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  1. ParkerBeta

    Opus 88 Fantasia

    As I wrote in my review of the Opus 88 "Flow" in May last year, I almost bought the resin-and-ebonite Koloro before the Flow was introduced, but backed off at the last minute because I felt that the smaller #5 nib of the Koloro did not match the size of the pen. Well, the Flow is really such an excellent pen that ere long my thoughts turned fondly toward Opus 88 once more, and I was tempted again by the unique resin-and-ebonite combination of two of their models, the larger Koloro and the smaller Fantasia. Once more, the Koloro lost out, and for the same reason as before. I bought the smaller Fantasia that has the same #5 nib as the Koloro, but this smaller nib is a perfect match for the smaller size of the Fantasia. Actually getting a Fantasia in hand in the US proved to be a challenge -- it looks like Opus 88 may have stopped distributing them here, as the only online store actually having them in stock was Vanness pens, and even they did not have all the colors available. On the other hand, several European retailers seemed to have them in stock. At any rate, the Fantasia offered the interesting option of a steel 1.4mm stub nib, which I chose for the sake of variety, since all my other stub nibs are 1.1mm (except for one Visconti tubular steel nib that is 1.3mm). For those who may not be aware of Opus 88, it is a Taiwanese manufacturer of eyedropper filler pens with injection-molded plastic instead of hand-machined ebonite as in the high-end Japanese manufacturers' models, and with steel JoWo or Bock nibs instead of gold nibs. This drops the price of these pens from the stratosphere ($500+) down to earth (about $100). Every Opus 88 pen still has the characteristic shutoff valve that Japanese eyedropper-filler pens are famous for: when the shutoff valve is fully screwed in, the tip of the rod inside the barrel closes off the mouth of the barrel so that the ink in the barrel cannot get to the feed and the nib will run dry after the ink already in the feed is exhausted. In other words, to write for more than a paragraph or two, you need to open the shutoff valve (as shown in the photograph below). Fantasia with "Brick Red" ebonite cap (with multicolored rings) and Amber barrel. The section is the same amber resin as the barrel, and the eyedropper shutoff valve (shown open in this photograph) is also made of the same ebonite material as the cap. The build quality of the Fantasia is above reproach. Opening and closing the screw cap, the shutoff valve, and the section is always perfectly damped, with no wobbliness, and indicating tight tolerances. There is absolutely no play or wobble anywhere. I do not know how the multi-colored rings are fastened onto the cap, but they are absolutely flush with the cap itself and look as if they are painted (but they are not). The pen feels jewel-like, a similar feel to a very different small pen in an altogether different price class, the Montblanc Boheme (the small model with the retractable nib). The Fantasia comes in a small flat box with a glass eyedropper to fill it with. The pen itself is quite small: just 4.5in (11.5cm) capped. The bottom of the barrel has threads for you to post the cap. I have small hands, but even then using the pen without posting is uncomfortable, so posting the cap is a must for usability. After posting, the pen is very well-balanced and becomes a comfortable 5.75in (14.5cm) in length. But the Fantasia hides another trick up its sleeve -- the cap can be used to open the (rather thin) shutoff valve for writing! See the nice sunken (for a reason -- see below) medallion on the cap, with "Opus 88" and "Fantasia" inscribed on it, separated by a raised ridge? That raised ridge is not ornamental but functional. (Note, by the way, that the ridge is exactly perpendicular to the clip -- a testament to the attention to detail in the construction of this little jewel of a pen.) Now, the use of that raised ridge in the cap top is to engage like a screwdriver with one of the slots cut into the shutoff valve at the bottom of the barrel: That's also why the medallion with the raised ridge is sunken into the cap and not flush with the top. This little bit of gadgetry is an unexpected pleasure on this little pen. However, it is not really necessary, as the shutoff valve, narrow though it is, still affords enough purchase for one to open it by hand. Nevertheless, I enjoy going through the additional motions of unscrewing the valve using the cap, then flipping the cap over and posting it into the threads at the bottom of the barrel. When posted, the cap not only does not touch the shutoff valve but also aligns the clip perfectly with the nib. Well, at least that perfect alignment of clip with nib appears to have been the intention of the designer. However, my pen arrived with the clip out of alignment with the nib, which bothered me rather more than it should. At the suggestion of another fellow-Opus 88 fan and fellow-buyer of both the Flow and the Fantasia, I unscrewed the nib unit and screwed it back in starting from exact alignment, and to my delight, when fully screwed in, the nib was again in perfect alignment with the clip. The barrel is a translucent amber on my pen, and there are a few other choices of color amongst the Fantasia models. And this brings me to the first of two issues I have with the Fantasia, namely the relatively short grip section (seen in the photograph above). Unfortunately for me, after a couple of weeks of use, I cannot train myself to hold the pen by either the grip section or further up by the barrel -- instead, my fingers naturally gravitate to the joint where the section meets the barrel and where, alas, lie the cap threads. In other words, when I hold the pen, my fingers always find themselves exactly on top of the cap threads. The cap threads are not sharp, but after a while, they do feel uncomfortable. The second issue is one that manifested itself after I had written extensively with the excellent and smooth steel 1.4mm stub nib, a very wet writer. I found, to my surprise, that the nib suddenly ran dry even though I could see a good deal of ink at the bottom of the barrel and even at the top of the barrel, just below the section threads. You can see a dark ring of ink at the top of the barrel in the above photograph as well. It turns out that on that one occasion (and only that one occasion) something about the viscosity of the ink (Montblanc Irish Green) combined with the barrel caused the ink to adhere to the inside of the barrel in a ring instead of going into the feed, and the nib ran dry. I had to unscrew the section and shake the ink back to the bottom of the barrel, then screw back the section in order to get the ink to flow into the nib again. This is my first load of ink in this barrel, so I do not know if this is likely to happen with other inks. Moreover, it only happened once with this ink too, but I will be on the lookout for it. Here's a sample of writing with the steel #5 JoWo 1.4mm stub nib. Although I did not do any careful comparisons, it does not appear to be significantly wider than my 1.1mm stub nibs, and appears a little less wide than my Visconti 1.3mm steel stub nib. At any rate, this 1.4mm stub nib is very smooth, very wet, and an excellent writer. A writing sample with the #5 JoWo 1.4mm steel stub nib and Montblanc Irish Green ink, on a little "Minerva" Italian writing pad that Vanness sent with the pen. To sum up: the pen is superbly made. It will be hard to find a better-made pen for the price (list price is $125), and the thoughtful details about alignment of the cap medallion with the clip, and the alignment of the clip with the nib, coupled with the cute little conceit of having the ridge on the sunken cap medallion fit right into the groove on the shutoff valve in order to open it, add greatly to the enjoyment one gets from the pen. The nib performs excellently, as is expected from a JoWo. I did experience a strange phenomenon of ink sticking to the inside of the barrel instead of going down the section into the feed, but that only happened once and may be specific to the ink I used. The main issue I faced when using the pen extensively the past two weeks was the discomfort of having the cap threads always under my fingers when writing. I wanted to train myself to hold the pen by the barrel but could not. If you can do so, your enjoyment of this pen will be greatly enhanced. As it is, I like the pen but for writing comfort, it loses out to its bigger brother, the Flow.
  2. ParkerBeta

