Aurora’s Matera and Deserto are gorgeous and (nearly) flawless

Ticking all the boxes

I’ll say this right off the bat: I’ve discovered that I’ve become pretty fond of Aurora.

In my time I’ve owned a grey flex Optima, a Duocart, a Talentum Black Ops, an 88 Black Mamba, a Pacifico, an 88 Minerali Amethyst, and my favourite of all, an 88 Nettuno.

My experiences have been, on the whole, largely positive. The Optima’s cap cracked, and was replaced under warranty. I’ve had a couple of dodgy nibs, mainly around the stub / italic end of the spectrum. But that’s about it for problems.

In fact, over those seven or so pens I’ve come to appreciate just how strong the Aurora spec sheet is.

A typical Aurora 88 or Optima like the Nettuno has a smooth piston filler with ink window. The nib is made in house, with ebonite feed and a choice of a zillion different sizes, in an easy-change screw-in nib unit. The cap has quick threads that seal perfectly, plus a strong and beautiful clip, and it posts deeply. The section is long and the threads aren’t sharp at all. If I had a checklist for a pen, this would tick most of my boxes — and most of yours I’d wager.

For what it’s worth, most Auroras come in a very luxurious package with gift box, many also with matching ink, and custom artwork for each numbered edition. When an Aurora lands on your doorstep, it’s a real treat.

Despite all these great features, and a vast choice of editions in different colours and trim options, I don’t see a lot of Auroras around in my travels. Is it the price putting people off? Is the Aurora brand not as premium as, say, Montblanc?

Whatever the cause, it’s always a shame for great products to go overlooked. So when Aurora’s UK distributor reached out to me offering the chance to review a few pens, I barely hesitated. Time to dust off my reviewer’s monocle. Did you miss me?

A couple of days later these three pens arrived.

I didn’t pick the specific models, nor the nibs, so it was a total surprise to unbox them. I’m going to review two of the three here — the third, a Talentum Dedalo, is a very different sort of pen and I’ll treat it to its own writeup.

Meet the 88 Matera

The Matera is in Aurora’s new ‘secret journey to Italy’ series, commemorating the city of Matera’s underground water cistern.

Honestly I’m rolling my eyes a bit at how Italian brands from Scribo to Visconti to Aurora cling to these metaphors. What next, a series commemorating Italian manhole covers? But at least here the tribute is more than skin deep. The pen comes in a beautifully decorated box with watercolour artwork of the old city, and a matching aqua blue ink bottle — it’s not just a label slapped on a colour of plastic.

Anyway: the Matera is a cracked-ice resin in white and blue. Where it stands out from (almost) all previous 88 and Optima Auroras is that the whole pen is in the coloured resin; there are no black finials or sections here. It’s a step on from the Caleidoscopio where the section was coloured but not the finials; now it’s all coloured. This is a HUGE improvement; it lifts the whole feeling of the pen, and it has me jumping for joy because I’ve been asking for this for years.

88 = graceful

This is an 88 model, which for those of you new to Aurora means it has rounded ends and the old-style cursive font on the ‘Aurora’ cap band.

The 88 is a beautiful, graceful pen and in this resin, with a white-gold, long-tined flex nib, it just looks incredible.

It’s utterly charming, and way better in person than it looks in the over-saturated stock product photos. In real life it has the delicacy of fine china.

The only negative I can come up with is that, thanks to the translucency of the material, you’ll see dark patches where the ink or the black feed sit beneath. It can make the white and blue look a little dingy (this was one of the reasons why I disliked the black sections of previous Aurora LEs — the showthrough was much worse).

Not just a pretty face

The 88 is not only beautiful, it’s also a thoroughly good, mature design, with all those features I rattled off above. I filled the Matera with its matching ink and promptly took it to Copenhagen for a week of evening journalling, followed by a week of scribbled work notes, and it didn’t let me down.

In the hand, the 88 feels immediately comfortable. The threads are smooth and the section is long and flared so the bevelled barrel step is well out of contact.

The 88 is well balanced, but it is a pretty light pen: inked and uncapped, it’s just 15g, and 23g capped. By comparison my Onoto is 22g uncapped and a Pilot Capless is 31g.

