By day two, the show was in full swing. It started off with lots of pens and ink, proceeded to lots of food, and wrapped up with lots of great pen people.

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I just returned home from the Arkasas 2018 Pen Show a couple of days ago, and while I was there, I decided to break in my new camera by attempting to “vlog” the show. For those not in the know, a vlog is short for video weblog or travelogue (depending on who you ask) and is more like a “day in the life” type of video than my usual review. With it being a new camera, I was still learning some of the finer features…you know, like focusing. But I enjoyed doing this video. It was a nice change of pace.  There will be a few more of these coming out from the show.

Enjoy!

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Ah, Visconti. We’re very much alike, you and I. In so very many ways, you capture my soul. You’re flashy, attention-grabbing, loud, but still somehow, refined. And you’re temperamental. So, so temperamental. It’s like we’re twins separated at birth.

The Italian manufacturer Visconti was the maker of the very first luxury fountain pens I ever bought. From the moment I saw their flashy materials, unusual designs, and luxurious feel, I was entranced. It started with the Van Gogh Starry Night. Followed by the Dali. Then the Homo Sapiens Bronze Age. I spent ages looking for a Visconti Opera Elements Water, but never found one. I instead got the Opera Club Cherry Juice. Some retailers sent me the Saturno, Millennium Arc, and Opera Metal to review. I got the Divina Elegance. Then the Divina Metropolitan. And lastly, the pen in this review, the Divina Proporzione.

The Proporzione was the first of Visconti’s Divina series, released in 2007. A pentagonal pen with swirling facets lined by inlaid sterling silver, the Proporzione was built around the principles of the Divine Proportion of 1:1.618. (Also known as the golden ratio). It’s a mathematical representation of proportion that is very pleasing to our aesthetic sense and is found all over the place in nature.

It works here. The Divina is a lovely, oversized pen that just has that flashy-yet-refined look that Visconti pulls off perhaps better than any other manufacturer. The body of the pen is made of one of the most stunning burl wood celluloids I’ve ever seen in my life. It does look alarmingly like real wood. The dark browns and blacks are offset by the beautiful streamers of sterling silver inlaid into the face of the pen.

The cap features the MyVisconti medallion in the top, and the very standard Visconti hinged “bridge” clip. (Love it or hate it.) At the other end of the pen is the access to the pen’s “Push and Pull Touchdown” filling system, on which the pen’s limited edition number (xxxx of 1618) is engraved. Unlike later Divinas, the Proporzione has an ink window that is visible even when the pen is capped. (In the close-up photos, you may notice that the fit and finish between the celluloid and the ink window isn’t terribly clean.)

The cap utilized Visconti’s safety hook and latch system that requires only a slight press down on the cap and a quarter-turn to uncap the pen. Under the cap, you’ve got a standard-sized concave section and a #6-sized Visconti nib in 18k gold with an unusual brown plastic feed. The feed has a stunning design on it, and the masking to plate the bi-color nib was perfect.

This is one of Visconti’s oversize pens, like the Divina Elegance I’ve reviewed in the past. As such, it’s very large and doesn’t need to be posted to be usable for all but the most massive of hands. The cap can post, and when it does post the swirling lines of the cap and barrel line up perfectly. But it’s too long and too back-heavy for me to use posted.

I should point out that this pen was released when Visconti was still using 18k gold nibs—before they had switched to their 23k Palladium “Dreamtouch” nibs that they use almost exclusively today. Having owned and used both, I can say that I far prefer the 18k gold to the Palladium. Both are softer nibs, with good ink flow and a minor bit of line variation. But where the palladium feels spongy and flaccid, the 18k gold is snappy and feels far more “alive.”

As this pen was released in 2007, and I bought it in 2017 at the Chicago Pen Show, I was not buying it from an authorized retailer. It was a never-inked specimen, however, and came in its original packaging. Now, I’ve professed my love for Visconti in the past, and have been willing to look past some questionable nib performance with the justification that, “it’s just a simple nib adjustment.” My problems with the Proporzione, however, finally pushed me past the point of acceptance with the brand.

The first problem I noticed upon inking the pen was that it simply wouldn’t write. In what has become an irritatingly regular issue with Visconti pens, the nib had clearly been put into the pen and never adjusted or tested. There is no way a company with a decent QC/QA department or a nibmeister of even middling skill would have allowed this out the door with the nib in that state.

