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Onoto - Horatio Nelson


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25 replies to this topic

#1 Jonst

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Posted 22 December 2012 - 08:16

I warn you in advance that this is a long review but that’s because there is a lot to say about this pen!

1. History

Many pen reviews start with “first impressions” but with this pen I think I need to start with the history, because this pen is steeped in it, both in terms of its theme and its significance to the modern Onoto pen company. So let me start with the theme, Horatio Nelson.

Picture courtesy of the National Maritime Museum
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Nelson was Britain’s greatest naval hero. Born in 1758, Nelson joined the Royal Navy at 12 and rose up through the ranks, largely due to his courage and his impressive strategies and tactics. He won a number of significant naval engagements, culminating in his greatest victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, off the coast of Portugal, in 1805.

At Trafalgar, Admiral Lord Nelson commanded a British fleet of 27 ships of the line who, largely due to Nelson’s tactics, defeated a combined French and Spanish fleet of 33 ships of the line. However, the victory was bittersweet. It made Nelson a national hero because by destroying or capturing the ships of the French and Spanish fleet he prevented Napoleon’s forces from invading Britain but during the battle he was fatally wounded by a French sniper and he died shortly after learning of the victory. His body was returned to England and he was given a state funeral which lasted 5 days and he was also given the honour of being buried in St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Even today he is still honoured and remembered for his bravery and leadership.

Returning to the pen, it’s important in the history of the modern Onoto company because it was the desire to make a pen commemorating Nelson and 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar which led the English entrepreneur, James Boddy, to revive Onoto as a pen manufacturer in 2003. The Horatio Nelson pen was therefore one of the first pens which the modern Onoto made, back in 2005.

2. First Impressions
Packaging - Onoto pens comes in sensible, useful and well made packaging. My pen came in solid blue lacquered box, accompanied by a number of interesting leaflets about the history of Onoto, care for the pen, the hallmarks and, in addition, a little booklet about Nelson.

From other reviews of Onoto pens, I’ve seen that some of their pens come in a lovely blonde, burr wood box. The blue box I received was a bit more modest but I don’t mind as I have my own wooden pen box in which the Nelson will live”!

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The Pen – whilst the packaging is fairly modest, the pen itself is not! It is magnificent on first sight and very substantial when you first pick it up.

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3. Appearance and Design
Awesome! The pen was designed and hand made for Onoto by the master goldsmith, Jack Perry.

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In terms of the materials, the body of the pen is made from sterling silver but not just any sterling silver, “Victory Silver”. Going back to the history, Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar was HMS Victory and given the significance of the success at Trafalgar the Royal Navy didn't want to scrap it once it had come to the end of its operating life. As a result the ship has been maintained as a commissioned vessel to this day, albeit in dry dock in Portsmouth, in the south of England.

Picture courtesy of Phillis and the Online Museum
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Over the years the Victory has been refurbished but the Royal Navy kept the wood and copper which were taken out of the ship. In 1999 the Ministry of Defence sold about 30 tonnes of wood and 10 tonnes of copper from the Victory. It was bought by a British businessman who resold it to various craftsmen and women with a view to them making objects commemorating the 200th anniversary of Trafalgar. It is some of this copper which has been used to produce the sterling silver alloy, under the brand “Victory Silver”.

Not only is the body of the pen special, so is the cap. The main feature being the cobalt blue vitreous enamel over an engine turned wave pattern. In the hand the cap looks as though it is made of a lustrous blue glass, which is essentially what this enamel is. I understand that a hand ground paste of silica, water and metal oxides are put onto the cap by hand, layer by layer using goose feather quills! In between layers the cap is “fired” at up to 850c to transform the paste into liquid “glass”, which fuses to the metal. The result is an incredibly pure, vivid blue which makes even Baystate Blue look slightly muted! The guilloche wave pattern gives a lovely depth to the blue colour.

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The cap has a number of details on it which link back to Nelson. In particular, there is a gilded, fouled anchor motif on the top which is similar to the design of the buttons on Nelson’s uniform. In addition there are 3 matt, gilded silver bands around the bottom of the cap which resemble the braid around the cuff of Nelson's uniform sleeve, together with a cartouche which shows Nelson’s signature and his dates. I was a little dubious about the inclusion of Nelson’s signature on the cap but in the flesh it works nicely as part of the design.

