So, I’ve generally made no secret of the fact that I don’t care for pens that are not of the fountain variety. In fact, I’ve generally said, “If I can’t use a fountain pen, I won’t use a pen at all.” Well, now the latest in a series that I plan on calling “Matt Eats His Words,” Lisa Vanness from Vanness Pens joins me in the studio to give me a tutorial and let me try several ballpoints, rollerballs, and gel pens. Will I get addicted to them as well? Let’s watch!
Fountain pens have been around for a long time, and in many ways, have moved through the product development cycle into what we in the software industry call “steady state.” There’s generally not a ton of innovation, either in terms of functionality or design; those innovations that do happen are not always adopted by the larger market. Most modern-day fountain pen “innovations” are built upon a shared foundation of pretty standard characteristics that make it very easy to categorize them together: cigar-shaped pens, flat-topped pens, etc. You can get differences in hardware, size, materials, etc. It’s rare that you see a completely different design, though.
That’s one of the things that impressed me the most about the Benu Pens Briolette when it started making the rounds in the online fountain pen community earlier in 2017. Benu Pens is a Russian-based company–in itself a rather unusual thing in our community–making pens with really unique designs out of even more unique materials. There really isn’t anything quite like these Benu Pens designs on the market right now. I appreciate the uniqueness.
The Benu Briolette is, in its most abstract, a cigar-shaped or torpedo-shaped pen. Rather than a pen with your traditional, smooth finish, however, this pen is covered with large, diamond-shaped facets which give the pen a very unusual look. The facets are well cut, and the result is a pen that is a lot of fun to spin around in the light. The facets also keep the pen from rolling around the desk, which is nice, as there is no clip or roll-stopper to otherwise distract from the finish.
The pen’s faceted shape is enhanced by the very unusual resins from which it is made. Benu sent two versions of the pen over to me: a purple, black, and silver material they called ‘Milky Way’ and a blue-white, silver, and black material they call ‘Luminous Blue’ (which glows in the dark). The materials are custom-made for Benu, and aren’t available anywhere else. And there are a lot of variations. At the time of this writing, there are 13 different materials for the Briolette alone, each one vibrant and really unique.
This material is a lot of things, but subtle is not one of them. These pens sparkle something fierce. They’re quite glittery–which is not everyone’s thing. In the Milky Way (pictured above) the swirls of purple glitter are quite vibrant, with very fine particles in them. The brighter silver glitter contains much larger pieces that really stand out and sparkle in the light. This type of material is certainly not going to be for everyone, but if you like things that sparkle, this may be the material for you.
The pen’s cap is clipless, and the facets match up well with those on the barrel of the pen. The only real marking on the pen is the name “BENU’ in art deco lettering on the black resin cap band. Under the cap, there is a slender black section which tapers down to a #5 Schmidt nib. The section unscrews from the barrel on well-machined threads to expose a standard international converter, also of Schmidt manufacture.
The pen itself is well-machined and well-finished. The pen has a bright, luminous polish that shows off both the sparkle of the material and the intricate faceting of the body. The threads are smooth. I believe the pen probably can be used as an eyedropper if you so chose, but I would personally recommend a liberal application of silicone grease on the threads between the barrel and the section; they don’t feel quite as tight as they could for eyedroppering. (Insert standard disclaimer here that I don’t eyedropper my pens and so did not test the feasibility of eyedroppering this pen.)
In the hand, the overall ergonomics of the pen are good considering it is a somewhat unusual shape. Due to the “seamless” transition between the cap band and the barrel when capped, there is a relatively decent step-down from barrel to section. However, the section is long enough that the step-down never got in the way of my grip. In fact, I never even had to rest my grip on the threads–a pretty common occurrence for me as I tend to like to hold the pen further up the section. The pen is also long enough to use unposted, which is nice, since posting this pen isn’t an option.
The section itself is a bit on the narrow side for my tastes, but only just. Even though it does tend to run a bit slim for me, it was comfortable to hold, and I was able to use the pen for long periods without any difficulty.
Benu has opted to go with Schmidt nibs in their pens. During my time in the hobby thus far, Schmidt nibs have not been considered among the best of the third-party nib manufacturers, and few companies use them regularly. (The only other one that I can think of off the top of my head is Retro 1951.) It can be hard to track down the origin of these Schmidt nibs, but according to some posts I’ve seen in the forums, Schmidt may not manufacture its own nibs any longer. It has been asserted that they purchase their nibs from Bock or Jowo, and assemble them with their own feeds, collars, etc. I have no easy way of confirming that, but I will say this: these nibs are quite good, but kind of pedestrian, writers.
