TWSBI pens and I share a somewhat hapless, jinxed even, history. I was introduced to the brand some time ago by a former colleague and fellow FP aficionado. After some independent research (it’s not that I don’t trust you, I just don’t trust anyone… 😛 ) confirming their great bang for buck build and nib quality, I went ahead and purchased one of their piston filling models, the 580. Although the results of my research were overwhelmingly positive, in amongst the complimentary reviews were one or two forum posts complaining of problems with the threaded part of the section and the security of its connection with the barrel. I would learn the hard way that these brave posters were very much canaries in the coal mine…
Only a month or two after purchasing my 580 I experienced the issue myself. Having purchased the pen directly from the TWSBI website, I contacted them about my issue and they were only too happy to provide a replacement (and in very short order too). On to 580 number 2. I regret to inform you that it suffered the same fate as number 1. At that point, I figured that the problem was not random but a ginuwine design flaw. And one up with which I was no longer going to put.
So for the best part of a decade that was it for me and TWSBI. Sworn off the brand; dead to me. But I continued to see them lauded and recommended by many pen reviewers. Run down the list of best budget or best under USD100 for almost any fountain pen reviewer you care to think of and a TWSBI will invariably be there. Whether or not they fixed the design issue with the 580 I can’t say. I will say that, in my experience, their customer service was nothing short of spectacular. And the pens themselves, looking past their nasty propensity to leak and or crack, were an actual joy to use. And then there are all those positive reviews.
After recently watching the redoubtable Figboot on Pens review (which you can watch too – here) of a new limited edition from TWSBI – the VAC700R Iris, I couldn’t help wonder if maybe it was time to bury the hatchet? I mean, one should never say never, right? Not even Sean Connery was able to do that (one point to me for random deep-cut James Bond reference). And then there were all those positive reviews and the great customer service – let’s not forget about those! And that unique finish on the Iris was very eye-catching, to say the least. I mean I would be doing myself a disservice by not seeing it first hand.
So, with the specious justifications out of the way, I visited the TWSBI website and picked one up. I opted for a broad nib. Just for something different. With the arrival of the package just a couple of days after clicking “Purchase”, I was happy to see that TWSBI’s customer service levels appear to have been well maintained.
The pen arrived in the usual cute TWSBI packaging and clear plastic case. Hidden away in the case is a small spanner and tube of silicone grease. So if you do end up purchasing one (or any TWSBI for that matter) don’t forget to look for the maintenance tools before you dispose of the case.
First impressions of the VAC700R Iris are very favourable. Build quality for a pen in this price bracket (or any price bracket for that matter) is excellent. The price bracket, should you be wondering is the sub USD100 category, and the pen retails for USD80 on the TWSBI website. Fit and finish are both accomplished and the pen feels very solid in the hand. Of course whether or not that continues to be the case remains to be seen. But, hey, no jinxes!!
The iridescent rainbow finish on the clip, the remaining steel fittings and the top portion of the nib are immediately impressive. It gives the pen a level of uniqueness that really appeals to me. Especially when you consider that the end result of the application is random, meaning that each pen is, indeed, unique – with no two treatments providing the same result. The multicolour rainbow effect contains hues of gold, purple, blue, green and aqua. I’m not sure how the effect is produced. As near as I can tell from my research around the web is a titanium-based heat treatment that when applied results in the individual iridescent rainbow-like finish you see in the image above.
I like the fact that the finish is only applied to the fittings and part of the nib. And that the rest of the pen (barrel, section and nib) is in the form of a transparent demonstrator. It adds just the right amount of effect and with the right ink colour, a very nicely balanced overall appearance can be achieved. I’m not sure I’d appreciate a pen finished wholly in the Iris treatment. Might be a tad too much…
Filling the VAC700R is achieved by a vacuum mechanism. It is relatively simple to get the hang of; but if you’ve never vacuum filled before, paying attention to the instructions is recommended. If you want some handy tips on filling, in particular, how to achieve a completely full ink reservoir, I again recommend taking a look at the Figboot on Pens YT video linked above. I believe the reservoir holds about 3ml of ink, so it will write for days. Literally.
The nib is typical TWSBI. Very satisfying and pleasant to use. Given that they source their nibs from Jowo, you’d expect nothing less. The Broad nib in mine is super juicy, with great flow and only minimal feedback. With its fat line width, it’s great for short note making or signatures, but not really so great for long writing sessions. But then if that’s a concern, go for the Medium or Fine. The nib does not have much flex, but control and writability (new word!?!) are fine.
Where the VAC700R falls a bit short for me is in the grip. It’s a bit hard to fault TWSBI for this because it is entirely subjective and probably the result of me having giant bear-sized mitts. I tend to write with FP’s by holding them a fair way up the section, oftentimes off the section entirely and on the barrel. Nine times out of ten that’s not really an issue. But I find it to be so with the VAC700R. Partly it’s to do with the fact that my ideal grip puts my digits over the thread, but mostly it’s due to a particular design element of the VAC700R. The barrel on the VAC700R is ever-so-slightly conically shaped – flowing from the widest point at a step up behind the thread to its narrowest point at the end of the barrel. It actually makes for a nice shape from an aesthetic perspective. Only problem for me is that I grip the pen where the wide point of the barrel meets the step up (or down, depending on how you look at it) to the threaded part of the section. Long story short, it’s bloody uncomfortable after even the shortest period of time. Or I have to adjust my grip to further up the barrel, but this compromises writability (did it again!)
Again, it would be mean to fault TWSBI for this issue. It really is so subjective. But for all you fellow big mitted peeps out there, it is something to be aware of and I’d feel bad if I didn’t at least mention it.
Otherwise, the pen is great. Again, subject to that ever-present question as to TWSBI pens ongoing reliability. I have it on high rotation, so hopefully, I will find out one way or another in the not too distant future. Given how much I like the pen, I’m really hopeful TWSBI worked out what the problem was and fixed it.
I have read on the interwebs that the VAC700R Iris edition is all but sold out in TWSBI’s retail network. So if my epistle has whet your whistle and you’re considering an acquisition, I recommend the TWSBI on-line store as your first port of call.