Wednesday, November 25, 2020

REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA ZERO CARAMEL FOUNTAIN PEN

REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA ZERO CARAMEL FOUNTAIN PEN
If you recall my review of the Montegrappa Zero a couple weeks ago, you'll know that I'm quite a big fan of this new(er) model. Even more so, I think it's one of the better pens Montegrappa has released in recent years, despite looking pretty nondescript and maybe plain from a distance. Perhaps the Zero's apparent normalcy is Montegrappa's biggest achievement of all - It certainly is quite a departure from the eccentricity and bling you'd usually expect from them!
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA ZERO CARAMEL FOUNTAIN PEN
A short recap of the Zero: A straight, modern design with bulky and prominent bronze trims, beveled edges all around, contrasting and crisp brushed finishes, and as the - almost literal - cherry on top a sapphire-glass inlay in the cap finial that holds the Montegrappa logo. It's basically a watch but reincarnated in pen-shape, and yet all these unique details are hidden in plain sight - nothing feels excessive, out of place, or try-hard. 
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA ZERO CARAMEL FOUNTAIN PEN
Today we're looking at a different version of the Zero, this is the Montegrappa Zero Caramel, a US regional exclusive designed by US distributor Kenro. Luckily they were kind enough to send one across the pond for me to check out! 

Let's start with the elephant in the room: While the black/ruthenium version of the Zero fell straight under the 'modern and sleek' category, the Zero Caramel is an attention-grabber, to say the least. In watch equivalents, I think it would be a solid-gold Rolex. A bit gaudy, but you kinda want it anyway. That being said, while I certainly wouldn't ever actually buy a gold watch, the Caramel speaks to me in a way not too many flashy pens do. 
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA ZERO CARAMEL FOUNTAIN PEN
The Caramel gets its name from the unique Montegrappite resin used for this particular pen, and it's befitting for sure: streaks of white, yellow and golden, caramel brown run along the length of the pen, and create a sense of depth and texture (a bit of transparency, too) that I simply haven't seen very often before on an acrylic pen (I think it's best compared to Jonathon Brooks' Primary Manipulation, but more linear and with much finer and more delicate 'texture' inside the cast). I already was a fan of Montegrappite with the MIA Meteor Shower (review HERE), and the Caramel manages to live up to the expectation again. Personally, I find the Meteor Storm has a slightly more striking color palate (I tend to like darker, more muted colorways of course), but this Caramel certainly is nothing to scoff at!
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA ZERO CARAMEL FOUNTAIN PEN
For me, more so than caramel candy, the Zero Caramel reminds me of Mille-Feuille pastry. Both in color and the texture of the many layers of pastry goodness. Especially in the finials of the Zero, where the material is displayed at its best, you can clearly see the many thin streaks of colored resin that make up the Montegrappite.
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA ZERO CARAMEL FOUNTAIN PEN
Completely off-topic, but one of the major reasons why I especially like to deal with Kenro (and their daughter-brand Esterbrook) for reviews like this one, is their incredibly friendly and professional attitude, and not in the least their openness to criticism. As you can imagine, creating content involves a lot of back and forth with brands and pen stores, and there's an immense variation in the type of interactions you come across. Brands like Kenro are the kind of PR interactions I want to see, I think they reflect quite strongly their customer service and engagement in the community. Case-in-point: the Caramel pen they sent me had a crack in the cap upon arrival. Barely noticeable to the naked eye (and my camera), but it cracked right at the clip fixture, the thinnest, most fragile part of the cap. Kenro dealt with this swiftly though, and exchanged the pen straight away. 
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA ZERO CARAMEL FOUNTAIN PEN
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA ZERO CARAMEL FOUNTAIN PEN
Platinum #3776, Montegrappa MIA, Montegrappa Zero, Montegrappa Zero Caramel, Lamy Safari, Lamy 2000
For the full specs and size comparison of the Montegrappa Zero, I'd like to redirect you to my review of the regular Montegrappa Zero (HERE). You'll find all the technical information over there. For now, I'll just keep it at this: the Zero is a very comfortable pick for an everyday writer.
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA ZERO CARAMEL FOUNTAIN PEN
Still one of the best nib designs out there?
The nib is again, of course, a JoWo-made slab of steel, but gold-plated for the occasion. A solid 14k gold nib (with identical design) is also available. The gold nib adds a healthy premium over the already steep base price of the Zero - more on that later - and I find the steel JoWo nibs to perform just fine. The medium nib on my particular pen is downright excellent. It lays down a fairly wet, true-to-size western medium line, and writes consistently as I expect from JoWo. I can't help but feel like Montegrappa's JoWo nibs always tend to have a slight hint of - pleasant! - feedback to them, more so than other JoWo nibs... but it could also be my brain playing tricks with me, associating it with the old writing feel of Montegrappa's steel nibs?
REVIEW: MONTEGRAPPA ZERO CARAMEL FOUNTAIN PEN
Pricing... Well, I knew the Montegrappa Zero isn't a cheap pen, but I was still caught a bit off guard when I checked the Kenro website: the Montegrappa Zero Caramel has an MSRP of 495$ (695$ with the gold nib)! While retail prices vary (quite strongly) between 400 and 475$. Especially around the 400$ mark, that's more or less in line with what these pens cost in Europe. But even at that low-end of what the prices seem to fluctuate between, it's still without a doubt a very hefty price for a pen with a steel nib. 