In addition to the non-functional nib, after I used the pen the first time, I noticed that the sterling silver inlay was starting to peel away from the celluloid of the cap. Frustrated with a pen that was showing so many issues on its first inking, I cleaned out the pen packaged it up and sent it off to the US distributor for repair. They sent the pen to Visconti in Italy and charged $35 for the repair of the silver inlay (plus $15 for shipping to return the pen to me.) They did, however, inform me that, “We don’t do nib work” and that I should send the pen to a nibmeister.

Now, I get that this was a 10-year-old pen, but for a fancy pen this expensive, I find that attitude simply unacceptable. The pen didn’t write. It was non-functional. I could send my old Montblanc back to the factory and they would fix it…including either adjusting or even replacing the nib. But I think the ethos of Visconti’s attitude toward quality control and functionality can be easily summed up by a line of text that was printed on the box: “Art for Art’s sake.” It is a company that cares more about creating a collector’s piece than creating a functional experience. And their unwillingness to service their own pens shows a blatant disregard for the customers who spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on their products.

When the pen came back, the company had done a wonderful job resetting the inlaid silver strip. The pen is still stunning to behold. But I then had to spend another $40 to get the pen functional with my nibmeister of choice when I attended the San Fran pen show in August of 2017.

These days, the Proporzione is one of my favorite pens. But in addition to the $1200 I spent to buy the pen at a pen show, I then turned around and spent another $100 just to get the thing to write and not fall apart on me. As someone who buys pens to use and not collect, I am no longer okay with overlooking these types of problems. As much as I love this pen—and I do—my experience with this and one other Visconti I’ve yet to review have finally put me off the brand.

It’s a real shame. If the company could be as committed to making writing instruments as they are to making art, they’d be a nearly unstoppable force in the modern pen community.

Material: Celluloid
Nib: #6-sized 18k gold bi-color medium
Appointments: Silver
Filling System: “Push and Pull Touchdown”
Length (Capped): 149.75mm
Length (Uncapped): 136.8mm
Length (Posted): 169.3mm
Section Diameter: 11.0mm
Barrel Max Diameter: 13.8mm
Cap Max Diameter: 15.8mm
Weight, Uncapped (with ink and/or converter): 25g
Weight, Capped (with ink and/or converter):45g

Ink Flow: 8/10
Ink Starvation: 1/10
Feedback: 1/10
Nib Softness: 4/10
Comfort: 8/10


Show Notes:

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It’s fair to say that I’m not a fan of pocket pens. If you take a look at last year’s top ten list, all ten pens would be considered large, with a  good half considered “oversized.” I like big pens and I cannot lie.

Part of that is because I have decent-sized hands. My hands aren’t huge, but I’ve got long fingers which certainly helps with playing the piano but gets in the way of using small pens. I find larger pens are more balanced when they sit in my hand. I also find that the wider diameter keeps me from death-gripping my pens, which is often a problem for me. (I’m a tense kind of guy.) I also have a fairly deep aversion to anything that people might call “cute,” unless it’s a furry baby animal of the domesticated pet variety. No Kakunos, Safari’s with cartoon bears, or candy-colored Hello Kitty fountain pen confections for me, thanks.

Put it all together, and I just don’t find myself drawn to pocket pens. No Kaweco Liliputs or Sports. No Pilot Petits. No TWSBI minis. I don’t really even like Pilot Metropolitans. (Too small.) I don’t enjoy using them. I don’t find them attractive. And they don’t fit in my hands.

So, when one of my pen friends dropped a Franklin-Christoph Model 45 XLV into my hands at a local meet up, I was rather uninterested in it. Then I started using the pen. You guys. Franklin-Christoph has managed to design a pocket pen that even I enjoy using. It’s a Festivus miracle.

The F-C 45 is a small, relatively featureless pen. At only 112 mm in length, it’s quite short when capped, and even shorter (104mm) when uncapped. The pen is almost perfectly cylindrical, with slight tapers to terminate in completely flat ends. It doesn’t come with a clip. There’s no exposed hardware. The only decoration aside from whatever material used to construct the pen is a laser-engraved Franklin-Christoph logo on the top of the cap, and the pen’s name and model edged around the cap lip.

