The following fountain pens are for people who want to graduate from a Pilot Metropolitan or Lamy Safari level to something a little more sophisticated and elegant.
1. Pilot Capless
Usually priced around $120-$150, it is an affordable pen with a design that is very unique. It came out in 1964 so it has some of the mid-century modern touch to it. It almost looks like a ballpoint pen because it has a retractable nib and so it’s very handy for people who have to take notes quickly and don’t have the time to remove or untwist the cap. Overall, the mechanics of the pen feel like quality, the design is well thought through, and the cap prevents the nib from drying out so you can just start writing once you hit that tip.
Personally, I am not a huge fan of the light weight, however, for people who have to write a lot and don’t want something heavy in their pocket, I think it’s an ideal companion. It can take cartridges or a converter. It comes with a converter that has three little metal balls inside and they’re supposed to help break the surface tension of the ink so you actually can write with a full tank of ink and you don’t waste anything that’s stuck at a point where it can’t get through the nib. The rather small 18 karat gold nib comes in fine, broad, and medium widths, you can see there’s some line vibration due to the fact that it’s a very slim nib but overall, it’s okay and it does the job.
To be honest, when I look at this pilot pen, it feels a little cheap because it has this lacquered finish, it almost looks like a bit of a metallic paint which is typically something I expect from a five-dollar pen not from $120 writing piece. Unlike with a ballpoint pen, the clip actually has to be on the side of the nib because you want to store it upwards, otherwise, you may leak ink onto your shirt or your jacket when you move quickly. Because of that, the clip is in the way when you write and you can always feel it and it’s not something I particularly enjoy.
Overall, the pilot capless is a smooth writer with steady ink flow, it is neither too wet nor too dry and it is perfect to take a lot of quick notes, you probably won’t write a long letter with it. It is made in Japan and three years guarantee against mechanical failures.
I think it’s a perfect pen for people who just want to upgrade from a ballpoint pen who are used to the convenience but want a slightly more unique look to the way they write but not sacrifice any of the practical aspects of a ballpoint pen. It’s also fantastic for people who are non-conformists and want a fountain pen that doesn’t look like anything else out there. I think it’s perfect for doctors or other people who have to take lots of notes quickly and have to move on and they don’t have the time to remove the cap or keep it and so that would come in very handy with a pilot capless.
2. Waterman Carene
The pen retails anywhere from $120 to $300 for the more all-metal versions. Waterman, as a brand, was very popular in the 1900s when vintage pens were very sought after. Lewis Edson Waterman invented the capillary feed fountain pen which is what most pens use today. Now generally, while modern Waterman fountain pens are not necessarily a great collector’s item, this one is usually quite popular.
First of all, it comes in a wide variety of designs in different colors and options. It features a pop-top cap and a hinged clip which both work quite well. I also really like to post the cap on the back of the fountain pen, it creates a nice balance and a solid weight. Compared to the Pilot Capless, it’s noticeably heavier. It takes standard cartridges or a converter and has an 18 karat gold nib that is part of the streamlined design that is very unique to this fountain pen. It has a good ink flow, though it runs a bit drier than other pens. The lines are quite smooth and simple. Sometimes, it may take a few strokes to warm up. I like the lacquered brass body which is not as cheap looking as the Pilot Capless and overall, it’s quite a bit heavier.
Made in France, the Waterman Carene comes with a three-year warranty that can be extended to five years if you register the fountain pen. So who is the Waterman Carene for? I think it’s a good choice for people who want a unique streamlined design and appreciate a slightly heavier pen. I think it’s great for modern-day businessmen who prefer slim fit suits and want something that is not as old and classic as the Montblanc Meisterstuck, for example, but it is something that’s a little more unique that also doesn’t break the bank.