I've praised the Zero before, and I'll do that again here. I still think it's a fantastic, and different design from Montegrappa. And especially this Caramel exclusive edition from Kenro is another fantastic showcase of Montegrappite resin! But to say that this is not an impulse buy... would be an understatement for sure. 

NOTE: This product was provided by Kenro, 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 ZERO CARAMEL FOUNTAIN PEN

Sunday, November 22, 2020

PEN CASE REVIEW: ABSOLUTE BRETON PEN DISPLAY BOX

PEN CASE REVIEW: ABSOLUTE BRETON PEN DISPLAY BOX
Pen cases and pen storage boxes are at least equally big business as the pens we put in them. That makes sense, we want to protect our prized possessions after all... and in a stylish way too, if possible! 

So today we're looking at something I actually have never tried out: pen boxes! I got in touch with Breton (Absolute Breton), a luxury and custom leather goods maker from Spain, up until recently perhaps one of the more obscure brands on the scene, but they seem to be slowly gaining traction within the community especially for their leather 'Travel' pen cases.

We're not looking at the Travel pen cases today though, instead Breton sent over the 11-pen box with glass lid (their products don't seem to have actual names). I was actually surprised because I didn't know Breton also made pen boxes like this. In fact, it seems that I didn't know much about the brand at all. If you have some time to peruse their website, I'd definitely urge you to do so. Breton is known in the industry for their custom work on yacht interiors and upholstery of suitcases to accommodate everything from watch or pen collections, to entire minibars. They even make custom safes for watches and pens, fully upholstered in leather, of course! 

So yeah, we're talking really high-end products here, and serious eye candy, to say the least! But anyway, back to the pen box, because there's quite a lot to talk about... 

PEN CASE REVIEW: ABSOLUTE BRETON PEN DISPLAY BOX
I'm all too often put off by pen boxes due to their often gaudy, ornamental, and very classic designs, which doesn't fit my personal style at all. This had me a bit worried about the design of Breton's pen box, because I tend to associate their brand with a fairly classic look and styling. The Breton pen box managed to change my opinion, though, with a pleasantly modern design. 

It's a nice, straightforward rectangular design, unadorned from all sides and covered entirely in leather. Of course with a glass window in the lid that takes up almost the entire top of the case for a more or less unobstructed view of the pens inside.
PEN CASE REVIEW: ABSOLUTE BRETON PEN DISPLAY BOX
The box has no handle to open the lid, so on both sides of the case, you'll find oval indentations through which you can lift the lid. I like this solution because it means there are no knobs or handles sticking out from the case, and no metal hardware is visible for a clean and simple look.

