Just occasionally I manage to find myself in the right place at the right time. On passing Rymans stationery shop in Hampstead recently, I noticed the large red “SALE” sign and returned a couple of days later to investigate.
The pen display cabinet showed some very generous discounts. I could not resist a Waterman Hemisphere and Parker Urban fountain pen, and a Sheaffer Prelude ball point pen in Cobalt blue with rose gold trim (for which I have the accompanying fountain pen) all heavily discounted. The helpful lady shop assistant, somehow sensing my appetite for pens, told me that she had more pens at the back which they did not have room to put out on display. Would I like her to get them out to show me? Yes please!
She reappeared with a few Diplomat Traveller fountain pens, in a pastel turquoise or purple which I now know to be called Lapis raspberry. On checking the current price at the till, she told me that the raspberry one, usually around £20.00, was now just £5.00, putting it firmly into the “no brainer” category of purchases.
I have not had one of these before. I recall being shown them in John Lewis, some years ago when they used to sell Diplomat pens, and being told that they were popular with business people as they could be slipped into a suit pocket without disturbing the line of the cloth. There are merits to slender pens.
The Traveller is the smallest of a series of three pens, its larger brothers being the Esteem and then the Excellence. I had acquired the other two. The Excellence A Plus, with its smooth steel nib, heft, wide girth and twist cap ranks as one of my GOAT fountain pens.
The Traveller, in contrast is much smaller and slimmer pen, with a smaller nib. The barrel is only around 10mm at its widest, and the plastic grip section tapers from 9mm down to 7mm. The length is 135mm capped, or 117mm uncapped. The cap does not post securely.
However, the metal body feels robust. The matte finish is pretty. I like the distinctive Diplomat finial of black petals on a white background. There is a strong metal pocket clip. It comes in a metal gift box.
The cap is a snap-on one but is reassuringly firm, fits flush with the barrel with no wobble and has a plastic inner cap.
Filling is by standard international cartridge or a converter (not included, although I borrowed one from another of my Diplomats).
Diplomat were established in 1922 (as the nib reminds us). The brand is commonly described in the pen community as being much under-rated. It is rare to find them advertised or for sale in shops in the UK yet everyone who has one appreciates the quality and excellent nibs. There is a five year guarantee and the booklet tells us that the nib of every fountain pen is tested and professionally run or “written in” by hand. We can all think of a few brands that could benefit from this example.
At home, still glowing from my good fortune, I held a gathering of my Diplomats, to compare their dimensions and have some group photos. I had planned to ink the newcomer with Waterman Tender Purple but at the last minute spotted a bottle of Yama-budo and went with that instead. It is a good match.
Conclusion: likes and dislikes.
The Diplomat Traveller is undeniably a small and slender pen. Over the years, I have discovered that I generally prefer larger pens, like the Diplomat Excellence, Cross Peerless, Aurora 88 or Montegrappa Fortuna (to name a few from a brief glance at my pen cups). However, to criticise the Traveller for being small misses the point of the pen, which is to be a small and lightweight, convenient and portable pen when on the move. Still, it is slightly disappointing that the cap does not post.
On the plus side, you get a sturdy and well made pen, with a very smooth steel nib, the convenience of using standard international cartridges or a converter and some fun colours to chose from. It is ideal to carry in a bag or shirt pocket. You would be hard pressed to do any better for £5.00 (while stocks last at Rymans in store or online).
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.
This year for the first time, London has two pen shows. In addition to the usual one in October, a second London date in March was added to replace the show in Cambridge.
I had been looking forward to it, albeit with conflicting ideals of (a) trying to be sensible and not buy more pens unless there was some good reason and (b) having a look at the new Leonardo Furore, the Opus 88 Omar or Koloro, the new Scribo in blue and perhaps a Sailor Pro Gear Ocean, (although I was still undecided on nib choice). My preparations for the day included bringing cash, a bigger shoulder bag, dressing lighter, and bringing some ink plus a pen that I had agreed to lend to a friend Gary. My wife was also joining me for her first pen show.
We arrived soon after 9am and had time for a chat with some friends from my pen club before the early bird admissions at 9.30am.
Once inside, the temptations came thick and fast. At the first table I realised I had forgotten to bring my loupe to look at nibs. I handled a modern Conklin Mark Twain Crescent Filler in black carbon fibre for £100.00 which was likely to sell fast. I have two of these pens in the red and the coral resin and managed to resist.
