A Few Montblanc Ballpoint Refills

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I’m not really sure why I began accumulating various refill colours in the Montblanc ballpoint range. Assuming of course you call a grand total of six colours an accumulation – it certainly isn’t a collection by any stretch of the imagination.

A pen requires a refill of course, and with over 12 months of daily Montblanc M ballpoint use well and truly behind me, a single shade throughout that time was never going to suffice. To those fond of their writing instruments, a pen without interesting ink…

Generally speaking

As I’ve mentioned, while this particular list of refills fall short of a comprehensive list, they are a few I’ve rotated through using on a daily basis in the office. The performance of each has been without issue, and I’ve enjoyed blob and skip free output the entire time. In my experience at least, they are high quality, reliable refills.

The pen itself has also been rock solid in terms of performance over that time, and I certainly cannot fault it as an everyday workhorse.

Paper has been your typical office copy variety, with daily task lists housed in a variety of notebooks, recent examples include Baron Fig’s Vanguard and Confidant, and also a Field Notes Byline. More extensive note taking during meetings or conference days occurs in a Leuchtturm 1917 B5 soft cover notebook. Phone numbers, ideas and working notes typically end up on a $4.00 per 400 page jumbo A4 lecture pad.

As you’d expect of a ballpoint, all paper types are managed with ease, and as I’ve alluded to above, no ink blob build up develops on the tip — even on the cheaper, low-end stuff.

The inks

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Below you’ll find a couple of thoughts, an example, what I use it for and how much use it gets. I’m not an ink reviewer, and perhaps some may argue ballpoint refills are not worth writing about at all — yet I beg to differ, and here we are.

The illustrations you see are a product of a far more talented hand than mine — my daughter Emily, whom I sincerely thank for contributing a far more interesting take on each colour than I could have imagined (or produced) myself.

For reference, filter by “Ballpoint” on Montblanc’s Refill page. I would recommend proceeding with caution though, for of course nothing but temptation awaits. With the James Dean Great Characters Edition Rebel Red being added since I initially picked up that link, for ”completeness” it was necessary to go out and buy that one as well, and you will find it included below.

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All purchases were made at either the Montblanc Boutique, Brisbane, or Pen and Paper, Brisbane.

Pacific Blue

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A safe, and perhaps somewhat predictable choice.

Given the choice at the time of a pen purchase, I usually go with blue — and the Montblanc M was no different.

Living on the east coast of Australia, I could probably say Pacific Blue is the most appropriate of any shade to use in the M. Of your “standard” office colours I tend to use blues a little more often than black, which is also the case with my fountain pens. Perhaps I find them a little less overpowering than a page full of black on white. A little calmer perhaps?

In any event, the Pacific Blue would certainly be described as your mid-spectrum shade, and what I’d call a standard blue – if one indeed exists. Lighter? Well I guess there is the UNICEF Blue, and heading towards a greener shade is the Barbados Blue. If you add the Homer Writers Edition into the mix, there is no shortage of options. I can’t imagine there not being something to suit most tastes.

In choosing a blue, I tend to favour mid to darker shades, with the those on the lighter side sometimes coming across a little washed out. The Pacific Blue certainly packs enough punch to hold its own on any page, and also through a copier or scanner should that be part of a page’s journey.

Mystery Black

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For a bold, strong, executive flourish.

That is, far from anything I really require in a pen, however if you were looking for something like that — this would do it.

With Pacific Blue included in the pen, I also picked up a twin pack of broad Mystery Black refills, in the knowledge the pen would see the majority of its use in the office.

The broad designation is true to its name, and combined with the deep black ink colour, a thick, full line results. It’s black. Very black. What you see is what you get.

There are times when I find the broad tip a little too overpowering (perhaps in conjunction with the deep black), yet on other occasions not so. More so on smaller notebook pages for example. If I had to pick one size and live with it for the rest of my writing days, it would be medium. If you were to then require me to nominate a colour for the same purpose, it would be a much harder choice – though next on the list below would be a contender.

The Beatles Psychedelic Purple

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Come for the packaging, stay for the refill colour.

If I’m completely honest about this one, it was more about the box than the refill – at least initially. I imagine anyone fond of a little colour may be of similar thinking. When The Beatles Great Characters limited edition range was released a couple of years ago, I was immediately drawn to the colourful stripes which were part of the branding and design (those pens…). It’s a look I’ve been fond of over many years in the product lines from Paul Smith, providing a little escape from boring business black.

