Pen Review: Monteverde Prima

Material: Acrylic
Nib: Steel (Goulet Nib Replacement)
Appointments: Steel
Filling System: International Standard Cartridge Converter
Length (Capped): 135mm
Length (Uncapped): 130mm
Length (Posted): 153mm
Section Diameter: 10.7mm
Barrel Max Diameter: 13.2mm
Cap Max Diameter: 15mm
Weight, Uncapped (with ink and/or converter): 18g
Weight, Capped (with ink and/or converter): 28g

When I first began my journey though the ink-stained world of fountain pens, I approached every pen with wide, innocent eyes. I had very little experience with different brands. I delighted in the first-hand learning that came from inking up a pen from a manufacturer I had never heard of before. I still love getting a pen from a brand I have never used before, inking it up, and putting the nib to paper for the first time. There is a tender awkwardness the process, not unlike that of a first-time lover, stumbling through unfamiliar territory and just learning to explore a new, but wonderful, world.

That first-time experience is more difficult to come by than it used to be, which is both good and bad. While I may not be able to feel those same, exciting first-time jitters I used to when I inked up a new pen, I am now more experienced—more sure of what I like and what I don’t. I have more fully-formed opinions about what I can expect from certain brands, even before I have dipped the nib into a bottle of ink for the first time. And for better or for worse, each interaction with a brand tends to color all subsequent interactions with that brand.  Such is the case with pens from the U.S.-based company, Monteverde.

My first Monteverde pen was also part of my very first pen order from an online retailer. It was the Goulet-exclusive Invincia Deluxe Nighthawk. This pen was, and still is, a nice writer. Since I first got the pen, a touch of the black finish chipped off, but it is only a minor aesthetic flaw. Otherwise, it’s a nice pen.

My next Monteverde pen was an Impressa with the Gunmetal and Red finish. I loved this pen so much that it made my Top 5 of 2014. I regularly and vociferously recommended this pen to many people, and even bought/gave a couple Impressas as gifts. Between the Invicia Deluxe and the Impressa, I saw Monteverde pens as solid, moderately-priced pens with interesting designs that tended to write very well.

As time went on, however, I began to see complaint after complaint popping up about the brand in the online pen communities that I frequent. People complained about the finish coming off their pens, or the pen writing poorly. Monteverde discontinued the Invicia Deluxe Nighthawk due to manufacturing issues. Even my father, to whom I had gifted an Impressa, opened his pen case one day to find that the finish on his Gunmetal and Red Impressa had bubbled and flaked off the pen.

Despite these whispers, when I was gifted my first Monteverde Prima, I was excited to get my hands on the pen, and to try it out. I fully expected to have another good experience with an attractive workhorse pen. The Prima was a pen that I had sitting in my online wishlist, and was pretty high up on my list of next pens to purchase. So, when I was gifted the pen by a long-time friend of the Pen Habit (Thanks, Rob!), I was thrilled.

Monteverde Prima

Made from a lovely, swirly, sherbet green, semi-tranlucent acrylic, the Monteverde Prima is an attractive pen deep with sheen and shimmer. The body of the pen feels solid and well-made. The cap’s rounded, black finial features a stamped, white Monteverde mountain logo.

The folded-metal clip is very stiff (almost too much so), but will hold the pen securely in place if you can manage to get it over the edge of your shirt pocket. The chrome cap band features an inset black stripe, along with the words “Monteverde” and “Prima” laser-etched in the chrome.

The pen’s barrel tapers toward the black, injection-molded plastic finial, which is separated from the green acrylic by a chrome washer.  The washer also assists with the posting of the pen.

Removing the cap (which takes 2 1/4 turns) reveals a black plastic-covered-metal section which tapers to a chrome metal flange.  The section reminds me a bit of the type of sections that you find included with a pen-kit that a wood-turner might use—generic but usable enough.

