I waited a long time for the Otto Hutt design08.
The fiesty German manufacturer’s wares have crossed my desk multiple times: I’ve reviewed the 03, 04, 06 and the flagship 07 too. Each pen model I tried was interesting, admirable, even exceptional, but not quite right for me personally.
Then along came the designC. It’s visionary and in many respects brilliant, but at 2,500 Euros, too expensive for my wallet by far. The 08, which Mark Braun teased in his interview with me, promised to have all the radical design and engineering qualities of the C, but at a more reasonable (if still high-end) price of 1,150 Euros.
I put it on my mental ‘to buy’ list, crossed my fingers, and waited for the announcement.
And here it is.
Let’s get the ‘but’ out of the way…
I’ll jump straight to my key takeaway after a week of heavy use and obsessive pondering: I found the design08 uncomfortable for my hand.
I simply couldn’t forget about the pen in my hand to focus on my writing — I was conscious of its weight and its form in my grip the whole time, and I started to feel fatigued after just a page or two.
This is not just because it’s a big pen, or a heavy pen (and it is definitely both). A glance at my pen tray and review history should show that I’m not shy about oversize pens. Instead, the issue for me is the design08’s balance and its section texture.
Let’s start with length. It’s 138mm uncapped; not ridiculous, but it is a very long pen.
What about weight? Uncapped (the measure that matters), the design08 is 57g. That puts it very much on the heavy side, compared to 43g for the Montblanc Martele, 34g for the Lamy Black Amber, 28g for the Namiki Urushi 20.
Balance is a goldilocks variable. Put the weight too close to the nib and the pen feels flighty, skittery; put it too far back and the pen tugs and swings like writing with a baseball bat.
In the case of the design 08, and in my unscientific measurement, the balance point is about 86mm from the end of the nib, close to two-thirds of the way back. And remember, it’s a heavy pen. The equivalent of an entire Namiki Urushi 20, 28g, is hanging out there in the rearmost 52mm.
For comparison, the Gravitas Entry (with its steel section) is very forward-biased: it’s the same 138mm uncapped, but the balance point is barely behind the cap threads, only 62mm from the page.
What this means is that the weight of the design08 isn’t nestled in the span of your grip; it’s hanging over the back of your hand, pulling on you like a lever. You have to grip to resist its pull.
And this brings me to the second factor that compromised comfort for me: the section shape. Clearly the design08 is the cousin of the designC in this respect. Both have the same square-cut threads just before the metallic barrel; they both have long sections in matte metallic black finishes (in this case, PVD steel). But while the designC had a kind of ‘hungry caterpillar’ vibe of rounded bumps, the design08 seems modelled after a gas tap that you’d find in a school chemistry lab.
Looked at in profile, it has saw-tooth ridges that are angled to stop the fingers sliding down towards the nib.
I felt every ridge of that gas-tap styling on the soft flesh of my fingertips, with the 57g weight pressing and shifting pendulously above, causing hotspots in minutes on my middle finger.
This is what my finger looked like this morning after picking up the design08 and writing just half an A5 page of quotations and pangrams, maybe five minutes of writing.
Those two parallel lines? Those are from the section ridges. I don’t “deathgrip” pens, either. Here’s one of my normal grips, with the pen rather upright in my lefty overwriter grip.
I found that in order to be comfortable holding this pen I had to change how I hold it, to distribute the weight and take the pressure off the side of my middle finger. However, changing a 30-year habit of how I write is not something I’m willing or able to do.
Don’t get me wrong; Otto Hutt haven’t created an instrument of torture by any stretch. A bit of an ache, a bit of a sore spot — it’s not the end of the world. The only reason I’ve spent so many words writing about it is to prove that I’m not dismissing the 08 based on first impressions of “this pen is big and heavy”, instead showing that the balance point and section pattern are the cause. For all those pens in the past that I’ve complained about having sharp barrel steps, sharp threads, short sections, etc, I don’t think any has affected me like this.
And this pains me greatly to say, because in all other respects I really like the design08. If your grip or hand size is different to mine, I think you’d probably like it too. So let’s read on and find out why.
Plenty of good points
In terms of visuals, this is a striking and modern pen with excellent proportions; in fact, it totally corrects the somewhat awkward ‘long barrel’ look that undermined the designC’s grace, with a longer piston knob and bolder cap to balance the barrel.
Mark Braun has worked a masterclass here: the shape is both detailed and simple.
