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REVIEW: Visconti Taj Mahal


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28 replies to this topic

#1 QM2

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Posted 22 October 2008 - 20:36



VISCONTI TAJ MAHAL
Silver Filigree Overlay


The Visconti Taj Mahal is the crowning jewel of my pen collection. It was released in 1996 as a Limited Edition of 888.
Unique in many respects, including appearance, method of construction, and filling system, it stands out as
remarkable even among other silver overlay pens. As a collector of modern silver overlays, I must say that the Taj
Mahal is the singlemost unusual pen to have been produced in this category thus far.



Packaging and Presentation

A number of retailers who have handled this pen have commented that the packaging is one of the most impressive
they have seen. I am usually annoyed when a review spends too much time on this aspect, because after all, it is
entirely irrelevant to the value and performance of the actual pen. But here I must make an exception and myself
succumb to praising the packaging -- which is a work of art in itself. No pleather, fake crocodile, or gimicky toys
overladen with symbolism here. The Taj Mahal comes in a briarwood chest, its lid intricately carved with filigree
latticework reflecting the Taj Mahal theme. When the pen is kept in the chest, it is visible through the latticework.





Appearance and Design

The pen, with its large size, unusual form and intricate filigree work, is even more striking in person than it is in
images.

The barrel and cap are made of Visconti's proprietary "vegetal" resin. Supposedly a natural vegetable resin, this
material has a high-gloss, marblised look to it, and a warm texture suggestive of a hardened organic material. It
is quite thick and exhudes a high quality, luxurious feel. This is the same material that made me fall in love with
the black Visconti Van Gogh, but a thicker layer of it is used for the Taj Mahal.

The silver filigree overlay is distinct from other forms of overlay, in that it is made of actual wire filigree. This is
the only overlay pen that actually uses the term "filigree" correctly. Unlike the usual silver overlays, which are
reductively carved from a flat sheet of silver, the filigree on the Taj Mahal is hand-woven out of thin silver wire
according to ancient Indian techniques. This is a painstaking process, which becomes particularly evident when
studying the great detail in the overlay pattern and the perfection with which it is executed. When finished, the
filigree overlay is wrapped around the pen's body and welded together at the seam. The pattern of the overlay
was inspired by the inlaid marbles of the mausoleum in the Taj Mahal palace.

The overall craftsmanship of the Taj Mahal is simply remarkable. Notice the details of the curvature and tapering
in the cap's peak, the cap lip, and the bottom of the barrel. These design elements are complemented by the
sheen of the vegetal perfectly, and are remarkable features of their own, aside from the beauty of the filigree.
One of my favourite features of this pen is how overall tactile it is: both the resin and the silver parts are smooth
and welcoming to the touch, making the pen a pleasure to hold and run ones' fingers across.



Size, Weight, Balance and Usability

The Visconti Taj Mahal is 6" capped and 5.625"uncapped. The pens does not post -- contrary to the images
that you may see on some websites in which the pen appears to be posted. I do not know how or why these
images are created, but I assure you it is impossible to post the pen: The cap lip tapers inward is such a way
as to make the opening considerably narrower than the bottom of the barrel.

The pen is substantial in weight, but not heavy, making it quite well balanced in the hand. I do not have a scale,
but can qualify by saying that it is lighter than several solid-silver pens I own. Since the pen does not post and
the large nib balances out the wide barrel quite well, and there is no feeling of top-heaviness.

Another thing I want to address is the section, as some have expressed concern over whether it is comfortable.
The answer to this, is "absolutely". As you can see in these close-up photos, the transition from barrel to gripping
section is gently sloped; it is not a drastic jump with a sharp edge. Also, the section is not, by any stretch of
the imagination thin or narrow. It is wider than your average gripping section, and only appears thin in comparison
to the wide overlayed barrel. Also, the nib -- which I have read someone describe as tiny, is nothing of the sort.
It is quite a substantial Visconti nib and is, at least to my eye, in proportion with the rest of the pen. The photos
here reflect the experience of the proportions well, so you can decide for yourself.



Filling System

In the midst of beautiful and expensive pens with boring CC filling systems, the Visconti Taj Mahal truly shines. This
pen utilizes Visconti's "High Power Vacuum Filler system". The endcap at the bottom of the barrel pulls out to reveal
a plunger/vacuum type of system. You hold the knob and pump the plunger several times to fill the pen. I believe
that the ink is stored directly inside the barrel. The ink capacity is enormous. You can read more about this filling
system (as well as see some images of the plunger knob pulled out) in this thread:
http://www.fountainp...showtopic=68389



Nib

My pen came with a beautiful two-toned 18-KT gold Visconti nib, marked as a Medium. Here, the review becomes
tainted, because I never used the nib in its natural form. I bought the pen New Old Stock -- so it is a 12 year old
pen that had been sitting in a box, unused, during all this time. I was therefore worried that the filling mechanism
and/or nib may have issues from lack of use. Since I was going to the NY/NJ show, I decided to bring the pen along
and ask Richard Binder to take a look at it ... and to grind the nib to a stub.