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Without the cap, the pen itself is quite conservative, with the fluting on the barrel being designed in the style of Nelson’s Column in London. There is further fluting on the section, which helps to give grip.

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Picture courtesy of Wayne Lorentz and Londonarchitecture.co.uk

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4. Weight and Dimensions
As you would expect from a pen made of a rod of sterling silver, it’s substantial! It’s approximately 90 grams in total and 50 grams without the cap. Despite the weight it’s fairly well balanced in the hand.
The pen is just under 14cm in length when capped. I would prefer the barrel of the pen to be a bit longer given the size of my hand but it is comfortable enough in use.

5. Nib and Performance
Very smooth. I opted for a medium nib, custom ground to a cursive italic by John Sorowka. It is firm but easily the smoothest nib I own (and John has worked on several other nibs for me from the likes of Visconti, Waterman and Pelikan). I would prefer it to have a little more line variation, so I may send it back to John for further tweaking but in the meantime it is lovely to write with. I believe Onoto obtain their nibs, made to their specification, from one of the German manufacturers, presumably Bock?

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6. Filling System
Cartridge converter. Not much more to say. The pen purist in me would like a more exotic filling system but the pen user in me is quite happy with a converter.

7. Cost and Value
Expensive. Even with a generous discount for being an FPN member, this pen is still over £1,000 BUT it is handmade to order by a top craftsman in a limited edition of 100, from a special form of sterling silver, with proper vitreous enamel applied by hand and with gilded details. It doesn’t have the clinical perfection of some of the big brands but it has the charm of being beautifully handmade to a top quality specification. If this pen had a white star on the cap it would be priced at many times the price which Onoto actually sells it for! So, all in all, I am comfortable with what I paid.

8. Conclusion
It is a beautiful looking pen which writes beautifully, what more could you ask for! I have other lighter pens for long writing sessions and I anticipate keeping this pen on my desk for note taking and signing documents. In that role I anticipate it providing many years of faithful service.

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I love the theme of the pen. I grew up near Portsmouth and I have been to see HMS Victory many times since I was a boy, so the theme of the pen and the history resonates with me. The pen will also go nicely with a box I already have, made by Peter Lloyd from oak taken from the Victory.

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Best wishes
Jon

Edited by Jonst, 22 December 2012 - 14:39.


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#2 Postscript

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Posted 22 December 2012 - 12:17

Thank you for a wonderful and thorough review, with your excellent photographs. Congratulations on a terrific pen,

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#3 da vinci

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Posted 22 December 2012 - 13:01

Thank you for a wonderful and thorough review, with your excellent photographs. Congratulations on a terrific pen,

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+1 from me. I throughly enjoyed reading your review, thank you.

#4 ransky

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Posted 22 December 2012 - 13:16

Wow, that is a beautiful pen. And the box looks great to me as well (is that tiger stripe maple and walnut?). Perhaps next to your splendid Victory box it seems more plain, but I still think its superb. I love the nautical touches on the pen - something that hits home with me. Just beautiful, Jonst. Thank you for the review!

#5 goldenkrishna

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Posted 22 December 2012 - 17:02

Thank you for this informative review. Mr. Nelson is a great & hefty FP.

Enjoy!

With love,
goldenkrishna
Ik tik

#6 requiescat

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Posted 22 December 2012 - 18:40

Lovely review, looks like a great pen. Thank you for the writeup!

#7 Jonst

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Posted 23 December 2012 - 07:30

Thank you all for your very kind words about the review and the pen.

Ransky, you were close regarding the wood of the box. It is rippled sycamore and walnut (I did a review of the box back in the summer - box review)

#8 ransky

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Posted 23 December 2012 - 12:41

Thank you all for your very kind words about the review and the pen.

Ransky, you were close regarding the wood of the box. It is rippled sycamore and walnut (I did a review of the box back in the summer - box review)


Ah, I completely misunderstood. I read the box portion of your review too quickly, jumping ahead to the pen. No wonder I felt the box was stunning in its own right - custom made it was! Keeping with the nautical theme, arrhh, a veritable treasure chest! That Onoto pen will be well kept!