The contrasting guilloche pinstripes…
the articulated machined clip that nestles in the dished cap…
with a matching concave surface on the end of the piston knob…
the serial number laser-etched along the piston knob precisely aligned with the nib and clip.
The matte ruthenium finish over brass is an absolute fingerprint magnet, but it has a menacing, stealthy, even industrial edge, and it doesn’t clash so much with the black section as did the polished silver of the designC.
The only element of the visuals that I’m not quite sure about is the nib. It’s a #6 with Otto Hutt’s usual imprint, but it’s in monotone yellow gold.
I can’t work out whether that incredible contrast against the rest of the pen is a much-needed jolt of brightness — like the gold indices on the designC — or just an anachronism where bright rhodium or stealth ruthenium would have fitted more neatly.
Functionally, the design08, like the designC, uses Otto Hutt’s “Pull and Twist” mechanism, which I have mixed feelings about. In short, to engage its piston filler you need to pull out the knob, then it turns like a normal (albeit ratcheting) piston. When you’ve filled the pen, you depress the knob again to disengage it from the piston mechanism, and rotate it freely to its final alignment point where you can press it a bit further to click it locked. It’s a little fiddly, but has fidget factor and prevents accidently extending the piston.
There’s no ink window in the ruthenium barrel, but I never experienced any range anxiety. From my measurement, the barrel holds 1.5 ml of ink, which is very decent.
The nib is 18k gold, with a plastic feed, and my example arrived well tuned.
There’s some softness to the nib, it runs a true European medium, with medium flow paired to Venvstas and Robert Oster inks. It’s on the smooth side but not glassy. The experience is identical to that of the designC, as you might have expected. I have no complaints, although it’s not a particularly memorable writer, and if I was ordering one I’d get it with an F nib.
The cap takes exactly two turns to remove, which is fine, but there’s enough resistance in the threads and the weight of the cap that you can’t just spin the cap off.
The cap itself is airtight and lined and the threads close snugly, so I have no fears about this pen drying out if left unused for a while.
The articulated clip opens wide enough to slip over a jacket pocket, and has adequate grip — although capped this pen weighs more than 80g and really makes its presence felt. The clip has some side-to-side play and I worry that over time it’ll mar the matte finish of the cap.
My last nit-pick? The Otto Hutt ‘OH’ logo is laser-etched into the top of the clip. The etching has fuzzy outlines on the heavier ‘H’.
And about that price?
Without discounts, and including European VAT, the design08 is 1,150 Euros. That is a lot of money: it’ll get you a 149 with enough change for a Pelikan. Alternatively you could spring for a Namiki Urushi 20, or a Nakaya 17mm Cigar, almost any Visconti special edition, Montegrappa Extra, Aurora specials, and so on. You can pick your choice of urushi, celluloid, big in-house gold nibs, ebonite feeds, piston or vac fillers… there are no shortage of amazing pens at this price.
Few of those pens have the design08’s crisp, clean aesthetics and solidity of engineering and craftsmanship. It really is a novel addition to any pen tray, and it looks good in mine for sure.
Unfortunately, I never managed to get into the ‘zone’ with the design08. Every time I wrote with it I was conscious of its presence in my hand, and if I wasn’t careful about exactly how I held it, I’d soon find it painful. Laying it down and picking up my 149, Urushi 20, Dorsal 2 or London Fog, I was immediately conscious of a feeling of relief. And that feeling was just as pronounced after the twentieth writing session as after the first.
Over the past week or so I have actually found myself trying really hard to enjoy the design08, to persuade myself that I should buy it anyway, to rationalise away the discomfort and convince myself that I just need to get used to it. Surely I must be wrong? It’s just me, right? I’m not holding it correctly, or something?
That’s because I know that the design08 has plenty of good points, and unboxing it you can’t help but be impressed by the size, weight, presence, precision. It’s great fun to feel the textures, actuate the filling mechanism, observe the craftsmanship. But I have to be honest with myself and admit that I don’t find it very comfortable to write with. And that, even for a pen addict like me, is a bit of a dealbreaker.
Your mileage, of course, may vary. So I very much recommend you try the design08 for yourself, if you have the opportunity. You can check it out at Otto Hutt here.
The design08 was provided to me on temporary loan by Otto Hutt — I was not compensated to write this review. In fact, I paid £150 of Brexit-induced customs charges out of my own pocket for the chance to try it. So you can consider this review hard-earned (and donations to help cover those costs are of course always welcome…).