The #5-sized steel nibs have the Schmidt Iridium Point markings, and lack a breather hole. They’re set pretty deeply into the pen’s collar. Both version of the Briolette I received had a medium nib, and both wrote pretty well out of the box. (Certainly as well as most Jowo or Bock steel nibs I’ve received.) The nibs do tend to run a touch on the dry side, and have a bit more feedback than I prefer in my nibs, but nothing that I would consider unpleasant. It is also nothing that couldn’t be resolved with a minor adjustment on some Micromesh™.
I did run a test with the Milky Way version of the pen, inking it up and leaving it unused for nearly two months. The pen wrote immediately after that resting period, but I did find the ink flow to be a bit less reliable. You’re not going to get the kind of air-tightness you’d see on something like a Platinum 3776, but I was impressed that I didn’t have any issues with the pen writing improperly after a long rest period.
In general, I have to say that I was impressed by the Briolette from Benu Pens. It’s not my type of pen. (I’m all for chatoyance and sparkle, but I’m not a huge fan of glitter, and these pens are glittery.) But I love to see manufacturers coming up with truly unique designs and materials, putting together well-made pens, and–perhaps most importantly–selling them at a really reasonable price.
Benu lists the Briolette on their website for between $65 and $70. You can choose between Fine, Medium, or Broad nibs. The pen can come with a blue ink cartridge, or for $5 more, a Schmidt converter. (Schmidt makes some of the best IS converters on the market, in my opinion.) The Briolette can also come with a lovely pen holder made out of a clear acrylic and meant to look like a piece of rock crystal. I actually really like the look of these pen holders, and how they show off the Briolette…especially the holder for the Luminous Blue model, which also glows in the dark.
The pen holders add $25 to the price of the pen.
At $65+, the Briolette is a pretty good value in the fountain pen world. It’s one of those rare pens that sits in between the entry level options like the Pilot Metropolitan, Lamy Safari, or Faber-Castell Loom and the intermediate, gold-nibbed pens from Pilot, Lamy, or Platinum. It’s a good writer, comfortable in the hand, made of unique materials, and featuring a very unusual design. It’s not going to be a pen for everyone, but I suspect it will have a combination of attributes and features that will appeal to a lot of people: especially at that price.
Nib: Steel #5 Schmidt Nib, Medium
Filling System: Standard International Cartridge/Converter
Length (Capped): 137.9mm
Length (Uncapped): 126.5mm
Length (Posted): N/A
Section Diameter: 10.5mm
Barrel Max Diameter: 16.1mm
Cap Max Diameter: 16.1mm
Weight, Uncapped (with ink and/or converter): 16g
Weight, Capped (with ink and/or converter):21g
The pens for this review were provided free-of-charge by Benu Pens for review purposes and giveaway to Pen Habit viewers. No additional compensation was provide. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.
We fountain pen people can be a particular people. (Which is different than being a peculiar people, but not always.)We tend to be very particular about the things we like, the way we like them, and how we believe they should be. We get particular about our ink, our nib styles, our paper, our pen cases, etc.
However, when it comes to particular-ness, fountain pen people have nothing on another group of…um…enthusiastic supporters. I speak, of course, of those wonderful fans of the film series, Star Wars. Star Wars fans are a passionate group, with just-as-passionately held beliefs about the fandom, the universe, the stories, the characters, the films, the directors, the scripts, the actors, etc. Serious Star Wars fans give any fandom in the history of ever a run for its money.
Star Wars was released upon the world the year before I was born. My family didn’t own a VCR until I was 16 (we didn’t have a lot of money, and my parents weren’t big into the entertainment/industrial complex), so I didn’t see the Star Wars movies until I was in college. Even then, my first introduction to the films was not the original films, but those that were “improved” by George Lucas. While I recognize how groundbreaking the films were for their time, and what a significant impact they had on several generations of film-goers, I was never much of a fan. (I won’t get into why that is here. I’ll save that harangue for drinks at a bar after a particularly long day at a pen show.)
My opinions of the film weren’t helped even one iota by the prequel trilogy that came out later. (The less said about those three films, the better.)And even the newer Star Wars films don’t do anything for me. I LOVE Sci-Fi and Fantasy films and novels. But Star Wars has just never been my bailiwick. It’s not my jam.
I say all this, not to engender rage against my person (although I have a sneaking suspicion it will happen nonetheless) but as a preface to help you understand my approach to this review. I did not review this Cross Star Wars Townsend “Chewbacca” fountain pen as a Star Wars fan, since I’m clearly not a Star Wars fan. Instead, this pen is reviewed almost entirely from the point of view of a fan of fountain pens, and from that POV only.