3. Lamy 2000
The Lamy 2000 usually retails anywhere between $140-$170. To me, it looks like a durable understated mix between a Bauhaus mid-century modern design. It doesn’t come out as a surprise, it originally came out in 1966 and back then, it was celebrated as a simplistic piece of art. The construction is made out of stainless steel and polycarbonate which is the same material you probably know from your lightweight suitcases. The fountain pen has a matte texture which gives you a better grip and it also makes it less shiny and because it’s not metal or lacquer, it feels warmer when you write with it. That being said, the tip is stainless steel and it’s noticeably cooler. It has a nice pop-top cap that posts well on the back of the pen and stays on while you write. The fountain pen is comfortable to hold, it has a moderate weight and is rather well balanced. The semi-hooded hidden nib is made of 14-karat gold, to get the silver look, it’s platinum plated.
Personally, I am not a big fan of this kind of nib design but it was very popular in the 60s. While there are several nib widths and styles available, the look of it is rather limited. You can get it in a darker version, in a lighter version, and sometimes they have limited editions like champagne colored ones. The Lamy 2000 writes smoothly, maybe it’s a bit on the
Overall, the Lamy 2000 provides a very comfortable writing experience paired with an iconic design, it’s made in Germany by Lamy and comes with a 2-year warranty. So who’s the Lamy 2000 for? I think it works well for people who like simplistic things such as a Nomos Tangete, for example. It’s also great if you prefer medium to lightweight pens and not something that’s super heavy paired with a slightly grippier shaft. Personally, I don’t like the look and the design of the Lamy 2000 but I’m neither a big fan of the Capless or the Waterman Carene. That being said, all those three pens are great writing instruments if you just look at the writing aspect.
4. Sailor 1911
This pen looks very classic compared to the previous three. It comes in two different sizes and the large one is usually anywhere from $200 – $280. At first glance, it might look very timeless, classic, and understated to you, however, in the fountain pen world, it looks really like a knockoff Montblanc Meisterstuck. The screw on cap is tight and it posts well on the back of the pen.
Even though we got the large version, it’s considerably smaller than a Montblanc Meisterstuck 149 and about the size of Montblanc 146. You can get it in various resin colors and gold as well as the rhodium plated metal parts. It also comes in many nib sizes including the rather unusual zoom nib. While the standard size just has a 14-karat nib, the large one has a 21 karat nib which is rather unusual but the higher the gold content, usually the softer and smoother the nib.
The writing experience is very comfortable and smooth and the nib adds a little bit of bounce. Even though the back tip indicates this is a piston filler, it only works with cartridges or cartridge converters. It’s comfortable to use either posted or unposted and overall, it’s
5. Pilot Custom Heritage 823
First, it retails at about $270- $290, comes in a big box often with an inkwell. It also has a classic cigar inspired style but it’s in general, a little slimmer. Also, the body is made out of a semi transparent resin which means you can actually see the mechanics on the inside. This one comes in a smoky acrylic tone in Japan or at specialty retailers, you can also find different colors. Unlike all the other four contenders, this one has a vacuum filling mechanism which personally, I’m not a big fan of.
The 14 karat gold nib is large, smooth, and juicy. Possibly, it’s one of the smoothest writers out there and personally, I think the number one reason why you should buy this pen is the smooth nib and writing experience. While many pens in this price range offer more of an oversized grip, this one is more standard sized and better suited to small to medium hands. Of course, it’s also made in Japan by Pilot and I think it’s perfect for people who want a different design and a smooth writing experience. You really don’t have to mind the kind of design that is semi-transparent and you also have to be okay with a vacuum filling mechanism which personally I’m not a big fan of.
So in conclusion, if you’re ready to take the plunge and take your fountain pen game to the next level, all these five contenders will be a noticeable step up from a Lamy Safari or a Pilot Metropolitan. So which of these five pens should you choose? Frankly, if you like the more mid-century modern design, I think the Lamy 2000 is nice. If you are a doctor and you take quick notes, the Capless is best. If you want something business appropriate but unique, the Waterman Carene is hard to beat. For the best experience in terms of writing, I think the Pilot custom 823 is great and if you want something that looks more like a Montblanc Meisterstuck, you can go with a sailor 1911.