I realise as I write this, that my humble news may get lost in the noise surrounding more significant events – a certain election in the USA and the start of a second lockdown here in the UK. However, believe it or not, today marks the fourth anniversary of this blog.
Four years ago today I was a complete newbie at WordPress, but one grey November afternoon I took my first tentative steps to set up a blog. I was not familiar at all with the process. In the field for the title of the blog, I typed “Fountain pen blog” as a working title while I got up and running but then this became live. I have not thought of a better one.
This week, my WordPress statistics showed my total number of views as having just tripped past 100,000, which is similar to the excitement of watching the odometer reach a milestone number on your car. I know that there are many far more successful bloggers whose figures dwarf mine, but nevertheless it represents a level of publicity that I would not have dreamed of four years ago. What I also find staggering is how the viewings so far this year, come from over 130 countries.
This post will be my 150th, so I have been averaging a modest but fairly steady 37 or so posts a year, not quite one every week.
I must say, it has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I love the opportunity to write about things which I am interested in. To have the blog as a creative outlet is a wonderful thing as well as a privilege. Also, right from my first posts, I felt like a writer, a creator of content on the internet as well as a consumer of it.
Through the blog, I have met countless interesting people, some who have become friends here and abroad and many with whom I enjoy interacting with comments and likes. With the constraints of a full time job, it is hard to think of other realistic ways in which I could have increased my circle of friends to such an extent in this time. I have also expanded my knowledge of fountain pens and inks enormously. Someone should give out honorary degrees for this.
I am hugely grateful to those who encouraged me in my early days of the blog, those who commented and followed the blog from the start, such as Laura of Fountain Pen Follies whose own blog was one of my favourites and which set the standard for content, photography and good humour.
In my very first post, I included a gratuitous photo of the nib of my Diplomat Esteem. Funnily enough it is another Diplomat, the Excellence A Plus, that I am now using daily and which is “the one to beat” for me at the moment, as I survey my crowded pen cups. It is inked with Pilot Iroshizuku Shin-kai, a well behaved blue black. I was given a bottle of this and, just this week, used up the very last 1ml of ink, which you can do if you use a Pineider travelling ink well to fill your pen.
I have just renewed my subscription to WordPress for another year. With all the goings on in the world, it continues to be a source of relaxation and enjoyment for me and I am delighted that so many are still reading. Thanks and stay safe everyone!
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.
I am getting better at not buying more pens. I am not saying I have given up completely, but I am trying to think more carefully about whether I would really use that new pen and whether it would be any better or different from those I already own. But one that I did buy recently was the Diplomat Excellence.
A pen club friend asked me today to send him a writing sample from this pen. I took a few pictures and then thought that a brief review on here might not be amiss.
I bought my Diplomat Excellence at the London spring pen show, in March 2019. The rational was that I already had its smaller brother, the Diplomat Esteem, (which I reviewed here) which I use at work to enliven my notes and calculations, (currently with Garnet red ink) and which I have always felt is a remarkably good pen, with a superb steel nib. But whilst the Esteem is a medium sized pen, I had always hankered to get the larger Excellence, for its broader girth.
The opportunity came when I found that John Twiss was selling the Excellence at the pen show. What’s more, he had some with 14k gold nibs, which I had not seen before.
The pen comes in a white cardboard box, inside which is a black cardboard tray with an aluminium sliding cover. When you slide this off, a white card flap is raised to reveal the pen on a soft padded white cushion with the black petal logo of Diplomat.
The flap reads “Diplomat, since 1922” and can be slotted into the box either behind the cushion with the text face down, to be read when raised (like a shop display) or in front of the cushion to have the text face up.
Appearance and Construction.
The Excellence is a metal bodied pen, in lacquer finish. The model I chose is the Excellence A2, Marrakesh with chrome fittings. “Marrakesh” denotes the metallic mid-brown colouring (actually a more complex mix of sparkly gold and orange if viewed with a loupe) whilst “A2” I think may identify it as having the push on cap (rather than screw on, available on some models) and a sprung pocket clip.
The finial has the distinctive Diplomat logo, easy to spot in a pen cup. The silver coloured cap ring has the text DIPLOMAT, SINCE 1922 and on the reverse “made in germany” in lower case.
At the other end of the barrel, there is a silver coloured foot piece for the pen to rest on in a pen cup with a lip to secure the cap when posted.
