“In today’s digital age, when words can be reproduced infinitely and freely wander in cyberspace, the paper, and the pen preserve the fragile beauty of something that cannot be replicated”.
These words from Pineider’s own website are the mission statement for a brand reinvigorated over the last 2 years. The key to this relaunch of a brand that perhaps isn’t well known for fountain pens and that had stalled under its previous ownership, appears to be the treading of a fine line between progressing technology and materials used in fountain pens while at the same time appreciating the history, symbology and fundamentally individual act of writing.
The key to this tightrope walk is Dante del Vecchio – widely recognised as one of the most creative, productive and driven makers in the industry for at least 3 decades.
In case his name is not known to you – Dante Del Vecchio is the man behind Visconti and in control of almost every detail of the company for over 30 years. After being one of the first to draw widespread European attention to modern urushi lacquered celluloid pens, he designed all the pens Visconti currently produce, made the material choice, designed (and patented) the double reservoir vacuum filling system used in the Visconti Homo Sapiens, designed the production processes that led to the unique and individual resins of the Van Gogh range and was one of the early adopters of numbered limited edition production runs in fountain pens.
In the last 2 and half years alone since joining Pineider, Dante has developed three new materials: “ultra resin” – an apparently unbreakable resin used in the Avatar range of pens, a resin that fuses acrylic with marble dust for added weight and “intrigue” (used in the Grande Belazza Gemstone range of pens) and most recently a modern “equivalent” of arco celluloid. The means to make real celluloid still readily exist, but the chemicals required are expensive, toxic and mostly banned internationally, while the product itself is highly flammable – many pen turners working with old fashioned celluloid still keep a fire extinguisher beside their lathe in case of sudden ignition of the material – yikes!
Del Vecchio is also the designer of two new elements to Pineider’s fountain pens: the “hyperflex” nib: the first shaped, flexible 14kt nib of modern design and the magnet closure system that uses magnets to align clip and nib when removing and seating pen caps. These feature in the pen being reviewed below. He is also responsible for identifying the symbology of the quill used in Pineider’s clip design.
In short, this man is the beating heart of the brand, and a person who has a singular determination to try out and succeed with new innovations in fountain pen design.
So – this leads us to the “Arco” Blue Bee: a not arco pen at all, but formed of Del Vecchio’s new approach to resin production. First, blue and yellow acrylics and coloured powders are bonded in layers. The layers are then cut into blocks at a 4 degree angle to lamination. This brings out out a textured, arco-like effect in the final blanks used for pens. The blanks are turned and polished on a lathe in the conventional fashion. Not really like the now increasingly rare and expensive true Arco celluloid pens, but an approximation and a beautiful and modern material in its own right.
This new material, is combined as mentioned above with the hyperflex nib and Quill clip, magnetic closure system and a piston filler to create the pen I am writing about today. Taking it all together, this is a pen that has big expectations heaped upon it and I was truly excited to be able to try one out as part of a United Inkdom metareview.
The pen is supplied in a gorgeous writing slope style box, with the very classical Pineider branding on it. Inside the box is lined with white leatherette, nesting the pen. Behind the writing slope, the box included a pipette filler, Pineider ink filler (brilliant, by the way!) and some beautifully printed information cards about the pen. In my haste to get hands on the pen, I wish I had looked at these more closely – more on this later!
So, it’s not arco. But it is handsome. The blue honeycomb of the resin is lustrous, has a natural depth and textured appearance. An amber gloss resin contrasts with the blue honeycomb and lends an old fashioned, classical look to the pen. I had hoped the amber component would be brighter, but the vintage look it gives the pen is definitely appealing. The shape of the pen is, in contrast to the material, fairly simple: partly I suspect to show off the fabulous resin, partly I wonder if tapers and angles may make the resin less pretty to look on.
It brings me back to my opening gambit: that Pineider in 2021 is about bringing the delicate interplay between history, individuality and the future together in its designs.
Uncap the pen – sharp intake of breath – its a magnetic closure and feels amazing. Once the cap has “spung” off, you reveal a very traditional looking black section with a flared nib end, ink windows and that stunning 14kt gold platinum plated quill nib. It really is a beautiful pen – traditionally art deco in look but made from very modern materials.
So far, so good.
The trim elements are all platinum plated. The pocket clip is the Pineider quill style clip. I like it. it is attractive, artistic, long and sprung. It looks great. It works well for general use but on thinner clothing I worry it may not grip too tightly – that said, the clip will cope with deep fabrics excellently: should you be casual enough to stick this in the pocket of your jeans, for example, (seriously, don’t do that!) the clip should cope fine.
