Some of you reading this may be aware of Ben Walsh. If you don’t know him – consider him a name to take note of. The designer behind a 2019 eco-friendly concrete pen, Ben’s new brand, Gravitas is beginning to make some interesting waves in the world of fountain pens. Following 2 years of design work, development and research, Ben i launched Gravitas via Kickstarter in Spring 2020. In spite of attracting substantial investment the crowdfund ended unsuccessfully. But his Kickstarter was evidence of a desire in the market for his products, so the first Gravitas pen was launched in the late summer of 2020. Early uptake of this pen was fast and user feedback very positive. In fact, the Gravitas pen has now shipped to more than 40 countries and Gravitas has in excess of 10,000 followers on Instagram.
In spite of this, I have mixed feelings about metal pens: often heavy, the unyielding nature of metal, the coolness, the potential slippery feeling of the section in the hand and some difficult experiences backing Namisu along the way. But, after seeing images of the pens Ben produces, I found myself becoming curious. Those who owned a Gravitas seemed very satisfied and while I had concerns about whether I’d enjoy the experience of owning one, I decided to take a chance. I am very glad I did.
My journey with Gravitas started last October – around 6 weeks after his successful initial release of pens. I had observed a difference in design between images on Ben’s website (which hinted at a very clean looking unpatterned Bock #6 nib) and the supplied traditional Jowo nibs that owners were showing off. Wanting to understand this discrepancy, I popped him a message and asked about it.
Ben is passionate about his brand and this drive carries into conversations with him – honest, ambitious, driven and straightforward, our conversations wre really helpful and reassuring and a real pleasure. He not infrequently responds to emails and messages within just a couple of minutes. Ben explained he had originally planned for a plain Bock nib design but that supply timescales and manufacturing difficulties led to a decision to go with Jowo (which to be fair, are great nibs) and accept a visual compromise but an improved experience. He did, though, offer to supply a pen with a Bock compatible section so that I could get a plain Bock nib via separate purchase – and complete the “look” I wanted. This is one of the things I love about purchasing pens from smaller brands, custom pen makers, designers: the responsiveness and understanding that individuality is important.
My first Gravitas pen – the matte black aluminium model arrived within days, complete with ink cartridges and the promised Bock compatible section. It was love at first touch and almost all my reservations disappeared within moments of first use. I now own 2 designs of Bens pens, with more on the way soon.
Scroll to see more images
The Designer & Process:
Ben has design and creativity in his blood. Some of his earliest memories are of his father using Rotring pens for fine artwork and a red plastic fountain pen he was given in his early childhood (and the inky hands when the cartridge leaked!) After graduating in 2015 from the Dublin Institute of Technology with a degree in Interior and Furniture Design (specialising in concrete furniture designs), Ben worked in cabinet making, before moving into design focussed roles in kitchen, cabinet and trophy design. Around the same time, the concrete pen design was formed and released alongside his full-time design career. With the concrete pen’s success, Ben has been able to focus full time on pen design with his new company – Gravitas. His focus is on meticulous design of highly beautiful but functional pens that push the limits of design metal working by using 3D design and printing principles and fibre laser modelling and engraving. His pens have a clean, crisp precision and focus and exacting craftsmanship. Ben is currently studying for an MA in 3D Design and Specialist Coating Science alongside running Gravitas.
His design influences are clearly minimalist and brutalist in nature: smooth matte metal surfaces of his pens compliment the flowing lines and minimal adornment to the base design. His pens consequently are unique in look and feel and formed by modern industrial techniques. The Gravitas the first of many designs in this influence; more are in the works – including an “entry level” pen (pictured below) designed specifically to offer those new to fountain pens an enjoyable high quality and affordable starting point.
Attention to detail, precision and prototypes sum up Ben’s approach perfectly. Unlike some traditional methods, Ben is progressive, and design led: each new concept is targeted at specific groups or purposes. Designs are 3D printed as prototypes, tested and evolved in the process, before precision manufacture to exacting measurements takes place. Ben told me he recently rejected a batch of several hundred sections when it became apparent that they didn’t meet his design brief!