If you’re not familiar with Franklin-Christoph’s methods for picking material, let me give you a quick rundown. Generally speaking, F-C has a small number of materials that they use as standard production colors for each of their models. Occasionally, they will also have runs of special materials that will pop up on their website. (Some of their “glass” and “ice” finishes fall into this category.)  Then there are the color prototypes…and this is where F-C plays a very smart game.

At any pen show attended by Franklin-Christoph, one of the must-attend events to kick off each day of the show is the company’s unveiling of trays of color prototypes. Pen fans gather ’round the table as they pull out trays of their standard production models in a rainbow of colors and materials. Usually, there are only two or three of these prototype colors, and folks swoop in to buy colors they love/want/need. It’s a sight to behold. Then, whatever isn’t sold at the show will often show up on the website in the closeout area or will be saved up for the next pen show. It results in Pokémon-like “gotta catch ’em all” furvor amongst the community.

I’ve never been fortunate enough to be able to attend the descending of the locusts in the morning of a pen show…I’m usually working at another booth. But I do take 30 minutes during the day and visit the booth to see what’s left over. That is where I found the Model 45 used in this review. It’s made from a Jonathan Brooks Alumilite resin that, as far as I know, doesn’t have an official name (and which I have unofficially dubbed “Cherry Cola.”) It’s a lovely material: deep maroon red, brown, and black swirled, shot through with a few streaks of white “carbonation.” And while polished, it doesn’t have that mirror shine that some acrylics and resins do. More like a semi-gloss, which I actually like.

The pen itself is made to exacting specifications, which is something I find to be true with every Franklin-Christoph pen I’ve ever held in my hands. The quality of the finish is top-notch.

The cap is held on using the same block threads that can be found across many of Franklin-Christoph’s models. The threads are at the very edge of the section (like with the Model 02) which keeps them out of the way of my grip. (If you’re the kind of person who likes to grip the pen right down at the very edge of the section by the nib, the placement of these chunky threads might annoy you. I find it a brilliant placement.)

Under the cap you’ve got a nice, concave section. Being a pocket pen, the section is a touch narrower than I’d like but much larger than you’d expect for a pocket pen like this. I mean, it’s actually comfortable for me for use. Me. The guy who hates pocket pens.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is a very short pen. I can’t use it comfortably unposted. The pen can be posted easily via friction, however. (No threaded posting! Huzzah!) When posted, this pen stops feeling like a pocket pen and actually feels more like a full-sized pen. Despite its smaller length, the diameter is still wide enough that the pen nestles into my hand beautifully. The posted length results in a nearly perfect balance.  And, of course, being made of Alumilite, the pen is very, very lightweight.

Now, this pen is short enough that you can’t use a standard-sized converter with it. It can take standard international short cartridges and some of those miserable, low-capacity mini-converters. But this is one of the few pens that I actually prefer to eyedropper. Fortunately, the manufacturing tolerances on this pen make for a really wonderful eyedroppered pen.  The threads between the section and barrel are long, smooth, and extremely tight. The threads between the section and the nib unit are as well. I’ve eyedroppered this pen several times, carried it in my backpack and pocket, and have never once had it leak on me.

As a pocket pen, the F-C 45 uses a #5-size nib. At the Chicago show where I purchased this pen, I originally requested a 14k gold nib with Franklin-Christoph’s SIG nib grind. (Stub-italic gradient—this is Jim Rouse’s version of a cursive italic). After speaking with Jim, however, he said that for the #5-sized nibs, he actually prefers the steel nibs for SIG grinds. So, medium SIG in steel it was.

If you’ve been a follower of mine for any length of time, you know I’m not drawn to flat nib grinds like stubs and italics. I tend to rotate my wrist as I write, and to apply a bit more pressure than I should, which makes flat nibs problematic for me. But there’s something about Jim’s grinds on these SIG nibs that just works for me. The line variation is nice, but not super-extreme, nor are the corners sharp and crisp. It’s got a nice moderate ink flow, I don’t deal with ink starvation, and I can get some variation without hard starting and skipping like I do with a lot of other flat nibs.

