Early thoughts on the Faber-Castell Hexo fountain pen.

A friend overseas alerted me to this new model. After taking a look on Cult Pens, I was eager to order one, in black. I had not yet seen one in the flesh.

Faber-Castell Hexo, matt black.

I have been a fan of Faber-Castell’s entry level pens for several years. I found their “school pen” for sale in a Waterstones book shop at about £4.95 (including a box of blue cartridges) and bought a pair, in red and blue. A reader informed me that there was also a black carbon fibre-effect version, which sounded exciting and I eventually tracked one down in a hypermarket in Dubai. These wrote well but all featured nibs which drooped downwards, perhaps to improve resistance to being sprung by over-eager young hands. Also the grip sections were rubber and faceted.

I have also enjoyed the Faber-Castell Loom, in the shiny gunmetal finish which proved a good choice for a work and every day carry pen – convenient, reliable, robust and with space for a spare cartridge in the barrel. In recent years I have also used an Essentio (also called the Basic) and the Grip – good value at around £18.00 now. All of these had medium nibs.

The Hexo seems to slot into the line-up, somewhere between the Grip and the Essentio and Loom. Cult Pens’ current price for the Hexo is £31.50 which is a little less than the RRP. That puts the price slightly higher than the Lamy AL-Star, which looks a close competitor.

Two aluminium stealth pens: the Lamy AL-Star and the Faber-Castell Hexo.

The Hexo looked to be a worthwhile addition, sporting a hexagonal body in matt black anodised aluminium and a nice girthy grip section in plastic. Other options were silver or rose gold.

It arrived in a small, simple green cardboard box. The sticker calls it the Hexo 2019 Fountain Pen. It is made in Slovenia.

Construction and appearance.

The cap is a snap-on one and is firm but not overly so. The cap finial has the Faber-Castell logo of jousting knights, although not very easy to see unless you have a magnifying glass and have the logo the right way up.

There is a very sturdy metal pocket clip which grips well but at the expense of being a little hard to operate. You may need to lift the clip before sliding it over a pocket.

The barrel features the Faber-Castell name in white with the logo again. This aligns with the nib. As there is only one entrance to the barrel threads, the name is always in line with the nib, albeit upside down if you are left handed like me.

The cap facets always align with the barrel facets. If you do try to push the cap on with the facets not aligned, the cap and barrel repel each other like opposing magnets. This is due to raised ridges inside the cap, which I had taken to be for decoration at first.

Ridges on the barrel (left) find the gaps inside the crenellated cap to ensure that facets align.

The cap closes almost flush with the barrel and to a snug fit, with no wobble. Examined very closely there are mold lines down the length of the plastic section, at front and back but not prominent enough to be a problem. Also, a tiny gap can be seen between the barrel and section when tightened, but only apparent when inspected under a loupe.

The grip section is very pleasing: no rubber, no facets, just a gentle taper towards the nib and flared out at the end to provide a comfortable finger rest.

Removing the barrel, the threads look to be of a soft grey molded plastic. However, it turns out that these and the grip section are translucent although it takes a bright light source from behind to see through this.

The effect of a bright light behind the section.

The threaded collar, where the cartridge or converter goes, has an unusual cutaway. I think this may be part of a locking mechanism, as you feel a definite click at the end, when you screw the barrel back onto the section. If you use standard international short cartridges, there is room for a spare in the barrel, very useful if you are out and about. It fits in snugly without rattling but does not get stuck inside.

The unusual cutaway in the section threads.

The nib.

The nib is steel with a stealthy black plating. I chose a broad for a change, hoping for stellar smoothness. I flushed the nib and feed first and dried them, then inserted a cartridge of Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue. The pen wrote well once the ink started to flow, which needed a squeeze of the cartridge. However, for a broad, it was not particularly wide and not much wider than a typical medium. It looked to be well set up and wrote smoothly, with just a slight roughness in side strokes from right to left which I take to be nothing that writing-in will not solve. The tines and tipping material looked level. Judging by the writing experience at the sweet spot, the nib is of the buttery smooth variety, not a feedbacky one.

The dimpled and black-coated nib. Also, a glimpse of the cap finial logo.

Size and weight.

Being made mainly of aluminium, the pen is light. It weighed in at 20g (including two cartridges on board) comprised as to 13g for the pen uncapped and a further 7g for the cap alone. It measures 134mm when closed, 122mm open and 151mm posted.

Some size comparisons from Faber-Castell’s range: from left to right:- School pen, the Grip, the Essentio (Basic), the Loom and the Hexo.

The writing experience.

The broad nib writes well, although on the medium side. Out of the box it was not quite perfect but has the potential to be a smooth writer. I look forward to putting some mileage on it to run in to my writing angle. Some smoothing with micromesh would do the job quicker, which I may yet try, but there is a risk of taking too much off the tipping.

Writing sample on Tomoe River. Cobalt Blue ink.

Finding an optimum writing experience depends not just on the pen and nib, but on having a smooth, lubricating ink and a compatible, smooth paper that does not cause drag. Tested on Tomoe River paper, the nib does provide effortless writing. On some less suitable papers, there is a feeling of friction which becomes wearing once you are aware of it.

Likes and dislikes.

My favourite feature of the pen is its comfortable large section. I prefer plastic to the Grip’s rubber, gently faceted section. But as well as this, we have the stealthy black finish, the lightweight hexagonal body, the aligning cap and barrel facets, the barrel lock and a host of other boxes ticked: plastic inner cap, a good fitting cap which posts deeply and securely and a strong pocket clip. And that Faber-Castell smoothness in the nib.

I do not have any real dislikes. It is tempting to say that the nib was not quite perfect out of the box, but like a pair of shoes, steel nibs often require a little wearing in. The nib is perhaps a little narrower than expected for a broad. But overall, for its price, I am happy enough with the pen.

Conclusions.

