"Lava" is the word for 2010 when it comes to fine pens. Pen craftsman often incorporate materials that either heighten the luxury or functionality of the pen. Leather, carbon fiber, stainless steel, celluloid and the like can offer an aesthetic or tactile feature, but the best materials not only "look" good, but add function to the writing instrument as well. That's where the new Visconti Homo Sapiens lava comes flowing in. This pen isn't made of 100% pure lava, but the perfected blend is just enough to incorporate the properties that make this pen truly unique and function on more levels.
The high density of the material makes it tougher to chip, break or shatter. The porous nature of the basaltic lava makes the surface hygroscopic, meaning it can absorb the hand sweat of a teenager on a first date. It is also flame-proof, which is good in case you accidentally mistake your pen for a Churchill cigar.
At first glance, from the product photography indicates that the black barrel and cap is just a matte black look. If you look at the photo below, you will see that the black actually is much more varied and Earthly-looking than you would probably expect.
The clip, center band and trim are made from solid bronze, which is another unique choice considering most pen-makers go with a gold-plated brass, sterling silver or chrome plated aluminum. Symbolically, it represents the Bronze Age of prehistory, tying in with the pen's theme of honoring the origins of mankind. Materially, bronze requires much less polishing and does not tarnish as sterling silver does. If there is any doubt that Visconti polished their clips enough, take a look at this photo:
Can you see the camera lens reflection in the clip? If there is anyone sneaking up behind you to steal your pen, you can have the drop on them!
Metallurgy and volcanic rock aside, we have to mention the 23ct Palladium "dreamtouch" nib. It certainly is a dream. The nib responds with the lightest of touch, providing plenty of flex as well. After using a fine point in this review, I realized that if I'm going to buy it, I would rather get the extra-fine. The fine writes more on the medium side. I don't have enough experience with Visconti pens to say that this is the same with their other collections, but maybe a Visconti fan out there can confirm that.
Now, I've read some criticisms already on Fountain Pen Network about the power filler. Yet another uncommon feature about this fountain pen is the power-filling system for use with bottled ink. Trying it out for myself did yield some disappointing results. I really couldn't get much ink to fill in the pen, despite filling as directed. I believe this is one of those things that I have to find the trick to, but have not yet mastered it. When I have cracked the mystery, I will definitely post a video demonstration on YouTube to help others. For now, we have a video from the Visconti warranty DVD that demonstrates the filling procedure.
So, how do all the innovative details of this pen effect the writing experience? Aesthetically, the lava black and gold, matched with the large, barrel-like shape of the barrel and cap gives the impression of a formal, traditional style. The gritty, natural-looking texture of the lava material and bronze appointments adds another dimension to the design.
The density of the material gives a well-balanced heft that is best left unposted. On a side note, I have been learning to accept writing without posting my cap on the back of the fountain pen. For this Homo Sapiens lava pen, the cap adds too much weight and length to the back of the pen. Speaking of the cap, the lava fountain pen and rollerball feature a "child-proof" screw off cap. If you take a look above the bronze band that says "Homo Sapiens," you will see what looks like a geometric wave design. The cap fits on and off by pushing down and turning ever-so-slightly. Where most twist-off caps on pens take 2 or 3 full turns to remove the cap, this Visconti takes a quarter of a turn.
The feel of the grip is solid and does resist accumulation of hand sweat while in use. The matte quality of the Lava material offers a great deal of "tackiness" that allows for easy gripping and no slipping.
Also included in the Visconti box is a pull-out side drawer that contains the warranty booklet, mini-DVD (which is not to be used in MacBooks or iMac DVD slot drives - found out the hard way on that one) and a polishing cloth.
Writing Quality : 23ct Palladium "dreamtouch" nib lives up to all the hype. Flexible and requires the lightest touch to write a smooth, flowing line. (grade A+)
Aesthetic Quality : Inspired by the bronze age and the dawn of civilization, the Homo Sapiens delivers on a classic aesthetic of black and gold with a twist that adds more sophistication and distinction to the pen. (grade A)
Utility : The resilient lava offers gripping comfort and absorbs hand sweat. The quarter-turn cap is also convenient and secure. The power-filler doesn't seem to be as effective as a piston filler (e.g. Pelikan). (grade B+)
Price : Available in extra-fine, fine, medium, broad, 1.3mm stub and double broad sizes for $595 (you may call for any current pricing promotions), this is an extremely fair price for such a unique and innovative design. (grade B+)
Final Grade : A By far, the most expensive pen that we've reviewed, but also the most impressive. In the coming months, pen fans will be reading a lot of hype in both print and online media. It is totally justified and well-deserved. It would not surprise me if this pen becomes our reader's choice pen of the year by November. If you already own or are planning on purchasing the Visconti Homo Sapiens, please feel free to add your thoughts on the lava, the power filler, the dreamtouch nib, etc.