The style of leather further aids in providing the Breton pen box with a modern appearance - although of course you can choose from a selection of leather types and colors when you order from them directly (for example with crocodile leather, you'd clearly step away from the modern appearance of the finish I tested!) Unfortunately, I have no idea what the exact name or specification is of this leather, but it's some kind of perforated, black leather. All I can say is that it's very soft to the touch, and it looks modern - which fits the overall design of the box. The perforated leather reminds me of steering wheels in luxury sports cars, which is quite cool. The inside of the box is finished in light grey microfiber material, giving an overall muted color scheme.
PEN CASE REVIEW: ABSOLUTE BRETON PEN DISPLAY BOX
It's subtle, but the pen box is angled about 5 degrees towards you, because of two sturdy metal feet at the back. The feet are rounded, so I don't expect them to damage the surface you put the box on, but I would've preferred if they were rubberized to keep the box from sliding. Because the box does like to slide around a bit, especially since it's surprisingly lightweight without any pens in it (with 11 pens inside, the case becomes rather heavy, of course!). Some high-end pen boxes feel weightier, which might be associated with quality, but I honestly have no complaints in terms of build quality so I think it would be unfair to make the same association here. 
PEN CASE REVIEW: ABSOLUTE BRETON PEN DISPLAY BOX
In fact, I'd say the build quality is downright excellent. The leather on the outside is neatly applied (the perforated pattern doesn't show any stretching or warping anywhere), corners are nicely tucked in, and no seams or unfinished edges are visible. The bottom of the case is finished with a durable fabric to prevent wear. 
PEN CASE REVIEW: ABSOLUTE BRETON PEN DISPLAY BOX
If I'm being very picky, maybe one area where I do think they were a bit too fanatic (if that's even possible?) about the finishing, is in covering up the lid hinge. This strip of leather covering the hinge, overlaps on the top of the lid, causing a slightly bulkier finish and more seams than necessary. In my opinion, having the hinge visible wouldn't distract from the overall clean aesthetics of the case. 
PEN CASE REVIEW: ABSOLUTE BRETON PEN DISPLAY BOX
Talking about the hinge, it's probably my favorite feature of the Breton pen box! It's incredibly well-adjusted to the weight of the case and requires just the right amount of force to neatly lift it open without having to brace the rest of the box. You can literally open it with a single finger, and the hinge is nicely dampened, so even when you let it fall closed, it shuts relatively quietly. The lid only opens to less than a 90-degree angle. It would've been nice if it opened up a bit further to give more unobstructed access to the pens inside. It's not really a dealbreaker though.
PEN CASE REVIEW: ABSOLUTE BRETON PEN DISPLAY BOX
L to R: Wahl-Eversharp Decoband, Scribo Feel, ASC Bologna Extra, Pelikan M1005, Montblanc 149, Leonardo MZ Grande, Conid Kingsize, Lamy Safari, Lamy 2000
The entire 11-pen box (other sizes are also available) measures 26cm/ 10.2" by 18 cm/ 7.1", and is about 5cm/ 2" deep at the highest point. To give some perspective, Visconti's - now discontinued - Dreamtouch 11-pen case isn't much smaller, measuring 26.5cm/ 10.4" by 16.5cm/ 6.5" by 3.5cm/ 1.4".  So the Breton pen box manages to be quite compact and doesn't take up too much space on your desk.

On the inside of the Breton 11-pen box, you'll find a rather interesting layout for the pen slots, which don't cover the interior top to bottom. The pen slots only run up until about two cm from the top of the case, where a horizontal 'channel' cutout interrupts the pen slots. I assume the design is meant to provide easier access to taking out the pen by the cap, but the functionality of this design quirk depends quite strongly on how large the pens are.