This pen has a lot going for it. It is an attractive and interesting shape, whilst at the same time being plain and unflashy. There are a few surprises: the automatically aligning facets; the clicking lock at the end of the barrel threads; the section which looks black but turns clear with a light behind it. Best of all, it has a comfortably wide grip section which is not rubbery or faceted and a typically smooth Faber-Castell steel nib. Lightweight yet robust, with a capacity for a spare cartridge up the spout, it meets all my requirements for an EDC pen.

The stealthy Hexo in use, with a box of cartridges.

Tinkering with the Wing Sung 601A fountain pen.

The moral of today’s tale is that things can go wrong quite quickly when you try to improve a fountain pen nib, if you are not an experienced nibmeister.

I am a fan of Chinese fountain pens. I was thrilled when I first discovered the Wing Sung 601, a pen in the classic style of the Parker 51 but with a steel nib and costing just a few pounds. Not long after that, in December 2018 I learned that there was a model 601A, similar on the outside but featuring a conical nib, in the style of some vintage Sheaffers. I simply had to try it and ordered three of these online.

A pair of Wing Sung 601A fountain pens.

Last month, I got one of these out to ink up again. Lately I have been copying the book “Meditations”, by Marcus Aurelius, with fountain pens, in a slow and laborious print style like a type face, or Times New Roman font. This was not an original idea but inspired by Kimberly, of @allthehobbies on Instagram after seeing her updates of attractive page spreads written with a different pen and ink combo each time.

Some days, it can be soothing to unwind with a fountain pen and ink and to write someone else’s words without having to think too much. And so it was in such a state of mind that I found myself late yesterday evening, using a Wing Sung 601A, inked with the lovely Graf von Faber-Castell Garnet Red.

Unfortunately, this combo with its fine nib was not the best of matches for my notebook paper and after a couple of paragraphs, I put the pen down and reached for the brass shims.

It is simple enough to floss the nib a few times with the thinnest grade and then examine it again with a loupe. I was hoping to open up the tine gap just enough to increase ink flow and lubrication and to get a slightly wider line in the process.

The steel nib proved quite stubborn to adjust. I shifted up a grade with my brass shims, poking a corner into the breather hole and drawing it down to the tip a few times. When this did not seem to be making much impression, I lowered a blade into the tine gap to wriggle gently from side to side, with a confidence born of recent success with my Aurora 88.

However, when I next examined the Wing Sung’s conical nib, the tines had separated rather too much and the pen looked unlikely to write at all. A Wing Sung is not an expensive pen but I was determined to fix it and set about trying to push the tines back together again.

“It was the best of tines, it was the worst of tines.”

This, it turns out, is harder than separating them. Even if you can push them back together, hurting your thumbs and fingers in the process, the tines simply spring back again when you let go.

By this time a fair bit of Garnet Red had transferred to my fingers and it seemed sensible to flush the pen. Also I thought that it would be easier to adjust the nib if I could detach it from the pen.

I was not sure how to disassemble the nib section on this pen. I tried pulling the nib off but instead, just the feed and breather tube came out. Then, with the feed removed, I was pleased to find that the conical nib simply unscrews from the section.

At the other end of the pen, I used the supplied Wing Sung wrench to unscrew the plunger and remove it, then unscrewed the barrel so that it could be flushed through.

With nib and feed removed. Nib is threaded.

Then with the pen cleaned and dried and in bits, I looked again at the nib with the loupe. The tines were still woefully far apart and the pen did not look usable.

I found that one way to try to narrow the tine gap, was to push one tine both upwards and across, so that there was bit more space for it to move before springing back – and then repeating with the other tine. However my finger tip efforts were not having much effect.

I then remembered SBRE Brown’s tip of bending the tines downwards against a surface. This did work better and, as the tines bent down slightly, so the gap narrowed.

Disassembled.

I then re-assembled the pen. Doing this for the first time involved a bit of trial and error. If you place the feed into the section before putting the nib on, you need to align it with the position in which the nib will be once it is screwed back on. Alternatively, it seems easier to screw the nib on first and then push the feed through the nib and into the section taking care not to break it.

Once reassembled, I tried dipping the pen in Garnet Red. It wrote! It was not the smoothest experience as the tine gap was still a bit too wide, but at least it wrote and just needed careful handling to keep to the sweet spot, with both tines in even contact with the paper.

Nib and feed re-assembled.

Having established that the pen had been brought back from the brink, I then inked it fully and finished my two page spread of Meditations in my A4 notebook. The pen holds a massive amount of ink and this Garnet Red will be with me for a while. I was pleased that the line was wetter and wider than those first two paragraphs, although I had forfeited some smoothness in the process.

I am still learning. Nib-tinkering needs a certain amount of courage and confidence and a willingness to take risks. But over confidence is dangerous and this was a timely reminder that care, caution and patience are key to success. I like to think that Marcus Aurelius would have approved of my tenacity.

An extract from Book 6, paragraph 30 of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.

Early thoughts on the Jinhao 159 fountain pen.

I have been fairly good at resisting the temptation to buy new pens this year, although there have been a few. But it is nice to have a new thing. My latest pen acquisition was not an expensive one. It cost just £8.99 but don’t let that put you off reading, as this is an extraordinary pen.

I first laid eyes on one of these a year or so ago, when Annie, from our London fountain pen club, produced a bright yellow one from her bag. It is a mighty beast. It put me in mind of those batons that ground crew use when directing passenger aircraft.

This is a Chinese pen. Jinhao produces a range of fountain pens, at prices which are astonishingly good value by western standards. Previously I have purchased an X-450 which was a heavy, lacquered metal pen with rounded ends, similar in shape and size to a Montblanc 146 but a bit shorter and much heavier.

The unboxing.

This will be a short paragraph, as there was no box. The pen arrived in a well padded envelope and inside a polythene sleeve. A soft black pen sleeve was included. It is quite refreshing not to have a gift box. I was impressed that I ordered the pen from Amazon on a Sunday afternoon and that it arrived the very next day.

Jinhao 159 uncapped

Appearance and construction.