Next, with my powers of resistance already depleted I found Stefano’s table. I first met Stefano at last October’s show, when I bought a new limited edition Delta Fantasia Vintage from him, in beautiful dark green celluloid. This time his table included a prominent display rack of brightly coloured Leonardo Officina Italiana Furore pens. Last year, the Leonardo Momento Zero fountain pen was very well received. I had bought one in an attractive burgundy resin. The new model, the Furore was introduced late last year and I had not yet seen one in the flesh. Like the Momento Zero, it is a resin pen, cartridge converter filler, with a good quality stainless steel nib. A blind cap unscrews to access the converter without removing the barrel if you wish. Whilst the Momento Zero had flattened ends, the Furore goes for bullet shaped ends and looks very appealing in photos on social media.
it is a good sized pen, wide and chunky but sleek. I liked the look of the turquoise model and the bright red, both very vibrant, but it was the orange one that most took my fancy. It had an Extra Fine nib but Stefano kindly swapped it for a Fine. They are friction fit although this involved a bit of a wrestle.
These pens, whilst not limited editions, are individually numbered on the barrel. Perhaps the orange (“Arancio”) edition was introduced after the first run. Stefano told me that he had only just received these from the manufacturers, just in time for the London show. The serial number of the orange pen was 001! I was already smitten but the serial number was a special bonus. I felt like David Gilmour owning the first Fender Stratocaster. This sort of thing does not normally happen to me. (Coincidentally I had been listening a lot to Brit Floyd on YouTube recently, the highly accomplished Pink Floyd tribute band).
I had been attracted to the idea of having a bright orange pen since seeing the Pineider Avatar, saffron, in Harrods last year and perhaps seeing the Pelikan M600 in vibrant orange had also put ideas in my head.
Next I met John Hall of Write Here and had a look at the new Opus 88 pens on his table. He had brought the Koloro eye-dropper pens and also had one which had been fitted with a Titanium nib, which was quite flexy. I also liked the look and the size of the new larger, Omar pens. He had them in all colours except the green which was the colour that I might have bought, but there is always the online option. I later met a friend Vijay in the coffee lounge who had just bought an Omar in grey and it looked very nice. They hold a massive amount of ink but unlike my Opus 88 Demonstrator, it is more discretely hidden in the Omar.
At John Twiss’ table, in addition to his own range of pens, he had a few Diplomat Excellence pens at irresistible prices. I saw a smart silver grey model and also the metallic brown Marrakesh. Both were fitted with 14k gold Diplomat nibs and were for sale at £150.00 , which as John pointed out was less than Cult Pens’ price for the steel nib version. I have a Diplomat Esteem, which is the mid sized model, with a steel nib which is fabulous, very smooth and a little springy. I had thought about buying an Excellence, (the large size model) as the nibs are so good but had never seen a gold nib version for sale. I chose the Marrakesh, with a 14k gold nib in a Fine.
John Twiss also had an unusual Diplomat Excellence in a beautiful geometric pattern of dark blue and black rectangles for £70.00, which looked stunning under the lights. I persuaded my wife to buy it, telling her how great Diplomat pens are and how you do not see them for sale here, even in Harrods or Selfridges. She also liked a ball point pen in a retro design with metal latticework. John offered her a price of £10.00 for these if bought with the Excellence. She bought two of them.
It was good to see so many friends from our monthly pen club meet ups, about 12 of them, and to introduce my wife. Jon and his wife Deb had a table, to promote Pensharing, Jon’s online scheme to enable people to hire pens from each other. We also spoke to the vendors, many of whom I know by name now from previous pens shows.
We stopped by the Armando Simoni Club table, to talk to Europe Sales Manager Cristina Guida. I looked at a really gorgeous Wahl Eversharp in turquoise with a massive gold nib. which looked like a grail pen, if not a daily carry.
We met Sarj Minhas and had a look at his extensive displays, living up to the name of the one man pen show. We stopped to talk to KWZ Ink, over from Poland. I had met Konrad Zurawski and Agnieszka when they visited our London pen club meet up in June last year. Their table had a well organised ink testing station with colourful samples of their expanding range of inks.
After going round a couple of times, we took a break in the coffee lounge. Many of our pen club had gathered and it was fun to hear what others had bought. We had some lunch and a cup of tea, chatting to friends. My wife was happy to sit out the next round while I went back in for another lap. There was so much to see and I could very easily have got carried away if money had been no object. I had a look at a Sailor pen on The Writing Desk’s table (Martin and Anna Roberts). I have bought a several pens from them in the past. I held off this time but bought a bottle of Diamine Cherry Sunburst (in the Gibson Les Paul guitar series).
It had been a wonderful day. I inked up both of my new pens, after rinsing the nibs which had been dipped at the show. I chose to put the Diamine Cherry Sunburst in both. The brown ink looked quite nice on cream paper, although I was tired by then and with hindsight it was a mistake to ink up two new pens at once, particularly with the same new ink. The ink is more suggestive of the natural wood colour than the red and gold sunburst paint job of a Les Paul. I also noticed that the Furore resin is semi translucent and that when inked, the dark ink is visible through the section and slightly spoils the effect of the bright orange. Both of my new pens had Fine nibs.