In 2017, fountain pen manufacturer Cross released three new models in a line of limited edition fountain pens based on the Star Wars universe. The first batch was released in 2016 and included top-billed characters like R2D2 and Darth Vader. This year, the company went after Han Solo, Boba Fett, and the gurgle-growling Chewbacca.
The pen comes in a cardboard box, featuring a space background and an image of the character in question. Inside the box are two smaller boxes. The smaller of the two contains an acrylic pen stand with the Cross logo on one side, the Star Wars logo on the other, and a channel cut across the top on which the pen rests. The larger inner box is the fairly standard pen coffin which holds the pen, a commemorative booklet, a couple of cartridges, and a converter.
The pen itself is, under the surface, a bog standard-ish Cross Townsend. As one of Cross’s larger models, the Townsend tends to be a little thicker and longer than most of the pen’s in Cross’ lineup. The pen is made of metal, and the Chewbacca model is stamped/etched with designs reminiscent of Chewbacca’s hair, which are highlighted by this rather luminous brown lacquer. The back of the cap features some Star Wars design elements (my limited knowledge and complete lack of interest in the mythology of the Star Wars universe precludes me from having any desire to research what those markings actually are…you can see them in the picture below) laser etched into the surface and colored to contrast with the brown of the pen. The pen’s hardware is gold-plated, and the top finial features a smoked quartz crystal inset into the finial.The pen’s limited edition number (out of 1977, the year of the first film’s release) is laser etched along the top finial as well.
The cap is a slip-top version, which comes off with a bit of pressure, but remains securely on the pen nonetheless. The cap is lined with a plastic inner liner which both keeps the nib wet and serves as protection when posting the cap on the back of the pen. Under the cap is a black acrylic section which has an almost seamless join into the metal of the barrel. There is no step-down between barrel and section, which gives the user a decent variety of grips to pick from when writing with the pen.
The pen is a cartridge converter pen and utilizes Cross’s proprietary cartridge/converter system. While I am not a fan of proprietary converters, Cross’s converters have never given me any issues—aside from the fact that they’re relatively difficult to find and limited to a brand that doesn’t seem to have a lot of top-of-mind presence in the current fountain pen community. The pen and the section tenon are both metal, so this pen is not suitable for eyedropper conversion.
Up to this point, I really have no issue with the pen. It’s not my cup of tea, but it’s well-made. It’s a well-considered design that manages to depict the character while still abstracting the design enough that it doesn’t feel overly cartoony or blatant. The pen is relatively comfortable to hold, not too heavy, and well-balanced even when posted. There is a lot to like in the pen’s design and construction. Then we get to the nib.
This pen is one of Cross’s higher-end offerings, and as such, comes with a small (approximately #5-sized) 18k gold nib. The nib has some nice designs and the Cross name stamped into it. I have used one of Cross’s 18k gold nibs in the past, and was quite pleased with its performance. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the same experience this time around.
The medium Cross nib was just…okay. The nib was smooth, but it had pretty clearly been over-polished, resulting in some moderate hard-starting issues, especially with drier inks. The pen is a wet writer, but the feed seemed to exhibit minor (and it really was minor) ink starvation with longer writing sessions. The medium nib was medium, but it was certainly on the broad side of that designation. It was a mostly pedestrian writing experience, with small moments of frustration thrown in here or there. There’s nothing about the writing experience that couldn’t be fixed with some adjustment, but nothing about it that I found particularly out of the ordinary either.
In the end, the Cross Townsend Chewbacca is a nice pen with a decent writing experience. It is also a pen with a $575 price point. Now, in the past, I’ve had a hard time answering the “is it worth it” question when it comes to expensive pens. What is “worth it” for me and for you may be very different.For me, $575 is too much for this pen. As someone without an emotional tie to Star Wars, this pen’s writing performance or design don’t justify that price point. Someone for whom Star Wars was a cultural or developmental touchstone in his or her life might find this price entirely reasonable.
In the end, these are nice pens…they’re just not the pen for me. Even with the writing annoyances I experiences, I would consider buying the pen if the design were something that had meaning to me. This is, in my opinion, not a pen for a serious fountain pen user, it’s a pen for a serious Star War fan who also happens to use and like fountain pens.
Material: Metal Nib: Medium 18k Gold Nib Appointments: 23k Gold Plated Filling System: Cross proprietary cartridge/converter Length (Capped): 149.5mm Length (Uncapped): 131.3mm Length (Posted): 157.3mm Section Diameter: 9.9mm Barrel Max Diameter: 10.9mm Cap Max Diameter: 13.5mm Weight, Uncapped (with ink and/or converter): 21g Weight, Capped (with ink and/or converter):38g
This pen was loaned to The Pen Habit by Goldspot Pens in exchange for an honest review, and will be returned following this review. Goldspot pens is a current Pen Habit sponsor, but all opinions expressed herein are mine alone.