The Franklin-Christoph Model 45 XLV retails starting at $105. That price includes a steel #5 nib in the traditional sizes. In addition to the SIG grind, Franklin-Christoph also offers a wide variety of nib grinds by the master nib genius, Mike Masuyama, including stubs, italics, and even needlepoints. They also offer 14k gold nibs as well. If you want any of these special nibs, it will add to the cost. Prices are still extremely reasonable for work by folks as talented as Jim Rouse or Mike Masuyama, though.

And that’s one of my favorite things about small manufacturers like Franklin-Christoph. While their pens may be a bit more expensive than a pen from a mass manufacturer, they actually spend the time to make sure that each pen writes and writes well. They’ll adjust it to your desire. And they support their work. At pen shows, you buy your pen and pick your nib, and then come back while the folks at the table set your nib, fill your pen, let you try it all out, and make adjustments on the fly. You won’t get that same kind of care from most manufacturers, even if you’re paying many multiples more.

At $115 ($105 + $10 for the SIG nib), I consider this pen a real winner. It’s not cheap for a pocket pen, but it’s such a good pocket pen with such an amazing nib that I think it’s entirely worth it. I find myself reaching for this pen when I want something to stick in the watch pocket in my jeans to go grocery shopping to head off to a meeting. It’s fun to use, it’s comfortable, it’s light, it’s extremely well made, it holds a lot of ink, and it’s made from a really gorgeous material. This pen has a lot going for it.

Material: Alumilite Resin
Nib: Steel #5 Medium “SIG”
Appointments: N/A
Filling System: Eyedropper, Intl. Short Converter
Length (Capped): 112.2mm
Length (Uncapped): 104.3mm
Length (Posted): 140.7mm
Section Diameter: 10.4mm
Barrel Max Diameter: 13.0mm
Cap Max Diameter: 14mm
Weight, Uncapped (with ink and/or converter): 10g
Weight, Capped (with ink and/or converter):16g

Ink Flow: 6/10
Ink Starvation: 1.5/10
Feedback: 2.5/10
Nib Softness: 1/10
Comfort: 7/10

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Italian fountain pen manufacturer, Tibaldi, doesn’t have the name recognition of other, more popular, Italian brands like Aurora, OMAS, or Visconti. When it is spoken of these days, it is almost always in reference to a particular celluloid that was used in one of its pens from the early 2000s, the Impero. This celluloid, which is a silver-grey flake celluloid, is veined with the most vivid electric blue–a deep, rich cerulean that almost feels as though it glows from within. It’s quite unlike almost anything else on the market. And it’s as stunning to behold as it is difficult to photograph.

Tibaldi started manufacturing fountain pens in 1916 and remained in production until they closed their doors in 1965. In the early 1990s, the Tibaldi name was rebooted, and the new company began producing high-end, limited edition fountain pens that sold for quite a lot of money. The company hit financial difficulties (as seems unfortunately common with many popular Italian pen manufacturers) and closed its doors again in 2001.  Finally, the company was rebooted a third time in 2006 and has remained a relatively obscure manufacturer of extremely expensive pens ever since.

The Tibaldi Impero, the pen which is the subject of this review, was produced during the middle period. Originally intended to be a limited edition of 500 pens, the Impero began to make appearances in 2000 and into 2001 before Tibaldi shut its doors. When the company went under for the second time, folks swooped in to purchase the remaining inventory, parts, and celluloid rod stock.

As for the original Tibaldi Impero, nobody really knows how many pens actually made it through production under the Tibaldi banner. A certain number were released as part of a numbered edition by the company prior to closure. These generally come with original Tibaldi packaging, are numbered (a number prefaced with an E or an I which indicated the language of the included literature–English or Italian), and with a Tibaldi-branded nib.  Pens released after the company’s closure were often assembled from leftover parts. They may not have come with packaging. Often they were unnumbered. Sometimes, they featured nibs that were not Tibaldi-branded.

The celluloid rod stock is an even more interesting saga. For years, Impero celluloid showed up in special edition pens from companies like Bexley, and as a material for one-off creations by custom pen makers. The Impero celluloid has developed an almost mythic reputation in the fountain pen community, and a quick Google Image search will bring back hundreds of different pens featuring this lovely celluloid. These days, finding rod stock of Tibaldi Celluloid is increasingly difficult, as it has been sought after for years. In those rare instances where it can be found, it often goes for hundreds of dollars per rod, and it is portioned out into pens with only very small components featuring the lovely material.