So, essentially, Richard Binder and not me, was the first person to ink this pen. We never found out whether it wrote
as is out of the box, because he first disassembled it in order to clean/tune the feed. At some point, I remember
about a dozen onlookers with their mouths open in horror, observing Richard yanking the feed out of the pen (this
took some effort, and pliers were employed) as I calmly smiled in anticipation of a glorious writer.

And a glorious writer it became. The tuning process went well; the filling mechanism functioned properly from the
start, and the M nib was reground to a superb, smooth italic that produces a line that I would say is about a 1.1mm.



Value

It is tricky to talk about "value" in the LE territory, as pens in this category are as a rule scandalously overpriced.
So a useful way of looking at it, is to compare this pen to the price points of other LEs made of similar materials.
I should preface by saying that I did not cross my self-imposed $1,000 limit to purchase this pen. However, the
current retail price of NOS pens is around $2,400 USD. If we look at LE overlays by brands of similar caliber --
say, the special release overlays by Conway Stewart, Montegrappa, Caran d'Ache, and especially Montblanc --
the price points are similar. Consider this alongside the fact that Taj Mahal required more hand-done
craftsmanship (in terms of both skill and hours of labour) than the techniques used for standard overlays, and
that it is the only true filigree overlay pen in production. From this perspective, it is a better value --
particularly if you can find it considerably below retail price.

Conclusions

I have heard some people describe this pen as a masterpiece and an absolute dream pen, and I have heard
others describe it as a monstrosity. There is really no way to comment on this discrepancy, except to say that
tastes vary. To me, it seems that the only monstrous thing about this pen is the large size. However, the unobtrusive
black and silver colour scheme, the impeccably crafted body made of a non-standard material, and the dazzling
filigree painstakingly executed in a harmonious pattern, make this a pen that is both tasteful and classic. The
innovative filling system, enormous ink capacity, comfortable grip and quality nib, are further indicators that this
pen is not a superfluous trinket, but a functional instrument ready for the spotlight of being one's most prized writer.

Several months after purchase, I have still not managed to recover from the fact that I actually own this pen. But,
as you can see, this has not prevented me from loving and using it to the fullest.

See here for more pictures of the Taj Mahal, along with its silver overlay friends:
http://www.fountainp...showtopic=80006


Edited by QM2, 22 October 2008 - 20:38.


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#2 enricof

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Posted 22 October 2008 - 21:35

Very interesting (if a bit lovingly) review, gorgeus pen.

Enjoy it!


Ciao - Enrico
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#3 Strang

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Posted 22 October 2008 - 23:29

Excellent review QM2! Filled with exactly the sort of information I needed to fall in love with this pen. I had avoided, to this point, starting a wish-list but this pen is the beginning of that list. The alpha (and maybe the omega too!) Good job!
Yes, yes I do owe you a letter.

#4 Titivillus

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Posted 22 October 2008 - 23:42

There was a jewelery store in New Orleans where they sold 3-d objects made of silver wire in the same method. Very pretty.

K

#5 Ghost Plane

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Posted 22 October 2008 - 23:50

If you love the size of this pen, the new Bible series are for you. The step down to the section is not as obvious in the Bible series as on the Taj Mahal, but they're equally perfect in the hand, even if one has small hands.

#6 Titivillus

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Posted 23 October 2008 - 00:00

QUOTE (Ghost Plane @ Oct 22 2008, 06:50 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
If you love the size of this pen, the new Bible series are for you. The step down to the section is not as obvious in the Bible series as on the Taj Mahal, but they're equally perfect in the hand, even if one has small hands.


Saw the bible pen on Farney's site. For the price it better guarantee me entry through the pearly gates! roflmho.gif Whoa does it look like a big pen!


Kurt


#7 arz

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Posted 23 October 2008 - 00:10

I saw this pen in your post yesterday and am so pleased to read the review!

I love this pen. I suppose the main reason is because it reminds me of the silver filigree work I always see in Córdoba, Spain, one of my favorite cities!
I can't find any great examples quickly, but I'm attaching a picture I just googled:

plateria_cordoba.jpg
image from <http://www-org.andal...oba-img-1/view>

If you ever get tired of the pen... just give me a shout!

Edited by arz, 23 October 2008 - 00:16.


#8 RedRob

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Posted 23 October 2008 - 01:09

Thank you for taking the time to write this most interesting review. Beautiful pen indeed. I particularly liked the cap peak and end of barrel that you have mentioned and which I had overlooked. It's a good thing this pen met Richard's pliers before ink and paper as experiences with out-of-the-box Viscontis do vary quite a bit.

#9 QM2

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Posted 23 October 2008 - 03:19

Thanks for the positive feedback everyone. I was a bit worried that people would hate this pen and mutiny against the review -- I get very polarised reactions when it comes to the Taj Mahal! Also, I am the only person I know who owns this pen and has actually inked it up!

