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