There is something about Italian engineering that pulls on the hearts strings and overrides the head when it comes to purchasing. It was Bertone, Farina, or Gandini who came out with the quote that you can either design beautiful cars or you can design reliable cars, but you can’t design both at the same time*. At times it can seem the same in the pen world, but in many respects we are all the better for it, or at least our hearts keep telling us it is so…
The late teens was a bad time for Italian pen manufacturers with Delta following OMAS in closing around 2017, however like with the former a phoenix was born, or more accurately a number of them. Three new manufacturers under two different groups. Nino Marino was one of the co-founders of Delta back in 1992 and post it’s closure he was able to start Maiora and then acquired the rights to Nettuno. The latter was considered to be the first fountain pen manufacturer in Italy, producing their first in 1911.
The first Nettuno 1911 under Nino’s direction came out in 2018 with a series of pens combining a mixture of acrylic and cast metal materials. While the cap may be more traditional in construction, the body contains two large rings containing images of the portico arcade from Bologna (Facebook hosted post/picture here). Much was made of this in the launch promotion materials on social media, as was the way the Bock nibs had been branded.
Certainly the pen fits the stereotypical Italian role as an item that pulls on the heart strings and gradually overcomes the head. Something I’m well aware of as a former Alfa Romeo owner. As the pictures emerged on line I certainly became interested, after all it was hand turned with cast metal work. Only the nib was third party, coming from Bock. All was becoming interesting and then I saw much of the range of that time at the October 2018 London Writing Equipment Show. Two things hit me, the cost and the looks. Over £200 for a steel nibbed pen from what effectively was a new company was a lot to ask for – I think in reality they were actually close to £250 each. Part of the problem will have been the cost of manufacturing with all the cast metal work, but it was a lot more than it’s rivals. The second thing, was down to personal taste, and that was the appearance of the pens in real life. The way the metal work had been gold or rhodium plated had resulted in a very shiny effect that reminded me of the plastic fake chrome you used to get on cheap car switches. What did not help was the acrylics, which were good quality Italian resins, being bright and shiny, actually combined to make an expensive pen look cheap. I’m sure many others did not see it the same way as me (though I know some who did).
About four months passed and Nino launched a new version. The Black Sands. This was different. A matt black acrylic with ruthenium plated metal work. It was subtle, it was understated, it looked good, but it was still too expensive for me to take a risk without seeing it in the flesh, especially as it was £20 more than the regular models. The problem for me was there is only one official Maiora/Nettuno reseller in the UK, iZods, and they stopped attending the London Pen Shows (and as far as I’m aware the other ones around the country).
Roll on to March this year. In the US the retailers selling Nettuno had reduced their prices, and so had, to a lesser extent, some on the European stores, but not by enough for me. With the coming of Spring 2020 I was tipped off about a large sale at Cruzalt Pens, which included their stock of Nettuno 1911 pens (still on at the time of writing). I could not resist and so ordered this pen with a medium nib. A few days later it arrived, I flushed it out and my Italian experience started.
Filling with Franklin-Christoph Spanish Blue I started to write, except no ink came out and there was a scratchy sensation. Looking through a loupe I could see the tines were miss-aligned, annoying, easy to fix, and worryingly from others, a seemingly common issue with Nettuno pens. Still no ink would flow and looking again I could see the tines were far too close together. Carefully bending the wings back made no difference and I ended up having to shim the tines. A few times. Now the ink flows well and the pen does write very nicely. With the initial fill having been used up I switched to Kyo-Noto Hisoku, a notoriously very dry ink which stops many a pen working. Net result it is dry but it still writes without skipping. Result (I may yet switch back to a wetter ink).
Next there was an annoying rattle at the back. I first thought it was the blind cap being loose. Except it was not. It was the converter rattling around inside. Worryingly this was not the stock, standard Schmidt type international converter which is pushed home, but the screw in type which should not suffer from this issue. Eventually I found that if I screwed the converter in extremely hard the rattle went away. Only catch being when I went to rinse the pen out before switching inks it proved to be very hard to remove and could be an issue further down the line. On a side note, the blind cap shows the influence of Delta in this pen, as it was common on their cartridge converter models. The theory is you do not have to unscrew the body every time to refill the pen, just the back part. It’s a design feature and it adds character, but I do not see the point to it.