The section is of tapering black plastic. At the nib end, there is a chrome ring which secures the cap with a satisfying click. Having a push on cap of course means instant access and no rough threads where you hold the pen. The cap is designed to fit flush with the barrel, (apart from a slightly bulging chrome cap ring) and to allow for this, there is a slight step down from barrel to section, but it is minimal and smooth.
Removing the barrel, on long metal threads (complete with rubber O ring), there is the supplied Diplomat converter.
The nib and feed.
This is a bi-colour, size 6 nib, in 14k gold but partly plated, and with the Diplomat petal logo picked out in gold. There is no breather hole. The nib is stamped with Diplomat, since 1922, 14k – 585, F. The nib has a little bit of spring to it but is not as soft as you might expect from a gold nib.
The black plastic feed is of slim profile, with a slight wave shape and quite thick, sturdy fins. On my model, the nib was well finished with nice level tines.
It is a cartridge-converter pen, supplied with a Diplomat converter but also accepting standard international cartridges.
Size and weight.
This is a large pen, although not over-size. But it is also heavy. Closed, it measures approximately 138mm; uncapped 129mm and posted, 153mm.
The whole pen weighs around 47g, comprised as to 29g uncapped and 18g for the cap alone. (For comparison, my metal Waterman Carene weighs around 33g, with the body at 23g and cap at 10g, and so the Excellence is about 42% heavier). Nevertheless, I still use the Excellence posted, as I just seem to find a better angle of pen to paper that way.
Likes and Dislikes.
I already liked the Diplomat Esteem and was expecting the Excellence to be much the same but bigger and better. In fact it is not quite that simple. The pen is certainly bigger and heavier and feels very dense and solid in the hand. The nib too is bigger than on the Esteem. Yet I did not find the Excellence’s gold Fine nib to be so joyously soft as the Esteem’s steel Medium nib, which surprised me. But it is a great nib, responsive and reliable and pleasant to use. Here are some Likes:-
robust and reassuringly solid; the pen feels indestructible;
wide comfortable girth with no cap threads;
large nib, smooth and responsive and with a pleasant feed-back;
rubber O ring on the section threads, to stop barrel working loose or to stop leaks;
attractive gift box;
mine was great value at £150.00.
As with the Esteem, I found very little to say here. I was a bit un-wowed by the brown finish but this is due to personal preference and not a valid criticism. There are other colours and finishes available.
Compared to the mottled amber coloured finish of my Waterman Carene, the Marrakesh colour is slightly dull. It is a heavy pen, particularly if like me you post your caps. But apart from this I cannot find any fault with it.
I have been using the Excellence daily, for seven weeks now, and enjoy picking it up for my daily journal ritual. I am glad to have bought it. My local John Lewis used to sell them but they are hard to find in shops now. They are available on Cult Pens. It writes well, feels comfortable and is very solidly built.
It seems a common opinion in fountain pen circles, that Diplomat pens are under-rated. For anyone wanting a great quality, good-sized, metal bodied pen and who will not mind the weight, this one gets my recommendation.
Here is a brief round-up of some of my recent fountain pen related activities.
If you had met me when I was aged 11, and asked me then about my ink pens and accessories, the sum total would have looked something like this.
Somehow in the intervening years, (but particularly in the last few) the pen accumulation has mushroomed and I have an entire drawer full of inks, the use and enjoyment of which has become a major hobby.
However, my number of “currently inked” pens at home, in a neat array of pen cups, has grown to an all-time high at 31, (not counting a couple of others kept at my place of work and another in my jacket pocket). Here is what 31 pens looks like.
This is due to a combination of factors: a number of new arrivals; an eagerness to try out new pen and ink combination ideas without waiting for another pen to run dry, and a general reluctance to flush away good ink.
I do not really see this as a problem. (Perhaps THAT is my problem!) I could go and flush them all this evening, but this would mean wasting the equivalent of almost one entire bottle of ink. Whilst I could cut down, I do enjoy having the choice of all these pens at my finger tips. And the joy is that each and every one feels different.
At the end of January, I bought a Montblanc Meisterstuck 145 Classique with platinum trim. As usual it came fitted with a Medium nib but I had six weeks in which to request a free nib exchange. I did visit a Montblanc store in London where I was able to try out the various nib options. I was very tempted by the Broad, which would have been my choice if I were to have swapped. But in the end I did not want to part with my Medium nib that I had grown to enjoy. The nib had taken a few weeks to run in and in short, we had “bonded”.