Ben owns his own fibre laser and has spent years mastering the skills for precision laser design and engraving which now mark out later iterations of the Gravitas pen. This sets him apart from others working with metal. His intricate designs, textures and finishes can be achieved with an exactness that simply cannot be repeated by even the most skilled artisan pen makers. On the other hand, most major pen brands have not yet moved into production methods that use 3d printing or laser work – instead focussing on traditional techniques and skills or just mass market production methods depending on which brand you consider.
So this brings us back to the pens I own and am reviewing here.
I currently own 2: an aluminium matte black and a steel laser etched “microtexture” pen. The aluminium pen has a Bock section and nib, the microtexture a Jowo section and nib. For clarity: Bens pens are not generally available with Bock sections and the Bock nib I am using I sourced separately from FPnibs.com.
Scroll for more images
The process of buying a Gravitas begins with the website itself: slick, stylish, easy to browse. Ben has provided great photography and 3D views of his pens and while there aren’t any close ups or detail pictures there is plenty of detail about the pens including size, weight and descriptions, so its easy and clear to know what you are considering purchasing.
My pens shipped from Ireland and arrived pretty quickly. If you are a UK customer and are purchasing a pen remember that customs charges VAT and import duty may need to be factored into your purchase price; within the EU clearly this is less of an issue.
My pens arrive in a sleek, stylish grey cylinder with Gravitas design and logo. The sleeve pulls open to reveal the pen cheekily on display in a dense foam support, and a pack of 6 ink cartridges to get you started. Both of my pens have arrived in scented packaging – a nice touch, but to be honest the scent for my taste was a little strong.
On first holding a Gravitas, 2 things immediately popped into my mind – and I suspect these are exactly as intended: sleek & precise. These are gorgeous pieces of design, and significantly heavy for a pen too: 54g and 28g respectively.
The screw fit caps unscrew in exactly one full turn with perfectly smooth threads. The precision machining of the square cut threads means they are incredidbly subtle and not noticed at all when holding the pen. The supplied nibs are steel Jowo with the traditional scrolling design. This is the only detail I wasn’t 100% happy with: for such a minimalist and design focussed pen, the traditional scroll engraving on the Jowo nibs doesn’t quite suit the overall look at the moment. Ben has now secured unpatterned steel Jowo nibs for future pens which will look however wonderful. Jowo nibs are reliable, smooth and an in performance terms excellent choice to compliment the precision engineering that these pens demonstrate so well.
Design & Ergonomics:
In spite of their relative weight, these pens are beautifully balanced, and not tiring for moderate writing sessions. For very long writing sessions I do a get a little hand fatigue with the much heavier steel microtexture pen – but this is not unexpected and is offset by the pleasure of the feel of the pen, the balance and the overall experience. I hope the aluminium will be available in microtexture finishes too in due course.
The design is aimed at those with slightly bigger hands. That said – the smooth curves are comfy and so there should be fairly universal appeal for most people with “normal” hands sizes and grip styles.The sections are 28mm long and 12mm diameter, with a 60 degree angled step up to the 14mm barrel just behind the threads. This slope means the section is comfortable and the step barely felt in the hand. Its one of the many little details you gradually realise were carefully and deliberately calculated. The sections have a subtly curved flare at the nib end, which guide the finger tips to the optimum writing position for the pen.
The matte finished pen feels cool, smooth and very firm in the hand. I find with dry hands its smoothness feels very slightly slippery in the hand.
The section feels almost too smooth on the matte finished pen and a little slippery after a while, but in use this didn’t cause any major hiccoughs. The microtexture pen resolves this with a very fine, superficial engraving on the section that means it is grippy without being perceptibly rough – a unique feature and something I enjoy very much indeed.
The microtexture body has wonderful Japanese style engraving that reminds me a little of the Montblanc Geometry and feels and looks brilliant. It’s a fantastic finish that draws looks from colleagues at work and has caused at least one pilot I work with at my HEMS unit to consider seriously whether he could use the microtexture for his flight logbook and ops manual notes!
