Often in life one learns to appreciate the value of something only after the object is long gone. In my case, something along the same lines happened for Conway Stewart pens. One fine evening in July of 2015 I chanced upon a store selling off the last few Conway Stewarts they had in stock and I was mesmerised by their beauty. One look at the price tag however quickly brought me back to my senses. Modern CS pens were never known to be on the value end of the price spectrum and the huge custom duties and other applicable taxes in India meant that they were well outside my grasp.
I was however acutely aware that CS pens would soon not be available anywhere anymore and was desperate to get a piece of the pie. Once back home, I resorted to trawling the internet and found the source for last few CS blanks being made available from their liquidation sale by Vince Coates (www.theturnersworkshop.co.uk). With the help of fellow FPNer Kapil Apshankar (@springrainbow) I managed to source some materials in sufficient quantity to make a few pens. I did not bother receiving the material in hand and instead had those sent directly to Mr. Subramaniam of www.asapens.in with full faith that he would help me make something nice out of them. I also found out that CS essentially used Bock 250 nibs in their pens and grabbed a small collection of nib units as complete triple system from www.beaufortink.co.uk.
We worked on a design that was original and yet paid homage to CS and especially their flagship model Churchill. Once the outline was worked out, we launched the pen in the “Fountain Pen Pals India” WhatsApp/Telegram group on August 15th where it was received with incredible enthusiasm. After some ups and downs, we stabilized at around 30 orders within the group. That’s quite an achievement considering the fact that at that point of time, the group has fewer number of members than 30. While everybody didn’t necessarily book one Azaadi, there were quite a few members who opted to get more than one.
Since it was launched on 15th August which happens to be India’s Independence Day, it was only fitting to call the pen “Azaadi” which means “Independence” in Hindi. It was also a cheeky repartee to Churchill whose opinions about Indians and the notion of Indian Independence weren’t necessarily very appropriate.
I knew that I wanted an original design which would not be a rip-off of any existing Conway Stewart model and yet should provide some kind of a homage to the brand. We all know that the concentric circles on the cap filial of Churchill gives it a distinctive crown like look and decided to incorporate a similar crown in black ebonite in the pen we designed as a homage element.
Other than that, it is a solidly utilitarian design that combines the best of the breed in a number of areas. Size-wise, we designed it to be approximately the same size as a Lamy Safari and fitted it with the section design from ASA I-Can / I-Will in black ebonite which is a personal favourite for the comfort it offers. The end of the barrel is also made using black ebonite and the barrel end was also tapered a bit as another homage clue to the CS Churchill. The clip used was a special vintage ball clip made of brass which is quite unique in itself.
Design wise it’s a classic with simple straight lines for the cap and with only a slight tapering of the barrel. The top of the cap and the bottom of the barrel are flat and polished. The body of the barrel and the cap are polished smooth and shiny. The concentric golden bands on the cap add a touch of flair. All in all the pen was designed to be regular sized, light and robust with the two ends having design cues that pay homage to CS.
Since we didn’t have CS blanks for all, the pen was launched with the option of using a broad set of acrylic materials. Unsurprisingly, the pearlescent acrylic blanks used in the ASA Rainbow turned out to be the most popular. We were pleasantly surprised how the shine of the acrylic blanks was nicely complemented by the muted colour of the ebonite components helping offset the monotony. The materials and colours complement each other and their interplay enriches the design whether posted or unposted.
Size and Balance
At 140mm capped, this is the perfect size for an EDC (Every Day Carry) pen. The shape of the pen and especially the section design is also meant to accentuate the feeling of comfort. But nothing beats the feeling in hand once you start writing with it and realise the comfortable. Needless to say, the pen is well balanced and provides comfortable writing for extended periods.
While I did get a set of different bock nibs, the quantity available wasn’t sufficient to satisfy 30 orders. Hence the pen was launched with two nib options excluding Bock. One could get a Schmidt (Model FH 452) nib in F/M/B or else go for a Jowo/WIN nib (Model 12-56) in EF/F/M/B/1.1/1.5 tip options. Since I already have a considerable collection of Jowo nibs, I opted to get the pen with a Schmidt nib with a broad tip in golden finish. From a design standpoint, the clip nib and bands complement each other quite nicely thanks to the golden colour.
I am a stickler for pens that accept standard international cartridges and compatible convertors since in my opinion they the optimum combination of value, system longevity, convenience and widespread compatibility. It is therefore hardly a surprise that the ASA Azaadi supports the same and it comes with a Schmidt K5 convertor out of the box.
The Azaadi exudes the usual hallmark of quality from ASA pens. The fit and finish and the tolerances are fine for a handmade pen. The joints are seamless and only discernible due to colour variations. It is obvious that the pen has been made with care and a considerable amount of time has gone into polishing and buffing to ensure a very high quality of the finish. The only improvement area that I can think of are the bands used in the cap. It isn’t as if the bands aren’t fitted properly, but rather I wish ASA had access to better (read thicker) bands to go with this pen.
Schmidt is a renowned maker of triple units and their systems have a large user base thanks to a number of brands that use them. Such widespread adoption wouldn’t have been possible if the nibs weren’t of top notch quality. It is little surprise then that I am very happy with how the pen writes. Being a broad tipped unit means that the nib appears extra smooth and glides over the paper laying down a nice wet line. This nib however isn’t soft or flexible and is quite rigid or nail-like. We have to accept that as a characteristic of the nib and be happy about the excellent writing experience that it provides.
Price and Value
The ASA Azaadi is poised to be one of the flagships within ASA’s line up and its price is currently perched as amongst the highest in the line. That however doesn’t mean much in cost terms since the entire ASA line is so affordable and the pens so wonderful. Personally to me the price reflects the effort that goes into making each pen and that no compromises were made in using components within the constraints of what’s available in Chennai. AT the end of the day, the pen represents great value at an affordable price point.
Since I have the benefit of having access to the original CAD drawing, I will be quoting the specifications from that. Actual production pens are likely to have small piece to piece variances given the nature of making handmade pens. The measurements should suffice to give you a fair idea of the size of the instrument.
Length (capped) – 140 mm
Length (uncapped) – 135 mm
Length (cap) – 65 mm
Length (section) – 25 mm
Maximum width – 16 mm
Minimum width – 10 mm
Maximum section width – 12 mm
Minimum section width – 10.5 mm
From top to Bottom - Jinhao 159, ASA Azaadi and Lamy Safari
It is not very often that one gets an opportunity to be involved in getting a fountain pen design. It is even rarer to get an opportunity to direct the design and see the pen getting launched as a regularly available product in the vendor’s catalogue. For that reason alone the Azaadi is very special to me. People who have got a chance to own this pen have been very positively impressed by it’s balance, comfort and writing experience. The pen has been designed from the ground up as an EDC (Every Day Carry) pen and in my opinion it fulfills that role in a fitting and stylist fashion. I have no hesitation in recommending this pen to others and I am sure you would enjoy it too.