As for size -- since I use most of my pens posted and the Taj Mahal doesn't post, it is actually shorter in my hand than most of my other pens.

Ghost Plane, I just looked at the Bible Pen -- jeez! Definitely not for me : ) I would not mind a Ripple or a Romanica though.

#10 jonro

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Posted 23 October 2008 - 04:06

Very nice, complete review, QM2. I think it's a stunning pen and I'm glad you have it writing the way you want it to perform.

#11 Immoteus

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Posted 23 October 2008 - 05:40

Thank you QM2 for the detailed review, I'm surprised that you managed to ink the pen without having second (or third, fourth etc) thoughts.
Virtute enim ipsa non tam multi praediti esse quam videri volunt.

Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum sonatur.


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#12 Immoteus

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Posted 23 October 2008 - 05:44

QUOTE (Ghost Plane @ Oct 22 2008, 04:50 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
If you love the size of this pen, the new Bible series are for you. The step down to the section is not as obvious in the Bible series as on the Taj Mahal, but they're equally perfect in the hand, even if one has small hands.

At that price I hope the pens come with a first edition bible.
Virtute enim ipsa non tam multi praediti esse quam videri volunt.

Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum sonatur.


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#13 Ghost Plane

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Posted 23 October 2008 - 11:08

It'll take a miracle to get enough money to buy one! Size, shape and weight are perfect. Just hoping the global economy finally convinces Visconti to slow down on the price gouging, erm, raising.

#14 QM2

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Posted 23 October 2008 - 14:22

QUOTE (Immoteus @ Oct 23 2008, 06:40 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I'm surprised that you managed to ink the pen without having second (or third, fourth etc) thoughts.


Oh, I assure you there were thoughts! It took me over a month to even take the pen out of the box and look at it. But when I finally did, I realised that it was not only beautiful, but surprisingly "approachable". As I wrote in the review, it is a very tactile pen -- pleasant and inviting to hold; comfortable to handle. I realised that it would be a shame to keep this pen in a display case and not experience these tactile aspects. So I decided to take things all the way -- to customise the nib to my liking and make it perfect for me in every way. I have not regretted this decision!


Edited by QM2, 23 October 2008 - 14:25.


#15 hari317

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Posted 23 October 2008 - 15:01

Beautiful pen QM2, your review does full justice to the pen and the artists at Visconti have done full justice to the name Taj Mahal. Thanks for sharing this masterpiece with us.

Regards,
Hari


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#16 QM2

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Posted 23 October 2008 - 20:04

QUOTE (hari317 @ Oct 23 2008, 04:01 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Beautiful pen QM2, your review does full justice to the pen and the artists at Visconti have done full justice to the name Taj Mahal. Thanks for sharing this masterpiece with us.

Regards,
Hari


Thanks Hari!

The closest thing I have seen to the Taj Mahal is the Brighton Pavilion : )
but some day maybe I will bring the Visconti to visit its muse...

#17 Bryant

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Posted 23 October 2008 - 20:53

Fantastic! Thanks for the review. That is seriously a huge pen! And an overlay at that... What else could you want?
Bry

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#18 MYU

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Posted 24 October 2008 - 01:44

Stunning pen, QM2. And wow, what a review! Your photos are nicely detailed with soothing blue background and soft lighting. I like your composition choices too. You have a collection that can't help but be seriously admired. I hope you thoroughly enjoy your latest addition. biggrin.gif

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#19 QM2

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Posted 24 October 2008 - 02:09

QUOTE (MYU @ Oct 24 2008, 02:44 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Stunning pen, QM2. And wow, what a review! Your photos are nicely detailed with soothing blue background and soft lighting. I like your composition choices too. You have a collection that can't help but be seriously admired. I hope you thoroughly enjoy your latest addition. biggrin.gif


Thanks MYU, especially for the photography comments. I do tableux photography as part of my art projects, so it was particularly embarrassing that for the longest time I was extremely bad at photographing pens. I am too busy to do the whole light tent macro photography set up, but eventually I figured out how to fake it using natural light at certain times of day. After trying different materials as background, I settled on Crane's paper in pastel shades; that seems to work best.



#20 goodguy

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Posted 24 October 2008 - 02:17

Dear QM2 I gotta tell you I am loving this pen.Its absolutly gorgeous and want to thank you very much for sharing this with us.I wouldnt be surprised at all if I owned one of these someday as its on my want list.I love the box and must say I wouldnt get the pen without the box as its a one unit for me.
The nib is a regular Visconti LE nib.I had the same on my Romanica.Its a good nib with nice feedback but not on the same level as an Omas nib.
The gorgeous box,lack of clip and sheer size of this pen makes me to believe Visconti was aiming more to leave this pen in its box and look at it rather then to use it everyday,I dont say it shouldnt be used or it cant be used I am just stating my own feeling and opinion of what I think Visconti is hinting with this pen.
Respect to all






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