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Archive for July 22nd, 2010

Diamond… Mine!

Posted by Dirck on 22 July, 2010

Today (and also some of yesterday ) I’m doing an uncommonly full review of a pen. This is the first product of a new pen maker, TWSBI, which has as part of their business model been sampling the brains of the Fountain Pen Network. This must be a frustrating effort, because a nuttier squirrel academy to seek opinions from is hard to imagine– we are very certain about what we like, but we all like very slightly different things.

What they have come up with is, to avoid hyperbole, utterly amazing. I’ve made up a little photoplay of what you get in the mail when you order one of these things. After removing the outer wrapping, there is the exterior box with the company logo printed on it. I can’t decide what that logo reminds me more of, an item of Imperial blazonry from Star Wars or a biohazard warning:

This is as much as a Lamy Safari gets for a box– there’s nothing wrong with that, and Lamy is fairly clever about it, but in this case, this is just the first layer. Within the cardboard, the actual plastic box is further protected by foam and a thin-film wrapper:

Once you’ve fought your way past all that, you find the pen suspended in a little cradle in the plastic shell. This, I imagine, is what they expect you to get to see in the display shelves of any store than might carry this pen. You will notice a couple of design award markers cluttering up the otherwise minimal interior of the box. The Golden Pin is apparently a thing instituted in Taiwan (whence TWSBI) simply to pat upon the back any product their Ministry of Economic Affairs thinks is cool, but the Reddot is an actual big international deal, which has also been given out to heavy hitters like Apple:

Having released the pen from the box, you’ve got a jolly big pen, with extremely good finish. It is slightly larger than the Pelikan M600, and has much the same internal mechanism (the Pelikan, by the way, costs about six times as much as the Diamond). The barrel of the pen is faceted, a reflection of the pen’s name, in alternating triangles and lozenges, which are not only decorative but also help to keep the pen from rolling to briskly off a desk if put down without the cap attached at either end. That’s not something I do a lot of myself, but it’s a nice little feature all the same:

I refer again to the Lamy Safari, because this pen costs about the same as that German product, which is frequently suggested as an entry-drug for the prospective pen addict. I don’t want to run down the Lamy, which is a good pen, but the little bits of trim on the Diamond elevate it to something rather more wearable than the wire-clipped school pen so many of us enjoy. The point is made for TWSBI by Schmidt, a firm which specializes in making parts for fountain pens; it’s imprinted with the same slightly sinister logo and the maker’s initials, with no claims of German origin in sight. This is not as firm a point as that found on the Lamy—it’s not flexible in any sense of the word, but there is the springiness associated in modern pens with the higher-class gold point.

I should mention that the haziness of the section is a result of having test-filled the pen with water and then emptying it before taking this picture. It’s just condensation, not something inherent to the pen.

What really makes this pen is what lies beneath it… literally. In the space under the box is a very detailed instruction sheet, along with some maintenance items– a spanner and a tiny bottle of silicon grease:

These items are a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because they make it clear to the average user that this is something that is not inherently disposable. The maker has provided the tools to keep the thing in operating trim, so why not maximize the return on your investment by giving it a little attention now and then? A curse, because it encourages idiots like me to take the thing apart every twenty minutes. In fact, I hadn’t had it out of the wrapper that long when this happened:

Now, it’s not wrong to do this. It is encouraged. But it is also unnecessary… sort of. This is one of a pre-production set of 300 released to FPN members (if the writing on the wrapper has any meaning to it, this one is number 231). While they were in transit, the maker put a public announcement out that some of the piston seals, the little black object at lower left, are not quite up to the correct tolerances, and may allow ink through to the “dry” side of the barrel’s interior. Part of the public announcement was a request to be informed of the problem developing, so a replacement seal could be sent. How’s that for customer care?

I should mention at this point that I don’t altogether recommend completely undoing the filler mechanism as I’ve done here. It’s a bit of a Chinese puzzle (if I may be facetious) to get it back together again, not in as much as getting the parts to cling together, but in getting them aligned in such a way that the piston has the correct length of travel. Happily, if you’re one of the folks awaiting the replacement seal, you don’t have to take it that far apart—until the blind cap is entirely unscrewed from its base, and the base is the part that the spanner serves to remove from the barrel, the filler remains a contiguous unit, and the seal can be replaced without the full strip-down seen above.

I haven’t had this pen long enough to be able to recommend it with a straight face– heck, I don’t know yet whether mine has one of the bum seals, and I’m as yet aglow with the happy sensations of a new pen. Demonstrator pens are a bit of a conundrum for me in general– while one is entirely aware of what is going on within, which negates a lot of the crummy surprises a pen is capable of springing, it is something like a hairless cat in that you’re seeing stuff that’s not always appealing, with every blemish and thumbprint manifest. I am reasonably sure that when the honeymoon ends I’ll still like it, and will certainly offer a link to their English-speaking online store if for no other reason than to help them become known in the world of pen enthusiasts. At very least they’ve managed to make a pen competitive in performance with pens twice its price.

On the subject of becoming known– TWSBI? That’s a lot of letters, isn’t it? The maker’s representatives on FPN suggest “twisbee” as a pronunciation, the first part as “twist” without the final letter, and since it’s their name I won’t suggest otherwise (despite an inclination to assume something with that many consonants must be Welsh). “Bi” is pen in whichever flavour of Chinese language holds sway in Taiwan, and the remaining letters are for “San Wen Tang”, the meaning of which I’m unclear on and the reasons for the inversion remaining obscure.

Future developments for the company include diverse colours of barrel for the 530 (all, for the moment, transparent), and more interestingly a projected vacuum-filling pen, which promises to be a lot more service-friendly that the Sheaffers of the 1930s and ’40s, and hopefully a little less dear that the Conid pens out of Europe. I think I mentioned previously that there are some signs of the writing instrument pendulum swinging back from cheap’n’dreary, and TWSBI is certainly a hopeful indicator in that direction.

much later: Ah-hah. It is one with a duff piston seal, and I do recommend it with a straight face all the same.

Today’s pen: TWSBI Diamond 530, on its maiden flight.
Today’s ink: Pilot Iroshizuku Fuyu-Syogun (although I now think a more festive ink would have looked better)

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