Pen collection thoughts – niche or narrow?

When it comes to a pen hobby, some may consider it niche, others not so much. Sure, there are plenty of folk who love their stationery, however the more “nerdy” pen types likely fit the niche descriptor one way or another. From there, well I guess it is just a matter of how far you go down the rabbit hole, which in many ways brings me to my point.

Depending on your approach, going deep into any hobby or interest carries with it the inherent risk of limiting the breadth you may experience across that same endeavour. Specialising, or carving out your own… ok — niche, indeed has many benefits, however again, there are sacrifices in this approach if we begin to take a broader view. There is of course no right or wrong to any of this, simply the path(s) you choose. Further, that old adage you don’t know what you don’t know springs to mind as well.

Why am I writing about this? Well as with anything reflective in nature, the trigger is often some occurrence which makes us ponder things a little. Where you ultimately arrive with those thoughts may be a side tangent you hadn’t necessarily seen coming. I guess that’s the thing about serendipity.

It’s around nine years or so since I started this blog, and it was only a little before that I found myself revelling in the discovery that many likeminded people shared their love of pens online. What was one to do? Dive right in of course.

You begin poking around online, one blog links to another, and progressively a nice cache of RSS feeds mounts within the “Pen” folder in your reader. The associated social media and podcast(s) inevitably follow. You immerse yourself further. These are your people! There may be a local group or two where online becomes face to face, and as good as that may be, for the introverted amongst us that aspect may just as quickly fall away. Again, nothing wrong with that — we are each to our own. Online though, it’s all there. All around.

Fast forward a few years, and as your interactions broaden a little, you begin to see that despite all you’ve opened your eyes to across the entire (or so it seems) internet, your view may be a little narrower than first thought. I guess all that’s left to do is chuckle as you are reminded large parts of your hobby are actually unknown to you. You’ve completely missed them.

Why?

Well I’ve probably answered my own question earlier in the post: …one blog links to another… All well and good, however there is the tendency for things to work their way around in a nice circle as a result. Podcasts at times can be similar. Opinions somehow become fact and we all end up hearing or writing similar things. We buy the same things from the same companies. Is it FOMO? Maybe, or perhaps so we can contribute to the conversation?

Whatever the reason it can certainly stifle any natural growth which may occur in directions other than everyone else’s well worn path. Maybe there is a fine line between community and echo chamber. Perhaps it’s one and the same. Mind you, I say that with the utmost respect, for I think there is simply a natural tendency for things to develop in such a way.

So what is this serendipitous event I speak of? Well the mere existence of a large swathe of pen models by a certain large pen manufacturer which existed through the 70’s and 80’s which I knew absolutely nothing about, yet are certainly out there if you care to look. I’m talking of the Montblanc Generation, Noblesse, and Carrera. Throw in another slim line two-colour twist mechanism ballpoint for good measure. Bringing these types of pens into a collection certainly results in a little background research, and it is only then you begin to realise the extent of the gaps in your knowledge.

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The exact pens themselves aren’t the point here (they certainly may be in a future post of course…). The narrow-ish field of view I’ve somehow developed to this point is.

I understand many of us live in the “now” or “next release” of the pen world, and do not necessarily seek “vintage”, or have any interest in it, which is absolutely fair enough. I hadn’t really ever planned on doing it either, however found the main benefit to be a richer and broader overall view as a result. That being said, the point of this post is not even to sing the praises of vintage pens, but to simply explain the catalyst of putting pen to paper which ended up being what you are reading now.

The moral here? If I could speak from experience and with brevity: No matter what you think you know, or who you choose to read, watch or listen to, there is far, far more out there which may indeed be of interest — perhaps surprisingly so.

If everyone else has/wants/suggests a certain pen, might it be worth casting the net a little wider and  considering something different instead? You never know what you might find.

Sorry – not with those swirls

I’ve never been one for those colourful and swirly finishes on the body of my fountain pens. Actually pretty much any of my pens, fountain or otherwise. At times I wonder if I missed out on the creative component of my being, or maybe I’m just exceedingly dull. Not in the best position to make an objective call on that one, I’d like to think it’s merely a case of I know what I like or perhaps more to the point — what I don’t.

Exhibit A – Fountain pen drawer one

As I look through my collection of pens, it is decidedly lacking in colour variation. Actually is black even a colour? Sure, there is a splash of red, a drop of blue and some demonstrators, however we have what many would call an overwhelmingly conservative collection. What I’d call it? A collection of classic styles, designs and overall character. I absolutely love it. I’ve written before about a very kind and generous gesture a few years ago which swelled the number of pens I own considerably. The fact is, had this been a slower one by one accumulation to where I sit today, things would look exactly as they do now — to the letter (or colour and finish, as it were).

Exhibit B – Fountain pen drawer two

I’m not entirely sure when this anti-swirl sentiment began, and I can only assume it is some innate tendency leading me to gravitate towards the opposite. In looking further afield at things such as my accessories (mostly leather – again, generally black) and even more broadly across my wardrobe, you see classical and largely timeless rather than overtly expressive. Again — exactly as I like it, and exactly as I curate it. The classics? They say never go out of style I seem to recall.

I must point out this perspective is written merely as a personal observation of my own situation, rather than some sort of argument against the colourful swirl of many a fountain pen. Further, at times I do feel a twinge of guilt in not offering much support to the smaller independent pen makers who produce and offer these types of designs to the market. Let’s face it, your standard black body and platinum trim are typically the bread and butter of larger players rather than the indie battler. At the end of the day I guess you can only buy what you like, and hope you end up liking what you buy. If that is indeed how it turns out, there is a compelling case to repeat the behaviour.

