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Ratnamson Supreme


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28 replies to this topic

#1 Univer

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 11:02

Hello All,

This is a pen review, but it's also, I hope, a good story.

It starts a couple of months ago, when I was idly poking around in some of the FPN forums that I don't often visit. This time I was loitering in the "Pen Photography" forum, and I happened to notice a post from Hari317, an FPN member in India, offering to assist one member with the purchase of an Indian ebonite pen.

Well, I had previously admired photographs of those pens, and I was, frankly, charmed by the marketing-free craftsmanship and tradition of these small Indian pen makers. I had even contacted one of those small companies, hoping to arrange the purchase of a pen, and was disappointed to learn that this company simply wasn't set up to handle sales to U.S. customers.

On a whim - fully expecting that dozens of others members would already have responded to the offer - I dashed off a quick PM. And I was surprised and delighted, a few hours later, to find out that fortune had smiled on me: I would have the opportunity to buy one of these handmade pens.

Within a day or so, I was browsing through a PDF version of the catalog of the Ratnam Ballpen Works, manufacturers of Ratnamson Pens and gold nibs - a catalog that included a reproduction of a letter from Gandhi himself praising the company's products. I found all of the ebonite models interesting, but I ultimately decided on the Supreme, the company's large flagship pen. The reasoning was simple: this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and I wanted to give myself the experience of using the very best pen the company had to offer.

While the decision was mine, it was arrived at in a series of conversations with Hari. At first, I considered a bandless, clipless pen. Hari spoke with Mr. Ramanamurthy at Ratnamson, who advised against that option. I agreed, finally specifying a clip model with a 14K cap band. What about color? The catalog showed the Supreme only in black, but Mr. Ramanamurthy kindly consented to make my pen in mottled green-and-black ebonite.

That was only the beginning of the process. What point style did I want? What width? Did I have a handwriting sample for the nib maker to match?

Consulting online nib width charts, I settled on a 0.65mm - 0.7mm point (the width of an Omas medium). And I took advantage of an unusual option offered by the company: my first name would be hand engraved on the nib, making it uniquely mine.

Does that sound like a mechanical ordering process? It was anything but. It was a series of lively discussions with a fellow pen enthusiast who obviously shared my deep regard for traditional pen artisanship. At no time did I think of this interaction as a mercantile transaction, the mere purchase of a writing instrument. I thought of it as an ongoing conversation with a friend.

And that ongoing conversation led, finally, to the arrival on my doorstep, several weeks ago, of a very special pen. I thank you for your patience with the preamble; here, finally, is the review of that pen.

First Impressions

I've bought all kinds of pens over the years, from unassuming school pens to over-the-top limited editions, and they've arrived in all kinds of packaging - from blister cards to wooden coffins that would have done justice to the mortal remains of a Gilded Age robber baron. But the Supreme is the one and only pen whose packaging gave the impression of having traveled, through some time warp, directly from the early years of the twentieth century.

Unlike some contrived, elaborate reproduction of vintage-era packaging, the Ratnamson packaging is simple, functional and utterly unpretentious: a dark blue velvet zippered case, with the pen secured inside by an elastic band.

Completing the "vintage" feel: a printed (and removable) sheet attached to the outside of the case, displaying the company name and address, as well as a few care-and-usage tips:

Use fresh water to clean the pen. Do not use hot water. Do not separate the nib from the pen.

These admonitions would not be out of place in a 1910 fountain pen instruction sheet; in fact, the inside cover of early Waterman boxes was sometimes printed with a similar caution: "Do not remove the gold pen [nib, in early twentieth-century nomenclature] from the holder."


Photo 1: The Ratnamson case, resting on a photocopy of the company's catalog

Ratnamson_in_caseb.jpg
Photo 2: The case open

The elegantly guileless presentation conjured up the traditions of artisanship we associate with the days of handmade pens. In an era in which many "fine writing" companies aspire to be lifestyle brands, it is refreshing to encounter a company that is so triumphantly secure in its identity as a pen maker.

