I love the German Bauhaus, utilitarian aesthetic. Braun, Junghans, those kinds of brands have built timeless, minimalist products that I covet.
I would put r0tring in that list, too. I have a 600 mechanical pencil and ballpoint and I love them, with their matte hexagonal barrels, grippy knurling, precise manufacturing and no-nonsense attitude. And, although it makes no sense, I really lust after a 600 fountain pen. Like this. Thanks, Ed Jelley.
Why does it make no sense? Because they’re long discontinued, and fetch silly money for what is effectively a pretty nondescript pen in terms of materials, filling mechanism and nib.
Recently one of my fellow pen addicts offered me a Rotring Newton for the bargain sum of £80. I was stood in the San Francisco MOMA with jet lag at that point, so I naively assumed I was getting a 600. Boy was I wrong.
The Newton is an affront to pens, for three main reasons.
It puts form over function
Rotring more or less kept the hexagonal shape of the 600, but inexplicably introduced not only a few blingy little details, but also a diagonal slash at each end of the barrel. This has a few implications for comfort, but it also means the snap cap only fits on the barrel one way, whether to close or post the pen.
Bizarrely, instead of a conventional screw-off section, the converter is accessed by unscrewing a knob at the end of the pen,where a piston knob would be.
This releases the section. It’s exactly the same mechanism as the Graf Platino, but while with the Graf it enables a seamless, stepless barrel all the way to the nib, here it adds no value at all beyond complexity, weight and confusion.
Finally, the cartridge or converter seats so deeply into the section that it’s impossible to see how much ink you have left.
It’s really uncomfortable
The Newton is uncomfortable. There’s a ginormous (angled!) stepdown from barrel to section, and the section while adequately long is very narrow and slippery. It basically looks like the Caran 849. No Rotring knurling in sight.
It’s a moderately heavy pen, but all the weight is at the back, so it feels very unbalanced in the hand. And posting only makes that worse.
It doesn’t write very well
The small steel nib is a medium, with no breather hole. It is a nail. And it is not particularly pleasant to write with. There’s a little feedback, and an infuriating tendency to hard start just often enough to be annoying, without being perfectly predictable. I would happily pick any other pen in my pen case — including the Pilot Prera — for writing pleasure over this one.
The Newton looks OK, although I find it a bit shiny and cheap-looking. But where other Rotrings are as simple as they can be to be functional, the Newton has unnecessary details and flourishes, yet fails at the basics of being a fountain pen: being filled, being held, writing words on paper.
I consider this an £80 lesson, but perhaps most encouragingly it’s reassured me that I have some standards left: very few pens that have crossed my desk have provoked such an instinctive and complete dislike.