The absence of clip, rollstop etc does mean this is a good pocket pen or quick note taker as the cap doesnt post will roll away if laid on its side. The smooth lines and ergonomic shape mean this pen slips easily into a pocket, case etc and as a result I didn’t have any major both adapting to a totally smooth design. More than that – when carrying the pen around in a pocket, the weight is not noticeable, and its easy to find and quick to get out to use. Being metal the pens are also tough and will withstand being dropped / scraped against errant keys, coins etc. For practicality, I rate these pens really highly and not infrequently use them at work in both the hospital and HEMS environment.
Nib & Writing Experience:
You will note in the images the 2 different nibs. Ben kindly supplied a Bock section with my matte black pen. This is not a standard option. I subsequently purchased a Bock #6 type 250 steel nib with ruthenium plating, (standard feed) from FPnibs.com. This took around 2 weeks to arrive, so in the meantime I used a Bock #6 black PVD coated steel nib from Beaufort pens (around £20). For the UK market, Bock nibs are generally a little easier to find colour / design matches for, though this is changing fast and is a pretty minor detail overall – in general I find Jowo nibs more consistent and reliable than Bock. However, with a professionally tuned Bock nib from FPnibs.com, this pen is a great writer. I won’t dwell more on this nib as its not a standard option – but you can see from the pics, its an awesome look!
The microtexture came with the Jowo section and fine Jowo nib. This a typical Jowo nib: firm, smooth, reliable and never skips, jumps, hard starts etc. An excellent combo for a beautiful pen. Now that Jowo are supplying unpatterned nibs to Ben I expect we will see custom or Gravitas own designs on nibs, and plain nibs will suit the visuals of the pen wonderfully, finally realising the wonderful design and processes that have lead to this thoroughly refined pen.
Writing with the Jowo is everything you’d expect. The pens balance, towards the 1st webspace means even the heavy steel pen isn’t tiring for normal use, is comfortable and feels great. The textured section helps keep a firm grip and supports good flow of writing. The pens are cartridge converters – supplied – and the Jowo feed, unsurprisingly keeps up well with good ink flow.
I have noticed the consequence of an all metal pen when writing: the pens feel very stiff in the hand compared to resin / acrylic bodies: a subtle stiffness that comes from unyielding metal. Consequently the character of the steel pen, with the extra weight is stiff and unforgiving but with the Jowo nib, smooth and once again it just supports that feeling that this is a precision designed, precision executed instrument. Its different to most pens I own, and after you settle into the feeling its reassuring and the accuracy is something to enjoy.
Scroll for more images
I feel like I’m getting repetitive by this point. The Gravitas is every bit as serious as its name: high design, precision engineered with great finishing, carefully thought through elements carrying through to every part of the experience. Is this pen fun to use? Maybe not fun, but is it reliable, clean and accurate? Very much.
I wanted to dislike the Gravitas. I had hangups about metal pens. But, I was wrong. Metal pens can be awesome: Ben Walsh has proven it emphatically and decisively by delivering a range of truly brilliant pens that are only getting better as he tries out new technology and techniques.
In the pipeline are ceramic coated versions with ebonite feeds, and future pen designs may even focus on healthcare with antimicrobial coatings too. There are other pen designs in the works too which excites me enormously.
These are great pens and deserve their loyal following and just as importantly, Ben is a fantastic designer pushing the limits of what can be achieved: he deserves your support too.
These pens range in price from 70 – 110 Euros and most lines sell out pretty quickly after each release. For a pen with such diligent, precise and determined design I think this represents great value and I shall continue to purchase further editions and iterations whenever I can. You should too – it would be a surprise if you regretted it.
Of note Gravitas have also just released an “entry” pen – I have one on order, and will no doubt write about it fairly soon. I’ve included some pics of these above.
None: both pens were purchased with my own funds, and I have not (and will not) receive any recompense, discount or benefit from posting these thoughts about this pen.