The slots of the Breton box are wide (pens up to 21mm/ 0.83"), and every square inch of the interior is lined with an incredibly plush and soft microfiber material. The slots are concave too, not just flat, so your pens can be neatly aligned and will stay that way. Larger pens have ample space, even going into really oversized territory. Up until 16cm/ 6.3" long pens - effectively the size of the ASC Bologna Extra pictured above - will fit... but barely! Ideally, you'd want to stay below that 16cm threshold, because it just looks a bit weird when it's squeezed in there like that. 
PEN CASE REVIEW: ABSOLUTE BRETON PEN DISPLAY BOX
The Breton 11-pen display box made me look at pen boxes differently, I have to say. I've always been a bit wary of them and used to prefer pen cases for their more versatile (read: portable) nature. But there's a certain elegance of having your pens displayed on your desk, and especially a smaller box like this is not too terrible in terms of the space it takes up on your desk. In fact, there's also 3- and 6-pen variants available in this design, which may be even more appropriate if you just want to keep a couple daily carry pens on your desk. Particularly the modern looks of the Breton pen box appeal to me, especially since so many brands (from budget to extremely high-end) stick to a very classical styling that just doesn't' resonate with me.

Given Breton's luxury status, I expected a price tag to match, so I was pleasantly surprised by this 11-pen box's price point. While 271€ is arguably still a lot of money for a case that only holds 11 pens, it can certainly be a lot worse when looking at other high-end brands like Agresti or Ladon, which are easily double the price for a similar setup. Breton's website offers these pen boxes in different sizes (up to 34 pens - 491€), with a variety of leather options to choose from. But of course, you can always inquire about a fully bespoke design (although you might have to dig a bit deeper into your wallet for that!).

This product was sent to me by Breton, 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.
PEN CASE REVIEW: ABSOLUTE BRETON PEN DISPLAY BOX

Sunday, November 15, 2020

REVIEW: TIBALDI N.60 FOUNTAIN PEN

REVIEW: TIBALDI N.60 FOUNTAIN PEN
Not so long ago, the Tibaldi Perfecta pleasantly surprised me (review HERE). And today we're taking a look at another Tibaldi: the N.60 (or "Modello 60") fountain pen.

With pens like the Perfecta and N.60, Tibaldi is returning to the company's roots, stepping away from the high-end pens they were known for in most recent years, and instead focusing on recreations of their own vintage designs of the previous century. I think their "re-envisioning" opened up quite a bit of potential going forward. We all know that vintage-inspired pens typically are quite well-received, and so the N.60 - in that regard - should be an interesting pen as well. 
REVIEW: TIBALDI N.60 FOUNTAIN PEN
Tibaldi N.60 next to the smaller Tibaldi Perfecta
As I said, the N.60, just like the Perfecta, is heavily drawn from vintage Tibaldi pens. I didn't know before I recently got to talking with the people of Tibaldi, but they actually have quite a long-standing history in pen manufacturing. All the way back to 1916 in fact, so there's plenty of material to draw inspiration from!
REVIEW: TIBALDI N.60 FOUNTAIN PEN
The original celluloid Modello 60, if you look it up online, is indeed immediately recognizable here.  The N.60 is quite a large pen, with a subtly curved, flattop design. From to the stepped finials with 'jewel' inlays (a design element also found on vintage Esterbrooks and Parker Vacumatics, for example) on cap and barrel,...
REVIEW: TIBALDI N.60 FOUNTAIN PEN
... the tie-shaped clip,...
REVIEW: TIBALDI N.60 FOUNTAIN PEN
....the three small cap bands, to even the pinched shape of the cap lip,... all the details of the original made its way into this design, which is really cool. I like that they stayed true to the original. Some modern interpretations seem to try too hard to do things differently, they miss the ball completely (Esterbrook JR, I'm looking at you!), and ultimately lose connection with their historical counterparts.
REVIEW: TIBALDI N.60 FOUNTAIN PEN
The design feels positively vintage, down to the material choice. Of course no longer celluloid like the vintage counterparts, but they're nice flecked resins nonetheless. I particularly like this more subtle ruby red colorway, it has some nice chatoyance in the dark red flecks. You can also go for more vibrant green or amber yellow, or perhaps the bold blue-yellow flecked 'Samarkand', which mimics one of Tibaldi's vintage transparent blue flecked celluloids (They sent me a coffee table book with information on historical models, so I can now pretend like I know these kinds of things!). 
REVIEW: TIBALDI N.60 FOUNTAIN PEN
Maybe the only thing I'm not so fond of with the N.60, is the functionality of the clip. It's true to the original clip design, yes, but it's far from practical in my opinion. The clip is very springy (good), but it hugs too closely for it to actually be able to slide over the edge of a pocket or a pen case slot.
REVIEW: TIBALDI N.60 FOUNTAIN PEN
REVIEW: TIBALDI N.60 FOUNTAIN PEN
L to R: Platinum #3776, Esterbrook JR, Esterbrook Estie, Tibaldi Perfecta, Tibaldi N.60, Lamy Safari, Lamy 2000
For a recreation of an older pen, the N.60 may look a bit too large to really be truthful to the original. But actually, the original Modello 60 was supposedly fairly similar in size. The N.60 measures 14.9cm/ 5.87" capped, and retains a very comfortable length of 13.3cm/ 5.24" when uncapped, making it quite a sizeable pen. The section measures roughly 11.7mm/ 0.46", which is slightly on the wider side but should fit most grips quite well.
REVIEW: TIBALDI N.60 FOUNTAIN PEN
Talking about grip: writing with the N.60 is a treat! The section isn't extremely long, but it tapers nicely and flares out right before the nib. There's no step to speak of, the threads are almost not noticeable, and the fairly light total weight of 28g makes it a fatigue-free writer. I found it plenty long to use unposted, but posting is possible if you so desire. 