Even though it’s actually longer uncapped than pens like the Montblanc 146, and only a hair shorter than my #8-equipped Onoto Magna, the Matera feels surprisingly petite. That’s partly down to the light weight, and partly due to the relatively narrow section, which is 10mm diameter at its narrowest. Posting the cap helped, which is not something I say often, and I think it’s mainly due to the added weight rather than length.

The fine flex nib is not dramatically flexible, but to me it’s worth choosing over the standard F nib because of its extra long tines, which make the nib overall about 1mm longer than the standard Aurora nib. That sounds like a trivial difference, but you can feel it, and there’s a visual difference too: the tines on the flex nib are much more slender, and overall it makes the standard style look rather squat.

On the page, the flex nib also feels wonderful with no hesitation and a little softness under pressure. Maybe my memory is failing me, but it actually feels smoother and wetter than previous Auroras I’ve used. But make no mistake, this nib still has the Aurora feedback, and on Cosmo paper it’s often squeaky, too.

And that’s really all there is to it. The 88 Matera is a real home run of a pen. It looks beautiful, it’s flawlessly engineered, and it’s lovely to write with. It’s a joy from the first moment of unboxing. I should also add that the matching ink is really good: a bright, zingy aqua with shading that flows well, with good dry times and no feathering or other issues on Cosmo Air Light or Tomoe paper.

You can get the Matera for around £650, which is a lot of money for a pen, but I’m struggling to think of a more complete and distinctive package for a luxury pen than Aurora gives you here. You could get a Montblanc 146 for the same price — in boring black, with no ink bottle, and wait for a nib swap if you wanted anything other than a medium. You could get a Pelikan in a pleather sleeve, if you can find one with rhodium trim. Or a Scribo, but I think the Aurora is a more mature design. In other words — I can’t argue with Aurora’s pricing here, as much as I’d like it to be more like £400.

Silver in the desert

Now, on to the Ambienti Deserto.

This is from Aurora’s more premium range, and while it has the same nib unit, piston, ink window and clip shape as the 88 and Optima, it’s a very different pen in some ways. Uncapped, it’s about 6mm shorter than the 88, but most noticeably, it has a sterling silver section and trim, which adds real mass to the pen.

The Deserto is 43g inked and 29g uncapped, practically twice the weight of the Matera in hand. And although the section has the same min/max diameters as the 88, it doesn’t taper so aggressively and therefore feels wider. In the hand it’s great, very comfortable — no need to post.

The nib on my particular Deserto is a standard 18k F in white gold. The tines are a millimeter shorter than the F flex on the Matero, but it still lays down a nice western F line, with moderate wetness and a hint of feedback. It’s a good, practical writer for those that like firm nibs.

Lacking the 88’s grace

The trim on this model is more extensive and aesthetically very different to the 88.

It has an all-caps 80s-looking AURORA MADE IN ITALY on the cap band, much more detailed (read: fussy) engraving on the various bands that reminds me of a 1990s tribal tattoo, and it’s flat-ended with another AURORA in a different font on the cap finial, and a weird silver flat cap over the end of the piston knob.

To me these aesthetic differences are all for the worse compared to the graceful 88. Honestly, this fussy trim is 100% why I sold my Pacifico, but I recognise that it’s a personal preference. I’d love a hybrid of the two: the silver section and weight of the Deserto with the clean trim of the 88.

Aside from the trim, the Deserto is obviously a very bright pen, quite different to the more delicate Matera. The orange Auroloide resin is bright, a slap in the face of colour. It goes very well with the silver, somehow appearing classy instead of brash. I like it a lot. And the matching ink is also a bright orange, dark enough to be readable, with the same wonderful performance as the Matera’s ink. Nice job, Aurora. The only downside, again, is that the translucent resin shows shadows of ink inside — you can see in the photos above.

Gimmicks aplenty

The ‘desert’ theme goes beyond the orange plastic and ink and the artwork on the huge box.

For these ‘Ambienti’ pens, Aurora has engraved a graphic into the section, and worked with a perfumier to create a scented paper leaflet included in each edition of the pen.

The fragrance is OK as a gimmick to add to the unboxing experience, and on some of the other Ambienti pens the engraving looks cool — the Jungle pen has a leaf, for example, and the Tropics has a branch of coral. They’re recognisable shapes.