Coming down the cap we find the wide platinum plated cap band. This is pretty uncommon – but a deliberate decision – it breaks up the line between the resin patterns of the cap and the barrel – which otherwise wouldn’t quite line up. The cap band also houses one of two magnets that make up the utterly entrancing closure system (see later). The cap band has the phrase “The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy Dog” engraved on it. Personally, I didn’t feel this worked. The pen may have clever elements to it, but I never felt this pen is ‘fun’ enough to execute that element. Overall, I am not sure I love the cap band, but equally it’s not unattractive.
The cap finial has a Pineider metal button which looks great. The barrel finial has the numbered edition engraved on the black resin piston knob.
The magnetic closure system is awesome. 2 magnets – one near the nib, one in the cap band are oriented such that to open the pen you gently twist the cap and the polarity of the magnets cause it to “spring” off. As you pop the cap on the reverse motion occurs naturally, rotating the cap into alignment with the nib with a satisfying “snick” sound. The cap won’t fall off unless firm pressure is applied making it a very secure closure system. Furthermore, if posting the cap is your bag, there is a magnet near the piston knob, meaning the cap “snicks” onto the barrel end and doesn’t damage the resin.
This is system overall is super-satisfying to use and genuinely brilliant – I found myself just playing with it in between whiles for fun. Fabulous!
The piston filler mechanism holds 1.4mL of ink. That’s a lot of ink. The piston is incredibly smooth, light and felt firm and reassuring to use. Very well engineered in spite of not being heavy. I would have loved the piston knob to be in the same resin as the barrel, but I can imagine that it would be tricky to pull off and very time consuming indeed to get right – the natural variation in the arco material would likely make it very difficult to get pattern of an arco piston knob to line up with the barrel pattern.
The section end ink reservoir windows are arch, or dome ended, small but beautiful and work well. This feels to me like another nod to older times: reminiscent of early ink windows from pens of the 1930’s and 40’s such as early Auroras, Mont Blanc 134 and 136’s and early Pelikans. The shape and style some may say are also inspired by the arches of the windows of Florentine churches. Whatever the design influence, it is one of the many elements of the pen that I like. It is reassuring to see a pen maker do this – almost like he’s saying: “they got this right – let’s do the same” history meets future, classicism meets modernism, modernism meets relational aesthetics. It’s been executed really well in this pen.
This is a pen that just sits nicely in the fingers and feels natural. The resin is grippy yet smooth. The pen is 130mm long uncapped, 162mm if posted and 12.5mm in diameter across the barrel. A medium size pen, good for most hand sizes.
The section is short, flared and brings the hand into a good position for writing. You perhaps can’t get your digits really close to the section – so if that’s your grip style it may be a frustration. That said, I hold most of my pens really close to the nib end of the section – but found this one comfortable enough that I hardly noticed the difference.
The pen is light at 31g including ink and as a result almost vanishes in use. The hand and the pen come together nicely, there is zero risk of fatigue, and the natural writing style – good or bad – is there for the making. There is little else to say ergonomically: it just works.
The nib supplied on the loan pen was a medium, 14kt gold platinum plated hyperflex “Quill” nib. It’s a beauty. Nicely engraved, the cut outs and the breather hole adding yet more character to this gorgeous pen. The breather hole is cut using a specialist tool – a burin that adds flex, and is unlike any breather hole I’ve so far seen. Due to the clever trickery of the magnetic closure system, the nib is always oriented the correct way when uncapped. The nib itself rests on a very chunky ebonite feed, which does appear a little over-large for the nib, possibly a “standard” feed rather than a bespoke one for this pen?
Suffice to say I was excited to get this pen inked up and write with it. Sadly, this is where my so far great experience came to pieces. I initially loaded the pen up with J Herbin’s Ambre de Birmanie ink – a moderately wet, golden deep amber that perfectly picked up the yellow elements of the pens material.
I mentioned earlier that I wish I had read the enclosed leaflets more carefully. I have a moderately heavy hand that gets heavier when excited, and I write semi-cursive, far too quickly.
My first touch of the nib left me confused. The nib is certainly soft and bouncy, smooth, but no line variation at all. More than that, in spite of wiping off the nib and using some absorbent paper to remove ink excess, the nib was an absolute hosepipe – the ink flow so torrential that my Rhodia paper managed to feather a little – a very uncommon occurrence for me. I wonder if that chunky ebonite feed is to blame?
After a few lines, I got used to the soft, bouncy but not truly flexible nib and started to enjoy it. Then suddenly out of nowhere, a railroad, then a skip and then nothing. A re-priming of the nib, and the experience recycled – wet, wet, wet – good – dry – skip.
I did get a couple of pages written without issue, but as soon as I adjusted my grip, or writing position, problems would restart. It was clear the nib had a sweet spot that, as I rotated my hand, I would lose. I cleaned the pen, and loaded a much drier ink – Taccia Hokusai Koiai Blue. Less wet initially, but again if I wrote at my normal pace and pressure, it dried up. Nothing I could do seemed to help much. I slowed down my writing a lot – but found this frustrating and un-natural for my normal style – as if the pen couldn’t keep up with my thought process. I focussed on not rotating the nib off its sweet spot – but the concentration required meant I didn’t enjoy the writing.