Just like the Perfecta lacked the safety filler mechanism of its vintage counterpart, the N.60 has a standard cartridge/converter filling system instead of the original Modello 60's piston. The converter is a screw-in type, just like Montegrappa's pens (remember, Tibaldi is part of Montegrappa!), so it can't come loose accidentally. Of course, a piston filler would've been nice, but then again that would've inevitably also reflected in the price.
REVIEW: TIBALDI N.60 FOUNTAIN PEN
As mentioned in the review of the Perfecta, Tibaldi outfits their pens with steel nibs by Bock. I like the modern Tibaldi logo laser etched on the nib, but perhaps a more vintage-appropriate design would've fit the overall aesthetic a bit better? 
REVIEW: TIBALDI N.60 FOUNTAIN PEN
It's good to see more and more brands go back to using ebonite feeds!
As last time, the N.60 also benefits from an ebonite feed, which provides a fairly heavy ink flow that I like. The steel medium nib is smooth, but not glassy smooth, it has just the slightest bit of feedback to it. It's a well-behaved nib, and together with the comfortable design, the N.60 offers a very complete package for long writing sessions.
REVIEW: TIBALDI N.60 FOUNTAIN PEN
Tibaldi is specifically targeting a younger, more business-oriented audience with their new product lines, and they seem to be keen on keeping within the 150-200$ price range. The N.60 in particular, is priced very reasonably at 185€ (179$ without VAT) at Appelboom (use discount code 'friend' for 10% off!), about the same as the Tibaldi Perfecta I reviewed earlier. 

I honestly have nothing but praise for what Tibaldi is doing right now. Between this and the Perfecta, they managed to perfectly capture vintage designs in well-made, modern pens. The ebonite feeds are a nice thing to see these days, they are good writers, and the price is in line with what I'd expect to pay for a pen like this. The 'new' Tibaldi brand may still need some time to regain traction with the larger audience after their complete rebranding. But the way I see it, I think they can definitely stand up to competing Italian brands like Leonardo, Maiora, and the like.
REVIEW: TIBALDI N.60 FOUNTAIN PEN
Note: This product was sent on loan by our site sponsor 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 does not contain affiliate links.
 REVIEW: TIBALDI N.60 FOUNTAIN PEN