But here on the Deserto the engraving is just some random lines (representing dunes?) and it looks crap. I wish they’d left it off.

Now, I said that the Deserto was from Aurora’s more premium range. It comes in a bigger box even than the Matera.

With bigger boxes come bigger prices. The Deserto is priced at over £900 on the street.

In belt-tightening times I don’t know how many folks are throwing £650 at a pen, let alone £900. Certainly the Deserto is up against stiff competition: arguably the Montegrappa Extra is a better pen for only a little more, with its celluloid body and #8 nib. For that budget you could also get whatever Visconti’s latest LE is, or any model from Santini, the other in-house Italian brand, with plenty of change left over.

But I’ve always said that by the time you get up to this kind of price bracket you’re way past rational comparison and into subjective desire. And you can’t deny that Aurora is forging its own path and continuing to experiment with colour, engraving, artwork, ink, even with scent, to elevate the experience and compete for the heart, not just the head — and I admire the effort.

So where does this leave us?

The Aurora DNA

With these two pens, Aurora is showing that it is capable of incrementally innovating from a very strong and mature base. Previous Auroras I’ve owned and reviewed showed me that there were honestly no features missing, no design flaws that needed correcting (like, say, Visconti adding an ink window to the Homo Sapiens).

But with the new full-colour editions like the Matera, the 88 is now practically perfect, both freshly beautiful and still feature-rich. The Deserto is in my opinion less successful in a couple of small ways (the section engraving and the fussy trim), and it’s a more expensive model, but it’s still a great pen and a real luxury option for those who want a bit more weight and some precious metals.

The reason I’m reviewing these two pens together is that, despite their obvious aesthetic differences, they share the unmistakeable Aurora DNA. They have the same great piston (which is a little frustrating to clean, mind you), and the same convenient 18k nib units, with grade marked subtly on the feed.

They have the same tight ball-ended clip, the same long sections, the same quick threads. These are pens for real writers who use their collection.

Now that I’m up to 10 Auroras under my belt, I feel more confident about making generalisations about Aurora’s quality control. These pens I’m reviewing today are perfect in every way, not a rough edge or sloppy polish in sight.

More importantly, all three nibs I received to review (F, F and F flex) wrote immediately out of the box with no problems at all: consistent flow, consistent tipping, consistent feel. This is immensely reassuring and stands as a total contrast to the shitshow of buying a Visconti, for example.

I still don’t hear great things about Aurora’s warranty experience, but with a good retailer behind you you should feel safe buying one.

Now, as to buying one… there aren’t many UK retailers for Aurora’s high-end pens, which is a shame. I’d get mine from Iguanasell: https://www.iguanasell.co.uk/collections/aurora

Or if you’re coming to the London Pen Show next month, Aurora UK should be on site with these pens and others for you to pick up directly. Certainly, if you’ve never looked seriously at Aurora before, it’s an opportunity you shouldn’t miss.

14 thoughts on “Aurora’s Matera and Deserto are gorgeous and (nearly) flawless

  1. I think part of the issue to why you don’t see a lot of Aurora Fountain pens on social media feeds, is availability in the UK. Popular websites such as cult pens, pure pens either don’t stock, or have very limited models. Therefore It would be interesting to get a retail perspective .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. They do look absolutely beautiful pens, but as Andrew has said not having an easily accessible UK retailer could be seen as a bit of a hindrance, which is a shame. Oh, and yes, it’s nice to see you back if only for this review. Hope life is treating you well.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. As Andrew has rightly mentioned Aurora UK’s presence at the UK Pens shows where one can feel,touch and try an Aurora writing instrument. Direct approach with Kirit is also most welcomed as he brings Aurora pens to the forefront in the UK. Also for after care, he is your point of contact.

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  4. Glad to read your review! Aurora Matera is a pen i’d like to have some day (btw, have you visited Matera? It’s a unique city). Thank you for presenting these pens! Hope you and your family are doing great!

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  5. At least here in Hong Kong, Aurora has become noticeably more expensive the last few years. While they are great, , this has cooled down my interest.

