full retail price, they managed to keep the cost about 300$ below a comparable Nakaya. Even though a 450$ pen (480$ with ebonite feed) can hardly be called inexpensive, it's a great deal for the quality you get, and it serves as a fantastic gateway into Urushi pens! 

Note: This post does not contain affiliate links.