If the Jinhao X-450 looked like a Montblanc 146, then the Jinhao 159 is a bigger version, like a Montblanc 149. It is a traditional, cigar shaped pen with rounded ends, very smooth and tactile. It is available in various colours or even in twos or threes of different colours, but I chose a classic, glossy piano-black finish with gold coloured fittings.

The cap unscrews, in just under one full rotation. The threads on the pen are metal, also gold-coloured but not sharp. The section is of the same glossy black and, thankfully, not faceted. The section is of a generous girth, widening from the nib from around 12mm to 14mm. The pen barrel has a maximum width of around 16mm at its widest point just after the threads.

The barrel unscrews, with metal-on-metal threads. A cartridge converter was included.

The inner threads of the cap are plastic. Peering into the cap with a torch, there appears to be an area of bare metal after the plastic threads, and then an inner cap. I do not yet know whether the 159’s cap can be disassembled. I just mention this because on the X-450, the inner cap screws into the cap using a long Hex key. I only know this because I once pulled off the cap only for it to leave the inner cap still clipped over the nib. I had to buy a set of Hex keys whereupon the problem was easily fixed although the Hex keys cost more than the pen.

The cap can be posted. It needs a firm push and a twist to grip securely onto the barrel. Be warned that this does make for a heavy pen although I rather like it.

Another thing I do not know is what the black finish on the pen is. It could be a lacquer over a metal body, but I do wonder whether it might be an acrylic layer, perhaps to give a warmer more pleasing feel to the pen rather like a Kaweco Dia 2, where different materials are used in combination. But whatever it is, the finish looks very handsome and is nicely done giving this pen an impressive presence.

The nib and filling system.

The nib is a bicolour, stainless steel, number 6 and mine is a medium. It features the Jinhao horse-drawn chariot logo, the name Jinhao and 18KGP, indicating this to be gold plated. The patterned border in silver between the gold plated areas, is attractive.

Nib-pic. As smooth and well-tuned as you could wish for.

What is remarkable though, is that the nib appears so beautifully finished and tuned, for super-smooth effortless writing. The tines and tipping material were level and symmetrical, there was a tine gap, tapering from the breather hole down to the tip but still leaving the tiniest of gaps at the tip, which is exactly as I like them, for a good ink flow and well-lubricated writing experience.

The pen uses standard international cartridges but came with a converter. I flushed both the nib section and the converter before filling and was pleased to find that the converter worked smoothly and well. The twisting knob for the converter is flat on two sides, like on a Lamy converter.

The supplied, Jinhao-branded, push-in converter.

Size and weight.

This is a big pen! Capped, it is around 148mm long: uncapped, a chubby 125mm.

Some size comparisons: Left to right: Lamy Lx, Sailor 1911 standard, Aurora 88, Montblanc 146 (75 years anniversary edition!), Jinhao X-450 and the Jinhao 159.

But it is the weight of the pen, that is the elephant in the room. It is a Jumbo sized pen. A cruise ship of a pen. Metaphors abound. The pen uncapped weighs around 30.5g. The cap weighs around 19.5g, giving a total for the pen capped or if posted, at a hefty 50g.

The writing experience.

This Jinhao nib is very smooth and produces a good medium line. It is not a feedbacky nib but my experience so far shows that it copes well with smooth papers, with no skips. There is no downward pressure needed, to make for tiring writing. Interestingly, the pen’s weight seems to make it easier to use rather than harder as you might think. The pen feels substantial and solid and not skittish or prone to jerky writing, that you might encounter on a lightweight model. Perhaps, like the cruise ship, it has greater stability and needs more planning to change direction.

I have been using this for only a week so far but am greatly enjoying it. I have tried writing with it posted and unposted and tend to prefer the former unless just for a brief note. This also has the advantage of providing the pocket clip as a roll-stop.

Jinhao 159 posted. “That’s not a knife. THAT’S a knife” (Crocodile Dundee).

Conclusion.

It is too early to give a more extended use review, but I can confirm that it is a comfortable well built pen that writes well and is fun to use. I have not had any hard-starts so far, using it with Conway Stewart Tavy, blue black ink from Diamine. Time will tell how the finish stands up to longer term use and how the pen feels after long writing sessions, although I have had no problems when writing a couple of A4 pages.

For anyone contemplating a larger pen, such as a Montblanc 149, this could be an inexpensive test to see how the size feels, although admittedly the weight and luxury will both be very different. But you might just find the Jinhao 159 meets some needs without investing in a 149 at all 🙂

A look at the Sailor Pro Gear Slim fountain pen, with Music nib.

After my last post about the Sailor 1911, it seems timely to follow up with a look at the Pro Gear Slim. Also, a reader asked in the comments, how the music nib compared to a conventional stub and so I will cover that here.

It is getting on for a year now since I received my Pro Gear Slim. It came to me in very happy circumstances, won in a giveaway competition hosted by John Hall, of Write Here, stationery shop in Shrewsbury. The brief had been to write a short piece extolling the virtues of the pen and to include a music suggestion. I spent an enjoyable hour brainstorming some music-themed puns on the names of composers and assembling them into a letter to John. At the risk of blowing my own trumpet, I will include my successful entry as published in John’s newsletter of 22 November 2019, at the end of this post.

Sailor Pro Gear Slim, in black with gold colour fittings. 14k gold music nib.

This was my first introduction to the Pro Gear Slim, apart from seeing a few at our monthly pen club meetings, which I miss now that such gatherings are currently not possible.

The Pro Gear Slim is a small pen. However, I think that the name “Slim” is rather a misnomer and could put some people off, before even picking one up. Certainly it is a short pen, and slimmer than the Pro Gear Classic. But I find the girth very comfortable. It feels solid and of good quality, not plasticky. There are many pens which are slimmer which are not called slim. The grip is not slippery. I think most people would use the pen posted and for me, holding the pen around the base of the barrel, with the short section resting on my second finger, feels comfortable and natural so that I soon forget that I am holding it. I am not very proficient with the measuring calipers but think it is about 11mm wide at the threads where I hold the pen. It is certainly short though: at just 110mm uncapped or 143mm posted.