With one of my favourite designs front and centre, and keeping in mind the last time I spent over $1000 on a pen was approximately never, it was time to scan the product line for something else. While my common default in taking this option would typically be fountain pen ink, on this occasion, enter the ballpoint refill.

Psychedelic is indeed a good descriptor, for this one is a “lively” purple – electric you might say? However you describe it, there is enough similarity for this one to sneak by in place of your standard office blue, though as you can see in the associated image it is far from that. It’s The Beatles – there can only ever be one (or four I guess — but you know what I mean).

Performance is everything I’ve mentioned so far, and I do love this colour.

Le Petit Prince Orange

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Something a little unusual.

One of the more recent in Montblanc’s Limited Edition releases, and is more an orangey-brown if you will. Based on the colour of a fox, it does makes sense we are not talking too bright an orange. For that, I assume you head towards Lucky Orange. I do wonder whether the fact it is not really brown nor is it really orange may hinder the popularity of this colour, though it probably won’t. I guess there are enough people out there like myself looking for something a little different.

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The best part about this refill? The smile it puts on my face when I’m swapping it into the barrel. While not perfect, the accents are certainly a great match, and sometimes — no, most times — it is the little things.

I am quite fond of this colour, despite the fact it is perhaps the least used of the bunch I’ve written about here. As I’ve mentioned, the Beatles Purple is close enough to blue in many cases, however an orange doesn’t lend itself to much of the “official” office work. The same can also be said of the Fortune Green. Nonetheless, it isn’t hard to pick up one of my black gel pens for signing a document if the M contains one of these allegedly “outlandish” refill colours at the time.

You know, the more I doodle about with this colour as I’m writing this, the more I think Montblanc nailed the shade. Fox colour alignment aside, it is strong and definitive in its own right. I wouldn’t call it a bold colour necessarily, however it knows what it is, and faithfully lays down on the page with confidence.

Yep – I like it.

Fortune Green

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Because I didn’t have green. Enough said.

Bought this one on a whim because, well… again — I’m not sure really. The opening statement above is pretty close to the truth. I am very lucky to have the Montblanc boutique and two other specialist pen shops within two blocks of the office, For impulse purchases just to brighten my day a little (exactly what I needed on that particular day if I recall), there is nothing like a new ink colour — be it bottle or refill. Of course the added benefit of such purchases being they do not break the bank like other emotionally charged retail therapy (the Apple Store is within the same radius from the office, and I’ve indeed brought myself back from the brink numerous times there…). I’m yet to make my fortune, so the green refill it was.

At the time I had no particular colour in mind, and compared a couple of greens (I think the other being Emerald Green), finding the Fortune Green to be that little bit deeper in colour compared with the Emerald version. That being said, although it’s a nice green, still pales compared to the Irish Green fountain pen ink which is one of my favourites. Of course I’m not comparing the ballpoint output to a fountain pen, they are merely at different points of the colour shade spectrum, irrespective of the delivery mechanism.

I tend to use this one for markup notes on longer documents, not necessarily wishing to slash across the pages with a cheap red. I wouldn’t say I’m not fond of this one, however haven’t used it quite as much as the others, likely due to the recency of its purchase.

James Dean Rebel Red

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I have to admit — a purchase completely without cause…

Yep — this is what happens when you poke about checking links for a post. You stumble upon yet another colour release which more than likely fills a gap in your current line up.

Montblanc describe the colour of this particular Great Characters edition as being inspired by the red leather jacket worn by James Dean in the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause.

What can I add here? Well, it is indeed red, though a little more subtle than your typical fire engine type red ballpoint pens, though also a touch brighter than a red velvet or the like. Although it’s early days with this one, I do quite like it.

Perhaps I feel like marking up in red after all…

Signing off

If there is one thing I’m reminded of when I pick up one of these new refills from the array on offer, it’s that I made the correct decision to go with an M ballpoint – despite my fondness for rollerballs. It would seem the ballpoint market is quite healthy, and perhaps more limited editions in this format are sold given it is the cheapest price tier for the pens. I can only assume it isn’t people such as myself poking around looking for different colours which make or break the market segment.

