The Desiderata Soubriquet in Lapis Nugget Acrylic (starting at $240) is the third iteration of Zebra G flexible nib fountain pen that I’ve tried from Desiderata. Each version I’ve tested as been iterative of the previous, with improvements and modifications to the filling system as well as making the pens more aesthetically appealing. The Soubriquet is the latest incarnation from Desiderata and features a push-button vacumatic style filling system hidden under a blind cap at the end of the pen. It makes for the sleekest looking pen to date.
The one thing that remains consistent with the Desiderata pens is the need to use a Zebra Z nib with the pen. This is a wonderfully flexy nib but it is not for everyone. Zebra G nibs require more work than a standard nib or flex nib. It’s a flexible dip nib that retails for about $2 per nib. As a result, it can often be scratchy. One of the first things I was taught by senior lettering artists at Hallmark was how to adjust and smooth dip nibs like the Zebra G. Because the nibs are not terribly expensive, they are great for learning to smooth nibs. Because they are cheap, almost every single one will require some kind of tuning or smoothing. And they don’t last forever. Eventually they will rust or break so tuning a Zebra G will become something you’ll get to practice regularly.
Pierre is now offering the option to get his pens fitted with a #6 Jowo nib unit as well as the Zebra G nib so if flexible nibs are not your thing or you want toe ability to switch back and forth, you now have options. I like a challenge so I only get the Zebra G options. Check out Gentleman Stationer’s review of the Jowo nib version.
The vacumatic filling system is spring loaded and requires pumping several times to get a good vacuum to suck up the ink. Once filled, I was able to write for quite while before needing to refill. However, I did discover that not having an ink window with the ink-hogging Zebra G nib was quite a disadvantage. If I had stoppage issues at any point, I could not tell if it was an empty ink reservoir issue without just refilling the pen. I recommend if you plan on using a Soubriquet with a Zebra G that you purchase one that is either translucent in some parts or includes an ink window so you can verify the ink capacity. While the solid Lapis blue is lovely, there is enough to fuss with in regards to flex nib/dip nib vacumatic fountain pens that verifying that you have ink in the pen should not be among your concerns.
I had to do a good deal of smoothing and tweaking with the Zebra G nib in this particular Soubriquet to work with my hand. I use a series of sanding blocks, micro mesh and super fine grit sanding pads. These are the same tools that most folks use for smoothing pens (not grinding nibs… just smoothing them). As a lefty, I am much more likely to catch the paper if there is a sharp edge on the nib corners and Zebra G nibs are very flexible and very fine. Like I said, experimenting with Zebra G nibs is an inexpensive venture. And if I don’t get the burrs off, I stab the paper and spatter ink.
Once smoothed, the range of flex is impressive, even with a light touch. The pen itself is generously sized, being fairly long but lightweight so it does not feel heavy or poorly weighted. The shape is a modified cigar and the cap will post though it does not stay in place very well.
Besides the Soubriquet, I’ve reviewed the earlier Desiderata Precession squeeze-filler, the Desiderata Daedalus and I have a modified Ranga pen that holds a Nikko G nib. I thought this would be a good time to compare the pens and writing experiences.
The Precession was on loan so I don’t have it any longer but the clear acrylic was stunning empty and looked a little horrifying filled. However, having used the lovely Lapis, I’m seeing the advantages of the clear acrylic material. It may have looked like a mutilated zombie when filled with ink but I could see exactly how much ink I had in the pen, even if it obscured the pretty red and blue threads or made them look like veins. The squeeze filling system was a bit “old school” but not difficult to use and well-constructed. Yes, there’s something novel about the spring-loaded vac filling system on the Soubriquet but if a Precession turned up on the secondhand market, it would certainly be worth the effort.
If you’re on a budget, the Daedalus is still a solid option from Desiderata. Yes, its an eyedropper filler which requires having some silicone grease on hand for the threads but if you’re up to buying a flexy Zebra G pen, you’re ready to have silicone grease on hand. The eyedropper filler also means it holds a massive amount of ink which, for flex writing, is a very good thing. The Daedalus is a simple pen aesthetically (its not going to wow anyone when you open your pen case) but once you start using it, people will ask, “What is that?”
The last flex/dip nib pen I own is the Ranga/Nikko G that Leigh Reyes modified. This is a DIY project pen but provides more options for nib choices as you can carve the feed to fit your preferred nib shape. (Side note: even though dip nibs all look similar, the curves are all slightly different so in order to get a perfect with a feed unit, the feed must be shaped to accommodate the nib.) The Ranga is also an eyedropper pen, like the Daedalus.
My Daedalus has been modified to hold a vintage Esterbrook dip nib which is not as flexible as the Zebra G and it works like a champ. I’ve had mine for several years and both the nib and the pen show some mileage. Its an earlier prototype so its got its own quirks but to quote Han Solo, “she’s got it where it counts, kid.”
My Ranga was modified by my pal Leigh Reyes and then tweaked a bit more to increase flow in the feed a bit more. It uses a Nikko G at present which is also a bit less flexible than the Zebra G. It gives a nice range of stroke variation with a light touch.
My conclusion? If you do a lot of lettering or calligraphy or want to get better at those skills, investing in a Desiderata pen is going to make the experience better. You’ll get to spend more time lettering and less time dipping your pen. That said, any flex/dip pen nib is a bit finicky whether you are using it in a $2 dip pen holder or a $200 fountain pen so you need to be prepared to do a little tweaking. Yes, the Ranga is a cheaper option but you will have to learn to cut channels into a feed and shape it to fit the nib of your choice. So you have to ask yourself, do you want to spend more time lettering or making your lettering tools?
- Paper: Rhodia Uni-Blank No. 16 with 6mm guide sheet
- Pens: Desiderata Soubriquet Lapis Nugget Acrylic ($240)
- Ink: Robert Oster Carolina Blue ($17 for 50ml bottle)