Appearance

The appearance of the Supreme fully supports the packaging's evocation of true hand craftsmanship. This is a pen that could have been made in virtually any decade; only the gently rounded cap top and barrel end (as opposed to a flattop configuration) betray the fact that this is not some miraculously preserved 1910 relic.

The ebonite (ah, the smell of freshly-lathed hard rubber!) is glossy, and the green-and-black mottling is rich and beautiful. The gold-filled clip and the 14K cap band are the only accents, lending just enough brightness (Mr. Ramanamurthy was right!) to forestall monotony. The cap sports two proper, functional vent holes.

Continuing the vintage theme: a paper band around the cap, hand-lettered with the model name (visible in the photos). If you've ever seen or owned a NOS early ebonite pen, you will surely have seen similar bands, often printed with model name (or number) and price. (The band has since been removed; I've got enough HR pens with dark bands where the price used to be!)

Ratnamson_cappedb.jpg
Photo 3: The Supreme, capped...

Ratnamson_openb.jpg
Photo 4: ...and uncapped

Design

The pen comes by its name honestly. This is a very large pen in every respect: 5 3/4" capped, 7" posted, ~3/4" maximum barrel width. By way of comparison, I've photographed the Supreme alongside some of the larger members of its new family: from top to bottom, a Pelikan 1000, a Mont Blanc 149, and a Dani Trio Densho. In the hand, the Supreme is instantly warm and friendly. It has the inimitable lightness and "living" feel of ebonite.

Ratnamson_groupb.jpg
Photo 5: A group shot

One design detail that is particularly welcome: the wide gripping section. While the photo of the Supreme in the Ratnamson catalog shows a section that flares outward at the very end to meet the nib (in the manner of later Sheaffer O/S Balances), but my pen sports a section with a pronounced, thick "step" at the nib end (in the manner of Sheaffer O/S Flattops or early O/S Balances). If anything, the circumference of the Supreme's section is greater than that of those vintage pens, and the result - in combination with the agreeably thick barrel and the pen's overall light weight - is remarkably comfortable. Ergonomic success can be achieved through many different designs; sometimes the simplest are among the very best.

Unscrewing the Supreme's cap - which takes a fair number of turns - is a vivid tactile reminder that this is a brand-new pen, fresh from the craftsman's bench: the threads, at first, were rather tight. In just a few weeks, they have begun to work themselves in, and are much smoother in operation. I'm confident that this breaking-in process will continue.

Nib

The Supreme's nib is arguably the most interesting feature of an already interesting pen.

First, the shape. As I hope the attached photos show, the nib has a definite "vintage" shape. To my eye, its broad shoulders and short tines are reminiscent of the great Sheaffer and Parker nibs of the 1920s. (The nib is also every bit as thick and sturdy as a vintage Sheaffer Lifetime - a true rarity among modern pens.)

Second, the engraving. This is unmistakably a handmade nib. If your personal preference favors the intricate perfection of a Visconti or a Mont Blanc nib (and I also find those nibs stunning!), then I can imagine that you might be disappointed here. This is very clearly a piece of metal that has been worked by real tools held by real hands. Bearing, as it does, the engraving of my own name, this nib would be very special to me under any circumstances. But having acknowledged that fact, I can honestly say that I find the evidence of honest hand work utterly captivating for other reasons. When I look at the nib, I feel a direct connection to the craftsman who made it.

Ratnamson_nib2b.jpg
Photo 6: A close-up of the Supreme's nib (and my name)

Third - of course - writing performance. I haven't measured, but my eye tells me that I got the precise width I requested; the nib puts down a true medium line, suiting it to a broad range of writing applications. Tipping is ample and symmetrical, without any hint of the syndrome I have come to think of as "BBB": Bock Baby Bottom. As one would expect, given the nib's shape and thickness, there is no flex. The nib transmits a bit of pleasant feedback as it moves, in the fashion of a good Aurora nib, but there is no scratchiness. (I find Aurora nibs to be the most "vintage" feeling of modern nibs, and I would categorize the Supreme's nib similarly.) The feed is ebonite - my overwhelming preference.