Of course I’ve also bought my fair share of pens through Kickstarter or direct from smaller manufacturers, yet funnily enough, I’m not sure any strayed too far from the flock. Take these rollerballs for example. Further, in bolstering my stable of ballpoints over the last year or two, the purchases have been your standard dark makrolon, ultra (let’s call it matte) black, and black and platinum respectively. So the trend continues, although the same cannot be said for the refills.

In bringing this post to a close, I hand it to those makers who are doing fabulous things with those dreamy, swirling creations, and I’m certainly glad there seems to be a healthy market for them.

However just as it should be at this and every other juncture in this pen caper, we are each to our own.

My way or the cahier

I have more than a few rough notes laying around containing thoughts on the humble cahier (“ka-yey””)style of notebook. Most are written when its new notebook time, and I start thinking about exactly what I might need. I guess the usual pro’s and the con’s type of thing. While far from exhaustive, the following outlines why the humble cahier more often than not fits the bill — at least for me.

As pen people, we all understand the joy of any writing instrument (fountain or otherwise) is inherently tied to the paper we’re using. Despite quality paper coming in many formats, we’ve probably all been in the “I can’t find the exact thing my ridiculously picky pen-nerding soul wants right now” situation more than once. At times like these a default go-to works more often than not, and for me that has long been a cahier of some kind.

While Dictionary.com tells us the cahier (ka-yey, kah-; French ka-yey) is, amongst a couple of other things, a notebook, paperback book, exercise book or journal, most know it simply as something like this:

There have been a few…

Start Here

Although the adage goes something along the lines of any journey begins with a single step — occasionally it’s a stumble. Though perhaps a little harsh, fountain pen users will know what I am talking about here. My first cahier experience? A set of three from Moleskine. I mean, back in those early days of my stationery exploration, that’s what people who cared about such things used wasn’t it? Well, perhaps according to shrewd marketing, airport gift shops and large department stores — however this soon ran contrary to my paper quality sentiment above.

Since those early missteps there have been quite a few more positive experiences. Familiar to many, there have been Clairefontaine, Rollbahn, Rhodia, Baronfig, Milligram, and currently a set from Lamy which I’m finding very pleasant to use. There are no doubt a good few others in my tried-those list which escape me at the current time.

I refuse to even start down the specifications rabbit hole, and with so many unique dimensions around the place these days, there is hardly a cahier “standard” of any sort when it comes to sizing.

To be honest that doesn’t really bother me too much, however the following would be the general description you would find from most sellers – here, the Dymocks bookstore Moleskine product page:

The medium-sized Moleskine Cahier is a beautifully made Moleskine exercise book. It’s a soft-cover notebook with a flexible cardboard cover and visible thread-bound stitching.

…The plain notebook is the perfect art notebook, university notebook or personal journal, with simple mid-sized blank pages. The Kraft notebook has a beautiful, natural-cardboard cover that will appeal to those who love earthy tones.

…perfect for students, designers and creative people who take a lot of notes. Each has 80pp with 16 perforated pages and an expandable inner pocket.

All shapes, sizes and colours…

Whether you are a stickler for specific definitions or not, a cahier to me is a thin, softcover notebook. Having used thread bound, staple bound, A5 (and A5-ish), B5 (and B5-ish), and up to A4 — my definition is fairly broad.

Cah-yay…

So, why this humble notebook?

A simple answer to that question is found in that sublime interaction of paper quality and utility. I’ve always found most manufacturers who produce quality, fountain pen friendly paper, generally have a cahier in their line up alongside the usual hardcover notebooks. So in most cases, there are numerous choices if paper quality lies anywhere within your key criteria. Again, if you are reading this, I assume it probably does, and if your fountain pen performs well on the paper, generally most other pens will too.

As for utility? Well we could just as accurately substitute mobility here. There is a certain lightness about the cahier which a hardcover notebook will never quite match. Here I’m not talking about simply mass in grams — more so the overall footprint. Absolutely, your typical cahier will weigh less than an equivalent hardcover, though beyond that, a cahier is generally unobtrusive in nature. Tucked beside your iPad or laptop walking to a meeting? In and out of a briefcase or back pack? Stacked on a bookshelf or corner of a desk? The cahier is an easy carry, straightforward in and out, and seamless fit for any space.

Ok, so in praise of this jack of all trades — what about compromises? Generally where significant breadth of application is apparent, we tend to sacrifice depth, or quality and performance in a few key areas. To my why of thinking, the question should relate more to fit for purpose than what may be lacking compared with an arbitrary list of criteria. Any criteria need to be yours don’t they? Further, they should indeed be very specific to you.

For me? Paper is a deal breaker, and I’m sure anyone this far into the post thinks exactly the same. As I’ve mentioned though, with the right brands, there aren’t any real compromises required here. The softer, card-stock covers? As long as they prevent the the front and back pages ripping off as it goes in a bag — all good. Further, they allow each half of the notebook to be folded back on itself — perfect for cramped desk spaces or perhaps when you have no desk at all.

While they perhaps don’t look quite as a good as a hardcover on ”my minimalist desk setup” posts, and may get a little scuffed going in and out of a bag, for my own purposes, I cannot really come up with any significant negatives.

Well that’s me. You? It may be all, all wrong, so thank heavens for the choices we have in this stationery caper, and as usual, that’s why we’re so often invested in the search.

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…

 

 

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.

 

psychedelic purple peeps

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.