Of late, Conway Stewart has produced several interesting limited edition pens using enamel over guilloche engraving. Their latest offering in this vein, the Oliver Cromwell, is easily one of their more stunning pens of recent years. That sounds like a high mark to achieve, and it is, but the Cromwell manages to deliver.
The Cromwell does balance well however, which makes the weight feel like less than it actually is. If you refrain from posting the cap the pen might be a tad short, but it rests very easily in the hand, even when you're writing several pages. Post the cap and the Cromwell becomes quite top-heavy, and we found that it actually seemed to pull the nib upwards from the paper, requiring more attention to grip and nib angle when writing. A completely opposite experience from that had when the Cromwell was used sans cap, with the balanced weight actaully helping the pen to move across the paper smoothly.
The section on the Cromwell is turned from solid silver as well, which means it has a great deal more weight low in the hand than overlay pens using an acrylic section. In the past, this has been one of the biggest complaints about Conway Stewart metal pens, and it is good to see that the company has taken a responsive attitude towards this aspect of their design. Of course, that said, I know a couple of collectors who simply hate metal sections, regardless of weight and balance issues. I guess there's no way to make everyone happy...
In any case, tucked into one end of the love it or hate it sterling silver section is the heart of the fountain pen, the nib. The Cromwell is fitted with their largest size 18K nib, and Conway Stewart is making it available in their full range of nib sizes, from extra fine through double broad. Add in trio of italic sizes and you end up with a selection that should have something for everyone. The sample had a "plain" medium nib that was quite smooth. Part of this might have been due to the fact that the Cromwell, (like other new Conway Stewart pens) has a very generous ink flow. The resulting line was definitely on the wide side of medium, and if you want a thinner line, you should probably consider going one step down from your usual nib grade choice.
The feed was the new design that Conway Stewart have switched to in an attempt to combat issues with spotty ink flow issues over the past year. They have coupled the new feed design with an improved, screw-in converter, and the result looks to have made a distinct improvement. We found that the Cromwell sample seemed to fill better right from the start, instead of it taking a couple of cycles through the converter mechanism to get a converter "full" of ink, we were able to simply run the converter knob all the way down and back up again. The seal between the converter and the section seems much tighter than that on older Conway Stewart pens, and hopefully this new design will make a difference in the long run.
In our testing, the Cromwell performed perfectly, with only the slightly generous ink flow being anything we could find at which to cavil. Ok... There was one other little thing. You remember at the start when we mentioned that silver trim? Well, the general consensous around here seems to be that as good as the Cromwell looks with silver trim, that deep red color really crys out for gold trim. It's a minor aesthetic point, and probably personal taste more than anything else, but in our opinion, gold trim would have been the "perfect" choice for this pen. Maybe next time...
copyright 2007 William Riepl
Images copyright 2007 William Riepl