    Opus 88 Flow (Green)

    Opus 88, a Taiwanese pen maker, has recently made quite a splash in the world of fountain pens with its collections of Japanese-style eyedropper-fillers with shutoff valves. The bodies are either resin or a combination of resin and ebonite. I liked the resin-ebonite combination of the Koloro but was put off by the small #5 nib. I almost bought the clear demonstrator (which has the larger #6 nib) but something stopped me, and for that same reason I did not buy any of the Omar models either. However, when I saw the new Flow lineup, I had to have one, and not just any one but the one in green, even though green is not my favorite color for a fountain pen and I have only one or two green pens in my collection. Something about the combination of large flat-top body, stout section, large #6 nib, and the exquisite effect of the red-and-green swirls on the translucent barrel just spoke to me. To me, it was obvious that the pen deserved to be filled with green ink. My only green inks at the time were Montblanc Irish Green and J. Herbin Vert Empire, and I felt the latter was a better match to the pen body color. Note the discreet "Opus 88" on the clip. There are no other manufacturer markings on the cap or barrel, though there is a medallion on top of the cap and the nib is engraved with the manufacturer's name. The pen is all-acrylic (except for the clip and medallion), so it is quite light. It's a large size (about 6 inches, or 150 mm, capped) with a nice stout section. The girth of the section combined with the light weight (just 15 grams) makes for a very well-balanced feel in the hand and an excellent sense of control when writing with it. The cap does not post, but for a pen as large as this, posting is really unnecessary. Recall that this is an eyedropper-filler (a glass eyedropper comes with the pen). It took more than one full eyedropper to fill the large ink reservoir of this pen. You can write for about a page with the shutoff valve at the bottom of the barrel closed before the feed dries out. For longer writing sessions, keep the valve slightly open as shown. I should remark here that Opus 88 is the only pen maker I know of that is making reasonably-priced acrylic Japanese-style eyedropper-fillers today. Most such pens are high-end handmade ebonite models (with or without Urushi lacquerwork) starting at several multiples of the price of this Opus 88. The nib is a large #6 steel nib by Bock. I ordered the "M" size and received a nice reliably-starting smooth nib, but it is not particularly wet (not unexpected for a Bock nib) or wide (this did come as a bit of a surprise -- more like an Asian M nib than one made by a European manufacturer). At any rate, no complaints about the smoothness or functionality of the nib. Functionally, the pen benefits from superb balance, a consequence of the combination of large size, light weight, and stout section. The large #6 nib and the wonderful swirls of color on the translucent barrel give it a very high score in the looks department. I give it a few bonus points for the 10-sided faceted design of the cap and shutoff valve, although I must deduct a point or two for requiring four full turns to unscrew the cap. I have nothing bad to say about the clip, though it is not a particularly memorable aspect of the design. Overall, I think Opus 88 has a definite winner with the Flow, and I am glad I did not "settle" for the demonstrator or any of the Omar models (although they are excellent models in their own right, and I will probably end up owning one or more of them, sooner or later) and waited until I could make the Flow my first Opus 88. The Opus 88 Flow is available on sale from various online stores for between $80 (if you take advantage of a seasonal sale) to about $100. At this price it represents very strong value indeed. Addendum: There is another recent review of the Opus 88 Flow in the striking gray/grey color here: https://www.fountainpennetwork.com/forum/topic/354019-opus-88-flow-gray/?p=4326543

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