Cult Pens, Cult Pens Exclusive, Nahvalur, Nahvalur Nautilus, Nahvalur Nautilus Tideline, Narwhal, Narwhal Nautilus
Cult Pens celebrated their partnership with Nahvalur (formerly Narwhal) with four exclusive pens, one of which is this, the Tideland version of the Nautilus model. A nautically themed piston-filler design made of ebonite, with portholes to see the ink level.
I was leant this pen by a friend for review and was intrigued to see if anything else had changed with the company aside from branding, after all my track record with Narwhal was not exactly stellar.
Certainly visually this is an interesting pen. Cigar shaped with the cap being wider than the barrel. The ‘porthole’ ink windows sit at 120 degrees to each other and nicely break up the barrel. The bright work contrasts with the body, though I do wish the cap finial and band could compliment each other, instead the former is plain and the latter highly decorated. Interestingly the engraving on the front and back of the band says Narwhal not Nahvalur, so I assume this pen was designed and made before the re-branding was decided upon, then released after. This infers the re-branding was a rushed job. Using the old boxes (though not with this pen) I can understand, but using the old name on a commissioned batch for a third party does not reflect well.
People seem go mad for ebonite pens. The brittle nature of the material is often overlooked (after all no one buys a pen with a view to how it will react to being dropped) in favour of the lightness and the warmth of the touch. Except with the latter it depends on the finishing. It matters not whether the ebonite is polished or unpolished, the material is easy to hold for long periods due to it’s hydroscopic nature, however here it feels like the Nautilus has been coated in a resin or varnish. While this will protect the pen from scratches it does mean to the touch there is little difference between this pen and any of the acrylic ones Narvalur make. It should be pointed out that this is no different to the urushi coating you get on many a Nakaya (of which I own a couple) or the Pilot Custom Urushi, which I also used to own and previously reviewed. Just something to be aware of.
Ebonite can plain or patterned, and with the latter the results can be very Marmite. Here we have swirls of blues, turquoises, pinks and black. Almost as if the pen has been dipped in coloured oils. It is certainly an intriguing pattern to look at and it does remind me of tidal pools from my home town of Southport on the north west coat of England. Problem is it also reminds me of marine diesel on the surface of pooled water making this more of an oil slick. Thing is though, if you are interested in this pen, then chances are you will be happy with the patterning and colours, after all there are cheaper acrylic versions of the Nahvalur Nautilus.
The cap is removed in two full turns, which might be an issue to some, but not to me. It will not post, but then you should not with an ebonite pen even if the cap opening is wide enough, after all there would be a high risk of the edge cracking. I am going to ruffle some feathers by commenting that any ebonite pen that can be posted either has a protective band round the edge else is too thick material wise (queue a flame or two). Personally I generally do not post caps and on this pen there is little need due to it’s size.
The clip is simple, functional, works, and is not straight. This is the fourth of five Narwhal/Nahvalur pens I’ve reviewed (and two of which I now own) with this issue. The angle is not that great but it is noticeable. I can not understand how a company which has now been running for 5+ years still keeps getting this wrong. It is not as if Nahvalur just produce budget pens anymore. Sure there are models going for just £40 or £50, but the Nautilus model starts at £90 and have variants at over £150.
Cap removed the section is pretty much the same shape as for all Narwhal/Nahvalur pens, and there is nothing wrong with this. I find the shape works well and it is easy to find a comfortable grip. As the pictures show, the section angles down till near the end where it angles steeply up to form a lip. At the other end the threads are hard (quite the normal for ebonite pens), however the shallow step means you’re unlikely to put pressure on them and this has a bevelled edge, helping further.
The barrel is straight all the way up, beyond the band, to the finial. The ink windows are noticeable if you move your fingers across them but they are not sharp and in reality you are highly unlikely to feel them. The balance point is towards the front of the hand, and for me this again adds to the comfort factor with this pen.
The nib is their standard in-house steel product, which is roughly #5 in size. The feed is plastic and looks very similar to a number of others from China so may well be a bought in piece. As with most the other Narwhal pens I’ve tried (all pre re-branding) it writes well though a little dry with the ink flow. The feel the nib provides is very much on the stiff side and there is a sweet spot, though on this pen it is still a comfortable writer unless you rotate the pen too much one way or another.