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In any event, I cannot argue with the popularity of the ballpoint pen – Montblanc or otherwise. They perform well, are easy to swap (say, if you are someone who likes to accumulate a few different colours…), and offer an extremely practical everyday solution. Sure, most of us in the pens-are-a-passion realm probably aren’t in it for practicality, though when times require it, why not be using something just that little more unique or enjoyable?

You’ll find me with blue, black, or something very close for standard office use, but for anything else it’s open season, and I’d be hesitant to suggest those above will be the last…

 

 

Lost in the Algorithm

 

Recently I decided to create a separate Instagram account (@petemanship) to follow my pen and paper related interests, after the original feed became overwhelmed with posts related to various other topic areas. Although I’ve always looked to keep things fairly simple, I feel pen people deserve more than to be lost in the algorithm.

As long as I remember to switch accounts on occasion, it should now be a little easier to catch up on things. A fairly simple yet hopefully successful fix. When transferring the pen accounts I follow over to this new feed, I couldn’t help but think perhaps a few other things in my 2018 had been “lost in the algorithm” as well — if I could use such a term to describe what didn’t get written, posted, read, listened to, or moved forward.

The most recent post here? In late September about my love for the cappuccino as a beverage. Look a little deeper, and the last pen-related post was back in June of 2018. Really? That’s the best you could do?

Apparently so…

Don’t get me wrong. I continue to be a staunch proponent of the no apology approach to blog post gaps. Things get written or they don’t. Personally though, I find this can be a reflection of other areas of my life perhaps not syncing as seamlessly as I’d like — assuming the intent to write remains of course. Nothing too serious, simply the busy-ness of life, work, and the organisational and prioritisation aspects required to keep all areas ticking along. We all have them.

I sometimes wonder if a passion is really that if it constantly needs active “feeding” — or should it always be simmering virtually of its own accord. I think it probably is, though whether the effort required to feed it (again, assuming intent) feels like a joy or a chore is most likely the very essence of prioritisation. Not only that, but how well we do in recognising those priorities and putting energy into working on them.

Of course many aspects around what we do, look at, listen to and write about are well within our control. Other things which take up our time and are perceived to be beyond our control probably aren’t — at least not entirely. Put together, they make up the “whole” that is life, and what we choose to do with it at any given moment I guess.

Despite reading many Year in Review and New Year New You posts over the past month or so and vowing there is no way I’m doing that…

While a stream of consciousness more than bullet points and actions, there are a few things I’ve considered while on a week-long break from work.

In the grand scheme of things I would have indeed liked to write more, and for that matter, spread myself less thin across my consumption as well. I seem to have reached a point in my content consumption of being scattered superficially far and wide, interspersed with periods of not much at all. I keep coming back to the word focus when I consider what could improve in both these areas.

Another consideration has been exactly how I use my tools across all areas of my interests, and of course you know what these interests are (if not, tap or click the menu at the top of the page). In lamenting the cost (don’t get me started) of upgrading anything(I didn’t) in the Apple ecosystem these days, perhaps a better approach is to ensure I maximise the capabilities of what I currently have. This of course led me to think such an approach would be a reasonable one to take across the board. Read the unfinished books and saved articles; ink the idle pens; finish the unused notebooks; and in the process perhaps rediscover what brought me to the point of owning so many in the first place.

Notwithstanding the above, I’ve been pleased with the increasing consistency and quality of my coffee roasting, and made some decent strides (despite a little inconsistency at times) in my health and fitness, so it hasn’t all been missed opportunity and lacking in focus. That being said, the perfect cup or the best roast are still ahead of me.

Now if I were, hypothetically speaking, to look at one or two themes for the coming year (Cortex podcast; episode 79), I would probably be looking at something along the lines of The Year of Rediscovery and The Year of Maximisation. I would also probably be thinking of one feeding the other in a cyclical type of arrangement, the result being greater focus on the areas I prioritise as being in need of it.

Regardless of arbitrary blog post titles, if it looks like a year in review, and sounds like a year in review…

The Humble Cappuccino

In describing what is far and away my favourite espresso-based milk drink, it would be easy to begin with recipes and numbers, and in beginning this post, is exactly what I did…

Five ounces — maybe six, of dense, textured silk on an espresso base.

I then went back and reviewed a few random notes I’d made upon thinking of writing about what I often find in my cup. Pragmatic and entirely logical they were not:

An angel in a cup guiding you to the bottom without ever letting go.

Unchanged from the first comforting sip to the last. A state of being momentarily removed from the world, or at least resolving any imbalance within it.