Monteverde Prima

The Prima uses standard international cartridges and converters, and will accept both short and long cartridges. It also accepts SI converters that are threaded on the outside. Even though I have never had a converter come unattached inside the pen to any serious detriment, I do generally like the feel of the screw-in converters; it’s a nice bit of security.

Before having inked up the pen, the Prima struck me as being solidly built and of good—albeit mass produced—quality. Contrary to what many might think due to my love of higher-end pens, I don’t mind a “mass-produced” pen at all. In fact, I really appreciate a mass-produced pen for its quality-to-value ratio, even if not “wowed” by its craftsmanship. The Prima is clearly intended to be a moderately-priced pen that fits at the upper edge of the entry-level tier of fountain pens.

When you get to the nib, though, that’s when things really begin to fall apart.

Monteverde Prima

The Monteverde-branded steel nib that comes with the pen is a fairly generic #6-size which features the Monteverde mountain logo design. On my gifted Prima, the nib was a little rough, and the tines were slightly out of alignment, but both of these issues are easily fixible for me. Nib issues aside, however, the main problem was with the feed. This pen had the worst case of ink starvation I have ever seen. I would write a sentence or two, and before long the ink flow would dry up completely. I could prime the feed using the converter, and it would write again for only a couple of sentences before it stopped.

I tried many, many things to resolve this issue. I flushed the pen with clean water, water with dish soap, and pen flush. I disassembled the pen and ran the whole thing through my ultrasonic cleaner. I tried using different converters. I tried several different inks. I tried using cartridges instead of converters. I even tried swapping out the Monteverde nib with a Goulet nib. None of these solved the issue.

Before taking more dramatic actions, I contacted the retailer. I emailed twice and received no response. I then called Yafa’s repair department.  (Yafa is Monteverde’s parent company.) They offered to send me a new nib unit, and took down my address. That nib unit never arrived, and voicemail left on a follow-up phone call was never returned.

So, in the end, I was stuck with a completely unusable pen, and no means of getting it fixed. In a last-ditch attempt to resolve the issue, I used an exacto knife and attempted to widen the ink channels in the feed. Even that didn’t help. And eventually, the Prima found its way into the trash can.

I thought that, perhaps, I had just gotten a rare dud of a pen. The Prima was still on my to-buy list, and I really did like the design of the pen. So, I purchased a new Prima from a different retailer (one in whose customer service I had far more faith.) This new pen also had pretty serious nib issues. The nib should never have made it past any kind of basic quality control. It was tremendously scratchy, and very roughly polished. Under magnification, I discovered that it had been so poorly ground, one tine was actually longer than the other!

The only way to fix this nib would have been for me to do grind down the too-long tine and then do a pretty aggressive smoothing. It’s work I know ho to do, but by this point I was fed up. I reached out to the retailer, and they offered to help. In the end, though, I decided to swap out the Monteverde nib with a spare Goulet nib I had floating about for just such a purpose. At last, I had a pen that would write!

With the Goulet nib in place, the Prima is actually quite a nice writer. It’s one of the few pens in my collection that I actually prefer to use posted. It is light enough and well-balanced enough that I am able to write long sessions without cramping up or tiring. The Goulet nib is smooth and the inkflow is consistent. The starvation issue I saw on my first Prima doesn’t appear to be present in this pen, fortunately. Now, it’s a nice pen…a pen I would actually use.

It is also, likely, the very last Monteverde pen I will ever purchase with my own money. Like its sister brand, Conklin, Monteverde seems to have figured out the manufacturing of its acrylic pieces (barrels, caps, finials, etc.), but is sorely lacking when it comes to nibs and feeds. I have seen far too many complaints online, coupled with my own experiences, to be able to recommend the brand—especially not to new fountain pen users.