#9 markiv

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Posted 23 December 2012 - 17:08

Very nice design capturing the naval theme and a fitting homage. I am a vintage pen person but can appreciate the work that has gone into making this pen. I especially like the cap rings and enamel work.
Thank you for sharing this nice review.

Oh and the box is superb too.
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#10 Jonst

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 07:46

Very nice design capturing the naval theme and a fitting homage. I am a vintage pen person but can appreciate the work that has gone into making this pen. I especially like the cap rings and enamel work.
Thank you for sharing this nice review.

Oh and the box is superb too.


Thanks very much markiv.

Best wishes

Jon

#11 RMN

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 12:39

Thanks for the review and pics

D.ick

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#12 Jonst

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Posted 26 December 2012 - 07:04

Thanks for the review and pics

D.ick


No problem D.ick.

All the best

Jon

#13 Sherwood Forester

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Posted 27 January 2013 - 17:03

Jon

Excellent review of a pen I have wanted ever since I first got hold of the Onoto brochure almost two years ago. I remain hopeful!

I have a silver Magna which is a very similar shape pen in weight and silhouette and I love it. The only part I would like to see made a little differently is the length of the grip section although that would involve a drastic re-design of both pen body length and cap length, too. The Onoto is slightly less comfortable to hold than some of my other pens which have screw threads on the body. (It is the reason that I have so far managed to persuade myself not to buy an example of the gorgeous Parker Duofold, a model which also appears to have a very short grip section between threads and nib.) Nevertheless it does not deter me from wanting a "Nelson". I'd like to have the funds to ask for a one-off version made to my requirements. Perhaps I'll pick the correct Lottery numbers sometime. :rolleyes:

Have you noticed that the pen body has been used in the more recent "Aviator" model? No doubt there were extra bodies (which are easier to make than those exquisite caps!) available. ;)

No offence intended, David, if you read this.

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#14 Dhara lekhni

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Posted 27 January 2013 - 17:38

Jon

Excellent review of a pen I have wanted ever since I first got hold of the Onoto brochure almost two years ago. I remain hopeful!

I have a silver Magna which is a very similar shape pen in weight and silhouette and I love it. The only part I would like to see made a little differently is the length of the grip section although that would involve a drastic re-design of both pen body length and cap length, too. The Onoto is slightly less comfortable to hold than some of my other pens which have screw threads on the body. (It is the reason that I have so far managed to persuade myself not to buy an example of the gorgeous Parker Duofold, a model which also appears to have a very short grip section between threads and nib.) Nevertheless it does not deter me from wanting a "Nelson". I'd like to have the funds to ask for a one-off version made to my requirements. Perhaps I'll pick the correct Lottery numbers sometime. :rolleyes:

Have you noticed that the pen body has been used in the more recent "Aviator" model? No doubt there were extra bodies (which are easier to make than those exquisite caps!) available. ;)

No offence intended, David, if you read this.


Re. to the pen design. In the pictures The barrel of this stunning pen appears very similar to another beautiful ONOTO, the Aviator. If one looks at the pictures of the Aviator barrel, it's ridged fuselage design appears to be the same as the ONOTO Horatio Nelson barrel. Perhaps there are subtle differences which the photos may not have captured.

#15 Jonst

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Posted 28 January 2013 - 22:12

Jon

Excellent review of a pen I have wanted ever since I first got hold of the Onoto brochure almost two years ago. I remain hopeful!

I have a silver Magna which is a very similar shape pen in weight and silhouette and I love it. The only part I would like to see made a little differently is the length of the grip section although that would involve a drastic re-design of both pen body length and cap length, too. The Onoto is slightly less comfortable to hold than some of my other pens which have screw threads on the body. (It is the reason that I have so far managed to persuade myself not to buy an example of the gorgeous Parker Duofold, a model which also appears to have a very short grip section between threads and nib.) Nevertheless it does not deter me from wanting a "Nelson". I'd like to have the funds to ask for a one-off version made to my requirements. Perhaps I'll pick the correct Lottery numbers sometime. :rolleyes:

Have you noticed that the pen body has been used in the more recent "Aviator" model? No doubt there were extra bodies (which are easier to make than those exquisite caps!) available. ;)

No offence intended, David, if you read this.