 

At the LA show in 2016, I happened across one of the rare Tibaldi Impero originals. In its original case and including a booklet, this lovely pen was numbered E040 and featured the Tibaldi-branded nib. Entranced by the material, and jonesing for such a highly sought-after pen, I plunked down quite a lot of money and purchased it on the spot.

The Impero came is this heavy wooden box made out of a light colored wood, and featuring a Tibaldi logo drawer pull. Opening the drawer reveals a satin-lined platform featuring the pen and a bottle of Tibaldi ink. The satin tray can be removed to reveal a 7-slot pen case drawer, which officially makes this the single most functional piece of pen packaging in my entire collection. The box also comes with a booklet shaped like the cap of the Impero. (The dahlia is not included with the original packaging, unfortunately.)

The pen itself is simple but beautiful.

It has a very classic, faceted design with slight points on the cap and piston knob. The silver-colored clip looks like a man’s necktie, and the cap features a triple cap band which lines up wonderfully with the facets of the material.

The material is, of course, the star of this show. It’s stunning–deep and rich, and remarkably difficult to capture in photographs. It’s completely mesmerizing to behold, regardless of whether it is in a true Impero or some other model using the celluloid. It’s a real shame that nobody is making this material any longer. (The inside of the cap even still smells of camphor, showing you it’s the real celluloid, cellulose nitrate.)

Under the cap, there the one real design flaw of this pen, a trait that is shared on a very similar-looking pen from another Italian manufacturer, the OMAS paragon. They put the threads smack dab in the middle of the section. Why in the world anyone thought this was a good idea is beyond me. Fortunately, the threads aren’t sharp and the nib and feed are set shallowly enough I was able to comfortably grip the pen on the lower part of the section without having to grasp the threads directly. The limited edition number is stamped on the upper section.

The pen features a Tibaldi Extra nib in palladium-plated 18k gold. It’s a pretty standard #6 Bock-made nib, which made it pretty easy for those folks who sold the remaining inventory of Imperos from the factory closure to fit compatible nibs on the pen. The nib that came with my pen is a medium.

The Tibaldi Impero is a piston-filled pen, operated by the faceted knob on the bottom of the barrel. This pen had a slightly sticky piston when I received it–unsurprising for a pen that was nearly 15 years old and had never been inked. I was able to remove the section with a pair of section pliers and lube up the inner walls of the pen barrel to get the piston flowing smoothly again. Since then, it’s worked like a charm. The pen’s piston parts are made of plastic, not metal, so they have a lighter-weight feel to, say, a piston filler like the Pelikan M800.

Aside from the idiotic placement of the threads, this pen is extremely comfortable in the hand. It’s a larger pen, but moreso in length than in excessive girth. (The section’s diameter is an extremely reasonable 10.8mm) It can be posted, but I find posting makes it far too long and unwieldy.

I wasn’t in love with the pen’s writing performance out of the box. It was fine, but a bit rougher, drier, and inconsistent than I like. I was originally pretty disappointed in that. (See also: all my previous rants about how a pen this expensive should just write.)  I was, perhaps hypocritically, willing to give it a bit of a pass because I was after the body of the pen as much as the writing experience, and was able to get it worked on by my favorite nibmeister, Mike Masuyama. After Mike’s magic touch, the pen was a smooth, wet, wonderful writer. These days, I almost always have it inked. It’s one of my favorite pens.

If you can find an original Tibaldi Impero these days, you can expect to pay a hefty chunk of change. (It’s getting to the point that you can expect to pay a hefty chunk of change for any pen made of Tibaldi Impero celluloid, let alone an original Impero.)  This pen was sold to me for $1,200…a far sight more than most people are willing to pay for any pen. I can’t say, necessarily, that the pen is worth that much–it is a pen after all–but I don’t regret having spent the money on this pen. I’m certain that I have devalued the pen by having the nib adjusted, inking it up, and using it on a regular basis. I don’t care, though. I love this pen. This is one of those pens that just makes me happy every time I pull it out to write.