My Prima is a good pen, which now writes quite nicely. But if I, as a new fountain pen user, had to jump through the hoops I did just to get this pen to write consistently, chances are this blog wouldn’t exist. I have tossed the pen in the trash and gone back to my gel rollerballs. Because, as Kimberly “Sweet Brown” Wilkins so eloquently said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

I’ll end this review as I ended the above video: with a message to Yafa and Monteverde: I think you have some truly lovely pens, especially for the price. But I would rather spend an extra $5-10 for a pen with a nib and feed that have been properly QC’d than save that much but have to play the writing instrument lottery. If you can figure out these consistency issues I have been seeing across your brands, you’ll have some very competitve (and highly desirable) pens in this price range. Until then, I can’t recommend this pen to anyone unless they really like the design and they’re comfortable working on/swapping out nibs. And that’s unfortunate. If you can get your QC figured out, you’ll have some truly killer pens.

  • Ted

    My Prima is one of the best handling pens that I own: great shape, balance, width. I bought it (original brown swirl version) used with a 1.1mm nib in it from another pen seller. The barrel end cap was loose, actually, and I had to cement it myself. The nib, however, has always been great and the flow is nearly flawless. But yeah, a bit of a QC issue, but easily fixable in my case. Unfixable trouble with a nib/feed makes a pen USELESS. That is not acceptable. I don’t own any other Monteverde pens.

    • Yeah, I’ve had a couple of great Monteverdes. I hope they can get back there again. I’d really like to get back to singing the praises of their pens like I did with the Impressa. 🙂

      • Clifford Hughes

        I have a spitfire red Invincia which I bought at a UK pen show. I love it and it is a quality pen, you can just feel it – and that stunning black nib writes beautifully. Just got an Intima neon green swirl mail order from USA. It’s a very attractive pen but I immediately knew something was wrong. The section is loose – the threads keep coming undone while writing. I tried to fix this with some fine chalk dust on the threads. That seems to have worked but as soon as I put nib to paper, the whole section moved with a creaking sound making it almost unusable. It’s not worth the cost of returning such a relatively low cost pen to the States but I’m disappointed with a brand I used to like so much.

  • Kudos for saying what needed to be said. If my past experience with Yafa is any indication, you probably just blacklisted yourself with this review.

    • I probably did that with my review of the Conklin Duragraph a few months ago. It’s unfortunate, too, if that is how they decide to do business. (Especially considering how much I have liked/recommended their pens in the past.) It’s a dangerous way to try and run a business. (And on a completely unrelated note, congrats on your new position, Dan! Hope to run into you in DC.)

      • Thank you! I’m planning on being at the DC Show and look forward to meeting you! Consider the first round of drinks (or inks, if you’re not into drinks) on me!

  • Greg Moore

    I feel that this is more a Yafa problem than Monteverde or Conklin. I have a Monteverde Regatta nightfall that works well and when the Conklin duragraph was reintroduced I bought one and had the same problems you described. I went through similar steps with out success and returned the pen and got a different one. I’m done with Yafa until they have improvements in QC. Too bad because I used to be a big fan of Monteverde and the cool designs they have. I’ll spend my money elsewhere now not on Yafa pens.

    • I noticed Monteverde pens on sale at my local grocery store just recently. (Ballpoints, not fountain pens.) They were right on the shelf next to the BICs. I suspect that Yafa has decided to switch directions a bit away from the “fine” writing instruments into a much more mass-market focus.

      • Greg Moore

        Really?!? So sad. As you said, They could be a real power house in the FP market because they have nice pen designs if only the quality of the resin matched that of the feeds and nibs.

  • Eva Yaa Asantewaa

    It certainly looks gorgeous. It’s too bad that quality control and customer service don’t live up to appearances. That’s not how to keep people coming back. Thank you, Matt, for your honest review.

  • Andrew

    Hey Matt,
    I have a question about your view on Yafa. I’ll preface this by saying that I am going to buy a delta unica in the very near future, and that I halfway-wish I hadn’t seen this review before I buy it. I say this because of the fact that Delta is also owned by Yafa.
    Here’s my question: Would your view of buying another yafa owned pen (not a monteverde or Conklin) be tainted by the fact that you got such bad service from them?
    I know you waxed poetic about your orange celluloid unica, and I am assuming you still enjoy that pen.

