A look at the Visconti Van Gogh Starry Night fountain pen.

Not so much a review today, but rather an excuse to air some photos of this lovely pen, that would otherwise remain buried in my computer.

The Visconti Van Gogh Starry Night.

Last summer seems a long time ago now, in the care-free days before the coronavirus pandemic. Now, at home in partial lockdown, I took the opportunity to look back through my hundreds of pen photos to try to tidy up the folders a bit.

It was at a meet up of the London fountain pen club, last June, that I acquired this pen. Its provenance is that it belonged to Penultimate Dave, the pen collector, prolific Instagrammer and YouTube pen reviewer formerly known as Visconti Dave. He was offering this pen and a few others from his collection, for sale. I did not have a Van Gogh. I had admired them in Selfridges and thought that the Starry Night was the one to have but had not stretched to buying one. This was the perfect time to rectify that.

The Van Gogh pens come in a variety of colours, each based upon the palette of a different famous painting, named on the cap ring. Hence, Starry Night is predominantly a rich dark blue, with splashes of yellow and whisps of white. Each pen is unique as the distribution of colours comes out slightly differently. There are over a dozen different paintings to choose from and some enthusiasts collect the whole set.

Beautiful swirls of rich dark blue, yellow and white, set off by silver coloured furniture.

The pen has a sprung metal pocket clip, (bow shaped, like the arches of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence) and a removable magnetic metal cap finial that can be replaced with a jeweled one or with your initials, although I have not done so.

The Visconti curved and laser etched pocket clip.

The cap and barrel are multi faceted. The cap snaps shut by means of a magnet inside the cap and so there are no cap threads to interfere with your grip. Nor is there any significant step from the barrel to the section, where you might grip the pen and so it is smooth to hold. Fun fact: the magnetic cap can be used to pick up spent staples from your desk.

The faceted cap and barrel. A Leuchtturm A5 plain paper journal, with pencil lines ruled by me. My notebook, my rules.

The grip section is metal with shiny plating. This looks attractive, and photogenic, particularly in contrast to the dark blue swirls of the barrel. It also gives the pen some heft at the front end. The down side, for some, is that it makes for rather a slippy surface to grip but I hold the pen just above this and am therefore able to anchor the pen with my thumb and forefinger on the barrel to keep the nib at the sweet spot. I find the pen very comfortable and balanced whether unposted (for short notes) or posted, for longer writing sessions.

Weighty metal section but slippery to hold.

The nib is steel, (mine is a fine), plated and with some fancy scroll work, rather more elaborate than on my Visconti Rembrandt. It is firm nib but beautifully smooth and with good flow and lubrication. I should add that it was not quite as wet when I first got it. After using it for a few days I decided to open up the tines just a little to improve flow (which I had also done on my Visconti Rembrandt, to good effect), to better suit my lefty-overwriter style.

Gorgeous scroll work on this steel nib, now with a hint of light between the tines.

I employed a trick learned from an SBRE Brown video, whereby you place your thumb on the middle of the nib, place the tip of the nib on the nail of your other thumb, then push downwards on the nib, very carefully, but just enough to start bending the tines upwards away from the feed. As you do this, it has the effect of widening the gap between the tines and increasing ink flow. You should go very carefully when bending this, or any nib. The aim is only to open up the tines a fraction and not to leave the nib looking like a ski jump. Check the results constantly with a loupe and by writing with the pen and do not overdo it. Also, as Stephen Brown said, “You will get ink on your fingers, but that is ok because you’re helping your pen.”

The pen takes standard international cartridges, or a converter. There are metal threads on the inside of the barrel.

Metal to metal for the barrel threads.

When I received the pen, Dave had it inked with a dark blue ink with an amazing red sheen. Once this was exhausted, I flushed it and refilled it with Waterman Serenity blue, which I like to use when getting to know a new pen and also to chase away any residue from more persistent inks. (This is another trick I have learned, this time from Laura of Fountain Pen Follies).