At its best, transcendent. An embrace of your very soul which leaves you buoyant, balanced, and with momentum to carry on.

Overstating things a little? Completely over the top? More than likely, however I’ve occasionally made reference to the simple philosophy that every day is simply a series of moments strung together. Life. The ultimate long-term project, with successful navigation reliant not upon completing each stage because they’ll fly by regardless — more so doing or being your best in each, and preparing as well as you can for the next.

In preparing for the next, sometimes a moment of escape and recharge is best found in a cup.

The cappuccino.

Humble? Yes. Standard issue — certainly no. I am talking here of the traditional cappuccino, what used to be the competition cap or indeed — as one favourite barista refers to it — the cappuccino Milano.

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A rich, heartwarming cappuccino Milano at Edward Specialty Coffee in the Brisbane CBD

This particular cappuccino you see, has a dusting of nothing other than perhaps something a little magical. No chocolate on top. Espresso. Milk. Perfectly combined. That’s it. The very fabric, character and soul of the traditional cappuccino are in its simplicity. Thicker and creamier than a flat white by all accounts, denser and more compact than a caffè latte.

An Origin Story

The origin of the cappuccino? Here is where things can get a little hazy. The similarity to the hoods of the capuchin monks is probably the most often heard. The most accurate? Well it depends on how far you go back with your origin story. James Hoffmann, writing on the cappuccino (also with a certain fondness), points to the work of Professor Jonathon Morris and his research project The Cappuccino Conquests.

It is here we find the most likely origin of the beverage, which was the Kapuziner — coffee with cream and sugar (and perhaps spices) which existed in Viennese coffee houses in the 1700’s. As far as the modern iteration is concerned, things are well summed up on History of Coffee:

Cappuccino, as is written today, appeared for the first time in northern Italy in the 1930s. At first it was made in “Viennese” style – with a whipped cream which is sprinkled with cinnamon or chocolate. The steamed milk variant appeared later. The real espresso machines became widespread only during the 1950s and people started making cappuccino with espresso instead of standard coffee. In this form, cappuccino is known around the world from that moment on. “Kapuziner” still exists unchanged on the Austrian coffee menu.

So whether you take the view the original cappuccino was the first one made with an espresso base, or something much older (and perhaps closer in form to the chocolate dusted version of today) is up to you. Upon reading the post I’ve quoted above though, it does bring back childhood memories of Vienna coffee being on the menu of many a late 70’s and 80’s cafe I visited with my parents.

So why the love?

Firstly, it isn’t about the caffeine. This is simply my favourite drink to greet the day, of which I’ll consume one each weekday morning and the occasional cappuccino riot on a weekend may be a few more than that, because… well… it’s the weekend. Some of this will be tweaking grind settings or recipes, and/or simply because “that was so good I think I’ll have another”.

I must admit to occasionally utilising another power of the espresso based milk drink — certainly not unique to the cappuccino — which is for the late afternoon snack replacement. A strategy not designed as part of any fad diet (nor am I recommending a cappuccino fast). You know, the workday is nearly over, you’re a little tired, perhaps slightly peckish, and it’s just not worth going out and buying food — and besides I don’t know what I feel like eating anyway… At that particular moment, a good old cappuccino (or similar) will at worst significantly improve your situation, or at best definitively resolve it.

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A One & One with a traditional cappuccino at Strauss in the Brisbane CBD

So is it really any better — or much different you might ask — to a flat white or latte? If either of those drinks is your preference then no, however for me, there is something unique about both the expresso/milk ratio, and the texture offered in a well made cappuccino compared to the others. Mainly the texture. You will find any number of recipe guides and infographics online, however I’d agree with James Hoffmann, in that many of these are perhaps a little misleading and the specifics probably technically incorrect. On this point I’d encourage you to read the post, for only one of us is an expert on these things, and it certainly isn’t me.

Creating one

Ask any barista how they make their cappuccino, and you will likely get subtle variations based on preference, philosophy and the particular coffee being served as the base for the drink. Ask any amateur, and you may get a certain answer, with additional variation in technique consistency and perhaps equipment compromise.

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Any given morning at home

In any event, my personal brewing technique involves an espresso made to approximately a 1:1.8 ratio (18–20 gram dose; 34–36 gram yield), splitting the shot with one side into a demitasse espresso cup and the other into a 4.5 or 6 oz cappuccino cup. I’ll usually consume the espresso as well (yes, my favourite one and one combination), or at a minimum, taste it to assess how the extraction went.