During the week I had the opportunity to spend time using the Diplomat Excellence taking notes at a day of CPD lectures. By then I had refilled it with my favourite blue black, Diamine’s Conway Stewart Tavy which suits it better. The pen writes reliably and well although the nib feels a bit firmer than I had expected. Perhaps I was remembering the Scribo Extra Flex nib that I had tried at the show which makes normal nibs feel like nails. The Diplomat has a pleasant feedback. I expect the nib will feel smoother once it has been written in. It is also a heavy pen at 47g posted, or 29g unposted.
There were lots of other pens that I resisted. I could have bought another Wancher Crystal Emerald (clear demonstrator with lovely dark green section and ends) but reminded myself that I already have three of these eye-dropper, cartridge converter pens. They are the perfect size and shape for me and the Jowo steel nibs are generally very good. I also looked at some old Parker Duofold Big Reds, as seen in the advertisements of the 1920’s but without knowing more about them and their prices I would need some help to find one. There were countless other vintage Parkers and other pens at affordable prices, with coloured stickers indicating the price group but I passed these by.
As always, the pen show makes for a great day out. My only regrets are of not spending more time at certain tables, such as Onoto for example and that I took hardly any photos during the show but with the limitations of time and energy and with so much to see, it is difficult to make the most of the day. I did not do too badly and there is always the next one in October.
A common topic on Fountain Pen Network for lively reaction, asks what pen you would keep if you could only keep one. Looking over at my pen cup, I thought perhaps the Diplomat Esteem may be my current answer to this question. This was one of my 2016 buys and my first pen from this long-established German brand.
The pen is of a glossy black lacquer over a gently tapered metal barrel and cap, with silver coloured fittings. It has a snap-on cap, a black plastic molded section and a stainless steel nib. Mine is a medium. It takes standard international cartridges or a converter, which is not supplied. There is room to carry a spare cartridge in the barrel, so that you may never run out if you are away from your supplies.
The thin metal cap is not embellished with a ring and so looks a little unfinished with a rim which is a bit sharp to the touch. But the beauty of this lies in the fact that when capped, the barrel and cap are perfectly flush and yet there is barely any noticeable step, between the barrel and the section where you grip the pen. Also, it means that the cap, when posted onto the slightly tapered barrel, again fits flush to the barrel and makes for an attractive, if simple, well-balanced pen in the hand.
The barrel has a shiny metal end stop which has a slight “muffin top” rim which allows the cap to post securely with a click.
The only adornment on the pen, is the Diplomat logo, a symmetrical design like eight flower petals in black on a white background on the finial. It is covered by a clear plastic dome. This distinctive logo does stand out well if searching for the pen in a bag or pen cup. A single black petal emblem is neatly reprised by a cut-out towards the lower end of the curvaceous pocket clip.
The real gem however, is the stainless steel nib. It also has the Diplomat logo and reads DIPLOMAT, SINCE 1922, M. It is unusual in several respects. There is no breather hole. The very long, sweeping curves of the nib put me in mind of the prow of sleek motor launch on a lake. Also, viewed in profile, the feed is very shallow and has no fins and so is rather like the feed of a Lamy Safari.
The nib performance on my pen was superb. It was smooth, with a good flow, right from the start. The long nib also has a bit of softness to it, allowing for some line width variation, all making for a very pleasant writing experience.
There are so many examples of metal bodied, lacquered pens with stainless steel nibs but this seems to be a cut above the rest, in terms of the simplicity, comfort, quality and performance.
This is a medium sized pen. The length of the pen when uncapped (124mm) or when posted, (155mm) are both the same as for the Pelikan M600.
The Esteem is the mid-sized version and Diplomat also make a slimmer version, called the Traveller or a broader one, called the Excellence, neither of which I have yet tried. However, I have read very good reviews, particularly about the nibs.
Finally, the packaging of the Diplomat Esteem was rather surprising. Inside the large white cardboard box which bore the Diplomat name and logo, there was a stiff cardboard box tray with a sliding metal lid, again bearing the Diplomat name and logo. When you remove this, a cardboard flap (again with the name and logo) can be lifted to reveal the pen on a soft white pad, beneath which you find the warranty booklet, with a guarantee for five years. All this packaging is enough to produce your very own shop window display if you so wish.
The pen weighs approximately 28.5g including two cartridges or 17.5g when uncapped. This seems an ideal weight, to feel sufficiently substantial but without being tiring.
And so why might I chose this as my only pen? Whilst very understated and not particularly exciting to look at, this belies a pen which has for me, a comfortable size, shape, weight, balance and performance. The metal construction feels robust and reassuring. I find very little not to like about it.