The filling system is piston, which operates smoothly. It can been seen passing the ‘port hole’ ink windows on being wound in and out. With those ink windows I find that they are less practical than you might expect. If the light is in the right position then they work, else not at all. Perhaps if there were two pairs of opposing holes rather than the three in a triangle then the situation may have been better, but then that may have been considered and found to weaken the material too much.
The packaging has an outer white cardboard box with just the logo on it. Remove and you have the new version of the main case. A white clam shell unit with a magnetic closure and the new branding on it, which is interesting considering the cap band says Narwhal and there are reviews out there of post re-branding models which still use the old box.
So is this finally a Narwhal/Nahvalur pen I can be happy with, one with no issues aside from the clip. Alas not though I was warned about the problem in advance. Basically the cap does not like being put on. It looks like the threads inside the cap have not been cleanly cut, but this may be a result of the trick the owner has learnt to close the pen. Now sometimes the cap screws straight on, but much more often it quickly becomes stuck and the cap is forced at an angle. I tried the Lamy Imporium trick of counter rotating the cap until you feel a click then all is fine, but here it does not work. I have to wind the cap on until it feels like it needs to be forced, then gently waggle the cap back and forth in various directions until I hear and feel a click, then the cap will carry on and secure the pen. Not exactly a confidence boosting solution and one I do not enjoy as it could be worsening the issue which could cause the ebonite to crack, particular as it starts to age.
It is a shame really as cap issues aside (and the wonky clip) this is a decent enough pen. Narwhal started off making interesting and cheap pens, then interesting and attractive (in their marketing photos) pens. Problem is they have never got on top of their QC problems. It’s odd that in the US they are seen as a darling company that a lot of people rave about, where as in the UK it is the opposite, and if it had not been for Cult Pens picking up the brand then they would be gone from these shores as the other retailers have all dropped the make. I had hoped the re-branding would be more than simple marketing, that perhaps there was a change in the Chinese factories making these pens or at least a greater commitment to improved quality control, but I have already been hearing of the same issues that had plagued previous pens, such as failing and unattached pistons.
Could I recommend this pen to someone? Until Nahvalur prove they are over their quality control issues this is one brand I could not in good concious point someone at. Attractive and well priced pens count for nothing if there are manufacturing flaws with them. The real shame is with their designs Nahvalur could be a decent alternative to the likes of TWSBI, but where as the latter got over their issues with cracking (sure it took a number of attempts, but they got there and it was always backed up by excellent customer support) Nahvalur seem uninterested, after all they have been going for four plus years now.
Of note I still have my Schuylkill Porpita Navy, though I did have to connect the piston, and one of the three Key West pens United Inkdom reviewed I actually bought (though that had nib issues at first).
- In house nib works well.
- Interesting design.
- Easy to find a comfortable grip.
- Ink windows can be a bit hit and miss.
- Lacquer coating (or what ever the ebonite has been protected with) removes the feeling of warmth.
- Ebonite patterning is a personal taste and this ones is not mine.
- Nib has a sweet spot.
- Cap does not like being closed.
- Clip is not straight.
- Long term build quality concerns.
- Cap band branded Narwhal despite the pen being released by Nahvalur.
Here the Nautilus is compared with two of it’s stable mates, the Key West and Schuylkill, plus the ubiquitous Lamy Al-Star/Safari.
Danny Watts said:
Thanks for the review. I am a fan of ebonite, but typically vintage ebonite. I also like casein for the same reason as ebonite, the warmth. I am saddened by the manufacturer’s decision to apply a sealant to the pen. In addition to your cons, I take issue with the piston cap. It is clearly cut from a different piece of ebonite. Otherwise, the pen is most appealing.
I’m not sure that they’re(still) a darling company in the US either. They got a lot of hype initially thanks to their social media marketing skills and apparently excellent relationships with lots of key influencers, but lately it seems there are more and more critical reviews and posts from disappointed buyers bemoaning the poor quality and apparently even worse customer service.