Oranges, tangerines, satsumas, clementines, all bring forth memories of the sun and summer, yet at the same time also trigger feelings of warmth at the height of winter, and orange crush resins are certainly the right sort of material bring a smile when it is raining outside. However, who would have thought this pen would cross seasons with it being ordered early spring and not arriving until early autumn, but then at the time who would have known based on previous experiences just how wide spread and heavily the COVID-19 virus would hit the world. Such was 2020.
I’m not sure when Constellations88 first caught my eye. Think it might have been a Stephen Brown video. The one thing I do remember is the pen being of an original design and a silver disk/coin being embedded in the cap finial. A few years later and images of the Elements model in this very finish popped up on Facebook and grabbed my attention. Looking at their website I noted that most of their work is bespoke hand painted fountain pens, mainly to custom order, with appropriately high prices for artisanal works, even when you take in to account Indian wage levels. It appeared to be at the request of existing customers that a more regular pen was designed and produced, which has now stretched to four models. To me the Elements is the most original and also more interesting design, as much down to the coin in the finial (also found in the Galaxy model).
So on to the pen itself. The cap has straight sides with a thin cap band about a centimetre from the top. This looks flush though looking very closely is ever so slightly narrower than the acrylic material. Something you’d not notice unless you really wanted to look for it. Feel wise you can notice a very slight ridge, though that again you need to concentrate else you just feel the differences in material. The finial contains a silver disk with the Constellations88 branding on it. This was what first attracted me to the pen and it is a shame that they only do this on two of their four models.
The orange crush acrylic Constellations88 have used is slightly translucent, which I think adds to the summery feel of the pen and allows you to see the nib through the cap and the converter through the body in the right light.
The section is deceptively long, which is a good thing. From a metal band at the end, where the threads and body start, it tapers in gently towards the nib before expanding outwards to provide a ridge for possible finger rest/protection. Pressing against the threads they feel hard and narrow, but this actually is a false impression as it is comfortable to hold the pen by them if your fingers are this far back, which I would not expect. The step up to the barrel proper is sudden and quite large, the usual down side to a flush fitting cap, additionally the edge does not feel bevelled or rounded, again a side effect of the neat look when the pen is capped. Having said that and going back to my point about the section being deceptively long, even with holding the pen slightly further back I do not notice either the threads under my thumb and the ridge is not obtrusive and I stop feeling it when actually writing.
The barrel maintains the straight edge until a third of the way back from the threads before tapering towards the end. This is to allow the cap to post and looks neat and tidy, plus again makes this pen slightly different. The end finial is plain aside from the release number, as this is an edition limited to 88 pens. Only downside is the # has been stamped in the middle, meaning the number is offset, which does stand out to me. It’s a shame the whole stamping was not centralised. Additionally because the indents are thin, the number and hash can’t be polished which with this material makes them look chalky and unfinished. Not sure how you could get round this though so it’s not something I’m going to consider to be an issue.
In the hand the pen is shorter and wider than you might expect. ‘Chonky’ is how one other person described this when I showed the pen post arrival. It’s just something to be aware of if you find a TWSBI or Platinum to be your preferred size. Additionally some one with larger hands may find it to be on the short side. The cap does post securely and does not add too much back weight. The shape of the barrel does mean you can move the end of the cap slightly side to side, but it will not fall off.
The pen takes standard international short cartridges and comes supplied with a Schmidt screw in K6 converter already installed. The threading for the converter is a metal insert, which also provides a little weight to the pen right where your fingers are, so helping provide a nicely balanced writing implement. This is also why posting the cap does not back weigh the pen too much.
The nib is an attractive Constellations88 branded #6 Bock screw in unit, available in extra-fine, fine, and medium sizes. I suspect just having three options will be down to the number they will have needed to buy with their unique finish. While looking back and trying to find the original place I saw these pens I noticed several years ago they just used stock Bock nibs. The pen writes well and does not skip nor hard start (except when left uncapped for a while when taking photos …). As with all bock size 6 steel nibs there is a little bounce and the potential for a small amount of line variation.
The cap takes just over two full turns to remove, which may put some other people off, however in over four months of ownership I have noticed very little, is any, ink evaporation so it does seal well.
The clip is stiff and functional. Trying it on a pocket it slipped over the material with no problems and held the pen securely.
When you look at the hand painted pens which are the mainstay of the company then you realise some of the design decisions behind this model were certainly directed with those works in mind. The seamless and snug fitting cap allows for the art to flow across the whole length of the capped pen. A stepped out cap or a bevelled edge on the body step would result in a a visual break. I find it refreshing that not only is a new pen maker able to produce a unique design rather than a clone, but there also to be obvious design reasons behind it.
Cost wise this is a relatively cheap hand made pen, even for India. Looking at the non-painted range, their models range between about $60 and $160, with the other elements pens coming in at $120. The Moranges was just $100, which includes postage.
Ordering and delivery was an interesting experience due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally I would just click on buy (which takes you to a Paypal form), place the order, hope for a tracking number and expect delivery within a month or so (taking in to account parcel delivery from India to the UK). My order was placed in March, just as things kicked off and in May when Victor Racco of Constellations88 saw my chaser message he must have expected a ‘where is my pen’ demand. Instead he received a ‘how bad is the lock down in your area, any indications on when your state will start to relax things’. Thing is what helped is two of the guys in my team at work were in India, one in Bengal, the other in Tamil Nadu. Now while each state had it’s own rules I was fully aware just how restricted life in the cities was for them and so knew it would be the same in Mumbai (which is in Maharashtra state). Thus started a friendly customer/seller conversation chain which resulted in knowing in June he had access to the workshop once more, but that shipping was domestic only, then in early August that international shipping had started but was expensive (remember postage was included in the price of the pen), followed by late August being informed international shipping was now back to near normal and my pen was about to be shipped and that he was going to include a freebie for thanks for my patience and despite my protestations then jokes about how Indian sweets would not survive the journey, when my pen arrived it was accompanied by a The India Pen Show commemorative fountain pen (which is also a piston filler with ink window – pictures at the bottom of this article).
So my views on the pen. I really like it. While initially feeling a little wide for my preferences I have enjoyed using this pen. Certainly there are some compromises to allow the design to work, however the one which I think would affect users, the barrel step, is far enough back to not be an issue – again this may have been purposely done for precisely that reason. Constellations88 are also one of the few pen makers in India who are now coming out with new and original models (I have two or three future purchases planned from these others) which I think is great as people who know me will be fully aware of how critical I am over how many Indian pen manufacturers, including some newer higher end ones, are just producing copies and clones of existing pens, often claiming then as new designs. I know Constellations88 are expanding their ‘consumer’ range with unique models and I do hope this continues for them and other makers in India.
Would I recommend this pen for others. Yes, though with the usual caveats. Certainly in these present times where it is hard to meet others and pen clubs are just virtual, trying a pen before buying is a lot harder, but if you’re the sort of person who is happy to spend $150-200+ on a pen then I think this is a relatively safe risk as long as you do not just use or only like thin pens.
- Unique design.
- Attractive acrylic.
- Well made.
- Nicely balanced.
- Attractive nib.
- Two+ turns to remove the cap may be too much for some people.
- Pen has some girth.
- Some may find the pen a little too short for them.
- If you do hold the pen far back then you may notice the step.
- Manufacturing number not central on the finial (petty I know).
Note I have done two sets. The first with the usual ubiquitous Lamy Safari/Al-Star. The second is with a Franklin-Christoph Model 19 ‘1901’. The reason for this was I noticed some comments else where the Elements may be a copy of this pen, hopefully from the photos you will see it is not.
And finally, alongside the freebie: