Thursday, July 13, 2006

Fountain Pen Review: Waterman Phileas

Lest anyone accuse me of being anything less than honest, let me get this disclosure out of the way before I begin this review: The Pear Tree Pen Company recently became an authorized Waterman dealer. Our Waterman inventory at the moment consists of Waterman Phileas and Charleston models, in all available colors and modes - fountain pen, rollerball and ballpoint. We also have genuine Waterman inks in stock.

Despite the fact that I'm a retailer of Waterman products, I think this review is still unbiased and presents an objective view of this pen. Contrary opinions are welcome.

OK, now on to the review.

Waterman's "entry-level" fountain pen, the Phileas is one of those pens that gave many pen enthusiasts their first taste of what a fountain pen could be. And why not? For about $50.00 (MSRP), you get an attractive pen that's comfortable, well-balanced and writes, uh . . . right.

As I said, the Waterman Phileas got many a collecter started in the hobby. I wasn't one of them, however, and this is the first Phileas I've had the chance to hold and use. To say I was skeptical about the Phileas is an understatement. As much as I love fountain pens, I've had a hard time falling in love with Waterman. It's certainly not for a lack of trying, and I own a lot of Watermans. While their quality has almost always been good, many of Waterman's pens are lacquer over brass, which makes them too heavy in my book. Some people prefer a heavy pen, but I don't, especially for long writing sessions. My hands are small and after a while, heavy pens really start to cause me a lot of hand fatigue. Moreover, in my opinion, Waterman's nibs lean toward the bland. Don't get me wrong - they work well enough, but the one's I've used lack a certain je ne sais quoi. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the Phileas is unlike those Watermans I've used in the past.

First of all, it's light, but not so light that it feels cheap. Waterman accomplished this by building the Phileas out of plastic, rather than lacquer-coated brass. But Waterman inserted a small brass sleeve into the upper portion of the barrel to give the pen a bit of substance. It feels nice in the hand, and I was able to write several pages without even the slightest hint of fatigue. The pen is also nicely balanced, and is exceptionally comfortable with the cap posted or unposted.

Of course, the true test of any writing instrument is how well it writes and this is where the Waterman must have put its R & D money, because the Phileas excels in this department. When I first inked up the Phileas I honestly wondered if I was setting myself up for disappointment. Not a chance!

I filled the included converter with Noodler's Black ink and less than a minute later, I was ready to go. I pulled off the slip cap and started to write. Much to my surprise, the two-tone stainless steel nib was buttery smooth. I mean really smoooooooooooth. Although it still lacked some of flair that comes with more exotic nibs, the line it laid down was consistent and even. It was neither too wet nor too dry - it seemed to lay down the right amount of ink at all times. Oh, and did I mention it was smooth?

Every single letter was perfectly formed (to the best of my ability, that is), and there was not a single moment's hesitation, skipping, streaking or any of the other potential pitfalls of pendom. Vertical lines were as smooth and clean as horizontal ones. I left the pen uncapped for about an hour and it started immediately when I picked up. It wrote perfectly after sitting on my desk overnight.

I did not detect any tooth to this nib at all. Some people may find that disconcerting, as they prefer to get a little feedback from the nib as they write, so if that sounds like you - be forewarned. My medium nib was true to size, which was also unexpected, since Waterman nibs have a reputation for running a hair wide.

Appearance wise, the Phileas is an attractive pen. The model I tested is a red marble acrylic. The red is a nice deep, almost burgundy, red with black swirls stirred in. The pen is decorated at the ends with black on the cap and a black "blind cap" to match the black plastic section. Gold-colored trim rings separate the black pieces from the red marble, and a gold clip finishes the package. The nib itself is two-tone stainless steel and looks quite rich as well.

On the fit and finish side, it's obvious that this is an entry-level pen. On close examination, the luster of the pen's plastic just doesn't match that of more expensive pens, but when viewed from a distance, it's not as apparent. One of the things that sets many expensive pens apart is attention to detail, and the Waterman Phileas is lacking in this area as well. The biggest "flaw" to my eye was the trim ring at the end of the barrel - it was not a solid ring that encircled the pen barrel; rather, it appeared to be a clip that was a few millimeters too small to complete the circle. I don't know why Waterman would skimp in that area. It's one of those tiny details that few will ever notice unless they happen to be looking for something to criticize, though. And I was.

The Phileas measures 5" from the tip of its nib to the end of the black plastic blind cap. That number stretches to 5 5/8" when the cap is posted and 5 3/8" long when capped. Not a large pen by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly not a small one, either.

The pen comes in the familiar blue clamshell box, in which is a blue Waterman ink cartridge and a converter for using bottled ink.

I have to confess, I almost chose not to publish this review. Because the Wateman Phileas may just well be the last pen you'll ever need, I was worried I'd go out of business! Lucky for me that fountain pens are often more about desire than need.

To wrap up, the Phileas is a terrific pen. It looks good and performs far better than one would expect for a pen at this price-point. It's not perfect, but the flaws are primarily cosmetic and easily overlooked when one factors in the outstanding performance. It's easy to see why so many fountain pen enthusiasts got hooked after using one. It really is that good.

Thanks for stopping by!

James P.


dhvibe said...

I own this pen in a broad nib. I got it at a yard sale. Normally I use a medium size nib but I am between work horses currently. Like you I write for hours at a time (I keep a rather extensive journal). I have used Waterman pens for years because they produce very high quality pens at all price ranges. So I wouldn't slight Waterman for quality issues ever. Every pen that I have used from them came out of box ready to use. They take great care to make sure their nibs are top notch. Great review!

CH said...

I found your review very tempting for me to run and buy one. I am still study other offerings like Pelikan M200 and Lamy (can't remember the model). I tried Waterman Hemisphere and thought that it was butter smooth, on the other hand, Lamy writes diffrently. Not as smooth.