Sunday, November 29, 2020

INK REVIEW: ROBERT OSTER AUSTRALIS LIMITED EDITION INKS + GIVEAWAY!

INK REVIEW: ROBERT OSTER AUSTRALIS LIMITED EDITION

I was quite surprised when I realized that I haven't done an ink review in over two years! I guess I've just been more than occupied with all the (fountain) pens, pen cases, and notebooks. With well over 200 bottles, and more creeping in every year, I surely haven't forgotten about ink, I'm just very bad at reviewing them (If you really want to deep-dive into inks, I highly recommend Mountain of Ink. Kelli does an incredible job over there with 1000+ comprehensive ink reviews!).

But when Bookbinders Design (an Australian stationery and design store) contacted me and asked if I was interested in trying the Limited edition Robert Oster Australis inks, I obviously couldn't say no - I'm a big fan of Robert Oster inks, they're a permanent fixture in my rotation of inked pens. What's even more, Bookbinders is offering a full set of the Australis inks to one of our readers, so read on to the end to participate in this inky giveaway!

The Australis Limited Edition inks comprise a set of four colors (individually available), inspired by the hues of Australian nature, the ocean, the vegetation and I'd like to assume Australis Oak is inspired by the characteristic color of Uluru. Or at least, that's what I make of it, because there's no real backstory to go along with these four limited edition inks (there's also no info on how limited they are). Then again, finding inspiration in the colors of Australia's continent is nothing new for Robert Oster. They are proud of their Australian roots, so the Australis inks fit right in a wide variety of other Australia-inspired inks (like Aussie Gold, Sydney Darling Harbour, Australian Sky Blue, etc).
INK REVIEW: ROBERT OSTER AUSTRALIS LIMITED EDITION
INK REVIEW: ROBERT OSTER AUSTRALIS LIMITED EDITION
Australis Hydra is a teal-ish turquoise blue just like the Australian ocean. I'd tend to catalog it closely to the excellent Lamy Turquoise, but Hydra actually has a noticeably more green hue than what I'd call a 'true' turquoise. 
INK REVIEW: ROBERT OSTER AUSTRALIS LIMITED EDITION
INK REVIEW: ROBERT OSTER AUSTRALIS LIMITED EDITION
Australis Rose is a dusty pink, which is a color that Robert Oster typically does very well (such as the excellent Cherry Blossom). 
INK REVIEW: ROBERT OSTER AUSTRALIS LIMITED EDITION
INK REVIEW: ROBERT OSTER AUSTRALIS LIMITED EDITION
Australis Tea is a fairly vibrant light green, that leans slightly towards to the yellow side of the spectrum. 
INK REVIEW: ROBERT OSTER AUSTRALIS LIMITED EDITION
INK REVIEW: ROBERT OSTER AUSTRALIS LIMITED EDITION
Finally, Australis Oak is a light burnt orange/ terracotta. It's probably my favorite color of the lot, as I do tend to favor brown and orange inks in general.
INK REVIEW: ROBERT OSTER AUSTRALIS LIMITED EDITION
In general, the Australis inks are a bit 'dusty' and tend to lean towards slightly lower saturation and lighter color, though I'd still classify all four colors as bright and vibrant. Perhaps Hydra is just a tad bit more saturated and vibrant than the others, which also makes it the most legible color for normal writing. Needless to say, I wouldn't categorize any of the Australis inks as office-appropriate... at least I wouldn't use them at work (but maybe that says more about my boringness than the qualities of the ink?).
INK REVIEW: ROBERT OSTER AUSTRALIS LIMITED EDITION
Hydra, with its higher saturation, is also the only ink to exhibit a subtle pink sheen, but only in the wetter ink swabs or perhaps in really wet nibs. In my written samples on Rhodia paper, the sheen didn't really show through. Australis Oak, Rose, and Tea, all have a decent amount of shading. Hydra shades as well, but I find it not quite as pronounced as with the other three, since it already has a darker base color. All four inks show a nice crisp, dark outline where the ink is allowed to pool, a characteristic that I particularly enjoy.

The Australis inks are well-behaved. They dry with crisp and clean outlines, without a noticeable tendency to feather. I did see some slight bleeding on Rhodia paper, but only with the ink swabs, for normal writing that's a non-issue. As Robert Oster inks tend to go, the Australis colors all exhibit fairly average wetness. It's not problematic or bothersome, but they certainly do feel a touch drier to write with. 
INK REVIEW: ROBERT OSTER AUSTRALIS LIMITED EDITION
I must say, I thoroughly enjoy the more muted palette of the Australis inks. None of the colors really stand out too much - no bright sheen or wildly unusual colors - but they make for a nice set. The Australis inks also tie in very well with the other muted and dusty colors in the Robert Oster catalog (like Lemongrass, Green Olive, Dusky Pink, and Summer Storm, to just name a few of my personal favorites). In fact, these muted tones are exactly the type of inks that draws me towards their brand. On top of that, Robert Oster inks are generally consistent, high-quality inks, and the large 50mL bottles are priced fairly, I find. At Bookbinders, Robert Oster inks retail for 21.95 AUD, which (after exchange rates) is surprisingly consistent with both the European (16.5€), and US (17$) pricing. 

Now, for the Giveaway...

Enter the Rafflecopter Widget below for your chance to win a full set of the Robert Oster Australis inks. This giveaway is generously sponsored by Bookbinders Design Australia. Participating is simple: all you have to do for a chance to win, is enter in the Rafflecopter widget below and complete one or more tasks, easy peasy! The more tasks you complete, the more chances to win! This giveaway will run for one week days, starting today.

RULES: Open worldwide! Giveaway ends 11/7/2020. The winner will be chosen at random, and announced in a separate post. The winner will be contacted directly via email, if he/she fails to reply within one week, a new winner will be picked. Only entries with a valid email address are eligible to win. Invalid entries are denied. Giveaway open worldwide, but please note that shipping times will depend strongly on the destination, due to COVID restrictions.

This product was sent to me by Bookbinders Design Australia 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.
INK REVIEW: ROBERT OSTER AUSTRALIS LIMITED EDITION

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