Waterman can often sink off the radar in pen nerd circles. They’re there, everyone’s heard of them, but they can be treated as a bit stale. This is probably because everyone’s heard of them, and pen nerds can be a teeeeeeny bit hipster at times: Have you seen the latest Kickstarter for a tactical survival pocket pen with inbuilt Swiss army knife and toaster oven, made out of solid lead with an unobtanium nib? The section is a pentagram which they arbitrarily chose purely because it was difficult to make and would justify the price of £953. It will strain your wrist AND make your fingers bleed. They’re scheduled for delivery in 2067. I’m so excited. I’ve ordered four.
So… bland little Waterman? Well bless them. I’ve never met a Waterman I didn’t like. I have a mere four of them in my collection: Flappy the 52, Carina the Carene (currently out of action because she’s in need of repair, but an absolute double-frosted rainbow sponge cake to write with) and I’ve recently picked up a Kultur and an Expert. The Expert is named Sappy after Robert Sapolsky who is my favourite expert in the world.
Side note on Robert Sapolsky: if you are a clever person who likes to learn new things, go and investigate him because he’s amazing. He is also the reason why everything I write gets so clogged up with references to neuroanatomy. I discovered him through a few lecture series you can get on Audible and I REALLY recommend these. But wait: there’s more! Many books (read Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers if you want accessible, A Primate’s Memoir if you want funny, or Behave if you’re hardcore) and also a ton of videos on YouTube. There’s a whole lecture series on the Stanford YouTube channel, although those are a little more advanced than the ones on Audible. Go! I will wait. He is my no. 1 hero and also he has the biggest beard you’ve ever seen.
The Kultur doesn’t have a name just yet. Should it have one? Suggest one if you like. Anyway. The Expert and the Kultur are rather different animals. The Expert is black with gold trim and rather smart and classic-looking. It’s available in a few different colours but they’re all pretty conservative. The Kultur comes in a huge variety of different colour schemes. We have demonstrators! Marbled! Sparkly! Swirly metallic! Lara Croft! A shade for people who really hate having functional eyeballs! The one which comes with a free totally bewildered-looking SBRE Brown! And so on. The colour of your dreams probably exists. You may not be able to get your hands on it, but it probably exists.
They also occupy different price points. The Kultur is basically a starter pen. It’s made to be fun. It *is* fun. But it’s also a pretty solid writer, which is more than you can say for many starter pens. The Expert is mid range: more a dull executive’s pen. Are they worth the money? Weeeeeell that is a difficult question because both pens are all over the place, cost-wise. Waterman are not chucking out new Kulturs and seem to be focusing more on higher end models these days, but there is a lot of new old stock out there. This combination of circumstances – funky, decent pen that comes in a million different colour schemes and has been discontinued – lends itself to wildly fluctuating prices on Amazon and eBay as people search for the EXACT colourway of their dreams. I spent £12.95 on my red demonstrator and am very happy. Others seem to be selling at £60 or more which does seem a little steep. Would I pay that much? No.
The Expert also varies in price, which is a bit odd for a pen that’s still in production. I got mine for £35 in an Amazon Prime Day deal. Now admittedly that is a steal. Around the internet prices are wildly variable. It’s interesting to note that many of the real pen nerd pen shops don’t seem to carry the Expert, which suggests that maybe they don’t really rate it much. The exception is Pure Pens. I’m at a bit of a loss with Pure Pens: their options on the Expert seem to be that you can have it for £75 in a gift set with a nice faux leather organiser and hardback notebook or you can go for £85 for the pen on its own. Anyway, that’s probably about what you should expect to pay for one. Don’t go to John Lewis: they’ll charge you £128 AND lie about the specs. Nib material is 22 carot [sic] gold, they say. No it isn’t. It’s gold plated steel and it’s not a bad nib but it’s nothing like gold to write with.
And there’s the problem with it. Is it worth £35? A bucket of yes. £128? A silo of no. I won’t buy a £100 pen with a steel nib. There are lots of them on the market of course, so you could say I’m missing out. But you really need to be sure about a £100 pen – if you’re in my pay bracket anyway. There are some real stunners with gold nibs in that range, especially if you shop for a bargain. Hell, for around £128 you can get your hands on a lovely dreamy Carene with an 18K nib. (Beloved got my Carene for £70 as a surprise gift on last year’s Prime Day. Again: a steal. Again: my Beloved is the best.) There is absolutely no reason why you’d want to pick the Expert over the Carene. You can actually get a pretty good amount of vintage flex for £100, too, if that’s your thing.