After 4-5 pages on each of a few days, I eventually gave up on the pen. I felt not just disappointed, but gutted. The nib felt great to use – comfy and bouncy, but no line variation that i would expect with a flex nib (or the naming “hyperflex” and was unable to get this pen to write consistently.
On cleaning and forwarding the pen to the next reviewer – I said nothing. I didn’t want to bias their review. However, in discussion with an earlier reviewer, I learned what the insert leaflet says about the nib:
“Made of 14 kt gold, it writes to the lightest stroke. It is flexible and dynamic, yet it does not cross the line of a calligrapher’s nib. Hyperflex is meant to be used every day, all day long.”
So not a flex nib, but a soft bouncy nib that is designed for a light hand!
More than that, though, I also discovered at least one other reviewer had had similar but less pronounced problems with the nib. Other United Inkdom reviewers have microscope/camera setups for inspecting nibs and taking magnified pictures of tipping etc. I don’t have this facility, so can’t share the proof with you, but I have been told that the sweet spot I felt, was due to uneven cutting of the tipping, uneven tine alignment and a bit of baby’s bottom. This would explain a lot.
Perhaps a nib with fine point and properly set up would have been different and more enjoyable. Perhaps if I had read the insert that came with the pen, I would have enjoyed the writing more. But I can’t not feel disappointed with the experience it gave me; more than that, I would have imagined a review pen being sent out by Pineider’s UK distributor would have been inspected, tested and corrected before being passed around!
Price & Value:
Current UK market price for this pen is £680 (Cult Pens). So, it’s a serious, limited edition with outstanding design principles, modern materials and great ergonomics, a bespoke nib, a prestige brand enlivened by a firebrand designer.
But – and this is key – I wouldn’t part with £680 for this pen. Its wonderful – but it’s not quite wonderful enough for its category. Even though its deliberately light, it doesn’t feel substantial enough for the price tag, nor do I feel Pineider to have enough brand weight just yet to demand such a high price tag. The material, while technically clever is not eye-catching enough for this price point either. At half the price and if the nib had behaved flawlessly I’d be saying that this is a pen worthy of consideration. But at almost £700 it’s not a pen for anyone other than a seriously dedicated collector.
This pen has left me with some really conflicting thoughts and emotions. In design and manufacture terms it is really special. Its ergonomically flawless and ignoring the flow issues and nib performance just for a moment, it’s a great pen. Really great, even. But the loan units nib clearly had problems and performed terribly for me. If it had been properly tuned and checked before being sent out – as would be reasonable for a pen in this price range, I may feel differently. But I am ultimately underwhelmed and conflicted.
Pop an EF nib in the pen, with the same softness and wetness and fully tuned, I suspect it would be an absolute joy to use. Possibly and only then, would it get close to its price tag. But for £680 you can get better known, better tuned, prettier pens in all kinds of limited editions. Factor in the discount market factor, second-hand market and if you specifically wanted to spend £700, you could get a Montblanc 149 Calligraphy, a Visconti Homo Sapiens Special edition, probably an OMAS in true Arco celluloid if well connected and lucky!
How you choose to invest in your pen collection is up to you. For me, in spite of doing so much incredibly well, this pen fell short of expectation. I still want to try an EF nib tuned pen in this range – and believe that it could possibly change my opinion completely. But until then this pen is destined to be a warm memory tinged with disappointment rather than a present and iconic part of my collection. Traditional beauty meeting modern engineering but ends up just a memory? Perhaps the perfect ending for a pen that wanted to prove so much!
Since writing the word above, I have been able to get my hands on a Grande Bellezza in Hematite Grey. To be honest, I actually purchased one outright using a Cult Pens birthday 15% discount, just to try out the Extra Fine Hyperflex quill nib.
I am so glad I did. If I was bitterly conflicted with the time I had with the Arco Blue Bee, I can tell you the EF hyperflex is an utter joy to use: wet, bouncy, smooth and reliable, its one of the best nibs I have ever owned. If only the Arco had been supplied with the EF hyperflex and not the problematic medium nib it came with!
Perhaps the moral in all this is: when considering something a little different, go to a face to face shop, or at the very least purchase from a small retailer who will check the nib before sending out.
If you can get the Arco Blue Bee on a discount (say sub-£500) with an EF Hyperflex nib, then I would say: go for it and enjoy owning a beautiful thing. But for goodness sake – test the nib first!!
I have no affiliation with Pineider and have not received any financial advantage or payment for this review, nor do I have any relationship with Cult Pens. The pen was a loan unit supplied as part of a meta-review for United Inkdom.