Like the Sailor 1911, it is a cartridge-converter pen, and was supplied with a Sailor-fit converter or else needs Sailor’s proprietary cartridges.

The real interest however, lies in the nib. Available with a range of nibs, mine has the Music nib. This is 14k gold (although there is a 21k nib option for a slightly higher price). It is a stub nib, in that the tip is wide to give broad down strokes and narrow cross strokes. I believe the name comes from being suited to writing musical notation, squiggling a quick circle to make your crotchets, quavers and minims and so on, without having to go back and ink them in, as the loop will already be filled in by the wide writing surface. This ironically is just what you want to avoid when forming letters with loops in. You need to write a bit larger than normal if writing with a music or stub nib, to avoid this.

But unlike a conventional stub nib where the tipping is cut off and ground, there is a blob of tipping material on the nib. This is flattened on the face and reverse sides of the nib, but rounded at the tip which is the writing surface. Also it still provides that special Sailor feedback.

Some music nibs, such as on the Platinum 3776, have three tines and two slits, to provide better ink coverage for the writing surface. The Sailor music nib has just the usual two tines yet works very well.

It is perhaps easier to show in a photograph than it is to describe.

Music nib. Note the stub-shaped tipping for broad down strokes.
The underside of the music nib. The tipping is flattened, front and back, but rounded at the writing surface.

Here is a quick sample of how it writes, bearing in mind I am a left handed overwriter by nature, (writing from above the line rather than from below). Thus the nib is pointing towards me as I write, rather than away from me as an under-writer would hold it. Experience shows that when holding the pen this way, whilst it feels more natural for me, the nib needs a better ink flow. This is because it is pulling less downstrokes to spread the tines and re-charge the nib. There is more pushing of upstrokes where you do not apply pressure to the nib, do not open the tines and do not increase ink supply.

Writing sample from Sailor music nib. Note the line variation in the capital A. I love doing those! But I also need to remember to go large and not fill in the loops.

Fortunately, the Sailor music nib (or at least my example) is a nice wet writer and copes with my writing style very well. And the benefit of using such a pen, for a lefty overwriter, is that it gives you that lovely attractive line width variation between down strokes and cross strokes that otherwise would require a flexible nib and skillful handling to apply variation in writing pressure to open and close the tines.

Since receiving this pen, I went on to order my first Pro Gear Classic, from Write Here, which is a bit more girthy and with a larger nib too. I chose a broad nib which from Sailor, equates to a typical western medium. It is a good pen undoubtedly and feels in size rather like holding a Montblanc 146. Yet, I find that I do not use it as much as my Pro Gear Slim. It is subjective, admittedly but the classic is just not as cute (dinky, petite and adorable) as the slim.

My winning entry:

“A Sailor fountain pen with a music nib has long been on my Chopin Liszt even though I have not had a chance to Handel one.A black resin body would be perfect for me although the maki-e editions have the Mozart on them. Also the new Faure special editions look wonderful. It is an exquisite pen, not for just any Dvorak-the-lad. I would buy one myself but am a bit Bruch at the moment and don’t want to put my hand in my Purcell. If I could Gershwin one competition, this would be the one! If not, it is Bach to the drawing board. I have not entered a giveaway before. This is my Debussy? So, if you could Delius a Sailor PG Slim, with a music nib, that would be Verdi kind of you. I trust you can find one, Haydn in a cupboard somewhere. I so look forward to receiving your Purcell in the post.  My music suggestion: Had this been a different music nib, I would have suggested Lionel Richie’s Once, Twice, Three tines a lady. However, instead in anticipation of my success I will go with Abba’s Thank you for the Music.”

I thank you.

A look at the Sailor 1911 standard fountain pen.

Recently after hearing of the imminent price rises of Sailor pens, I decided to pull the trigger on a 1911 standard, to go with my Pro Gear Slim which I love.

I have had my eye on a 1911 for some time. I have been tempted by the yellow version, with black ends and had almost bought one, a couple of times. But when the time came to chose, I was swayed by a gorgeous dark blue model with gold coloured fittings. The dark blue is one of those which has matching ends and grip section, rather than the black ends and grip which some of the other colours have. In the photographs, the dark blue looked very appealing.

The nib is 14 carat gold and I opted for a medium, thinking that this would be a good all-rounder for general use.

Pleased with myself for getting in ahead of the price hike, I looked forward to the pen’s arrival. At the unboxing, the first impression was that the dark blue is seriously dark. In artificial light it looks for all intents and purposes, like a black pen. But shining a bright light on the pen, it certainly is a lovely rich dark navy blue.

Unboxing the Sailor 1911 standard.

I was delighted. It is an exquisite pen. Not large, but not too small either. Personally I find this size to be very comfortable. The grip looks to be the same diameter as the Pro Gear Slim.

The sleek lines of the Sailor 1911. Whoever said this pen is “dark blue” was not wrong.

The Sailor size designations are a bit confusing: with the Pro Gear range you have the classic (in the middle) and then the Slim which is smaller and the King of Pen which is larger. But with the 1911 you have the standard and the large – yet the 1911 standard is the same girth as the Pro Gear Slim. The main difference is that in the Pro Gear both ends are flattened whereas on the 1911 they are rounded and bullet shaped.

Rounded ends, top and bottom.

For a modest price, (at least, before the price rise) you get a gold nibbed pen with a very smart, nice quality body. The cap unscrews in about two complete turns. When capping the pen again, it tightens nicely towards the last stage and so you have confidence that this is not a pen that will unscrew itself in your pocket or bag.

Similarly, when unscrewing the barrel, you see the tiny O-ring at the base of the metal threads which helps to stop the barrel from loosening. The pen came with a Sailor fit converter.

For some reason, this was to be one of those pens in which I struggle to settle on an ink. In less than two weeks I have already tried four: Diamine Pelham Blue, Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue, Rohrer and Klingner Salix and currently, Montblanc Toffee Brown. This happened with my Montblanc 145 Classique too and I must have gone through about eight inks before discovering Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red and I have not looked back since. I am still happily working through my inks with the Sailor.

