Hello dear FPNers,
Today I’d like to compare two of my favorite pens (more pics are at the end of the review).
In my mind they are the final “contenders” of the best modern Italian fountain pen. The reasons why I selected these two finalists, and why they compare each other, to me are the following:
- They come from the oldest and most reputed Italian producers. I know that someone of you will look strange to this statement, but it makes sense to me. I love fountain pens and I love the history of writing instruments, therefore I am more naturally inclined towards a producer that has a long story and a continuity in his work. Both the Aurora and Omas products here represented have this feature:
- o The 88 descends from the glorious Aurora 88 of 1947, the model that, after the ruins of the World War II, was able to made the Italians write. More than 5 millions of the 88, 88K and 88P are believed to be produced in the span of 10/12 years. The design of the new 88 is “inspired” to the old one and the likeness is more evident in the metal cap version. One key characteristic that the new 88 gave up is the hooded nib. However this makes sense because of two reasons: 1) the pursuit of the cost reduction: the 88 nib unit is shared between the high line (Optima, Talentum) and the LE line of Aurora. 2) the change in fashion. In 1947 the hit of the moment was the Parker 51, a new pen with a design directed towards the future; nowadays, the fountain pen “fashion” looks to the tradition, to differentiate against millions of cheap ballpoints and the indiscriminate use of the technology. And a lush huge nib do the trick, right?;
- o The Arte Italiana is one of the oldest pen design to be in production continuously. Released for the first time in the 30s, when the Italian production was finally taking an original direction after years of knock offs, the 12 faceted pen became the flagship of the new Omas company. And still it is, 80 years after and one thousands variants after. Unlike the Aurora the Omas Arte Italiana was already in the past a symbol of luxury and ostentation. Unlike the Aurora, the Arte Italiana underwent to a number of small design changes, such different materials used and different clips mounted;
- They are black. Ok, I know, we still are in the field of the personal things, but that’s my review, right? I tried to go down to the path of the colored pens, and I still have and enjoy a lot of them, especially because I love to differentiate and to change. But if I have to say what I like best, then it’s plain and simple black. It’s classic, it’s professional, it’s understating, it’s discreet and you can couple it with anything (!). Ever tried to go at work with a yellow pen? Not the best way to be undisturbed... As for the trim, that’s another debate running on FPN. I don’t have fundamentalist beliefs here, but I think that the gold trim overall it’s more classic to couple with a black color. Silver is more high tech, if you know what I mean;
- They are piston fillers. Ok, this is an easier field. More or less everybody in FPN agree that the piston filling mechanism is one of the best filling system to have on a fountain pen. Someone even purchases piston filler pens only! I can’t say this is the best system overall, it’s just that for someone keen on FP like me, the piston filler is the pure mechanics applied to the instrument, a (relatively) complex feature that allow to drink directly from the bottle and to use the most of the internal space of the barrel. The bottom line is: the definitive fountain pen must be piston filler, especially these days when the sac is view as outdated and require too much of a care;
- They are (reasonably) big. We are talking of big pens. Ok, the real big ones are those on the class of the 149 and the M1000 (over that is just a show-off IMO), but a 13,8 cm for the Aurora (5’ 45’’) and a 14 cm for the Omas (5’ 5’’) is just fine & comfy for a big man’s hand. The width runs at 1,4cm (.55’) for Aurora and 1,47cm (.58) for Omas. In their families (Aurora and Omas) they are the bigger except the 360;
- They have “character” in writing. Out of the characteristic I describe here, this is the most important to me. I don’t know if a “blind test” for fountain pens exists, but out of the numerous instruments I tried, Omas and Aurora have a distinctive character you will always get and identify. I do not have a sure winner between complete smoothness and feedback (or texture as Deirdre once rightly called it) but here they go in my view:
- o The 88 is a typical Aurora nib, you can feel the paper when you write, the nib will swiftly respond to any pressure or change in direction you make, giving the impression of a full and complete control. I like to exalt that "control feeling" with a Fine nib like the one in this pen.
- o The Omas nibs have a constant smoothness that cross the years and the producers. In the recent years Omas outsourced the production to Bock, but it managed to retain the original "butter smoothness" that marked its products. You can write ages with an Omas without being tired. Signing 1.000 Xmas card could be a pleasure (they still have areas for improvement to make a pleasure to sign 1.000 checks...) I like to exalt that smoothness with a Broad nib like the one this pen has. NB: being a late 80s model the nib is made in Bologna by Omas.
And now, to the votes. I’ll go quick and dirty, since the most important things I had to say I’ve said already.
Both classy, well built and with quality materials. However the Omas has a consistency in hand that the Aurora doesn’t have at the same levels. I know there is no equation weight = quality but I guess here I was slightly conditioned by that. Another “plus” for the Omas is the variance of finishes available. Sure it’s a younger model, sure its older reference was only black, but to introduce new variants and color can only improve the overall value of the 88.
What do you like: cigar-like or flat tops? Rounded or faceted? No winners here, just a tie. Everyone will chose its preferred following its taste. Let me just point out that, being that far in design choices, they represent a reference for the others in balance and harmony.
Besides that I should clarify here that my Paragon is the “old style” version, the version a lot of people (included me) prefer because of the size and the resin section.
Nib Design and Performance
Ok, here my choice is made. Between smoothness and control, I do prefer control most of the times. I use smoothness (Omas) for signatures and titles, or for quick short notes, while the control is useful in the other occasions.
The Filling System
Again Aurora ahead. I should mention now the biggest design flaw of the Omas Arte Italiana: the lack of an ink window. That's crazy to me: I don’t know who's to blame: dully search for the tradition or cost saving? Plus (other half point less) the Omas piston is kind of stiff and way smaller (then more difficult to handle) than the 88’s.
Aurora is luckily still not playing hard on the luxury items field. It still has a full range of products, at all prices, and the flagship models are more inexpensive compared to the Omas, still part of the LVMH group even if his most recent owner is now from the far east.
The numbers are too merciless to Omas. The Arte Italiana pays the lack of an ink window and the high cost. But all in all they are two excellent models at the peak of the industry, and two great classic product that will last a lifetime.
This review is dedicated to all the Fountain Pen Network members, moderators and administrators. I made this review especially to worthily celebrate my 1,000th post. I joined one year and half ago and now I have 1K post, 100 PMs, several good transactions on the marketplace, and I just joined the postcard swap craze (after a day I have already 4 new friends!). Additionally I now have a collection of more 100 pens, I participated this year at my first pen show and knew a lot of nice people there, and I started to do my first small pen reparations...
Most of this “change” in my life is ignited and supported by the FPN and the 20,000 marvelous people behind it, Thank you!
Andrea "diplomat" Caligaris
Edited by diplomat, 02 January 2009 - 23:31.