Considered by many to be a relic of days gone by, the idea of sealing your letters with wax and a stamp comes with a whole host of difficulties in our modern era of computer-sorted mail. In this video, I go through some of my favorite wax seal-related materials, explore ways to help reduce issues with sorting machines, and play around with fire.
As I approach my fifth year of doing fountain pen video reviews on YouTube and written reviews here on the Pen Habit blog, I’ve been reflecting a bit on how my personal preferences for fountain pens have changed over that time. In many ways, I miss the newness and enthusiasm of early pen hobby-dom. I miss the expectation of a new, unique experience. I even miss the uncertainty of not knowing what to expect from a new pen. Hundreds of pens have passed through my hands, and I’ve started to develop a sense of what a pen will be like before I’ve even picked it up or seen it in person the first time. Those admitted preconceptions have sapped a little bit of the enjoyment out of the hobby.
A big part of my preconception for new pens is centered around the nib. In the modern day of fountain pens, so few manufacturers make their own nibs, and there are so few third-party nib manufacturers, that you can almost take it for granted that you’re going to get a pen with a Bock or Jowo-made nib. And a disturbingly high percentage of manufacturers don’t seem to customize, adjust, or even check the nibs before screwing them into the pen body and shipping them out. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve said in reviews, “If you’ve used a pen with a ______ (insert Bock or Jowo here) nib before, you’ve got a good idea of how this pen will write.
So, when a pen comes onto the market with a writing experience that is a little different, I tend to pay attention. And it was the nib, more than anything else, that made me decide to take a look at the Taccia (I’ve heard it pronounced as “tasha”) Spectrum.
Taccia is a smaller brand by Japanese fashion designer Shu-jen Lin that was founded in 2003. Perusing the brand’s website, you can see that they have a bit of a split personality: several of the brand’s pens are quite expensive, and feature popular Japanese decoration techniques like Urushi lacquer or Maki-e. I’ve never had a chance to review any of the brand’s high-end offerings; however, there are also more utilitarian, production model pens, like the Taccia Spectrum, or a pen that I reviewed a couple of years ago, the Taccia Covenant.
Taccia is distributed by Itoya, the same company that distributes the Sailor brand of pens and inks. And likely due to this shared distributor, Taccia has managed to get ahold of Sailor’s celebrated nibs to include in the Spectrum. This makes the Taccia Spectrum something of an outlier in its price range.
In typical Japanese fashion for pens in the daily writer/workhorse price range, the Taccia Spectrum features a relatively standard profile. The pen’s cigar shape will not win any awards for innovation, certainly, but it’s a nice, proportional shape that anyone who has spent time with fountain pens will recognize. What does set the Spectrum apart from many of its countrypen is the material from which it is made. Rather than being an understated black, burgundy, or some other equally boring solid color, the Taccia Spectrum comes in three semi-translucent acrylics: merlot red, ocean blue, and what they call forest green (which is actually more of a deep teal).
I opted for the forest green, as I don’t have many pens of this color in my collection. It’s a nice material. I can’t tell if the pen is injection molded or lathe-machined, but based on the pen’s price point, I’m guessing the parts are injection molded. In either case, the finishing of the pen is wonderful. It is beautifully polished, the tolerances are tight, there are no machining or mold line marks. It is an extremely well-made writing instrument.
The cap features a stiff clip with a sort of upside-down necktie design, which is attached to the cap through a slit in the cap wall. The cap takes nearly three full turns to remove from the barrel and features an opaque cap liner to help keep the nib from drying out. (It does, unfortunately, obscure the nib from view when the pen is capped, however.) Right near the lip of the cap is a small, printed Taccia name. There is no cap band or any other decoration at all on the cap.
The barrel is even less decorated than the cap. There are no markings of any kind. The barrel tapers to a blunt, rounded end typical of the cigar pen shape.
Under the cap is where things start to get a lot more interesting. The cap, which is acrylic, meshes with metal threads on the barrel. There is a metal collar that connects the barrel and the section together (which you can see through the translucency of the material). The section itself tapers and has a slight lip right toward the nib end. It’s a short section, and a bit too narrow for my personal taste, but not so much so that it makes the pen uncomfortable to use.