The real story with the pen though, is the nib. It pays to know what to expect with a Sailor nib. They have a reputation for being well tuned, right out of the box. However there are two issues to be aware of. First, the width will be about one grade finer than a typical western nib, so that a Sailor medium equates to a western fine, and so on. Secondly, there is that legendary Sailor “feedback”, which at first might feel like a defect. However, it is not a case of misaligned tines but rather a deliberate toothy feel which Sailor somehow gives to its nibs.

That nib though!

Looked at under a loupe it is possible to see that this medium nib appears to have a rounded blob of tipping material on the end but with the two sides towards the front end, flattened and angled inwards like the prow of a ship. The result seems to be that when the pen is held with both tines on the paper evenly, the pen is at its smoothest but if the nib is rotated, or rolled to one side or the other, the sharpened edge of the tipping scrapes the paper giving a slightly gritty feeling and sound, commonly likened to writing with a pencil. It is very different from the feel of your typical steel medium nib on say, a Lamy Safari. It is, you might say, not very forgiving.

For me, as a lefty overwriter much of the time, these Sailor nibs seem better suited to my underwriter style. Funnily enough the opposite is true of my music nib, (fitted in my Sailor Pro Gear Slim) which writes like a dream for me in overwriter mode, but is very awkward in underwriting style.

So it is important to know what to expect with a Sailor pen. Provided you like the feel of the nib, you get an excellent Japanese pen, impeccably well mannered and which writes whenever required, does not hard start, blob or burp or come undone in your jacket. It is a smart looking pen too, not ostentatious but unassuming with a quiet quality and confidence of its own. And that is probably why a Sailor is a staple of every pen enthusiast’s collection.

The End.

Early thoughts (and some vandalism) on the Waterman Allure fountain pen.

A couple of weeks ago, whilst away for a long weekend in North Norfolk and in a happy, holiday mood, I popped into WH Smiths in King’s Lynn, to have a look at their wares. Just a couple of hours earlier, walking around the quays, I had learned that the town was the birth place of Captain George Vancouver (born in 1757), a British officer in the Royal Navy famous for the expedition which explored and charted North America’s northwestern Pacific coast regions.

Finding myself in front of the fountain pen rack, I spotted the Waterman Allure, in a few different pastel colours and at £19.99. I peered through the plastic packaging and admired the nib. I had seen these a few weeks before, in our local branch but had managed to resist them. I almost succeeded again, but when about to leave the shop, spotted a sign which said “Please only handle items that you wish to buy.” A small wave of guilt overtook me and I went back to buy it.

The Waterman Allure

Later, opening the packaging, the first impressions were mixed. The simple design and the matt finish to the pretty lilac barrel and cap were appealing. It is a little on the slim side. There is a shiny metal finial and a sturdy metal pocket clip with the Waterman logo at the top. A narrow chrome cap band simply bears the name Waterman.

Removing the pull-off cap, there is a black plastic section and a very acceptable, steel nib in a Fine. The pen was supplied with one Waterman blue cartridge which I inserted.

Size and weight (approx).

The pen is 133mm long when closed. Uncapped it is 124mm, which is okay to use unposted, although the cap does post well and brings the length up to 157mm.

I measured the weight to be around 23g including a half spent cartridge, comprised as to 14g for the pen uncapped, plus about 9g for the cap.

The writing experience.

The pen wrote without too much initial coaxing. I enjoyed the smooth nib, which is fairly firm and produced a good flow, being neither too wet nor too dry in my opinion. The fine line was pleasing.

Waterman Allure and Waterman Graduate.

Likes and dislikes.

The pen writes very nicely and I enjoy carrying it and using it. It is lightweight and well suited to being clipped into a shirt pocket or a shoulder bag. It seems good value for a metal bodied pen. The finish is attractive. The nib and feed are friction fit and can be removed for cleaning and maintenance quite easily. I might switch to an ink like Pilot Yama-budo or Pelikan Star Ruby for the next fill.

The only real downside, for me, is the material from which the grip section is made. It is a black plastic of some sort but whilst it looks innocent enough, it manages to be very slippery to the touch. The consequence is that the pen felt insecure in my hand.

The modification.

Having pondered this over for a few days I decided that the pen’s section needed some texture or some means to make it more grippy and less slippy. In an ideal world I would like to have machined some attractive regular grooves, perhaps in a diamond cross-hatch pattern like on the Parker Reflex. My late father used to do that with wooden pistol grips in the 1970’s when he bought a new hand-gun and produced beautiful results which looked very professional.

He would not have been impressed at my efforts. I used the saw blade on my Leatherman (which is very sharp) to scratch some random texture all over the section. This resulted in gouging out little bits of plastic which I then had to brush away.

Here is a photo of the result. (Please look away now if you are of a nervous disposition).

The section after scratching some texture into it with a Leatherman saw blade.

This is not a look that I am proud of. Let me be the first to admit that it looks terrible. It does not equal the aesthetically pleasing modification that I made to my Platinum Curidas and which I would rather be remembered for. However, it does serve the purpose and is no longer at all slippy.

Conclusion.

I am happier with the pen now that it does not slip around in my fingers whilst writing. I have been using it every day. However I expect the majority of customers will be happy with the pen just as it is without any butchery.

Inspired by Kimberly of @allthehobbies on Instagram, I have been having a go at transcribing Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

I had been under the impression that the Allure was a new addition to the Waterman line up. I have since noticed that it is a new finish on the Waterman Graduate which has been around for a long time. I have one to compare.

Waterman Allure, alongside a Waterman Graduate which used an identical nib and section.

Waterman’s website proclaims the Allure to be a first step into the world of Waterman. Clearly they intend this as an entry-level pen but also to be “a symbol of flair and sophistication.”