Thanks SF.

The length of the section is not an issue for me although, as I mentioned in the review, I would like the barrel to be a little longer (but then the extra weight might cause problems!).

I did notice the similarities with the Aviator. I don't claim any great knowledge but I imagine the silver pens are made individually or in small batches since it would be expensive, and would tie up capital, to make the full [100] silver pen bodies and then have them lying around waiting for customers.

I have just sent the nib off to John to see if he can increase the line variation but otherwise I am very happy with the pen and nib.

Best wishes

Jon

#16 Dhara lekhni

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 03:12

Jon

Excellent review of a pen I have wanted ever since I first got hold of the Onoto brochure almost two years ago. I remain hopeful!

I have a silver Magna which is a very similar shape pen in weight and silhouette and I love it. The only part I would like to see made a little differently is the length of the grip section although that would involve a drastic re-design of both pen body length and cap length, too. The Onoto is slightly less comfortable to hold than some of my other pens which have screw threads on the body. (It is the reason that I have so far managed to persuade myself not to buy an example of the gorgeous Parker Duofold, a model which also appears to have a very short grip section between threads and nib.) Nevertheless it does not deter me from wanting a "Nelson". I'd like to have the funds to ask for a one-off version made to my requirements. Perhaps I'll pick the correct Lottery numbers sometime. :rolleyes:

Have you noticed that the pen body has been used in the more recent "Aviator" model? No doubt there were extra bodies (which are easier to make than those exquisite caps!) available. ;)

No offence intended, David, if you read this.


Thanks SF.

The length of the section is not an issue for me although, as I mentioned in the review, I would like the barrel to be a little longer (but then the extra weight might cause problems!).

I did notice the similarities with the Aviator. I don't claim any great knowledge but I imagine the silver pens are made individually or in small batches since it would be expensive, and would tie up capital, to make the full [100] silver pen bodies and then have them lying around waiting for customers.

I have just sent the nib off to John to see if he can increase the line variation but otherwise I am very happy with the pen and nib.

Best wishes

Jon


The following is from one of the ONOTO newsletter. I thought this was very interesting and certainly makes the Nelson pen unique.

"The secret is out!
How we use goose quills to decorate our most prestigious pens!
You may have noticed that many of our pens are described as "decorated with vitreous enamel." But what does that mean? In the past 4 years, lots of people have enquired about the techniques we use to decorate our enamelled pens and while it's not exactly a trade secret, it's not been something we have openly explained to people. There's been no deliberate ploy to hide the information, but when you read what I'm about to tell you, you may realise why it sounds almost too weird to be true!

So here goes. Vitreous enamel is a hallmark of many Onoto pens. The Horatio Nelson and Emma Hamilton pens are perfect examples. The Royal Ballet collection, too. Unlike other "enamels" that are really resins applied cold, like paint, and require little skill in application, true vitreous enamel requires enormous time, patience and expertise to produce and apply. First used by the Ancient Egyptians around 5000 years ago, the art of enamelling was perfected by Russian goldsmith/jeweller Carl Faberge around the end of the 19th century.

Even today, the entire process of decorating precious metals with vitreous enamels is undertaken in exactly the same way as in Faberge's day. It's a long and intensive process which takes years to perfect. So much so that there are now only a handful of experienced enamellers creating top quality decorative jewellery and artefacts in the UK.

Here's how Onoto's master goldsmith describes the processes he uses to decorate the Onoto range of enamelled pens.

"First, using a chemist's mortar and pestle (a little larger than those you find in most kitchens), a mixture of silica, purified water and metal oxides is ground by hand. It takes several hours of painstaking grinding before the right consistency is achieved. The mixture is continuously rinsed through with purified water to take out any impurities. Only craftspeople with years of experience in working with this material know exactly when to stop grinding, as each colour "behaves" slightly differently, so shortens or lengthens the grinding time.