Although I do love great espresso as much as the next coffee nerd, I guess my fondness for the cappuccino is all about what comes next (assuming of course we’ve done a decent job of that initial extraction), with the densest, creamiest, silkiest milk I can muster. This of course, is the key to the kingdom. The doorway that opens up milk beverage nirvana. This is not a flat white with a little more foam. This is a thicker, well mixed crescendo of espresso and milk, the density of which increases towards a good centimetre or so of dense capping with enough thickness and surface tension to provide the hint of a dome on top of the cup. Those hollow frothy mountains were indeed left behind some 15–20 years ago (mostly).

The exact recipe is not really important – what makes it up in its entirety is. I know I’ve been successful if the density and mouthfeel of that creamy espresso and milk mix is carried right through until the last sip.

The Finish

As I’ve mentioned, I love my espresso as much as the next guy at the bar, however I find there is nothing quite as comforting as the humble — yet well made — cappuccino.

Writing here, I share a few things I enjoy and perhaps poke fun at myself a little while doing it. Perhaps I’ve laid it on a bit thick in the early stages of this post, however when all is said and done, there really is something to be said for the simple things we love and why we love them.

My Ultra Black Montblanc M Ballpoint

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A little time spent searching online doesn’t return much in the way of Montblanc M Ballpoint reviews, a notable exception being this recent post by Mike Dudek. I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised. Perhaps I should be embarrassed about spending this type of money on a ballpoint pen. Money which should be spent on taking me deeper into the unique designs, materials, or custom nib grinds of a fountain pen.

Whether or not the lack of reviews in existence say anything about the hobby itself perhaps missing a beat is a question not really requiring an answer. I think we’d all concede the inexorable draw of the fountain pen is pretty tough to resist, however perhaps comes at the expense of missed opportunity elsewhere? The number of times whether, perhaps, and maybe pop up in these types of posts all point to one thing of course: personal preference. Some might agree with what I have to say below, others wouldn’t be caught dead with a ballpoint. The burgeoning popularity of indie designer and Kickstarter pens is perhaps (there it is again) a sign of interest in broader horizons.

In any event, following on below you’ll only find discussion about a ballpoint pen — one finished in black at that — and certainly no embarrassment. You may recall embarrassment was covered in the initial post about this pen, though squarely in relation to trying to buy the pen, not about buying such a pen.

That said, market analysis or philosophy this post is not. What it is though, is a slightly more detailed look at my Montblanc M Ultra Black Ballpoint. So on with the show.

Look and Feel

Appearance

Yes, it is indeed black, though as I touched on in my previous post, I have a certain fondness for matte and brushed type finishes — think the Baron Fig Squire, Lamy aion, or the Makralon of the Lamy 2000. With the majority of Montblanc pens out there on the glossy side of the ledger, the Ultra Black finish which now exists through some of the range was always going to well and truly tick this box, and I certainly would not have added the M to the fold without it.

One thing to note here though — and plan for it if you are considering a purchase — after some use, your hand will polish a “sheenier” look to the area it comes in contact with (i.e. the middle of the barrel). I’ve gone with this description because while I wouldn’t call it shiny, let’s say it will become less matte – particularly evident when the now slightly contrasting cap is placed back on. And that, friends, is where this pen earns a whole new level of affection from this owner at least.

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A little less matte on the barrel after a few months use

I love it. It’s the polished wood grain on a well-worn tamper handle; the softened, worn leather spine on your notebook cover, or even the small callus on my finger from hours of a resting a pen. It is a sign of earning its keep — a tale of words gone by and thoughts recorded.

Should that process take a little longer than a few months? Maybe, though I’ll take it either way. Is it likely to bother you? Perhaps, however that is something only you can answer. Certainly worth noting though if that sort of thing might be a problem. Particularly so, given the vendor from whom this pen was purchased confirmed seeing this on other Ultra Black finished pens. I’ll assume it is a standard occurrence unless there are a majority of Ultra Black users out there who have not seen such a thing happen with theirs.

Most of you reading would already be aware the M design is a collaboration between Montblanc and designer Marc Newson, with more information available about this through the next link.

