There were a few important moments when I began collecting fountain pens, that I feel have defined the hobby for me. Initially I got a Parker Sonnet and began researching fountain pens a bit more, then I began talking with someone in person about the Jinhao 1200 and it was this pen that sent me down the rabbit hole (well, more like threw me down and I am still trying to regain my balance). I was besotted with fountain pens, and I didn’t quite understand it – but for once (speaking as a PPE student) I didn’t care about the “why”, I just enjoyed. This is when I found a review of the Jinhao 1200 by the ever amazing Dr. Stephen Brown of SBREBrown. This happened about November time, and by December I had watched the vast majority of his videos and was researching pens almost everyday. But one stood out to me in his reviews, and this model has been in my sights for the three-and-a-half years that I’ve considered myself a collector/user of fountain pens.
The Visconti Opera.
Well, the other day I finally got my hands on one. While it’s not my favourite model in the line-up, I am happy to finally own an Opera, and I can quite positively say that this is the first but not the last (and one day, if I can own the River Thames Opera Master in rose gold.. Oh boy. I’ll be a happy boy) Opera I will own. I enjoy the pen so much that those of you who know me well will note that I’ve even settled for silver trim on a blue body (which generally I think is offensive).
To be honest, this is what got me. The Opera model appealed to me on aesthetics and that was good enough for me. Indeed, it is quite unlike anything else I’ve seen. It’s different to the typical rounded barrels you’ll see and this is because the Opera models take on what Visconti refer to as “squaring the circle” (I usually get the two shapes mixed up, but reset assured I’ve double checked it’s correct this time). I think the best explanation of this is that it appears to be a four-faceted design, only you have smaller cut outs joining the facets so it’s more octagonal.. Yet it remains to appear like a square. It’s honestly so hard to explain, but ugh. It looks great!
It doesn’t stop there. This goes for all the models in my opinion – the attention to detail is insane. The depth and beauty of the design is wonderful, and you can see that with the photos below. There’s something about the design that captures you and you see it with the other models too (okay, perhaps not the straight up demo versions, I’ll concede to that fact). It’s objectively beautiful.
This is often where Visconti pens lose their appeal. However, on some of the earlier Opera models they come fitted with Visconti gold nibs, rather than palladium ones. I’m a huge fan of these nibs because I think they really do indicate quality and compliment what you’d expect with this sort of pen (as well as the price point, cough). There isn’t much in terms of feedback, though generally I do quite like feedback prone nibs.
It’s bouncy and boy oh boy is it wet. All in all, while I’ve become relatively unmoved with quality writing experiences during my time collecting, this nib really did make me sit back and think “this is an amazing writing experience.”
This model is simply the “Opera”. I point this out because there is a big daddy version – the Opera Master. These are larger and more weighty than the normal Opera models, which I think is good because it gives something for everyone (so long as your budget permits….) with these pens. I do prefer the Master versions, but this definitely feels great in the hand. Because of the facets it sits even more comfortably in the hand. A real luxury of a writing experience. This is the Visconti we expect and want – what happened to it?
Another difference with the Opera and the Opera Master models is that the former (subject of this review) will come with a converter system, while the Opera Master models are power fillers (essentially a vacuum system, but Visconti have to be a bit extra about things). Anyway, I suppose that I have explained this a few times, but I will echo it here, and it’s the issue about price point and filling system. Many people will suggest that a higher price point will mean that the pen should come with a piston system (or a vacuum). I disagree, and I think my point is proven since the advent of certain Chinese pens using piston fillers in their sub £5 pens. Piston ≠ quality in the same way that weight ≠ price point or quality. It’s a silly argument. I do agree with certain sentiments about wanting a gold nib, because gold is a more expensive material than steel and so usually a higher price is indicative of a gold nib because, as the consumer, you’re paying for the additional cost that is to use gold and until there is an international conspiracy to decrease the value of gold through market forces, expect to pay more for your gold nibs.
Also, converters are far easier to clean.
This is a difficult one to assess. The Opera models are out of production (at least certainly the one I am talking about here), so you’re going to have to get it second hand. I got mine for £180, which I believe is on the better side for one of these pens (I have seen upwards of £200, usually approaching £300). So this isn’t a pen that you’ll see and just buy, usually it’s one that you’ve been on the look out for a while and that’s why you buy it.
Would I buy it?
Well, I did. And I won’t sell it and I’ll be buying more of these pens. However, I think part of this is due to sentimentality of when I first got into the fountain pen hobby that I want to keep alive, as well as the fact that they’re not sold anymore and are therefore difficult to come by. At any rate, I wouldn’t hesitate at getting another one (or two three or fifty).
If not this, then what?
Nothing. Nothing can quite compare to this. The only metric I could offer in assessing what different pen to get would be on price point. Perhaps a piston/vacuum is important to you? So a Pilot Custom 823 will be good (and I am selling one of these at the moment sooooo……….) or some other higher priced pen. This definitely occupies the “potential grail” category.