I think it is great value and a robust and practical pen. A Waterman for under £20.00! As a newcomer to my pen cups, I have been using it a lot and have had no hard starts or other misbehaviour. If I had any say in the matter, I think it could be so much better by using a nicer quality material for the section and then it really would be something. I expect Captain Vancouver would have been very glad of one.

Getting matchy matchy with a Silvine notebook.

Currently inked, 16 August 2020.

This morning I made a list of the currently inked pens that I have at home, knowing that the result would be embarrassingly uniform. I arranged them in order of colour, making it even more apparent that of the 20 pens shown, 15 are inked with either blue or blue black.

The currently inked as at 16 August 2020

For some months now, I have been juggling 20 inked pens on the go. This does not include a further two (both Cross Bailey Lights) which I keep at my office, since returning to work after lockdown, in July.

Twenty pens is a lot to use at any one time. I have tried to keep the number from growing any higher and have imposed a “one out one in” rule. But even so, assuming that the average cartridge or converter might manage around 20 pages of writing, (more if a piston filler), that is 400 pages of writing, sitting on the table. Pens are not running dry fast enough to keep the cups from becoming stale.

On one hand, I do enjoy having a lot of pens available simultaneously and I enjoy the variety that they offer. But on the other hand, part of me craves a simpler existence of running just one fountain pen (flashback to me aged 12…) and just filling it up, with the same ink usually, whenever it needed ink. It is possible to re-create this simplicity, temporarily, by getting away from the desk and going to write in a coffee shop taking just a single pen and notebook. Of course you cannot then enjoy the option of selecting any one or more of 20 pens from the pen cups as the fancy takes you, but you cannot have your cake and eat it.

But the bigger problem I see from my list is that 75% of the pens are inked with blue or blue black. No greens. No bright reds. No turquoise, or orange. This highlights the fact that the pens and their inks have each been selected individually without regard to the bigger picture of the pallette that is being created. Who of us, given an empty paint box, would set out to equip himself with 75% of the space given to blue and blue black?

When a pen runs dry, unless it is one of those to keep in circulation, I enjoy picking another pen to replace it. I generally pick the pen first and then decide which ink to use. Very rarely do I start with the ink and then decide which pen to put it in, except perhaps with iron gall ink.

There is always the option, to remove a bunch of pens and give them an early bath, to keep the pen cups fresh and varied but at the expense of jettisoning some good ink.

It is, after all just a hobby. The pen cups do not stand up to a lot of scrutiny. Why for example am I using a Waterman Allure when I have two empty Carenes at my disposal? Why not use only my best pens, all the time?

Perhaps by mixing in some entry level pens we appreciate the difference more when picking up the Montblanc.

There are no right and wrong answers. I am sure each one of us has his own principles and systems for managing the currently inked. But one simple lesson to take away, (for me at least) is not to loose sight of the bigger picture when filling the pen cups, to ensure you have more than just blue and blue black at hand.

A look at the Diplomat Excellence A Plus fountain pen.

Today I want to share a few thoughts on a pen that I have been particularly enjoying lately and which has rapidly become one of my favourites. This is the Diplomat Excellence A Plus.

Diplomat Excellence A Plus (blue and black harlequin pattern).

The background to this particular specimen is that my wife bought it, when we attended the London Pen Show together in March 2019. It is fair to say that she is not a fountain pen person but having persuaded her to come to the Show, I rather twisted her arm to buy this pen for herself, convincing her that Diplomat was a very under-rated brand, that their pens were well regarded and not easy to come by and that this one was on offer at a great price (from John Twiss). She negotiated a deal with John which included a couple of attractive pseudo-vintage metal lattice ball point pens, which I am sure she intended as gifts rather than for herself. Meanwhile, I happily bought myself a Diplomat Excellence A2 Marrakesh, which had a gold nib and which I reviewed here.

In the weeks and months that followed, I am not sure that she even looked at her Diplomat Excellence again, let alone inked it and tried it out. Eventually over a year later I came across it in a drawer and expressed enthusiasm about it and asked permission to try it out for her (ahem). The upshot of this was that she said that I could have it and that it could be my birthday present, as I had a birthday approaching in a few weeks time. What with the lockdown, we had not done any shopping for gifts in months and so this all worked out very conveniently!

Well it turns out that this pen is absolutely fantastic! I am not just saying that because it was a gift, although that helps and gives it added sentimental value. Much of what I said last time about the Marrakesh also applies here and so I will focus on the differences.

The first and most obvious difference is the pattern. This is a beautiful dark blue and black harlequin design. I have not seen another one like it, before or since. It is subtle too, as you do not immediately notice the pattern until you look closer: it just looks like a dark blue pen.

Secondly, and one of the best features about it, is that the cap on the A Plus unscrews, rather than being a push-on cap like the A2. But these are not just any screw threads. The cap needs only one third of a rotation. It might be more correct to call it a bayonet mount, a bit like on a camera lens. It is very quick and easy and feels smooth and secure.

The shortest cap threads ever!

Thirdly, there is the nib. This one has a steel fine which wrote perfectly for me, out of the box. I filled it first with a Waterman Serenity Blue, which was a good pairing but after that first fill I have been on Pilot Iroshizuko Shin-kai. I find the nib really enjoyable. It is smooth, with effortless flow, firm but with a touch of bounce and just the right amount of feedback. My Marrakesh came with a 14k gold fine nib which was good too, but I actually find myself preferring the steel nib. Certainly (and from my very limited samples) I do not think there is much to be gained by opting for a gold nib here.

The inside and outside of the Diplomat Excellence A Plus.

It is great when you find a pen that you love. This seems to have everything I could wish for: the attractive body; a distinctive finial; a robust metal pocket clip (hinged and sprung); the short cap threads, the generous girth, the long smooth, comfortable section, the very minimal step from barrel to section (the threads are not sharp), nice balance, the 129mm open length – being comfortable to use unposted and the pleasing weight (about 28g uncapped; the cap adds another 15g). And of course that great nib and wonderful writing experience.

At almost 130mm, the pen is comfortable for me to use unposted.