The overall design gives an outward impression of solid build, and the aesthetic is one of… yes I’ll say it: simplicity. The appeal of the M design for me has always been the balanced end to end uniformity, offset with that emblem plateau. For those more in tune with design – from Montblanc on Marc Newson’s work:

When his trademark biomorphic style meets the iconic design cues of Montblanc, the result is both unique and timeless.

…the writing instruments’ fluid lines flow gently into one another. Moving from the Montblanc emblem on the cap, along the platinum-plated clip, which magnetically aligns with a white precious resin Montblanc emblem on the perfectly flat “plateau” of the barrel, consummate forms express visionary design.

As I’ve alluded to already, I like it a lot, however I do tend to enjoy what I’d consider “clean, modern design” for want of a better term. While I understand the appeal of colourful swirls and the like, here (whether gloss or matte), I can only ever see this design in uniform colour. I don’t make the decisions of course, and I’m certainly glad Montblanc gave the green light to the Ultra Black version.

Combined with the accents of a gently knurled, gunmetal grip section and a platinum-coated clip, the overall colour palette befits the design and a Montblanc modern aesthetic. The little flair of orange where the section meets the barrel almost has the appearance of an o ring seal, however is simply a deliberate decision to extend the plastic lining from inside the barrel and section for a little flash of colour. I doubt my appreciation wanes without it, however again, I love that it’s there.

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Magnetic cap alignment – almost…

The M is a decent size without being an overly large pen, and I suppose you’d call it a cigar shape, though the ends are a little more blunted than say a Sailor 1911 by comparison. For reference, with the exception of the end taper, the dimensions are quite similar to the Lamy 2000. The snap-on cap and clip are solid, without being overtly flashy. The hero feature of the cap, of course, being the magnetic alignment of the clip with the plateau emblem, which prevents the cap being secured in anything but “perfect” alignment. This feature works almost perfectly, with my clip aligning about 10–15 degrees to the left of the emblem plateau — something which should bother me, however after noticing it in the initial few days after purchase, I’ve not thought about it since, except to raise it in this post.

I’ll touch on my main reasons for picking up the ballpoint version below, however I don’t find any single thing to be the killer feature for the M line of pens. To use that old adage, it is a champion team, which will — they say — always beat a team of champions. It is a pen best taken whole. Probably not the clearest description of things, though sums up my thoughts well enough.

With the Montblanc M range (ballpoint or otherwise) I think it is definitely a case of what you see is what you get. Even from online images, I think you can be fairly confident in your initial impressions of either being fond of the design or not. As always, being able to pick up and hold a pen is certainly an advantage with any consideration around purchasing.

In the hand

So outwardly it is a solid looking pen — what about in the hand? I’d say pretty much the same really.

This is definitely one of those “solid, yet light” pens — even when posted, which apparently was not possible in the initial release, however the M pens now sport a “plateau magnet” to enable posting. In a purely subjective preference, I’m not a poster of any pen (save for those requiring it such as a Kaweco Sport), and here it just doesn’t feel right. I’d say at least 90% of the time the cap is on my desk anyway (another reason the magnetic alignment doesn’t bother me). Other times it will be beside my notebook in a meeting or failing that – in my pocket. If I’m stepping into a meeting within the office, I’ll often carry the pen sans cap anyway.

I’m aware the area around the grip section tends to be another opinion divider with the M line of pens. Heading towards the tip, there is a staged series of steps from the barrel to the section, another down to the convergence nearing the tip, before the refill makes its appearance. The latter two are of no real significance, however the barrel to section transition may be, depending on your grip and preference.

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To some, that flash of orange I mentioned may be a “warning — do not proceed,” however I’ve never really found pens with a step down at the grip to be a problem (though again, it goes without saying that will depend on your grip). In fact, I’ve found this one even less so, for the ballpoint refill gives you a 360-degree option in positioning and practically unlimited angle positions. Essentially every spot is the sweet spot. Choking down on the grip a little results in all my fingers residing on the knurled section, or moving further up the barrel, my index finger controls the section, thumb and middle finger above it. I tend to fluctuate between the two, and as you can imagine, use the step as a reference point.

For the type of money we are talking about, I’d say everything certainly does need to be just about perfect — so if you have any reservations at all about this feature in the design, I’d recommend an in-person inspection and test prior to purchase. Bear in mind I refer to “perfect” as perfectly suited to your preference and grip style, rather than some sort of “absolute” perfection.

