On the rollercoaster with the Otto Hutt designC

Even as I write this review, I’m not quite sure how I feel about the Otto Hutt designC. Over the time I’ve spent with it, I’ve had moments where I think it’s an absolutely blinding pen, and others where I’ve found it deeply frustrating.

A pricey designer pen. Heard it all before?

In case you’ve not stumbled across this pen before, it’s a strictly limited edition of 500 to celebrate Otto Hutt’s centenary, and it’s priced at around £2,500. For that you get a pen in 925 sterling silver, with solid gold rollstops or ‘indices’, an 18k gold nib, and a PVD-coated section. It has a very fancy internal piston filler called ‘Pull+Twist™‘ and an unusual ultra-minimal design by Mark Braun, an award-winning designer.

It even comes with a little book explaining the design philosophy and project genesis (as well as a fancy box, a bottle of permanent ink that I didn’t test, and a very nicely done leather case).

Knowing all that, I had a few preconceptions before I got the pen in my hand.

For example, I wondered if it would fall foul of the same issues that afflict the M by Marc Newson for Montblanc — another celebrity designer trying their hand at a pen, the result being a design that looks good but is uncomfortable and impractical, even a little gimmicky.

With a price of £2,500 (compared to Otto Hutt’s next most expensive pen, the design07 at around £500), I was reminded of the Lamy Dialog urushi or even the 2000 Black Amber, which attracted ire for being so much more expensive than consumers were used to seeing from the brand. Is this actually a pen to buy and use, or just a design exercise to show off what Otto Hutt can do, and catch some headlines? The cynic in me feared the latter.

So I had some baggage going into this review.

Design: silver and minimal

With the pen in front of me, I wasn’t initially sure if I felt underwhelmed or impressed — it’s that different.

The designC is ramrod straight, no taper, just domed ends.

There is no surface finishing, no rings or engravings or anything. No coatings, enamelling, guilloching, special polishes. No text or precious metals or gems. No clip. No finials or coins or tassies. All my usual senses for indicators of ‘expensive’ were flummoxed. It looks like a cyberpunk weapon or something.

I am very comfortable and pleased with this minimal approach: it takes a huge amount of bravery to pick simplicity over complexity for a pen this important, this prestigious, this expensive. I applaud Otto Hutt for letting Braun do his thing. The designC is a celebration of silver’s qualities and natural appeal. And I am a big fan of silver…

Pick it up and the designC is heavy, but not absurdly so. 72g capped, 56g ready to write. It’s quite a long pen; you can twirl it like a solid-feeling baton. You notice the two gold rollstops, which align perfectly when the cap is fitted to the pen.

Run your finger over them and they’re not quite sharp, but because they’re small and stand so proud of the surface of the pen, they definitely catch you.

Look to the back of the pen and you see a seam where the piston knob separates from the body. There’s subtle engraving of the o|h branding on the barrel, with the | symbol aligned to a similar line on the cap. When the piston is fully retracted, ready to write, these lines align perfectly.

And of course there’s the 925 sterling silver indicator, and edition number around the cap ring, very pleasingly engraved in a delicate typeface. They’re light enough to miss if you’re not looking.

Tension in the section

The cap screws and unscrews very smoothly, and quickly, too. In fact, the capping action is fabulous. When it twists home that last fraction of a turn to align the gold stops, it’s effortless, and the precision is awesome. The cap is lined, which probably helps.

When you unscrew and remove the cap, suddenly the impression of silver luster is interrupted. The section is stepped down from the barrel, and it is a shape that I’ve only seen before on the Lamy Persona and Imporium. It’s ribbed, tapering towards the nib.

And while the pen is sterling silver, the section is a lightly satin textured black, PVD coated over some unknown (to me) material [update: steel, I’m told]. It honestly looks and feels a little like black plastic. The cap threads are square profile, almost invisible between the ribbed section and the shiny barrel step.

From a purely visual perspective, something about this section made me uncomfortable. There’s such a tension between the polished, straight barrel and the undulating, converging, black lines of the section. The contrast is too great for me, and there’s something about the proportions, too: the barrel is long and because it doesn’t taper, it drags the visual centre of gravity back, making the section and nib look too small.

In the hand: love it or hate it

Hold the pen as if to write and, depending on your preferences, this may be a supremely comfortable grip, or… not.

Like I said, it’s a long pen, and there’s plenty of weight in the barrel with its silver construction and piston filling mechanism. It’s not as top-heavy as, say, a Visconti Opera Master, but there’s still a vaguely pendulous feeling with all that barrel swinging about above your hand. Here’s the balance point — quite far back.

This pen does not post, even if you wanted it to.

The section is long, so there’s no need to touch the barrel step or threads — and they’re not problematic even if you do touch them. But I found the ribbed section itself reduces your ‘contact patch’ and causes hotspots on my fingers, which was a problem familiar to me from the Imporium.