Because this pen features a Sailor nib (more on that in just a moment), it also features a Sailor cartridge/converter filling system. Now, my distaste of Sailor’s converters has been well-documented and oft-repeated, but I’ll repeat it once more in the admitted-vain hope that someone at Sailor will pay attention and fix an aggregious flaw in their manufacturing chain. Sailor makes, without question, the worst converters on the market. I’ve had SO MANY Sailor converters fail on me that I keep a stash of 5-10 of them in my pen box at all times. They have a deeply unfortunate tendency to leak behind the piston and out the rear end of the converter. And as I recently experienced through a bout of severe food poisoning, rear end leakage is not a problem anyone wants to deal with in any form. For a company that makes such wonderful pens, feeds, and nibs, I am continuously boggled as to why Sailor’s engineers haven’t managed to figure out a better converter system. Sailor, please. For the love of all that is good and holy. STOP THE INSANITY.
(A side note here: there is a small rubber ring on the tenon of the section, which would seem to indicate that the potential exists for eyedroppering this pen. I personally wouldn’t try it: the tenon itself is chromed/plated metal, and I’d be concerned with a chemical reaction between the ink and the metal of the tenon. Better not to risk it, in my opinion.)
Then, at last, we come to the Sailor-made nib. Sailor’s nibs are, rightfully, considered some of the best nibs in the industry. They make their nibs in-house, and they employ some of the very best nibmeisters in the world to adjust their nibs. I’ve yet to find a single Sailor nib that isn’t perfectly adjusted in terms of ink flow. I’ve never seen a hard start or ink starvation. The only “downside,” if you want to call it that, is that Sailor’s nibs tend to be a little feedback-heavy. Their feedback is usually of the pleasant variety, and many describe it as “pencil-like.” While I can certainly use Sailor’s pens as is, I personally like to smooth them out a bit for a slightly more buttery experience; but I find them so well-adjusted, Sailor’s nibs are among some of the easiest to smooth I’ve ever worked on. They require little more than a few figure eights over a bit of 12,000-grit MicroMesh.
Up ’til now, all of my experience with Sailor-made nibs has been in their 14k gold or 21k gold nib lines. I had never had a chance to use a Sailor steel nib, which is what graces Taccia Spectrum. Although branded with Taccia’s logo, the nib is clearly of Sailor manufacture, and that steel nib writes exactly how you might expect from a Sailor pen. In fact, the writing experience of the Taccia steel nib is so similar to Sailor’s 14k nibs (which are usually quite rigid) that I am not sure I would be able to tell the difference in a blind writing test.
All of that to say that the Taccia Spectrum is a spectacular writer. I would consider it one of the best writers in its price range. I’ve been using the pen for well over a month, and I’ve never had even the slightest hint of any problem at all. Even after leaving the pen sitting on the desk for two weeks, I uncapped it and started writing immediately. Even the miserable Sailor converter has performed well so far.
In the hand, this pen is just a hint too small for my personal preferences, especially when unposted. It’s very light, which I light, but the combination of the narrow grip and the shorter length does tend to have a negative impact on my handwriting. However, it can be posted, and the cap is so light (actually, the entire pen is quite light) that posting makes the pen much more enjoyable for me to use.
The Taccia Spectrum is at an interesting price point. With a list price of $159 for the steel-nibbed version of the pen (they also come in gold-nibbed versions, but I didn’t try those), the Spectrum is priced in the same general range as the likes of the Karas Kustoms Decograph, the Edison production line, and many of Franklin-Christoph’s offerings, all of which offer steel nibs as well at that price point. However, the Spectrum’s street price usually hovers right around $120-$130, which is a much more compelling price, in my opinion. And for a nib that writes as consistently, and as well, as this one? Well, let’s just say that this pen could very easily find itself on my top 5 workhorse pens list next year.
In the end, I really, really like this pen. I love that, although they stuck with a standard design, they zhooshed it up by picking some more eye-catching colors. It’s a nice combination of understated workhorse and colorful fashion statement. I like that the writing experience is different than a parade of OEM Bock and Jowo nibs. I like that this pen is dead reliable over and over again. And I like that it’s something a little different than the same few pens I seem to see recommended ad nauseum for people looking to step up beyond the first round of entry-level offerings.
Nib: Steel Medium Nib (made by Sailor)
Filling System: Sailor proprietary cartridge/converter
Length (Capped): 140.0mm
Length (Uncapped): 118.3mm
Length (Posted): 160.7mm
Section Diameter: 10.1mm
Barrel Max Diameter: 12.8mm
Cap Max Diameter: 14.4mm
Weight, Uncapped (with ink and/or converter): 17g
Weight, Capped (with ink and/or converter):26g
The pen for this review was provided free-of-charge by Vanness Pens in exchange for an honest review and giveaway. Vanness Pens is a current sponsor of The Pen Habit. All opinions expressed herein are my own.