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.
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.
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.
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.
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.