Most of the time, the 18k rollstop peeked up at me between my thumb and fingers (it’s directly above the top of the nib). But if I varied my grip to more of an overwriter position, crossed my thumb over, or even just rolled the pen a little in my digits in between sentences, I found my thumb being poked quite noticeably by the rollstop. Not always, but enough.

So: if your grip is non-standard, do try before you buy.

A piston, Jim, but not as we know it

The Pull+Twist filling mechanism, developed in house, is perhaps the big feature of the designC, one that the marketing materials make a big deal out of. As a user, it works like this:

In writing position, the piston knob is flush with the barrel and does not turn. Pull the knob out from the barrel and you can start to turn the piston up and down by twisting the knob.

When the piston fully extends, the knob stops hard; immerse the pen in ink and twist the knob to retract the piston back to where you started, and you’ll draw up ink. There is a clutch mechanism that starts to click when the piston is fully retracted, so the knob can continue to turn indefinitely. Press the knob back into the pen to lock it; it will only fully depress when it’s lined up in a single position, as shown above.

In practice, it’s very similar to the mechanism used by the Montblanc 1912, with the push-pull to engage the piston. But while on the 1912 the push-pull served to enable one knob to both move the nib unit and move the piston, here it seems to serve no purpose other than fidget factor — aside from the questionable utility of stopping you turning the piston by accident. And while Otto Hutt are proud of the precision engineering involved in this mechanism, I actually found it quite difficult sometimes to engage the mechanism when pulling out the knob. Probably user error, but still.

Naturally, this mechanism is not user serviceable, and it’s also a mystery filler: there’s no way of checking the ink level visually. At least it holds a good amount of ink, judging by my tests.

A joyful nib to write with

So what about the nib? From the overall shape of it, it’s a JoWo #6.

It’s 18k, bicolour, with a plastic feed.

The imprint is unique to this pen, and quite attractive in a modern way. There’s no old-fashioned scrollwork, just straight lines.

The nib on my review sample is a medium, and after it warmed up to me it wrote a beautiful line, actually. The designC is not a gusher, but it writes wet enough and the nib is tuned just right for flow and smoothness, with some bounce — although since this pen is on loan and so expensive, I didn’t explore its limits. But suffice it to say that the nib is one of the high points of the pen. I used a nice safe ink, Edelstein Aventurine, and the pen handled it without drama.

Again, from a design point of view, I question the fit of this nib into the overall aesthetic. A relentlessly modern, super-minimal aesthetic like this deserves a similarly modern and minimal nib and feed — perhaps like the Montblanc M uses, or the tubular Visconti nib, JoWo arrow, or at least a slit without a breather hole, like Montegrappa or Graf use. But instead we have a conventional nib shape, conventional feed and breather hole, and the bicolour trim (and I find gold makes it look a little more old-fashioned). I found myself wishing for something truly unique to match the £2.5k price tag.

Where does the rollercoaster end up?

So, after all that, what have we got?

A beautiful, unconventional, minimal silver design where a few elements — the fussy black section, the conventional nib — are incongruous.

Incredible fit and finish, as I’ve come to expect from Otto Hutt, but with a piston mechanism that’s sometimes difficult to engage and with some practical drawbacks.

A good long section and overall comfortable size, but less-than-perfect balance, pokey roll stops and strange ribbing on the section.

A nib that’s great for writing, but maybe not visually a match for such a special and important pen.

Does it fall into the same trap as the Montblanc M? Yes, a little. This is a pen that is definitely “designed”, and it probably looks better than it feels in the hand.

Is it worth the price? That’s up to you. As I wrote in my review of the Onoto Great Court, there’s a point where price becomes disconnected from value. At £2,500, that is the case here.

Here you’re paying for the exclusivity of the limited release and its anniversary timing. You’re paying for the designer name and the truly unique look, the unusual filling mechanism. Of course, you’re also paying for the silver and the solid gold.

To me, all of those things together are special and appealing, and as a complete package this is a very desirable pen. If the nice folks at Otto Hutt told me I could keep this review sample, I would be beyond thrilled, and I would keep using it — it’s more than just a museum piece, it’s a nice pen to actually write with.

But if I was spending £2.5k of my own money on a pen, I would want it to be perfect — and, to put it bluntly, the designC is too bold to be perfect.

6 thoughts on “On the rollercoaster with the Otto Hutt designC

  1. I find it a wonderful, minimalist art object. Would go well with my Nomos watch.
    You have a photo of 3 pens, with the MB at the right. Is that the all silver Otto Hutt model at the left? Curious about your opinion on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am a fan of Nomos too! I was pleased to learn that Braun designs for them, too. Yes, the pen on the left is the design07. It’s probably my favourite of the four Otto Hutt models that I’ve tried. I will be reviewing it in a couple of weeks!

      Like

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