Penultimate Dave’s sheeny ink. I forgot to note down what it was.

Looking back at my notebook from that time, I filled about twelve pages with the Van Gogh, in conversation with myself (Van Gogh would approve) as to how the pen wrote and whether or not to tamper with the nib. I felt that my Rembrandt was smoother, but then that was a medium nib, not a fine.

Enjoying the Visconti nib on Leuchtturm paper.

Later that summer, I travelled to northern Italy for a holiday on Lake Garda. I brought the Van Gogh with me. I thought it would like that. I paired it with Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt blue cartridges. In the event, I did not use it all that much as I got distracted by another pen that I bought on holiday. This is often the way of things when you keep buying more pens.

Recently I inked it up, with Conway Stewart Tavy, by Diamine which is an old favourite blue black. This suits it very well. After this I tried the pen on a handful of different notebooks. It was particularly enjoyable on a thick, 100gsm paper from an A4 wire-bound notepad called Concord, premium writing paper.

The Van Gogh feels rather superior to the Rembrandt, as is reflected in the higher price tag. It is faceted, whereas the Rembrandt is not but otherwise the size and features are very similar. They compliment each other well. Both are probably regarded as near entry level Viscontis, in comparison to the various Homo Sapiens, Divinas and Opera Masters of the Visconti catalogue, none of which I own. But they are still very commendable pens in their own right with Italian flair and lofty artistic associations, albeit that the nib might need tweaking.

Visconti Van Gogh (left) beside a Visconti Rembrandt for comparison.

The Visconti Rembrandt v The Pineider Avatar fountain pen.

One of my favourite pen purchases of 2018, has undoubtedly been the Pineider Avatar, in Lipstick Red from Harrods last May. At the time I bought it, I was vaguely aware of the rather similar Visconti Rembrandt but had never owned or handled one.

The pens share a number of similarities. They are both Italian, both from Florence, both I think designed by Dante del Vecchio (but while at different companies), both are resin bodied, steel nibbed, cartridge-converter fountain pens at what you might say, is the “entry level” for the luxury pen market. I recently heard someone describe the Ferrari California as entry level, so it is all relative. They both feature magnetic, pull off caps, and weighty, shiny, plated grip sections.

I looked at the Pineider Avatar in my post Pineider Avatar fountain pen review. At the time, newly besotted with the Avatar I commented that compared to the Rembrandt, I rather preferred the Avatar’s overall flair.

Four months on, I am still besotted with the Avatar. However I was curious to learn more about the Rembrandt and after watching a few reviews, I succumbed to the temptation to buy one. I felt that it would be sufficiently similar to the Avatar for me to enjoy it for all the same reasons whilst being sufficiently different to make it a worthwhile purchase. What finally tipped me over the edge was a range of new colours, including the Twilight (which I chose) with swirls of purple and glimpses of pink and white like you see when you examine the brush strokes of an oil painting up close. I also blame the magnifying viewer which you can move with your mouse over different areas of the pen, as you deliberate feebly on whether to “Add to basket.” I opted for the Medium nib.

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Visconti Rembrandt Twilight

When the Rembrandt arrived, my first impression was that the purple colours did not seem quite so spectacularly vivid in real life. But the pen felt very solid and well made.

It may be helpful to identify a few differences between the Avatar and the Rembrandt, for anyone considering whether to buy one, or both.

Packaging.

The Avatar came in an impressive and unusual gift box, shaped like a writing desk with a fold down top, in dark green faux leather with a padded creamy interior and a set of Pineider stationery inside. The Rembrandt came in a nice, perfectly acceptable but unexciting lidded cardboard box with padded cushion pen rest.

Construction and appearance.