So all was now fine? My OCD started to kick in, and I am not a bad sufferer from it (I believe everyone is affected by OCD so some extent or another and that it is natural to a certain extent). First up was the clip. It works, has nice touches, such as Nettuno’s trident embossed on it, however it is not straight on my pen. It’s not on at an angle, the top part is near level with the top of the cap, it’s the casting itself. It just is not straight. As all the casting moulds should have been tested before production started I have no clue how this clip could have be made. Perhaps it warped to the side on cooling. Regardless this should never have got past Quality Control. Alas it does not stop there. The arch ring at the section end sits neatly in place, however there was a bit of flashing left which stood out as it was shiny on the matt background until it finally dislodged. The finial end arch ring looks like it is not quite flush with the barrel. It’s very minor but the eye does spot it, partly because the other ring fits so well on both sides with the section and barrel.
Continuing onwards there are the clumsy elements. The production number is on the blind cap base. But it is not in the middle, rather offset towards the lower right. Also the lettering on the barrel. “Nettuno Nineteen-Eleven Made in Italy” is nicely stamped/engraved, however regardless of which of the cap threads you manage to catch it will not line up with the clip, and while at 90 degrees anti-clockwise it appears to work, that is only against Nettuno, not all three lines.
There is one final area of worry, again QC/manufacturing related. I noticed today a small amount of the ruthenium plating had flaked off the bottom cap band. Thing is the pen has not been knocked or dropped, so I am none the wiser how this could have happened, but it does leave me a little nervous it may occur again or that area may get worse. I’m hoping it’s just a very minor imperfection in the plating process.
So should I have run a mile from this pen. Certainly if I had made a final decision after a few days of ownership it would have been returned for a refund. Remember I mentioned there had been an Alfa Romeo previously in my life? It drank oil when not throwing it out the back under hard acceleration, the aircon failed due to two plastic stepper motors (German made …), it was not that comfortable, however the 3 litre v6 12 valve Busso engine was glorious, full of character, and it was a great example of how well Italians can make subtle styling look so good. I loved it despite it’s faults. And this is the way I seem to be moving with this pen.
Over time it has grown on me. From a previous post you will have seen it’s presently part of my daily use collection, and thinking about it, the Nettuno is the pen I seem to go for most. I barely notice the threads now, so for quick notes it works well. Also it does look both good and slightly different. The portico rings help to make it a rather tactile object as well, partly because the the ring by the blind cap just catches me in the crook of the hand when I move the pen around, but it’s not an annoying or uncomfortable feel. The only concern now is the one small bit of ruthenium plating flaking. This may be a one off, or it may be the start of that piece of metal loosing it all. I’m very much hoping for the former but it also makes me wonder how much I’m willing to leave this pen out and use it or whether I should put it away and keep it safe. Mentally I just can’t do the latter so I will hope it does not become worse over time.
Would I recommend a Nettuno fountain pen to others. Very difficult to say. Ignoring the YouTube bloggers, the few other people I know who bought Nettunos have all had problems with the nibs, which is somewhat worrying, though none of them have reported other QC issues (one other also did complain though about the sharp threads on his pen as well). Certainly everywhere seems to be heavily discounting the 1911, but then up until the last week or two there’s been no new models aside from two iZod special editions in over a year, and those were quite a bit less than the 1911 at the time. It is almost as if Nino has been concentrating on new pens for the Maiora brand instead. Of course now there is a God of the Sea limited edition, which just recently came out, but for a gold nibbed cartridge/converter pen it is rather expensive and really is one only for the fans and collectors.
I think I would suggest trying to find a brick and mortar store selling Nettuno, else a pen show (obviously once the present Covid-19 situation is over), this way you can see the pens in the flesh and make sure you’re happy with the one you’re considering buying. Also ask to dip test the pen since that way you can confirm the tines are correct, though it may still run dry. Certainly the pens are a lot less now, but when you look at the competition you still find yourself paying extra for the two portico bands. Second hand may be a great option if you know the pen and owner, but then I’m not sure many would be willing to sell as the financial penalty will be high, we’re talking a £100-150+ (€114-172/$120-180) loss on a pen which originally cost £230-270 (€260-310/$280-335).
- The black sands version looks very nice.
- Classical looks but with some originality.
- Portico rings add uniqueness
- Hand made.
- A lot of the colour combinations do not work for everybody and can look cheap.
- Is a blind cap really needed these days?
- Nib would not work out of the box.
- Overly expensive until recently and still not cheap even with heavy reductions.
- Quality control issues.
- Flaking plating (hoping I’m just unlucky).
- Apparent lack of attention to detail.
Note I have included my Delta Dolcevita to show that there is actual quite a considerable difference between the two pens, and the Leonardo Moemento Zero as the other phoenix from the ashes of Delta.
*) Once I confirm who came out with the quote I will update the first paragraph.