Filling System

A pen with such vintage character deserves a filling system to match. The Supreme is an eyedropper-filler, and it holds a seeming gallon of ink. After I flushed the pen, I filled it with Mont Blanc Racing Green - a good match, I think, for the black-and-green of the ebonite. Following the recommended practice for Dani Trio eyedroppers, I also allowed the feed to soak in the ink for a minute or two. The pen has been a faultless performer ever since, with no skipping or hesitation. This pen was designed and made to be a writer, and it does not disappoint. Weight, size, ink flow, nib...all combine to make the Supreme a comfortable, fatigue-free performer - as ready for a quick note as for a lengthy letter.

Cost and Value

I don't mean to sound coy or evasive, but I can honestly say that "cost" and "value" don't seem to apply here. That's true of all of my most special pens, both inexpensive and costly: from the Alpha Pen (my first Sheaffer school pen, still going strong) to the custom Nakaya desk pen that was a recent, and very special, milestone gift. Or to put it another way: for me, the value of this pen - using the word in every sense of the term - relegates considerations of cost to the realm of irrelevancy. Let's just say that the pen was very fairly priced, and let it go at that.

Conclusion

If this pen had no "backstory" - if it were merely a pen that I happened upon while trawling the Internet - it would still be a wonderful pen. For me, it evokes many of the things I value most highly among fountain pens: tradition, hand craftsmanship, integrity of materials, etc.

But there is a backstory. This marvelous pen, because of the way it came to me, also celebrates many of the things I value most highly in the fountain pen hobby: friendship, shared enthusiasm, community, so much more. It has assumed a very special place in my collection, and I will treasure it always.

Hari, I am so privileged to have the opportunity to own and use this pen - and so very happy to have the opportunity to thank you, here, for all your kindness.

Cheers,

Jon

Edited by Univer, 28 February 2008 - 11:12.


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#2 Deirdre

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 11:20

That nib is marvelous. It doesn't hurt that you've got a short first name. smile.gif
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#3 donwinn

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 11:34

But how much did it cost? Once I get my new job, I need to get a "milestone" pen, but for planning, I need to know how much this beauty cost. Thanks for the great review puddle.gif puddle.gif

Donnie

Edited by MYU, 14 November 2008 - 16:26.
full repeat of original post

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#4 Deirdre

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 11:44

QUOTE(donwinn @ Feb 28 2008, 03:34 AM) View Post
But how much did it cost? Once I get my new job, I need to get a "milestone" pen, but for planning, I need to know how much this beauty cost. Thanks for the great review puddle.gif puddle.gif

Well, excluding the cost of any options, it cost 5,000 Rupees.

Live rates at 2008.02.28 11:43:30 UTC
5,000.00 INR
=
125.392 USD


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#5 Abhik

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 13:18

It's nice to read a real review after Hari's pictures! Have any one noticed that another FPN member from Mumbai,India Mr.Vikram Ruperelia has offered to to send Ratnam pens from India.
Well, yesterday I called his mobile and sent a pm to order No.32 & 15 in gold nibs.
This review has made my eagerness to grow bigger!
It is a nice review with size comparing shot!
Enjoy your pen Univer!!
abhik.

#6 MikeLip

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 15:20

QUOTE(Deirdre @ Feb 28 2008, 11:44 AM) View Post
QUOTE(donwinn @ Feb 28 2008, 03:34 AM) View Post
But how much did it cost? Once I get my new job, I need to get a "milestone" pen, but for planning, I need to know how much this beauty cost. Thanks for the great review puddle.gif puddle.gif

Well, excluding the cost of any options, it cost 5,000 Rupees.

Live rates at 2008.02.28 11:43:30 UTC
5,000.00 INR
=
125.392 USD


WOW! The pen would have been fairly priced at 3-4 times that. It's unfortunate they are hard to get! Very nice pen and a wonderful story, thank you!

#7 Univer

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 15:25

Hi All,

Sincere thanks for the kind words.

Deirdre, you are correct: a short first name is more-or-less a requirement for this kind of personalization. A reason to thank my parents, once again, for their foresight.