If these aspects don’t align with your expectations or requirements, then that is simply that. I think we need to get past any suggestion the manufacturer has “blown it” or made some “serious error in judgement” for their design choices at least — regardless of the company. The fact this pen suits me perfectly makes it no more designed for me than not designed for you. The finished product is simply how Montblanc – or for that matter, Marc Newson – designed it.

Unposted, I find the M very well balanced, regardless of a grip above or below the step, and it is a pen which will handle longer writing sessions should they be required, doing so with a high level of comfort for the user.

More on this when we get to writing below.

Specifications

  • Model: Montblanc M Ballpoint
  • Finish: Ultra Black; Platinum trim
  • Barrel: Black precious sandblasted resin; inlaid emblem on plateau
  • Cap: Black precious sandblasted resin; inlaid emblem
  • Closure: Magnetic snap on
  • Weight capped: 27 grams
  • Weight uncapped: 19 grams
  • Length capped: 140 mm
  • Length uncapped: 123 mm
  • Diameter: 13 mm
  • Refills: Montblanc Ballpoint or compatible
  • Price: AUD$610.00 (Montblanc International 2 Year Warranty)

Note the measurements above are my own, so assume they are approximate, yet will be pretty close if not exact — difficult to find any documented specs anywhere.

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The pen was purchased from Pen & Paper in Brisbane, Australia, in December 2017.

Writing Performance

The refill

I for one will say these Montblanc ballpoint refills write like a dream — well yes… a dream ballpoint. This not being a debate on the merits of ballpoint/gel/rollerball/nib – I purchased a ballpoint for a reason, and everything I need it to do, it does in spades.

I’ve rotated through three different types so far: the standard Pacific Blue in medium and the Mystery Black in broad. Although only available in medium, I could not go past The Beatles psychedelic purple — love the colour, love the refill box. Incidentally, the availability of many of the special edition colours is another factor weighing heavily in favour of the ballpoint version of the M compared to the rollerball. If that is of any importance to you it is certainly worth considering.

 

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Refill colour options are numerous compared to the rollerball version of the M

 

The medium is definitely my preferred width. While I enjoy the richness of the broad’s line (the medium holds up well here in any event), with all of that ink being laid down I find things get a little slippery, and the pen skates away from me a little on the page.

Irrespective of width, when talking refills, there are a couple of deal-breakers for me when it comes to writing with ballpoints. Firstly, ink build up on the tip. I used to regularly find this with Parker refills, or cheaper no-name brands. I have not used either of these recently so perhaps things have improved.

I also very much dislike it if the refill rattles around, moves or makes an audible click when the pen contacts or leaves the surface of the page. That thing has to be well-held, and held in perfect or at least near-perfect alignment — not too proud of the housing nor stuck too deep, for either will annoy me during use. It does, of course, help that the M is capped, removing the need for any click or twist knock mechanism which may contribute to play in the refill fit.

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My fondness for this pen would suggest Montblanc have these areas well covered, and I can confirm they certainly have. The spring tension and refill tip alignment are perfect, and the Montblanc refills I’ve been using these past six months or so have all been flawless in their writing. Smooth, rich and vibrant lines in their respective colours, with no skips, hard starts or clumping in any way, shape or form.

Finally, there is something very satisfying about simply unscrewing the section from the barrel, swapping in another refill and away you go — all in about 20 seconds. Call me a heathen if you like, however I’ve always enjoyed the convenience of ink cartridges in my fountain pens as well, notwithstanding a required flush when changing colours.

Comfort and use

As with any writing instrument, your intended use will really determine whether the M — and the M in ballpoint for that matter — will indeed suit that purpose.

 

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Whether many words or a few… the M Ballpoint has it all covered

 

Personally, I’ve used this thing for meeting notes, letters, and report mark up, however 90% of the time it is on my desk ready to jot down a phone number, take a few notes to organise my thoughts or sign a document. If I consider the uses I put this pen to at the office (often with less than ideal writing conditions), the ballpoint format I consider just about perfect. Conversely, if I were after something to use at home, on my paper of choice for page after page after page, a nice fountain pen may be a better fit. The right tool for the job.

