In the world of fountain pens, there is perhaps no name more venerable than Waterman. Founded in 1884, the company was, in many ways, at the forefront of the evolution of the fountain pen industry. The company’s official history even includes some (potentially apocryphal) stories about how the company’s founder invented the fountain pen. For more information on Waterman’s history, read this very thorough and fascinating investigation (PDF LINK).
Proving the adage that nothing stifles innovation like success (for Waterman thrived through the 1930s), the company struggled to adapt to changes in materials and preferences, and by the mid-1950s, shut down its American operations. The French subsidiary of the company absorbed the US operations but was later acquired by Bic. Then, in the late 1980s, Bic sold off Waterman to the Gillette company (which was then sold off a couple of times as well.)
The heyday of Waterman’s popularity is long gone. These days, in the fountain pen enthusiast community, when people think of Waterman pens, they think of hard rubber pens from the 20s and 30s with amazing (and often extremely flexible) 14k gold nibs. But the modern incarnation of Waterman simply doesn’t hold much of a mindshare among modern fountain pen users and collectors. Very few retailers seem to carry or promote the pens, and none of the fountain pen reviewers and collectors I’ve interacted with seem to own or follow the brand with any regularity.
This past Christmas, my business partner and I were at a more upscale pen store in Salt Lake (called Tabula Rasa) and came across perhaps Waterman’s most well-known modern pen model, the Waterman Carène. I decided it was time to give modern Watermans a try.
The Waterman Carène is, in my opinion, one of the most attractive pens in Waterman’s lineup. The pen comes in a whole slew of different finishes, but when we purchased our Carène, my business partner, Andrew, got the Contemporary Blue and Gunmetal version while I got the full Contemporary Gunmetal version.
The Carène has a very elegant profile. The pen is metal-bodied, which I don’t normally care for, but there’s something about the way that the gunmetal version of this pen is finished that makes the metal work for me. The entire body of the pen has been PVD (Plasma Vacuum Deposition) coated. This process vaporizes the metals of the finish and, as the name implies, deposits them on the surface of the pen in a vacuum. This results in a very even and tough finish. The only parts of the Carène that aren’t PVD-coated in this gunmetal color are the clip, the cap band, and a small, swooping finial at the end.
The entire pen is also covered with an almost harlequin-like engraving, which makes the pen feel almost faceted and causes it to catch the light. It also helps to reduce the impact of fingerprints and skin oils from making the finish look too dirty or dingy.
The cap is bullet-shaped and has a slot cut out for the hinged clip to attach internally. The clip itself has a low-profile swooping design. The top of the clip has the Waterman double-check logo and a long, ovular cutout. The hinge is smooth and strong, and the clip is sturdy. The bottom of the cap is highlighted with a rhodium-plated cap band on which is engraved the words “Waterman” and “France”
The cap is of the click-on style and snaps solidly into place; removing the cap can be easily done one-handed, though. Doing so reveals the black plastic section and the most recognizable characteristic of the pen, the Carène’s wishbone-shaped inlaid nib.
The section is long, and has a gentle, sloping shape, giving the pen a variety of grip position and widths that can make the pen comfortable for a wide array of users. And the grateful inclusion of a plastic section means that those folks (like me) who have a deep dislike for metal sections, don’t have to deal with slippery, cold metal when we hold the pen.
The section unscrews from the barrel to reveal a very high-quality Waterman-branded converter. Waterman utilizes the international standard for converters, so if you already have converters or cartridges that work with standard international pens, they should work in your Waterman as well.
Then we come to the nib. It’s an unusual shape, but one that I find attractive. The 18k gold nib is rhodium plated and is largely undecorated save for hexagonal frame containing the Waterman ‘W’ logo and the stamps for 18k and 750. There is no breather hole.
I’ve not had a lot of experience with inlaid nibs before, but I find that inlaid nibs are generally more difficult to adjust and tweak due to the fact that removing them is not as simple as just pulling on the nib. To that end, any pen that has an inlaid nib really needs to come well-adjusted. (Really, ALL nibs should come well adjusted, especially in this price range. But doubly so with inlaid nibs.) Fortunately, the nib on my Carène has been quite wonderful.
True to form, I picked up the medium nib. Now, I’m not sure I would personally categorize what I received as a medium nib, but that’s what Waterman calls it.
The nib features a rather sizeable blob of tipping material that writes more like a broad stub than a medium round. As you can see in the image above, the writing foot on the grind is not completely round. I didn’t break out the calipers and magnifying glass, but if I had to guess, the nib tip writes at a .9mm width, which is rather wide for a medium in my opinion.
The tip is beautifully polished, though, and if you like a wet flow with a super-smooth nib, the Carène is one that you might want to consider. Once it gets going, the pen is a rock-solid writer. The only real nit I have to pick with this pen’s writing experience is that I don’t believe the cap is particularly air-tight, and so the first line or two of writing tends to be a little skippy. Once you get past that, though, the inks starts to flow and you don’t have any problems again until you run out of ink. (And at the rate this pen lays it down on the paper, that might happen a bit sooner than you expect.)
I have to say that I’ve been rather impressed with my first foray into modern Waterman pens. This is a lovely writing instrument, with a spectacular nib, good construction quality, and a unique, attractive design. It’s not the cheapest pen in the world, however. My model is listed at $399, but it should retail for less than that…around $320. For the attractive, durable finish, the smooth, wet inlaid nib, and a very comfortable-in-the-hand writing experience, I have really enjoyed the Carène.
Material: PVD Gunmetal over metal base
Nib: 18k Rhodium-plated Gold Medium
Filling System: Standard International Waterman-branded converter
Length (Capped): 145.0mm
Length (Uncapped): 128.4mm
Length (Posted): 148.0
Section Diameter: 10.8mm
Barrel Max Diameter: 12.2mm
Cap Max Diameter: 13.4mm
Weight, Uncapped (with ink and/or converter): 23g
Weight, Capped (with ink and/or converter):33g