In summary, the recurring theme here is comfort. I could talk for a long time about all the things that make up a successful fountain pen. A shorter list is to look for a list of dislikes. Here there are virtually none.

Really there is not much I would criticise here. One point though, is that I was worried about pushing the cap on the back too firmly in case of damaging the plastic inner cap. I am not sure whether it is one of those designs where the cap clicks on securely to the metal disk at the foot of the barrel: it looks as though it does but I did not want to chance it. But the cap can be posted gently and grips on to the barrel. It does make for quite a heavy unit, at 43g and I have got used to writing with it unposted.

My only other complaint is about the confusing name. The Excellence is the largest of the trio, of Traveller, Esteem and Excellence. I can imagine a company board meeting at which the discussion goes “Well, we have got the Excellence… now this version with the clever cap threads is even better. Any ideas for a name anyone?” Personally, I am not keen on either of the names “Excellence A2” and “Excellence A Plus” to distinguish the two models. Could do better. Please see me after class.

That said, I think this is a wonderful pen. My pen cups have hovered at around 20 inked pens for the past few months but the Excellence A Plus has been used daily and always impresses me with its looks, comfort and performance.

The perfectly tuned nib right out of the box.

Early thoughts on the Graf von Faber-Castell, Classic Anello fountain pen.

Recently I had a rare treat. A pen friend in Australia asked if I would do him a favour and take delivery of a pen for him, that he was to order from Izods. He gave me free rein to open it, to test it out and use it as much as I wished and even to review it. To add to the fun, he did not tell me what pen it was.

The pen duly arrived, lavishly wrapped by Roy of Izods and was in fact a Graf von Faber-Castell Classic Anello (the version with inlaid metal rings along the barrel) in Ebony.

The pen arrives in a chamois-coloured linen bag, in a solid wood gift box.

Description.

This is a luxury pen, priced towards the bracket at which stationery becomes jewellery, but with a great deal of attention to detail and no compromises in the exquisite 18k gold nib, for a wonderful writing performance.

Graf von Faber-Castell (“Graf”) is the luxury arm of Faber-Castell. This is a slender but weighty pen, with the distinctive highly polished cap with a flared top, which reminds me of the funnel of Stephenson’s Rocket, of 1829, contrasting with the warm texture of the black Ebony segments in the barrel, with four platinum rings.

The distinctive flared cap.

The cap has a sturdy hinged and sprung pocket clip, above which is the brand’s coat of arms. The name Graf von Faber-Castell appears on the rim and “Germany” on the other side.

Hinged clip and coat of arms.

The cap unscrews, in three-quarter’s of a turn. The cap feels very secure with no wobble and no fear of coming undone by itself.

The section is long and slender, tapering gently towards the nib but then flaring out again, creating a natural curve on which to rest the pen on your second finger as you write.

At the other end, there is a shiny plated metal knob, shaped to allow the cap to be posted. However, posting is not advisable as the pen becomes very back heavy and about 175mm long.

The nib.

This is a stunning piece of work, in bi-colour 18k gold, the front part and the coat of arms picked out in silver coloured plating against the gold background. This one is a Medium nib. Although I take it that this is a pre-owned pen, the nib looked perfectly set up and with a generous amount of tipping and no signs of wear.

The 18k gold Medium nib is superb.

According to Graf’s official web-site this is a handmade nib, run in by hand and with a manufacturing process that involves over one hundred steps. This is a polite way of saying “Please don’t drop it, you ham-fisted oaf.”

I was thrilled to dip-test the pen. I reached for my customary Waterman Serenity blue, and spent a very happy few minutes enjoying this smooth and springy nib, on a variety of different papers. The wetness from this initial test and the degree of feedback seemed spot on to me. I later filled the pen with Graf’s Cobalt Blue, probably my favourite dark blue and the pair seemed made for each other.

Graf von Faber-Castell pen, Cobalt blue ink, and headed paper. Other brands are available.

Filling.

This is a cartridge-converter pen, taking either standard international cartridges (look no further than Graf’s Cobalt Blue!) or a converter. The pen arrived with a Faber-Castell branded converter, which worked well and drew up a decent amount of ink.

The section unscrews from the barrel on very long screw threads, which are metal to metal. These will be hard-wearing but I noticed the occasional tendency to come loose, whereupon the section just needs tightening again.

On the rim of the cartridge-converter holder, I found the markings “031011 PT” which I presume to be the date of production in 2011. For comparison, my Graf Guilloche has the markings “010717” here. Even Graf’s ink cartridges have a date mark which I think is a very nice feature.

Production date code, just above the threads.

Size and weight (approx.)

The Classic measures 138mm closed, 130mm open and 175mm if you try posting. The whole pen weighs about 41g comprised as to 27g for the pen uncapped and 14 for the cap.

Likes and dislikes.

This pen is hard to beat for sheer elegance and sophistication. The flared cap with its smooth, secure, precision fitting threads works perfectly. I have not noticed any hard starts, after intervals of over 24 hours. The pocket clip has a good amount of movement and is reasonably tight although personally I would carry the pen in a pen case rather than a jacket pocket. The contrast of materials and textures from the almost black Ebony wood and polished furniture is very pleasing. But although this is clearly a luxury item, it is no less a fountain pen and the nib should delight any pen fan.

On the negative side, the grip section is slim, tapering and slippery. Personally I like to hold pens quite high up and for this pen, I have found a grip where the section rests on my second finger, my first finger is at the threads and my thumb anchors the pen at the wooden barrel, which is not slippery. Fortunately the 130mm length uncapped still allows the pen to sit just about comfortably in the web of my hand although I sometimes find myself holding the pen slightly more upright like a ball point pen.

Comparison with the Graf Guilloche.

I have a black Guilloche, with a Broad nib. Although they share a similar style, the Classic is superior in having extra weight, length, and girth, a threaded cap and a bicolour nib.

Guilloche (left) and Classic Anello.

