Jet Pens, an online pen retailer I’ve been following, recently started carrying my favorite rollerball, the Retro 1951 Tornado. Three Tornados, including a fountain pen and a limited edition “Hula” version (both gifts), are in my collection. Many have been given as gifts.
The Tornado is what I describe as a “business casual” pen. It is definitely nice enough not to be mistaken for something from the supply closet, yet has styling that makes it fun. It has a fairly moderate price, making it a great pen to give as a gift. We’ve probably given a half-dozen or more. Most have been for graduations or for bar or bat mitzvahs–a great first fine writing instrument for young people–though it’s been good for a host of other folks.
As I mentioned, this pen qualifies as my favorite rollerball. A brief side note about different types of “ball pen” ink. Fountain pen collectors sometimes say that all a ball pen is is a fancy holder for a refill. While the body of the pen dictates grip and balance of the pen, the refill influences many the writing characteristics, as well as how the ink looks on the page. Ballpoints came about in the 1940s. The cartridge contains a paste-like ink, which is picked up by the textured ball at the tip. The ink is transferred (“smudged”) onto the paper. Unlike a wet ink, which is absorbed by the paper, the paste sits on top of the paper. This is why check washing is possible. Since ballpoints do not need to be capped, they are commonly retractable, and thus convenient in some situations. They are also better for carbons that fountain pens (though I just sign each copy).
In contrast, rollerball pens are a newer technology (starting in the late 1980s), and use a liquid or gel ink and a smooth ball. Early ones had to be capped like a fountain pen. As the technology improved, “capless” rollerballs were introduced, and, along with that, retractable ones. It provides a balance between some of the convenience ballpoints afford with some of the vibrant look on the page and pleasure of writing afforded by a fountain pen.
Out of the box, the Tornado comes with a rollerball refill. This provides a good, vibrant ink. It is a standard enough refill that it can be found without too much difficulty. It also takes a Parker Jotter style refill, which is made by a variety of companies with a variety of colors and types of ink (both ballpoint and gel). The tip is extended and retracted by twisting the back of the pen (above the clip). While it is relatively heavy for its size, it is well balanced, and the tapered barrel allows it to be comfortable in any hand.
The original lacquer finish is quite durable, and can stand up to a fair amount of abuse. The glossy finish looks good against its chrome accents, and peeks out of the pocket with the right balance of serious and playfulness. It definitely achieves being a “nice pen” while not being a stuffy Mont Blanc or a bland Cross Century. It comes in a variety of colors, as well as some fun, limited edition finishes. One of the more clever limited editions is a “Suduko” model, which has a suduko puzzle printed on the pen.
The Tornado also comes as a mechanical pencil and, as I mentioned earlier, a fountain pen. The fountain pen is a fairly nice piece with a good nib. For an entry-level fountain pen, it probably is my second-favorite writer, after the Lamy Safari family.* I only have two quibbles about the fountain pen. First, when posting the cap, it doesn’t stay on in a very stable fashion–it sometimes wiggles. This is not a huge deal (I’ve seen worse), but can be frustrating. Second, the barrel is relatively short. While it can take “international” sized cartridges, they have to be the short size. These are commonly available. However, I prefer to fill from the bottle, but, most convertors do not readily fit. I was able to find a “mini-convertor” that would allow for the short size, but they aren’t everywhere. Again, not a deal-breaker, but something to be aware of.
Overall, I think the Tornado is a great pen for someone who wants a nice pen, but one with lots of character. Its price point makes it a great gift, and it offers a great deal of flexibility in terms of refills as well as companion pieces.
Cincinnati peeps can pick up a Retro 1951 Tornado at Appointments in the Carew Tower. Support local businesses!
*A subject of a future post.