Oh, Waterman. I want to like you so much more than I do. I have fond associations going back to the halcyon days of late teenagerness, when I got my first non-cheap fountain pen, a Waterman Super Master, as a graduation gift. I liked it a lot, I will admit, but a large part of that liking was derived from the the thought behind the gift.
Similarly, the pen that gave rise to the pen madnesssss which has lasted since the very turn of the century, my Phileas, was a gift which I cherish beyond the actual value of the pen as a pen. The Phileas is also generally regarded as unexpectedly good by a lot of pen fans, and I think this slightly colours my opinion of the company… or adds to what I wish my opinion of the company was.
How do I really feel about Waterman? Well, apart from a willingness to be pleased by them, I keep running into a recurrent failure to be pleased by them. Part of this is probably down to their place as the grandsire of fountain pen makers. “You’ve been at it since the beginning,” says the inward voice, “so why aren’t you better at it?”
Now hold on, cries a voice of fairness, Waterman now is not the original Waterman! You’re blaming a parent for the failures of the offspring! Oh, I know that, but please keep in mind that this is a purely subjective evaluation– I could be down on a pen company because I sneeze rather than cough when I stick one of their pens in my left ear. But setting that aside, this opinion covers the whole span of Waterman’s history that I’ve had any contact with. Hard rubber pens from the 1920s have been disappointing, and that could be because I’ve not been able to afford one with a known-to-be-excellent point… but I can only speak from experience. The later pre-WWII pens which give way to the final years of Waterman in the US are similarly provocative of sighs. There’s always some little foible in the whole of the pen that puts me off, and that’s without thinking about the prospects for maintenance. A 1949 Waterman needing a resacking is very like a man playing Russian roulette; apt to survive, but with a pretty high risk of destruction.
Then we come to the French era of Waterman, and again… some little irritant always arises. Hard-to-find cartridges. Poor materials choices. Blunders in design. Beautiful pens, generally, and usually pleasant enough to write with, but always with an unpleasant undertone. Of the Watermans I have, I like the writing qualities of the Executive the most– it exemplifies the effortless ease of flow that is the primary reason for using fountain pens– but I know that the minor, almost invisible, loss of plating I’m seeing on the front of the section it a prelude to an ugly disintegration I’ve seen in plenty of other examples. The reason I got the Phileas was because the section of the Super Master broke at the threads.
I’ve been trying to decide if my opinion of Waterman is at all tainted by the handling they’ve lately had a the hands of their conglomerate overlords, and I don’t think so. This might change if I find myself wrestling with on of their newer converters, which word has it are a substantial anti-improvement over the ones I’m used to, but for the moment, all the current ownership makes me feel for Waterman is some pity; there seems to be a milking of the brand-name happening, and Waterman deserves better.
There it is, then. I wish I liked them more. I wish I could like them as much as I want to. But they are… standoffish.