What a departure from the usual Aurora designs! Safety filler? Are they still able to make those nowadays? Maybe it's like one of those MB Boheme retractable pseudo-safety cartridge fillers? Oh why can't Aurora make this pen as a non-limited edition? What's up with the price? Is it marketed from the UK?
The Aurora Nobile is so unique and I liked it so much that not only have I purchased it, but I now feel compelled to share my experience in this my first review of a fountain pen.
The packaging with the red tent is really tacky and also sad if like my parents you happen to know the story behind Umberto Nobile. The pen was named after him. I'm not sure it was such a brilliant idea. Nobile was an admittedly brave captain who set a Zeppelin to fly over the North Pole, which hadn't been reached otherwise. The zeppelin crashed and surviving involved eating human corpses (!) and dyeing a tent in red with anilin in order to be spotted by rescue airplanes. Moreover, the disorganized rescue mission has cost the lives of many, among whom Roald Amundsen - the first to reach the South Pole. Needless to say, the box of the pen went in the basement right away and I'm putting efforts into forgetting all the marketing and story around this otherwise beautiful pen.
The pen comes with a bottle of ink (maybe black) and with a nice bulbous eyedropper to fill the pen. The problem is that the eyedropper is poorly packaged and will likely be shattered like mine during shipping. You'd better have another eyedropper or syringe handy when receiving this pen.
Design and appearance 7/10.
This is a gorgeous pen for sure. None of the pictures that I had seen on the internet before did justice to what came out of the box. You're in for a surprise. Beautiful proportions, rich contrasts, refined and delicate details - almost feminine - and frankly I can't see others besides Italians coming out with such a design nowadays.
The cap is shorter than usual - like on other safety pens, since the nib retracts inside the section - and its flashy golden overlay makes up for the smaller size. This golden expanse is echoed in the golden band up the barrel close to the turning knob. All the trim on this pen is vermeil (925 silver plated with gold). The proportion and cadence between the vermeil and hard rubber surfaces is somehow very pleasant to the eye, like on some neoclassical architectural elevations.
The pen itself, including the base for the cap is made of red (mottled?) hard rubber, the same color I imagine as the darker of the two Waterman Liaisons, or the recently reviewed Taccia Staccato. The hard rubber is actually dark brown with pumpkin veins. The first picture above makes it appear lighter than in real life, the others are more faithful. The vermeil has an orange tint to it, like the plating on the vermeil MB Christie snake or on some of the previous Omas Paragons. I do prefer this copperish tinge to the more yellow gold on contemporary Pelikans or other MBs. The contrast between this vermeil and the dark brown mottled hard rubber is much richer than with black.
Let's move on to the details. The cap is vertically engraved with striped panels featuring lozenges (or diamonds) in the middle. Those panels are framed by some kind of very fine weaving pattern (too small to see with the naked eye) and alternate with non-etched shiny spaces. This design somehow reminds me of patterns on Louis XVI furniture or tapestry. The raised band near the top of the cap features a leaf (maybe acanthus) pattern reminescent of a later empire, Greek revival or even art-deco period. Hopefully someone can help me out here. This same leaf pattern is repeated on the lower part of the cap, on the vermeil barrel band close to the turning knob and it is also engraved directly into the hard rubber on the section of the pen. Very nice subtle touch, better viewed on John Mottishaw's site than on my pictures (click for John Mottishaw's pictures) Repeating this pattern enhances unity in the pen design.
The engravings on the vermeil parts of the pen, while beautiful, are somewhat shallow and betray the modern nature of the pen when compared to similarly designed vintage continental overlays. I take one point from the pen design, for this superficiality and lack of relief. It makes one wonder if the pen didn't look even better on the drawing board.
The cap top is tastefully adorned with the ovoid Aurora logo surrounded by the swirls of the columns of pumpkin color inside the hard rubber. One can see those swirls on the cap top and also on the bottom of the turning knob. The cap being made of one piece of hard rubber covered with vermeil, once can see the mottling of the hard rubber inside the cap.
The clip comes out from above the raised band near the top of the cap and curves down towards a nice ball-shaped rotund end. While the clip is engraved with a superb pattern matching the leaves on the bands - an unfortunately rare occurrence on modern clips - the clip is way too thin and flimsy when viewed sideways, betraying once more the modern nature of the pen. There is a huge space behind the clip as if it the pen was meant to be clipped on a leather belt. I wonder why Aurora couldn't arch the wings of the clip backwards like they do on their regular Optima and 88 models, giving the clip a thicker profile. Aurora makes some of my favourite clips, but boy did they miss their shot on this one. One more point away from design.
The barrel and section of the pen are one and the same piece, with the section tapering down a little towards the threads located at the very end. I know only two other modern pens that have such conveniently located threads and offer such a wide smooth joint-free expanse for the fingers to grip: the Tibaldi Bononia and the Oldwins by Andre Mora. For someone gripping the pen higher up like I do, this is a true blessing. I tried to capture this in the following two pictures.