Material: Cellulose Nitrate
Nib: #6 Palladium-plated 18k Gold Nib
Appointments: Silver-colored
Filling System: Piston
Length (Capped): 143.5mm
Length (Uncapped): 133.2mm
Length (Posted): 171.3mm
Section Diameter: 10.8mm
Barrel Max Diameter: 14.6mm
Cap Max Diameter: 15.7mm
Weight, Uncapped (with ink and/or converter): 16g
Weight, Capped (with ink and/or converter):28g

Ink Flow: 9/10
Ink Starvation: 1/10
Feedback: 2/10
Nib Softness: 2/10
Comfort: 9/10

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In episode #54 of Currently Inked, we answer questions about pastel inks, hooded nibs, fixing a flat spot on vintage nibs, and my catalyst for selling off personal pens…even ones I like.

Show Notes:

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I recently had a chance to review one of the newer models (the Himalaya) from value fountain pen retailer Fountain Pen Revolution. It was a pen that utilized one of the company’s inexpensive steel flex nib and was made out of bright orange swirly acrylic.  In this review, I get a chance to take a look at an even more inexpensive pen in the FPR lineup, the solid-color Darjeeling.

The FPR Darjeeling is an extremely affordable pen, ranging in price between $15 and $19, depending on the nib option selected. The pen comes in eight solid, opaque colors and one clear demonstrator version. The pen features a #6 nib in EF, F, M, B, 1.0mm Stub, and Flex, and can be used with a standard international converter or cartridge, or can be eyedroppered.

The design of the pen harkens back to the very classical designs from the early days of fountain pens. It reminds me a lot of vintage Parker Duofolds, particularly the orange version with the black finial. The cap’s finial holds on a springy triangular clip with a metal ball (an extremely classic design) and features two metal cap rings toward the lip of the cap. My one minor complaint with the manufacturing quality of the pen is that these rings are not flush with the pen cap, and feel kind of loose.

The rest of the pen is relatively nondescript but well-manufactured. The barrel of the pen is made from a single piece of acrylic and comes to a slightly pointed end. The section has a bit of concavity to it, then flares out a bit toward the nib.  It takes two full turns of the cap to remove it from the barrel, and threads between the section and the barrel are long, tight, and smooth, making it an excellent candidate for eyedropperability. (I know that’s not a real word but it sounds like it should be, right?).

The pen’s #6 nib unit is slightly inset into the section, give the nib a slightly stubby appearance. It’s a pretty standard steel nib, with the FPR branding stamped into the face along with the nib gauge designation. The pen came with a fine nib, and it is slightly finer in line width than most western fine nibs I’ve used…but not by very much. Unlike some of the other FPR pens, this one uses a plastic feed instead of an ebonite feed.

As a writer, this one is pretty good. It’s got a nice, moderate, and consistent ink flow. The fine point has some feedback to it, but not enough to be distracting except perhaps on the most highly-textured of paper. The pen is larger than the previously reviewed Himalaya, and extremely lightweight a pen of its size. I found it comfortable to hold in the hand. When posted, it tends to feel a bit long and unwieldy, but it’s long enough that I didn’t need to post it to use the pen comfortably.

The pen does come with a slide-type converter which, as I’ve discussed before, is not my favorite thing in the world. But it is a standard international converter, and can be replaced with other alternatives.

Overall, this is a nice little pen for $15. You’re not necessarily going to get the mass-produced feel that you might from the similarly-priced Pilot Metropolitan, but the pens larger size and non-metal materials give it a much more comfortable feel in my hand than its distant Japanese cousin. It behaved well, is pretty robust, and is a nice alternative for someone looking to get an inexpensive pen that they can be comfortable playing around with. And with really affordable replacement nibs, this is a marvelous pen on which to practice your nib adjustment skills.

Material: Acrylic
Nib: Steel #6 FPR Steel Nib – Fine
Appointments: Silver-colored
Filling System: Standard International Cartridge/Converter & Eyedropper
Length (Capped): 137.3mm
Length (Uncapped): 130.7mm
Length (Posted): 168.8mm
Section Diameter: 11.0mm
Barrel Max Diameter: 12.3mm
Cap Max Diameter: 15.8mm
Weight, Uncapped (with ink and/or converter): 12g
Weight, Capped (with ink and/or converter):18g

Ink Flow: 6/10
Ink Starvation: 2/10
Feedback: 3.5/10
Nib Softness: 1/10
Comfort: 6/10

 

This pen was provided free of charge by Fountain Pen Revolution in exchange for an honest review and giveaway. No additional compensation was provided. All opinions expressed herein are my own. 

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