Does this imply some form of compromise in what I am using at the office? Far from it. I have quite a few fountain pens, and as you are probably aware, enjoy using them immensely. While generally fluid and effortless writers, they do less well in some of the situations I put them in at work (think dry time on a document passed around a table for multiple signatures, or sub-par office copy paper). At home, I’m more inclined to pick up one of the more balanced fountain pens in my collection (Sailor 1911 Large, Pilot Custom Heritage 823 or Pelikan 805) if I plan to churn through several hundred to a thousand words or more in a sitting.

One thing I can say is I’ve found the M ballpoint to be considerably more comfortable over an extended writing session than I had originally expected. It is extremely well balanced, has an always-in sweet spot, and provides an effortless experience between writer and page. From both a practicality and usability perspective, it is really everything I could ask for.

Signing off

Well, that folks, is my Montblanc M Ballpoint in Ultra Black.

Sure, it might roll away if placed down uncapped, the finish wear to a slight sheen, and the cap not quite align with the emblem plateau. You might (quite validly) argue that for the price, no such comments should appear in this post, let alone be flippantly dismissed. I wouldn’t disagree, however as you can gather, none of these aspects bother me, and I quite like the subtle change in finish. Once, they probably — no definitely — would have bothered me, however over recent years I’ve come to learn what really matters to me.

Of course, appearance and design are what draw me to a pen in the first place, however in my deal-breaker categories of balance, grip and refill performance, in my experience, the M sits squarely in my sweet spot for all. There is no compromise in seeking and finding a ballpoint — of all things — to be the right tool for the job.

Not only that, the Montblanc M ballpoint is a joy to use, and let’s be honest — if you are writing without joy? That right there is the real compromise.

 

Of November, laziness, and hereabouts

It seems to be around November when it usually strikes.

A busy time of year with a looming, yet still too distant end in sight. It’s not me – it’s you, I say, looking my office job squarely in the eye. As for the blog though, pens (and/or keyboard) down seems to be the result. “Just for a short while” I tell myself, though in recent years, it seems to have taken longer and longer to pick them up again.

Of course, I have a very long list pending under the blog post tag, mostly on or around similar topics to those I’ve written about before. Looking at it? Well, that raises the internal question: ”Am I not writing because I couldn’t be bothered, or because I’m not really sure this will contribute anything valuable to the conversation”. I can think of merit to each argument, though a definitive conclusion seems harder to reach.

Having started this blog five years ago, one of the more frustrating aspects is I find it no easier to write here than I did at the beginning – at times it seems more difficult. The biggest challenge? Not writing the same thing over and over again, which I assume is a common foe for many. Deadlines? Well, only the ones I self-impose – which is rare – and they are flexible enough to be bent backwards and turned inside out.

In the latter part of last year, as November arrived, I inadvertently took a slightly different path. As well as not writing, I stopped reading, researching and following. Repeatedly marking all my RSS feeds as read, podcast queue as listened, and rarely opened most of my social media feeds. It wasn’t really an approach as such, I simply realised around Christmas I’d rarely engaged in any of the usual “stuff” at all, in the absence of any real intent to do so. As a result, I began unsubscribing and unfollowing with a certain vigour.

While I’m not really one to think too deeply about all of this, I did begin to wonder just a little about what might be going on. Was I tired of this writing, reading, and following caper – or maybe just tired? Was it time to leave the blog behind and move on? If so, to what? Or was I, if I’m entirely honest, just being a little lazy? In hindsight, I’d say a little bit tired, a little bit lazy and perhaps slightly reordering some priorities.

In any event, as we now roll into May (only six months later!), I can confirm I have indeed missed much of that “stuff”. Therefore, I’ve re-followed (apologies if I’ve missed some of your accounts – I’ll get there eventually), begun listening, and actually read, consider, and capture as necessary what comes through my RSS feed again. Social media? Well, I’m there, however I still find it the equivalent of that person you constantly give the benefit of the doubt, only to be slapped in the face and disappointed over and over again. Let’s say I’ll try and retain my optimism.

Of course throughout this entire time I’ve been poking around here somewhere. A couple of posts have gone up, the pens are used daily, the coffee is still being grown, roasted and brewed, and I keep telling myself I don’t need the newest tech or gadgets. So really, not a lot has changed – perhaps simply my level of immersion.

So November, I see you, I know exactly where you are, and maybe this year I’ll even plan for you. Come to think of it, Summer sabbatical has a certain ring to it. Either way, I know I’ll be around here somewhere.

While these little interests and hobbies mightn’t be significant in the big picture, they certainly are in the landscape of mine.