    • I may be wrong about this, but I don’t think Yafa owns Delta. I think they are just Delta’s U.S. Distributor. That’s my understanding, although I haven’t delved into it too deeply.

      I still love my Unica. It has that minor issue with the nib coating flaking off, but despite that it’s still a fantastic pen. I also purchased two Delta Fusion 82s that are pretty spectacular writers both (not to mention real lookers.) So my experience with the Delta brand is still quite positive. I have not had any sort of repair experience on my Delta pens, though, so I would probably go with a retailer who you know will take care of you if there’s something wrong with the pen.

  • Andrew

    Matt, Thanks for posting your criticisms of Monteverde quality. I have several of their pens and while they have a definite appeal, and can be great, the QC can be heart-breaking. In addition to the typical nib adjustment issues common to many manufacturers, some of my Monteverde pens suffered from the enamel paint on the section chipping off. On one of them I finally just stripped off all the paint and had the aluminum piece black anodized. I don’t know why they don’t do that in the first place. It’s too bad because the turned acrylic barrels such as the Intima Volcano Gray are quite nice looking. My son is have a similar problem to the one you mention with his gunmetal gray & red Impressa. With quality issues like these, one would be better off with the $5 – 10 Chinese pens. Less cash outlay and at least you expect to do some adjustment & tuning. At Monteverde’s price point (frequently > $50 or even $100), one expects more.

    • Andrew

      Also, I like the font you’re using for the text of your reviews. What font is it?

  • elaine

    Thanks for the review. I understand if you choose not to, but I do think you should name the retailer who didn’t respond to two emails. Bad apples in any market will get a pass so long as people don’t share their experiences. As long as everything you say is true, you should be legally free to share your experience openly. I can see how in your position, you might not want to. But I’d urge you to consider it.

  • notimetoulouse

    Hi Matt, I’ve just found your review of the Monteverde and would like to throw in my two pence worth (yup, I’m a Brit).

    2 years ago I bought an absolutely gorgeous Monteverde Intima Volcano (orange, red and grey acrylic). The pen did not write well straight out of the box and it took a lot of micromesh to get the F nib to where I wanted it to be. Once there, it was one of my three go to pens. Smooth, great flow, lovely to look at, and the section grip was perfect for the way I hold a pen.
    And it was the section where it all started to go wrong.
    Unlike this Prima, which has that chrome collar at the nib end of the section, the Intima has an all in one black section.
    Opening it up for use one morning, I found a very small bubble/blister on the black of the section down by the nib. Over the weeks it grew larger and began to form more small bubbles all around the end of the section, until they met in a ‘ring a roses’ all around the section end.
    The ‘blebs’ then began to burst, showing the white plastic that the section is actually made of before being coated with black. It looks absolutely shocking.
    (I wasn’t worried that it was an ink issue – It had only ever been inked with PR Avacado or Diamine Graphite – both bombproof in all my other pens).
    After three false starts I got through to Yafa, who offered to check the pen and replace it like for like under it’s guarantee, but they wanted me to stump up $25 to cover postage back to me here in the U.K.
    This seemed a tad expensive (I’ve just bought a mac keyboard from Seattle, and that obly cost me $10 postage), so, in an attempt to save money, I pointed out that I only wanted a section, could they send me one?
    Could they send me one if I payed?
    Complete pen returned plus $25 up front or no deal.
    As $25 is the threshold at which our customs slaps on import charges of another $18, it was a no brainer. I only paid the equivalent of $40 for the pen originally.
    A well loved writing instrument now sits in the pen ‘Drawer Of Shame’ gathering dust, (and continuing to grow new ‘blebs’ all over the section).
    No more Monteverdes for me. At least I can knock tent pegs in with my Jinhao 159 if it ever went wrong.
    Sorry to have banged on.
    I’ll get my coat.