I believe - working from memory here - that my pen cost just a bit more than the figure you suggest: in the neighborhood of Rs. 5200/-.

The Supreme is truly a lovely pen. I wish some entrepreneurial soul would set up a business to facilitate access to the products of the Indian manufacturers - not only Ratnamson, but Guider et al. With the current (and growing) popularity of ebonite as a pen material, I think there's an opportunity there.

Cheers,

Jon

#8 lalindsay225

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 16:19

Thanks, Jon, for a wonderful review -- and story! I, too, had seen the thread you mentioned just this week and was mulling a course of action on how to acquire one of these beauties. The craftmanship is amazing, and the pen itself is beautiful. Thanks for passing this along.

Lisa smile.gif


Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.

Lisa in Raleigh, NC

#9 henri

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Posted 29 February 2008 - 04:38

What wonderful find and story to compliment it...pen is definitely a work of art !
thanks so much for sharing
henri

#10 sandeep108

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Posted 29 February 2008 - 06:32

Now I must inquire into these pens seriously... Or find a friend going to Hyderabad to pick one up for me.

#11 Maja

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Posted 29 February 2008 - 08:49

Nice pen....Too bad it didn't go to someone who really appreciates it.... glare.gif



laugh.gif laugh.gif laugh.gif


Of course, I'm kidding!!
Jon, thank you for taking the time to write (with your Carpal Tunnel Syndrome bothering you so much, even!) such a marvelous review of your new fountain pen. May you use it for many, many happy years... smile.gif

Vancouver (B.C) Pen Club (our website)

#12 dare_nova

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Posted 29 February 2008 - 08:53

Thank you for the review! Beautiful story... Congratulations on your new pen!

#13 MikeLip

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Posted 29 February 2008 - 11:35

If you still have contact with the maker, do you think he might be interested in selling to FPN members? I think I'd love to have one of those beauties!

#14 PaulK

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Posted 29 February 2008 - 12:38

I'll second what Mike wrote above. I think he'd have quite a client base if he was to advertise and sell pens to FPN members. That's the final "luxury" for fountain pen owners: being able to communicate with the manufacturer and create your "own" pen. Beautiful pen!!!!

Paul
A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.

~ Oscar Wilde, 1888

Posted ImagePosted Image

#15 georges zaslavsky

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Posted 29 February 2008 - 19:39

very nice eye dropper wink.gif congrats
Pens are like watches , once you start a collection, you can hardly go back. And pens like all fine luxury items do improve with time

#16 matrixseq

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Posted 27 April 2008 - 01:00

Ok ...now that I have cleaned up the drool on my desk from reading your article ....


I can't believe it !!! I have a close friend of mine going to India a couple of weeks ago, and asked if she could get me anything - and I

could not think of anything on the top of my mind .... headsmack.gif

I am going to try to see if I can get in contact with her ....

Great review .... That pen looks marvelous !!! thumbup.gif

Praise to Ratnam India for also being able to engrave your name into the nib of the pen

Now THAT is what I call craftsmanship !!! clap1.gif

#17 ville900

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 12:49

Anyone know where it is possible to order this pen fropm?

Abhik mentioned an FPN member from Mumbai,India, Mr.Vikram Ruperelia, who has offered to send Ratnam pens from India... but I could not find his FPN name.

If anyone has got clues, that would be most welcome.


#18 rdh

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 13:17

Try searching the classified section for Ratnam. There are some for sale. I am sure the seller can find other models for you if you like.

Dave

Anyone know where it is possible to order this pen fropm?

Abhik mentioned an FPN member from Mumbai,India, Mr.Vikram Ruperelia, who has offered to send Ratnam pens from India... but I could not find his FPN name.

If anyone has got clues, that would be most welcome.





#19 phentrek

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 13:44

Would it make sense to put together a group buy? I'd like to do the customer process as outlined in the review...
"It ain't so much what people don't know that hurts as what they know that ain't so."
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#20 Anne S. Gray

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 18:06

Thank you for the review! Beautiful story... Congratulations on your new pen!


I second that. It's a gorgeous pen, and I really do like to help support true craftsmen.
Anne Gray

Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo.






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