It normally doesn’t take me long to make up my mind about a pen. But the Conid Minimalistica is so different to anything I’ve owned before that it’s left me confused.
I bought this pen, the special edition “Monarch” Minimalistica, through a lucky accident that I’ll spare you from hearing.
The Monarch is a limited edition of 50 units, with attractive orange ebonite finials and an orange box, created for Fontoplumo in the Netherlands.
Mine came with a fine steel nib, but you can quickly swap in any Bock nib #6 nib unit you like. Right now I have a F/M Ti nib installed. Since it’s so easy to swap the nibs, I won’t spend a lot of time in this review talking about the writing experience.
This is a pen that screams “engineering”. From the packaging to the clip, every aspect of the design has been thought through and executed with attention to detail.
That precision-engineering approach is incredibly reassuring, and it’s what you’re paying the 470 euro premium for (given that otherwise this is just an acrylic, steel-nibbed pen). But sometimes these beautifully made engineering decisions produce a remarkably frustrating ownership experience. Let me explain just a few of them.
Minimal design makes for frustrating capping
The rationale of the Minimalistica is not that it’s a “mini” pen — in fact, it’s basically the same size as a Pelikan M800.
Instead, it’s a “minimal” pen. Apart from the filler cap at one end and the nib at the other, there is nothing to break the lines of the pen under the fingers. It’s a completely smooth, curving cylinder, even though it may not look that way from all the stuff visible through the demonstrator body.
The seamless barrel and section was the design goal, and it results in an incredibly comfortable pen. But how does the cap stay on? There are no threads for a screw-cap, no clumsy lip or prongs to hold a conventional slip-cap. Instead the Minimalistica relies purely on friction between an o-ring installed in the cap and the gradually increasing diameter of the barrel. Genius.
Except. Most pens have a defined “stop” where the cap is fully seated. It clicks, or the threads run out. That’s when you stop pushing. There is a full stop on the Minimalistica’s cap too, formed by a step inside the cap. But to fully seat the cap on the barrel takes Herculean strength. It feels like you’re going to break the pen or burst a blood vessel.
And actually, the cap is quite secure on the pen when the o-ring is just a couple of millimeters up the section. For someone who likes certainty and predictability, this is a complete mindfuck.
(The slideshow below shows three equally secure positions for “capped”)
Because the o-ring has such a secure grip on the barrel, when capping or uncapping you either need to push or pull very hard, or twist as you do it to break the friction. It doesn’t feel easy, or positive like say a Lamy 2000 — and it’s extremely tricky to uncap the Minimalistica with one hand. I’ve never had to practice capping a pen before, and I don’t think I should have to do so. Nor should I have to guess when a pen is capped “enough”.
If you can ignore the dodgy autofocus, check out this video of me fully seating the cap and then removing it again. Note the effort involved.
See what I mean?
Great engineering eureka moment: “we can use an o-ring to cap the pen so the barrel can be seamless!”.
End result: a mushy and tiring mechanism.
Another example. The nib unit is screwed into the pen with an o-ring at either end. This means that in theory no ink will ever sully the gap between the nib unit and the transparent section. In practice, I found that unless I tightened the nib unit down against the back o-ring to the point where I was scared about damaging the nib, ink seeps past and into the threads, or even beyond.
Furthermore, when you’re swapping nib units (something encouraged and enabled by the ability to completely seal the main ink chamber), the small o-ring at the back of the nib unit tends to trap ink and require a flushing with water. It’s also a bit of an escape artist, and I’m sure I will lose it eventually. Good thing Conid includes a complete spare set of o-rings in the box.
A clean-freak’s nightmare
Aside from the finials, the whole pen is made from thick, clear plastic. But more than any other demonstrator I’ve owned, this pen triggers my cleanliness OCD. I’m not sure what it is, but whether it’s skin oils on the outside, ink residue on the inside, different surface finishes or condensation, the Minimalistica never looks quite as crystal clear as you’d like.
Surface tension makes me tense
The main attraction of the Minimalistica, like any Conid, is the Bulkfiller mechanism.
I have to say, it’s wonderful. It’s simple, fast and effective, and it holds a ton of ink. I got to grips with it very quickly.
Like an eyedropper or vac filler, the bulkfiller’s main ink chamber is sealed off by the end of the filling rod, leaving you with a small secondary ink chamber to use if you don’t want to open up access to the main ink store.
This is a great feature that (as I mentioned above) enables you to change nib units when the pen is full, as well as travelling on planes with confidence.
But. Surface tension with the ink (and I’ve tried several) often stops ink moving from one chamber to another, even when the sealing plug is moved well clear. This even happens with pure water when you’re flushing the pen.
I found myself actually shaking the pen to get ink to move where I wanted it to go. Conid is clearly aware of this issue, because their stock nib unit features a steel spike designed to release the surface tension.
I didn’t find this spike did much, because it doesn’t actually protrude into the main ink chamber (it couldn’t, by design — it would obstruct the piston). I wonder if the problem is simply due to the surface finishing inside the chamber, or perhaps it’s the size of the channel.
Conid, you drive me crazy.
By this point you’re probably thinking “wow, Anthony really hates the Minimalistica”. You’d be wrong. It’s attractive and super comfortable, and it’s a great size.
The ink capacity is unreal, the bulkfiller mechanism is beautifully engineered, the machined clip is lovely, and the stock nib was hand-tuned by Conid to perform perfectly.
The ammo-tin packaging is super cool, and I love the overall look of the pen, too, and all the little details like the fantastic model number engraving on the titanium band. The orange ebonite is perhaps a little dull in colour compared to the zingy anodising on the tin, but I really like it.
In short, I can completely understand why Conid inspires such fanaticism, and I am certainly not going to cancel my order for a Regular Bulkfiller (due end of January!).
I simply I find some of the engineering decisions have compromised usability in significant ways, and that makes me frustrated even more than usual, because they’re the result of deliberate decision, instead of accident or laziness.
Conid is pursuing excellence, even perfection, to extremes. But when I use this pen I actually find that, instead of it getting out of the way and letting me write, it distracts me. I’m concentrating on how to use it: how far I should push the cap on, whether the ink is flowing into the chamber, whether I have a cloth to wipe off the internally-cloudy acrylic, whether I’m going to lose an o-ring down the sink when I swap inks. And that feels like a shame to me, because it’s the antithesis of the Conid mission.