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  6. Hello Tom,
    In defence, to be fair, Aurora has not increased product prices for the past 2 – 3 years. Unfortunately, due to various constraints to global supply issues and the supply chain there is a challenging knock-on effect on any final product coming to the marketplace.
    Further, if we look at Limited Editions their own character commands an indomitable element of research & development over a period of at least 18-24 months before launch. Therefore, LE’s sit on different pricing levels. Their normal everyday, workhorse pens, however, maintain a competitive pricing edge.
    I hope you re-visit Aurora’s fine writing instruments to give you that pleasurable writing experience .
    Aurora being a 4th generation family owned business has withstood the impact of the last years, future challenges and engaging in inspirational suggestions.
    I am sure Anthony would be happy to pass over my contact co-ordinates in order to locate a fair priced Aurora pen.

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  7. Anthony,
    Your direction to IguanaSell is highly appreciated. The site is rich with fine photographs and the details helpful for decisions. The array of nib sizes and availability clears away purchasing errors. Emboldened by your review and anticipation of your next, I purchased, though stepped away from the Deserto. I am certain Kirit is accurate in appreciating this brand and the writing pleasures this family brings for us writers.

    The Aurora Matera (FlexF) and Aurora Talentum Dedalo in Blue (XF) will soon be journaling, corresponding and jotting from my windowed study. It is all billowed cumulus topping the shoulders of massive oaks, hickory, sugar maple, sassafras, and sweetgum beyond my window. There needs to be stories told of these Smokey Mountains and a river in which I swim with a non-related young lad who calls me his “extra Grandsir.”

    Perhaps the first ink in the Matera will be the Sailor Manyo – Nekoyanagi and the S.T. Dupont Royal Blue in the Dedalo (remembering Daedalus and his son Icarus).

    Gratefully,
    Stephen

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    • Dear Stephen.
      Read your note, wonderful to hear that you have indulged. Whenever you wish in the future to excite your taste buds with another Aurora, please do contact me, may save you a bob or two.

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      • Dear Kirit,
        Thank you.
        As the two Auroras will arrive and my pen hand wearies from the abundance, I will reach out to you in any manner you deem fit.
        The Aurora 941-B Saint Pietroburgo halts my heartbeats when I see the sterling, blue lacquer, and guilloché flamé. The Saint Petersburg may be a “dream pen” or just within reach as our economies recover from lunacy.
        Meanwhile, I watch each of your responses and savor your guidance to those seasoned with fine instruments and us neophytes.

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  8. Hi Stephen:
    Aah the dreaded word patience. Let’s hope you receive your ordered pens in good shape. Otherwise reach out.
    The Aurora 941-Blue is an excellent choice. My dream pen too. So now I will make it a mission to hunt one down. I do know a dealer who may well have one. I am a little hesitant, at times I don’t quite trust their business ethics, having hailed through a decent upbringing.
    I will be in touch soon.
    Wishes.
    Kirit

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    • Dear Kirit,
      We are very fortunate to both have decent upbringings and real core values. Thank you for your sharing of your network and sources.
      I’ll exercise patience and frugality.
      Gratefully,
      Stephen

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    • Good evening Stephen:

      Trust you are well.
      Just to mention, have you looked at the 936 Aurora 80th Anniversary in solid silver. It is based on the 941 which currently is sold out. The 936 too is an excellent writer. Aesthetically
      beautiful to look at and admire. Heads should roll in any management meeting or signing of rather important documents. Have a closer look when you have a spare moment.

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  9. Dear Pen and Ink Friends,
    I cannot go along without expressing my sorrow at the profound loss you in the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, and the Realm have suffered at the passing of Her Royal Highness Elizabeth II.

    I pray you heal and arise from your mourning with new purpose. May you embody Her Majesty’s grace and resolve to continue onward in fulfilling lives.

    When I was a little boy growing up in prairies of North Dakota, my first two letters were to Her Majesty and to her sister, Princess Margaret (as her wedding was planned for the same day as my birthday). My Grandsir’s Parker 45GT fountain pen dipped in Schaffer Skrip “writing fluid” and my elementary script composed each message. Sincere and warm wishes in each letter expressed an abiding respect and love of Her Majesty’s devotion to the world. A month later, letters on Royal stationary arrived in my post to inspire my life and create lifelong love of the United Kingdom and her people.

    May every blessing and comfort be with you in this time.
    Stephen

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