The Rembrandt has the familiar Visconti pocket clip modelled on the Ponte Vecchio, the arched bridge over the River Arno in Florence. It is a hinged clip but needs to be pinched and lifted to slide over a pocket. It has VISCONTI, laser-etched on both sides, not the fancy enamel of loftier versions. The finial has the Visconti “my pen” system whereby you can replace the metal button held in place by a magnet, with a jeweled finial or a pair of initials.

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The Visconti clip and cap ring

The cap band is smooth and well finished and says VISCONTI on the front and MADE IN ITALY in smaller letters on the back.

The barrel of the Rembrandt is cylindrical, without any tapering until the torpedo-like rounding off at the end, with a shiny, plated metal nose cone, for decoration and to stand on in the pen cup, which is a nice touch.

The magnetic force holding the cap on, is stronger on the Rembrandt and more typical of the effort needed to remove most pull-off caps. It feels reassuringly firm. It is also fun that, with the cap resting on your desk, you can offer the pen slowly into it with one hand and watch the cap leap back on. (I rest my case: it’s worth it just for that).

The plated metal grip section has a slightly raised area just before the nib, to stop your finger sliding onto the nib or feed.

The barrel of the Rembrandt has metal threads inside, to screw onto the metal threads of the section. The Avatar lacks metal threads here.

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Metal threads in the barrel of the Rembrandt only.

The Avatar’s finish is of a most gorgeous, deep red, (like cherry flavour cough sweets called “Tunes”) and has light and dark tones like velvet. The clip is a slender, sprung quill shape, easier to slide onto fabric than the Rembrandt (although I carry them in leather pen cases). The Avatar’s barrel also tapers towards to the foot and then rounds off, with no metal furniture added.

The nib.

This is where the real difference lies. The nib of the Rembrandt is much smaller than the Avatar’s, best shown in a photograph. On my pen, it was smooth but slightly dry. Fortunately, I was able to adjust it to open up the tines just ever so slightly and this made a great improvement to ink flow and lubrication which are now ideal for my preferences.

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Pineider Avater (left), Visconti Rembrandt (right)

The Rembrandt’s nib is very good but lacks those long sweeping curves of the Avatar which give it slightly more flex and line width variation and which make the Avatar such a joy to use.

Weights and measurements (approximate),

Pineider Avatar Visconti Rembrandt
Length closed 142mm 139mm
Length open 130mm 122mm
Length posted 161mm 157mm
Weight, total (capped or posted) 27.5g 33g
Weight uncapped 17.0g 20g
Weight, cap only 10.5g 13g

As can be seen, the Avatar is longer when uncapped. However, I still prefer to use them both with caps posted, holding them at the barrel rather than around the metal section. This avoids both the potential issues of slippery sections or of the pens becoming back heavy due to posting and I find them both perfectly comfortable posted. Neither of them has any cap threads, but there is a slight step on the Avatar. The Rembrandt is smoother to hold.

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Visconti Rembrandt (top) and Pineider Avatar.

Writing performance.

Both pens write wonderfully, with good ink flow, smooth and well lubricated for effortless writing. The Avatar feels the more expressive, simply because of the longer nib.

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Pineider Avatar writing sample after receiving CPR (Corn Poppy Red in this context).

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Visconti Rembrandt writing sample.

Cost and value.

Prices may vary depending where you look but I paid £148.00 for the Avatar and £125.00 for the Rembrandt. I felt that these prices were fair.

Conclusion.

So which is better? Which should you buy? I am delighted with them both. Most people, I think, would be happy to own either one of them. It is only when you have used them both that you notice little advantages in one over the other but they are like brothers from different mothers. If pushed I would say that the Rembrandt feels stronger, heavier, more substantial and robust, whilst the Avatar is prettier, longer, more delicate and has a more enjoyable nib. Perversely, I would conclude that the Rembrandt is the better pen but go and buy the Avatar. It’s beautiful. Here is my favourite nib pic again if you are still not convinced.

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The long steel, Rhodium plated nib of the Pineider Avatar. After my early worries about scratching the barrel, I soon decided that the pen felt better with cap posted.