The threads on the section and the threads on the inside of the cap are both carved out of hard rubber. The feeling of the section sliding inside the hard rubber cap walls and then of the threads engaging into one another is one of the softest tactile experiences I've had with fountain pens. It even beats some smooth nibs gliding on paper. I sometimes find myself capping and uncapping the pen for no other reason than this soft feeling of the two ebonite pieces rubbing against each other.
The medium nib of the Aurora Nobile is unlike any other nib I have in my Auroras, MBs, Omases, Pelikans or Sheaffers. I've never really appreciated the tooth on my two Aurora Optimas (one broad and one italic). I like smooooooth nibs, am a sucker for them actually and have expectations that sometimes exceed even the nibmeisters (you may call them unrealistic).
Well, surprise, the Aurora Nobile 18k nib is not smooth, NO (I've tried two, and they wrote the same). It is not toothy either, even less scratchy. Truth is I don't have a word for the feeling of this nib gliding on paper. It's a lot like the two hard rubber threads engaging. It is soft and responsive. It gives feedback like a nice sports car and writes on ANY kind of paper that I've come across working in a hospital. The ink flow is somehow wet without going on the other side of the paper. I suspect the feed to be made of ebonite as well. The iridium tipping is particular, in that this is the first pen that I've felt adapt to my writing. My folks used to say that you're not supposed to lend fountain pens because they adapt to people's writing and I thought it was baloney until this Nobile came along.
I suspect the nib to be the same as on other Aurora pens - maybe the smaller Optimas, but 18k instead of 14k. The minimalist engraving on the nib matches somewhat that on the clip and the leafy bands. Is it a coincidence?
The nib is somewhat rigid - very little if no flex - and I feel that a bit more flex might've improved the writing. This is where I take one point away from the nib score.
The other lost point comes from the size of the nib. It is way too small for the size of the pen, at least according to someone who doesn't have a profound knowledge of vintage pens (and why is it so many of them are capped in the book pictures anyway?). I've read complaints about the Waterman Charleston nib being too small, well this nib is going to please even more. I know it has to retract inside the section, but still, I feel Aurora should have looked at the nib proportion on the MB Boheme. And while I'm at it, I should subtract a third point from the design score.
Mind you that I'm getting used to the small size of the nib and now find it more attractive than a larger Boheme for instance, but that's me being crazy about this pen and I don't expect other FP users to go nuts like me.
Filling system 6/10.
This pen is a safety filler! Like the ones so popular in Europe before the Pelikan piston arrived in the thirties (well technically in '29). It means that the nib and feed are retracted inside the section by twisting the knob at the end of the barrel. And now, to my surprise when I first handled the pen, the knob does not go all the way to the vermeil barrel band, like one would expect in a piston filler. It is merely the disc shaped somewhat wider hard rubber portion at the very end of the barrel. Can you say difficult to grip? Oh yeah. It does take some getting used to and then some to turn that disc knob. And people were complaining about the Omas Paragon turning knob being too small. They're in for a treat with the Nobile.
Once the nib and feed are retracted, one can pour ink down the section through the opening of the nib, like one could imagine pouring something inside a turtle down the opening of its retracted head. Well, maybe a 5 year old would understand. The section can contain up to 2,2 ml of ink, but you don't want to put more than 1,9 ml lest some ink will gush out when the nib goes in.
The ink bathes the mechanism inside the pen (like engine oil) and is sealed in either by the nib and feed coming out or by a stopper inside the cap. In order to cap the pen one has to retract the nib and feed first. Since the nib and feed are soaked in ink while the pen is capped, it is no big deal for the pen to start writing as soon as it touches paper.
This safety filling system is practical if one writes for extended periods of time. For quick note taking, expressing and retracting the nib unit, particularly with that hard to grip turning knob, gives one a little extra time to think about what will be written or what has been written. Not quite as practical as a Namiki VP I daresay. 2 points off for the sheer practicality of the filling system and 2 for that ergonomic turning knob.
One has to work to have such a unique filling system (in modern fountain pens that is).
The Nobile is somewhat similar in length and girth to the Pelikan M400. Thank goodness they didn't make it larger, for it is supposed to be a vintage inspired pen and a M800 size would've been too modern. The gripping section is as wide as the barrel of an M400 above the threads, which I find more comfortable and let's not forget the step, joint and thread free gripping area. The cap posts very securely on the turning knob for those who like to grip the pen higher and need the extra length.
Cost and value 6/10.
With a MSRP of 1500 USD this pen is in my opinion three times overpriced. It is well worth 500-600 USD. I admit that the safety mechanism was a surprise for a modern pen. I don't know if its rarity is due to its cost of manufacture (like I suppose would be the case for a Snorkel) or its less practical side (à la dip pens). If it is more expensive to manufacture than a piston filler, then I would add the extra cost to the 500 USD.
The Aurora Nobile is a unique modern fountain pen. Splendid italian design, original safety filling system and noble materials. It is vintage inspired without being an "originals of their time", while being closer to vintage pens than a MB Medici or a Bexley Americana. I hope that despite its high price tag, this pen will be successful and will inspire many other similar designs. Other pens situated on the same spot on the vintage-modern design continuum. Maybe we'll see the rebirth of some tasteful continental overlays or of a Snorkel filling system. One can dream.
Edited by RedRob, 04 November 2007 - 13:20.