So: what am I going to do with these characters?
Richard Binder, that pen repair dude and rather excellent chap (I like to think of him as the AntiTardif) knows many things. Many, many things. Really quite a lot. And it’s interesting that he’s a man who uses only one ink: Waterman Mysterious Blue. This is on account of him having looked at every bloody ink that’s available and deciding that this is the best; this is King Ink; no other inks are needed. He used to use a bit of Skrip Red in his time but apparently it’s now all about the Mysterious Blue.
I have to admit it doesn’t really compute. I mean… you COULD go through life with only one ink. I suppose. It’s a thing that doesn’t break any of the laws of physics. But I just…
But to be fair to our man Binder I really felt that I should give this Mysterious Blue a go. Even though I’m not all that into blue inks. Well, I thought, this bland looking ink could work well with the Expert. And to go extra bland I bought a pack of cartridges.
How about that amazing blue then? Well it isn’t very mysterious, is it? It’s more like Entirely Predictable Blue. It’s the exact ink you expect to come out of the Expert. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not really into blue ink without sheen or shimmer. It reminds me of school and Parker Vectors. I found that it was… fine. I could probably have written with it for fifty thousand years and not encountered an issue. It’s not particularly saturated and it’s not particularly interesting either. Shades a bit I suppose, but that’s probably just that it’s such a blah colour that it can’t help layering a bit like watercolours. It’s not my favourite blue. It’s not even my favourite Waterman blue – at least Serenity has a bit of cheeky purple sheen to it. If you want to write forever and never damage your pen, I will take Binder’s word for it that this is great.
For the Kultur I thought: what is the other extreme? The least Bindery thing I could do? I mean within reason. Probably the actual least Bindery thing would be to take a valuable vintage pen and fill it with gloss house paint or something. But there are limits.
He’s spoken out against Noodlers and Private Reserve but I don’t own either of those. What is the most annoying, least cooperative ink that I do own? No contest: it’s either of the Nemosine shimmer inks. They’re actually quite difficult to get hold of in the UK but I got them shipped, along with a Nemosine Singularity, for Christmas. I have Blue Snowball Nebula and Coalsack Nebula and they’re gorgeous, because of the sheer saturation of the sparkly.
The trouble is that this sparkle saturation makes them a total pain to write with. I could not find a pen that would work with them (and I tried several): I’d get out about three words of foily beauty, and then something would clog and the flow would stop completely. I’d try every trick to get it going, give up, go and clean out the nib and feed, start again, three words, something clogs, flow stops. I found them totally unusable unless diluted. I mixed Coalsack Nebula with a bit of Platinum Free Mix to get a lovely dark pinky purple which worked pretty well. How would the Kultur work with the unadulterated Blue Snowball Nebula?
Sod it, I thought. I’ll eyedropper it. Does it eyedropper? ONLY ONE WAY TO FIND OUT! FOR SCIENCE!
Looks kind of Evil Overlord wouldn’t you say?
I put on an O ring that I found somewhere which probably wasn’t the right size, added a little silicone grease to the treads, and shook her about. Ink not splooshing from anywhere but the nib. This was a good sign. I took her to work which was arguably a little foolhardy at this stage but she did not leak.
Commuting with some buddos
Added some faux flex there. There isn’t actually any line variation with this thing.
IT WORKS! Holy shit, this pen can actually handle Blue Snowball Nebula without any problems! I never thought this day would come. Not only that but I’ve had no problems at all with the eyedroppering, even a few days later. TRIUMPH!
So which is better? How do you pick one, objectively? They’re for different markets. They do different things. I personally like the Kultur better because it’s more fun, but there are environments where it would look a little out of place. The Expert is fuddy duddy and boring but reliable. But then, many people are like that too.
And now Mary Coleridge’s The Blue Bird, which I am writing down in THE STANFORD VERSION (hear it in your head) because it has such a killer floaty-dreamy soprano line.