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Aurora Optima


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#1 Painterspal

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Posted 26 July 2010 - 12:54

Aurora Optima – Optima by name and by nature!

I’ll be honest with you, the Aurora Optima is a pen I never thought I’d review as my pen interests are mainly elsewhere, but I have to admit that this is a pen that I’ve developed a great respect for – there’s so much that’s right about this design.

If you were to ask me what kind of pens I like best, I’d probably say it was my small collection of hand-made Japanese Urushi and Maki-e pens. But if you were to ask which pens in my collection I use most, then the answer would be somewhat different. In that, I’m sure I’m no different to many pen collectors whose favourite pens are not necessarily the ones I carry around and use every day, in every situation. Sure, my Nakayas and Danitrios sometimes get a trip to the office, and they’re nearly always inked, but if you wanted to find the pen that’s always in my pen case, no matter what else I’m carrying, you need look no further than Aurora’s classic modern design, the Optima.

So here’s a review in praise of one of my favourite Italian fountain pens.

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Key features

The Optima is a medium sized pen, about the same length as a Pelikan M600 and Montblanc 146. It’s a chunky pen with flattened ends, something that emphasises its girth and distinguishes it from its close relative, the Aurora 88, which is also slightly longer. The styling of the 88 looks a little more traditional to my eye and I find the appearance of the Optima a nice contemporary twist on the basic fountain pen design. Like many of the best European pens, it has a built in piston filler, which has worked smoothly and efficiently in all the Optimas I’ve used. The presence or absence of a built in piston isn’t a deal breaker for me, but it’s undeniably convenient and, compared to some I’ve tried, this one doesn’t have any adverse impact on the overall balance of the pen. The pen also features a small ink reserve and a window – both useful features but the window is surely a ‘must have’ unless you always carry ink or a spare pen with you.

Ergonomics and construction

The design of the Optima (and 88) makes it a comfortable pen to hold. I find it very easy to grip and the gently tapered section feels comfortably and secure in my hand. I like the length of the section – there’s no chance of gripping the treads, unlike the smaller Pelikans, and I prefer a resin grip to the metal used by, for example, Visconti. Its weight is about 22g capped and 15g uncapped (demonstrator 24g/17g) – enough to know you’re holding it, but light enough that I can write many pages without fatigue. I’m sure those who like to post their pens will approve of the Optima as it posts nice and secure, but I don’t post my pens and find it works great that way too; the balance and overall feel is just about perfect for me.

I own four Optimas, all different in finish, but similar in so far that they share the same high standard of construction. The materials used – resin, celluloid and sterling silver for caps and body – all seem resistant to wear and tear and look gorgeous. I’ve heard that some people have had issues with the cap threads wearing, but mine are fine after quite a bit of use. I love the celluloid and the demonstrator, but my favourite is the silver capped pen, which I think looks stunning and oozes class.

One of the most important things for me is day to day reliability, and here the Optimas really excel. My pens have a fairly hard life, cased yes, but shoved in a bag that gets thrown in the back of the car every day and jogged about as I rush from meeting to meeting. Leaks are regular problem and many of my pens have been found wanting, but not the Optimas which seem able to take this sort of treatment in their stride.

Nib and writing performance

Aurora nibs seem to spark a fair amount of controversy amongst fountain pen users. Personally, I like them a lot. Three out of the four I own have 14K nibs while one is 18K, but there’s little to choose between them. All are fairly stiff, with the 18K being perhaps the stiffest of the lot. I don’t press hard so I can’t comment on how well they flex. They unscrew easily, which makes them simple to change and the pens convenient to clean.

Out of the box, they’ve all provided a similar experience, offering great control and a sense of the paper beneath the nib – what I’d describe as a nice amount of feedback without being unpleasantly scratchy. Ink flow has been average or a little dry out of the box, but easily adjusted as required. None of mine have skipped or otherwise misbehaved and seem equally at home with a wide range of inks.

I assume Aurora nibs are not quite as highly smoothed and polished as some manufacturers, and thus don’t tend to offer the ‘butter smooth’ writing experience that some writers crave, at least not straight from the box. On a fine nib, the Aurora way suits me fine and is great for note taking where speed and more simply functional writing is the order of the day. However, for letter writing I like my nibs a bit smoother and enjoy a bit more variation, so have reground both my medium nibbed Optimas to stubs. These are now a tad smoother than a standard Aurora nib and the one in my green celluloid Optima has become a real favourite of mine.

