I had been considering buying one of these Italian pens for a while, but a less-than-perfect experience with a Marlen dotcom (see previous review) had held me back. Although Marlen do make pens at the high end that seem to me are 'more show than go', some of their less pricey models have genuinely interesting designs. The Basilea, although hardly a cheap pen, seems like one of these. So when I saw one on the Green Board and had checked that the nib had no skipping tendencies (a problem that's said to plague Marlen pens), I went for it. And I should say straight away that I'm very pleased that I did!
The Basilea is a chunky pen, measuring 5 3/8 inches capped, 4 7/8 inches uncapped and 6 3/8 inches posted. It's just over 1/2 inch at the widest point of the barrel, which adds to the feeling of heft - something the weight at 1 oz (30 g) does little to reduce. The pen is available in black with red highlights, red with black highlights and a combination of the two, which is what you see here. Because I own it, I'd say that this particular model offers the best of both worlds. The truth is, I'd be happy with any of them!
What I find most appealing about the pen is the combination of colours - red, black and silver. The metal is genuine silver incidentally - and its slightly matt surface complements the red and black beautifully. I have not seen a pen with this colour/metal combination before. It's a typically innovative piece of Italian design, and I like the fact that it's difficult to say whether it's truly traditional or modern. Neither and both perhaps ...
As on my other Marlen, the clip is very noticeable - a little rococo for some tastes maybe, but remaining true to Marlen's mission to remain distinctive.
The barrel is nicely engraved with details of the pen, and reminds you that this is a Limited Edition (though at pen no 4,063, it's hardly hyper-exclusive!). The pen was designed to celebrate the Swiss city of Basel, and as usual in such cases there's some slightly purple blather about the city being a centre for printing, having a university and buying a Picasso or two. You can take all this seriously or not (does anyone?). But it has given the designers an excuse to create an extremely interesting and unusual pen.
Unscrew the rear blind cap on the Basilea, and you'll be confronted with a nurled metal knob. The Basilea is a piston filler. I believe the piston system is the 'captive converter' type, in that the ink is held within a fixed, internal converter rather than inside the barrel itself. In practice, it works extremely well and holds far more ink than a conventional c/c system. The assembly is beautifully made with the cap unscrewing smoothly and the filler knob rotating easily, and with no lost motion. I would guess that the blind cap is made simultaneously with the barrel as the fit is so perfect.
Moving to the business end, the section is slightly waisted for a perfect grip. This is thoughtful design as it makes an otherwise bulky pen very manageable in the hand. I find the Basilea very comfortable to write with for long periods, posted or not. The only minor design glitch is that if you do post, you can find yourself unscrewing the blind cap as you twist to unpost the cap itself. Just remember to twist clockwise when you unpost the cap!
The Basilea's nib is a large duotone 18 kt unit that's in perfect proportion to the pen. It shares the Marlen family look with the Marlen dotcom's nib, but is significantly larger. I should say straightaway that it's a fantastic writer.
The nib is notionally an "F", but writes very much more like an "M". It's a wonderful wet nib that flows beautifully. It's smooth, certainly, but not like those glassy smooth nibs that feel great but are almost totally uncontrollable. This nib has enough grip (I hesitate to call it tooth) to allow you to write the way you want rather than the way the pen does. So far the pen has been inked with Aurora Black, Diamine Royal Blue and Ottoman Azure. And if ever there were a nib designed for Ottoman Azure, this is it! It shades beautifully, and the high flow pulls out all the saturated colour to show this ink at its very best. Fantastic!
How firm? Well, it's not flexy by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn't Duofold-firm either. It's slightly springy, as on a Visconti Van Gogh, which I think is about as good as you can get on a modern pen. The spring adds some "suspension" as you write, somewhat like a car on the road; I find it gives my writing more character - a little more dash and style, if you like.
L-R: Pelikan Berlin (M620), Pelikan M800, Marlen Basilea, Montblanc 146
This is a pen with looks that will perplex many people. It's not really executive chic, it's certainly not bling, it won't intimidate MB-toting lawyers, and casual observers are unlikely to say "Gosh, what a beautiful pen." This is a pity, because the design issue obscures the pen's real appeal, which is that fabulous nib. That said, I could see this pen in the pocket of a creative type in an ad agency or design group. But he/she would know that more than owning a nice design statement, they also owned a secret: one of the nicest-writing modern fountain pens around!
Edit: didn't know how to spell 'knurl' ...
Edited by RichardS, 08 April 2006 - 14:42.