In the early weeks since buying this pen, I tried a different ink on every fill but have now settled on the lovely Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red, for the time being.
Another purchase, made at the London pen show in March, was the new Leonardo Officina Italiana, “Furore”, in a vibrant orange with gold colour trim and a Fine nib. In a rare stroke of genius, I have paired this with Waterman Tender Purple – a fun ink for a fun pen and am loving the combo. Also the feel of this nib on Leuchtturm journal paper makes me want to exclaim “Ooh, that’s lovely!” every time I write with it.
My only other pen purchase from the show was my Diplomat Excellence A, Marrakesh, with a Fine nib in 14k gold. This has been inked with Tavy and I have been using it happily for my daily journal. The first fill had been with Diamine Cherry Sunburst, which I did not enjoy so much with this pen; perhaps it was just too matchy matchy for the metallic brown pen.
In February I received a wonderful surprise gift from a pen friend in Australia, who sent me his Pilot Custom 823 and Graf von Faber-Castell black Guilloche, both with Broad nibs and both fantastic pens. The 823 had been a grail pen for me and difficult to find in the UK. On my last visit to Hong Kong in 2017 I had hoped to have a chance to do some pen foraging and perhaps bag an 823 but my shopping plans were cut short by a bout of Sciatica and so the 823 had remained on my wish list. So I was extremely happy when one arrived on my doormat out of the blue.
Then in March, having read of my new Classique and my dilemma over whether to go for a nib exchange, my friend sent me a superb, 1970’s Montblanc 146 with a broad nib, which unlike the modern versions is an all gold finish and rather softer too. The pen also had a solid clear ink window instead of the small rectangular windows that the modern piston fillers have. This was an extremely generous and unexpected gift and you can imagine how thrilled I was on opening this package.
London Pen Club.
Our pen club met on 6 April, with a good turnout of around 15 people. Being the first gathering since the London pen show, a few of us had some new goodies from the show for others to try. My orange Leonardo Furore drew some admiring comments.
John had brought along his Montblanc 146 and 149. I was interested to compare these alongside my 145 and 146 and got a photo of them all in a row.
Cameron had brought a recently acquired Pelikan M815 shiny stripes Stresemann, which was impressive, being heavier than the normal M800’s due to the metal in the barrel.
Penultimate Dave brought along an entire pen case of Arco beauties from his collection and some lovely Conway Stewarts which felt good in the hand.
However, I am pleased to report that I was feeling very content with my lot and did not feel the need to acquire anything else. Whilst it is always great to try other people’s pens, and many of brands that you just do not see in pen shops, I was happy in the end just to know that they exist. I felt, for the moment at least, cured of the need to acquire any more pens!
Harrods and Selfridges.
To put this to the test, I took the opportunity after the pen club meet, to visit both Harrods and Selfridges, to have a browse around their fountain pen departments and see what was new.
In Harrods, there is a particularly good range of Montegrappa pens. I had a second look at the “Monte Grappa” models, a recent range of retro style piston fillers, in black, navy blue, lavender or coral. They are available with either steel nibs or 14k gold nibs, the latter version being £445.00 in Harrods.
I was pleased to discover a very quick route to Harrods’ pen department currently located on the third floor, as “Pens, Books and Games” rather than the “Great Writing Room” of the past. (If you walk round to the back of Harrods, in the Basil Street entrance, take the escalator to the third floor, go left through Stationery, you will get straight to the fountain pens. You’re welcome).
A few tube stops later I was at Selfridges, where the pens are on basement level. I had a good look around the displays, with a good selection of the high end brands, including Yard O Led, Graf von Faber-Castell, Caran d’Ache, Chopard, SJ Dupont, Montegrappa, Pelikan and a few Viscontis, as well as Parker, Cross, Sheaffer and Waterman. As with Harrods, there is a separate booth for Montblanc.
I noticed Pineider there for the first time, with La Grande Bellazza models in Malachite and various other colours and two demonstrator models, one being the Honeycomb, which I had not seen before. The other with a gold coloured spring inside appeared at first glance like a posh TWSBI Go.
I was able to leave both Harrods and Selfridges without parting with any money. This time.