Summary

There’s no surprise at the end of this review. Italy boasts some fine pen makers and some truly great pens and I certainly think the Aurora Optima deserves to be counted among the very best.



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Comparison to MontBlanc 146 and Pelikan M650 uncapped and capped (note camera angle may not give true impression of relative size).
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Edited by Painterspal, 26 July 2010 - 14:15.

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#2 tanalasta

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Posted 26 July 2010 - 13:12

Beautiful review and photos.

I also have all three of the pens (MB 146, Pelikan M600 and Aurora Optima) and the Aurora remains one of my perennial favourites. The beautiful weight and balance, long ergonomic grip section and the smooth piston. I also love how the Aurora reserve system works. Lastly, it's an easy to view ink window and the nibs have wonderful feedback for those who don't like their nibs 'butter smooth' with little personality.

Many thanks for the review! Makes me want to find yy Aurora and ink it up :)

By the by, the Optima is slightly shorter than the MB 146.

Edited by tanalasta, 26 July 2010 - 13:12.

In Rotation: MB 146 (EF), Noodler's Ahab bumblebee, Edison Pearl (F), Sailor ProGear (N-MF)
In storage: MB 149 (18k EF), TWSBI 540 (B), ST Dupont Olympio XL (EF), MB Dumas (B stub), Waterman Preface (ST), Edison Pearl (0.5mm CI), Noodler's Ahab clear, Pilot VP (M), Danitrio Densho (F), Aurora Optima (F), Lamy 2000 (F), Visconti Homo Sapiens (stub)

#3 777

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Posted 26 July 2010 - 13:14

Very cool pen! I love the demonstrator. I've yet to try my first Aurora. Thanks for the review!

Need a pen repaired or a nib re-ground? I'd love to help you out.


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#4 QuantumMisa

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Posted 27 July 2010 - 07:47

The Optima is also my particular favorite at the moment. I haven't bought any other pens since this purchase a few months ago and probably won't for a while. The looks are what made me get it but its functionality has impressed me as well. Mine is the red celluloid, a bit of a stand-out among my mostly blue collection. But your photo makes the silver finish look very appealing!

An upside-down M nib gives me just the width and line variation I like. It's nice to hear that you've ground stubs out of them, but I'm too timid to try it myself just yet.

#5 amcw7777

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Posted 27 July 2010 - 08:32

I am using a blue optima now. It is a pen dedigned for writing!
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#6 fabrimedeiros

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 05:06

Great review and pics! You have a beautiful collection! I saw an Optima Clear Demo some months ago, when I visited a Pen Shop, and I did like it! Very solid pen! and I love piston fill system. In fact, as you said, Optima filling system has an innovation, which is an extra amount of ink stored in its plunger, when ink from main resevoir ends. The clear ink window is very charming too.

regards,
Fabricio



#7 jigesh

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 18:12

Nice review. What nib sizes do you have? Would it be possible to post a picture of writing samples with different nib sizes? Thank you.

#8 cmeisenzahl

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 18:16

Wow, great review and pics!!!

#9 karmakoda

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 18:34

Very fine Aurora Optima collection, and a really informative review.
Size comparison photos are extremely helpful for those of us that are not near penshops that carry a variety of quality pens.
When visiting Manhattan, this Spring, the Optima was the only pen that tempted me to stray from my intended purchase.
Had I seen this review, it would be in my pencase right now.
Thanks!

#10 Painterspal

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 20:22

Many thanks for all your kind remarks. I'll try and post a writing sample over the weekend.
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#11 aldi

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Posted 04 August 2010 - 03:37

Excellent review! The size comparison is very helpful!
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#12 ethernautrix

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Posted 04 August 2010 - 16:54

I bought an Optima from INK in Minneapolis as my souvenir pen, and I discovered that it was a perfectly perfect pen. I brought it back into rotation about a month ago. It really is an amazing pen: perfect. The piston works smoothly and easily; the nib is fabulous; the ink window is useful. It's probably the only Aurora I'll ever own. Cos how does one improve on perfection?

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#13 orangeaurora

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Posted 07 August 2010 - 19:06

I just recently won a Sole (not the Mini) on eBay and I agree with the "perfectly perfect" description. That says it perfectly!

+1 on everything ethernautrix said about the way the pen works.

The Sole is not my only Aurora pen, however, as I have a Mini Luna, two Talentums, and two Ipsilons. Among them are both gold and steel nibs in Fine, Medium, and Italic. All wonderful, solidly-built, smooth-writing pens. In my opinion, Aurora does it right!






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