Now, here's the part that seems totally out of place in this hi-tech age. Once the silica paste has reached the right consistency, goose quills (yes, goose quills!) are used to apply each coat of the enamel paste in the traditional manner. The quills come from a local farm and are carefully selected according to the "fineness" of the enamel we are working with. The quill is sharpened, rather like a pencil, to a fine point so application of the enamel can be carefully and meticulously applied to the engraved surface of the sterling silver or gold pen. The application of enamel to the metal is a highly skilled craft, each enamelled component of the pen taking several hours to complete.

Why do we use goose quills?
Well, we have tried lots of other media but nothing gives the same combination of flexibility, precision and the ability to hold the enamel paste. Once a layer of enamel has been applied, each individual pen part is ‘fired’ in a furnace at temperatures between 750° and 850°C, depending on the colour of the enamel being fired. The temperature is critical. As the enamel paste heats up it starts to melt, becoming like liquid glass and fuses with the metal beneath it. Each firing may only take a few minutes, but it has to be watched very closely; too long and the metal (gold or silver) will start to melt; too short a time and the enamel will not ‘fuse’ to the metal.

After each firing, the pen parts are removed from the furnace and allowed to cool naturally before the next layer of enamel paste is applied. This process may involve 3 or 4 applications and firings, before the enamel shows the depth of colour and the translucency we require.

Once the enamel has been applied and fired satisfactorily, each enamelled pen part is individually ground with a diamond or carborundum file to smooth and shape the surface and ensure the enamel is of the correct depth to allow the guilloché (engraved pattern) on the metal underneath to show through.

Finally, the pen is buffed and polished to give maximum ‘show’ to the translucent enamel and the guilloché pattern.

As you might imagine, with a process that’s as technically challenging as this, and using completely natural materials, there has to be an extraordinary amount of painstaking examination at every stage. Of course, there are sometimes tiny spots or blemishes in the enamel – they are inevitable where natural materials are being used. We like to think of them as ‘signatures’ or birthmarks confirming the natural origins, uniqueness and character of each enamelled pen we produce.

The finished result is truly a work of art. There’s nothing mass-produced or mechanical about these pens, simply old-fashioned British craftsmanship, expertise and pride in the finished result.”



Without doubt, the enamelling process when applied to guilloché engraved sterling silver or gold creates a pen which bears all the hallmarks of true artistic and creative genius. As Fabergé discovered, the combination of translucent vitreous enamel and guilloché engraved sterling silver or gold is simply stunning!

A luxury enamelled fountain pen bearing the Onoto marque is the epitome of the very highest British craftsmanship; tactile and sumptuous to hold; perfectly balanced; a prized possession that will be used with pride, and admired and cherished for generations to come. And now YOU know the secret processes which lie behind its creation.

#17 raging.dragon

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 16:22

The skilled manual labour required goes a long way toward explaining the high prices of the enamelled Onotos.

#18 Sherwood Forester

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 16:56

Thanks for including the technical details, Dhara.

It certainly makes one appreciate just what skills, care, effort and time go into creating such gorgeous items. :cloud9: :puddle:

And yes, it helps one to understand the price, too!

I have been a fan of modern ONOTO pens ever since I first dicovered them.

But, oddly enough, I have never hankered after any of their vintage pens (or anyone else's vintage pens, for that matter.)

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#19 richardandtracy

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Posted 05 February 2013 - 11:07

... I have never hankered after any of their vintage pens ...

Even if you don't own a vintage Onoto, I do suggest you borrow one for a little while. The old Onoto nibs were really quite something. The whole feel of the vintage Onotos is totally different from any modern pen I've tried and feels both raw and refined at the same time. Possibly I'm not making sense, but it's a feeling that's really beyond words. Give one a try if you can.

Regards,

Richard.

#20 Sherwood Forester

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Posted 05 February 2013 - 11:40

Even if you don't own a vintage Onoto, I do suggest you borrow one for a little while. The old Onoto nibs were really quite something. The whole feel of the vintage Onotos is totally different from any modern pen I've tried and feels both raw and refined at the same time. Possibly I'm not making sense, but it's a feeling that's really beyond words. Give one a try if you can.

Regards,

Richard.


Thanks, Richard.

I shall bear that in mind and keep a lookout for an opportunity to try one. Fingers crossed.

All the best

Alan

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