However, it appears to me that the nibs are the same size and that the only noticeable difference is that the Classic’s nib is bi-colour. Fun fact: the nib and sections of the Guilloche and the Classic are interchangeable and so if you have a different nib in your Guilloche, you can simply screw the Guilloche’s entire nib, section and converter, into your Classic Anello body.

The nibs of the Guilloche (left) and Classic.

Conclusion.

The Classic is a lovely pen. I am sure that my friend will be happy with his purchase (when eventually he can collect it). I know that as a long term user of pens with plated metal sections this is not an issue for him.

For me, whilst I appreciate the pen’s artistry and quality, the grip would take a bit of getting used to and whilst I am able to use the pen, I do not yet find it the most comfortable. But I anticipate that with time I would get more used to that, particularly whilst swept away by the superb nib which sings along the page. But to do that would mean to bond with the pen, of which in this instance, I am its temporary custodian.

Another comparison shot of the Guilloche and Classic.

For further reading, see Graf’s official web site. It seems from this that currently there are four versions of the Classic Anello fountain pen, namely the Rose Gold, Grenadilla, Ivory and Black. There is currently no mention of Ebony or Pernambucco. See also the excellent reviews of versions in other woods by UK fountain pens and The Gentleman Stationer.

My Aurora 88, one year on.

It has been a year to the day, since my Aurora 88 arrived in the mail, as told in my post Some early thoughts on the Aurora 88 fountain pen. That same pen has been the focus of my attention over the last few days and it seems timely to give an update.

The pen is magnificent and has “the wow factor” whenever it is produced. People exclaim “What a gorgeous pen!”

It has remained inked since I bought it, as befits a pen which is almost my most costly to date. Looking at my records, I see that I have filled it with seven different inks over this time, starting with the obvious Aurora Blue, then Aurora Blue Black, Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue, Montblanc Irish Green, Diamine Tavy, Cult Pens Deep Dark Red, Aurora Blue Black (again) and then Waterman Intense Black.

Board room ready.

The pen is a joy to look at and to hold. The only problem was that the written line was not as bold and juicy as I had expected. Although described as a Medium nib, the resulting line was a Fine by most people’s standards. That in itself was not an issue for me as I enjoy a good fine nib too. However it was so fine and so thin and pale that on some papers, it would look like the work of a needlepoint. Generally speaking I am a fan of blue black inks as preferable to black, but in this case I had resorted to trying Waterman Intense Black, in an effort to make a more contrasty line. The result was anything but intense. More like a pale grey.

I have an abundance of notebooks with different paper types. Some of these make a pen write finer whilst others make it write broader. I found that I could compensate for my Aurora’s fineness by using it on a Radley A5 notebook, which tends to make the line slightly broader, yet without any apparent feathering or bleedthrough.

For a long time, I had avoided trying to adjust precious gold nibs, (apart from simple tine alignment) for fear of damaging them. I am happy to have a go with a steel nib, giving it a tweak here and there to improve flow or to smooth the tipping but most gold nibs I left alone.

I think the turning point came when I realised earlier this summer that I had not made much use of my Lamy 2000 in six years, as the broad nib was dry and hard going. I had reached a point when (a) I had accumulated some knowledge and experience of what was wrong and what was needed; (b) I was sufficiently confident to have a go and (c) the pen was six years old and I had little to lose and was “past caring”: a certain blend of know how and recklessness. As luck would have it, I was able in a few minutes, to open up the tines of the Lamy and improve wetness and flow considerably. I was thrilled with the transformation. More confidence to me.

A few weeks ago I ordered a set of brass shims online. These enabled me to floss nibs and clean out accumulated paper fibres. I had imagined that it might not be that hard to floss nibs with shims of increasing thickness and so make slight adjustment to tine spacing. It is not quite that simple. I watched a Brian Goulet tutorial video about using brass shims although his emphasis was on cleaning between the tines, rather than adjusting the gap.

When the brass shims came, I tried them out first on a Sheaffer Crest, with its distinctive conical nib in bicolour 18k gold but which was dry and hard to use. I wanted to achieve a very slight widening of the tine gap. After a few goes with my brass shims, I very carefully inserted the point of a craft knife, just below the breather hole, and brought the blade down into the gap as low as it would go. I was then able to wriggle it very gently from side to side to get a little more space between the tines. Gold does bend quite easily but you need to push it just past the point at which it will spring back again, so that it stays.

As with all nib work the advice is go to very carefully and check the results frequently with a loupe and with a writing test to check the outcome. When I discovered the Sheaffer now writing effortlessly I was very happy and relieved.

Encouraged by my success with the Sheaffer, I formed the idea of tackling the Aurora 88 nib in the same way. I rehearsed the operation in my head on my two mile walk home from work, as if it were a rocket launch.

Nib work on the Aurora.

The process involved three stages:-

  1. Flossing the nib first with the finest grade of brass shim.
  2. Inserting the scalpel and doing some extremely gentle twisting right and left to spread the tines. It is best to lower as much of the blade into the gap as you can, to avoid “chewing up” the gold surface along the top of the tines.
  3. Once happy with the outcome, checking for tine alignment and doing some final smoothing (the minimum needed) on micromesh pads.

The pen remained inked through this process although at the end, I unscrewed the nib unit and rinsed it, to inspect the results of my handiwork.

Conclusion.

It probably goes without saying that working on a nib, especially with metal tools, is risky and can result in damage. You do so at your own risk. But having said that, it is possible with a little courage and practice to improve a nib and so save yourself the frustration of disappointing nibs.

To the eye, the Aurora nib now looks no different from before. However the ink flow is now more generous. This increases line width and lubrication and makes for a more pleasurable and effortless writing experience. It is better to spread the tines in the way described here, rather than use the short cut of bending the tines upwards which can spoil the look of a nib.

I now plan to re-try my ink choices. Once the Intense Black is finished, I will try Aurora Blue once again in the eager anticipation of seeing the ink flow from this pen in its true vibrant colours.

Writing sample on Tomoe River paper. The medium nib is now a medium!