Showing posts with label Tombow. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tombow. Show all posts

08 October 2013

Zoom 980

Tombow is a very minor Japanese manufacturer regarding fountain pens. So small, some might say, that there is not a single line about it on the book Fountain Pens of Japan, by A. Lambrou and M. Sunami.

The origins of the company date back from 1913, when founder Ogawa Harunosuke (小川春之助) open a stationery shop in nowadays Taito district in Tokyo. Therefore, the company is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. However, the brand name Tombow (トンボ, in Japanese)—after the word tombo, 蜻蛉, dragonfly— was adopted in 1927. At first, the production was limited to pencils and only in 1939 the company produced the first erasers. In 1963, the brand Mono for fine pencils started, and was soon expanded with some other high quality, or so the company claimed, products.

A Mono eraser (made in Vietnam) on a field of dragonflies.

The first fountain pens by Tombow were produced by the end of the 1980s with models Zoom 505, Zoom 909 and Zoom 828 (the Egg, already reviewed on these Chronicles). All in all, Tombow has produced only eight models of fountain pens: 505, 828, 909, 980, Object 202, Modena, Lucca, and the currently available Zoom 101.

The Zoom 828, the Egg. The fountain pen version was first marketed in 1989. The matching ball pen had been released in 1987.

The Zoom 101, made of aluminum and carbon fiber. This is the only fountain pen made by Tombow right now. It was initially launched in 2006.

The more characterizing element in modern Tombow writing tools, and not only on fountain pens, is the original design. Whether they follow a careful study of ergonomics and functionality or to a mere sense of eccentricity is open for discussion. The same, however, could be said about Lamy, with which some like to compare Tombow.

Model Zoom 980 was released in 1997 in a number of functions –mechanical pencil, roller ball, ball point pen and fountain pen— and in a number of colors. The unit reviewed in here is a fountain pen made in dark brown.

The external appearance of the pen is that of an almost perfect cylinder, an idea that had already shown up in several pens described on these Chronicles: the Muji fountain pen, and the Platinum Belage. And there is another characteristic in common to these pens: their caps are meant to be posted, and for such purpose, the barrel has a very distinctive shape. In the case of the Zoom 980, the cap is securely attached to the barrel with a very reassuring clack!

The tail of the Zoom 980 together with the cap. It attaches to the barrel very securely.

The pen is designed to be posted. But the center of gravity of the pen becomes over 2 cm higher.

The gripping section is metallic and shows a subtle concave curve. As was pointed out above, whether this detail is ergonomic or just cosmetic is up to each of us.

The cap screws onto the section without covering it. The threads are located just above the nib. This creates a configuration that could be described as sequential, cap-section-barrel, that allows for an unusually short cap. It is also possible to open the barrel without uncapping the pen. In this regard this pen is similar to the Muji fountain pen.

The steel nib, labeled with the company name, and the threads for the cap right above the nib.

The nib is made of steel and is very rigid. It is labeled as M and probably, given the policy of Tombow, at least F point also existed. This nib is correct but uncharacteristic, boring.

These are the pen dimensions:
  • Length closed: 142 mm
  • Length open: 123
  • Length posted: 151
  • Diameter: 10.5 mm
  • Weight: 21 g (with converter, uninked)

The balance is correct, especially if unposted. The company claimed that the short cap did not disturb the already low center of gravity of the pen thus providing a comfortable grip in any case. Maybe so, but better if unposted, and the numbers are stubborn: the center of gravity is at 60 mm from the tip if unposted, and at 82 mm if posted.

The filling system is by cartridge and converter, and uses the international standard. Cleaning the pen is easy, albeit removing the nib and the feed is not possible without special tools.

The Zoom 980 showing the international converter used to ink it.

All in all, this pen is correct and perfectly suited for its task. It is even appealing in looks. However, compared to other similar pens, I would rather use those by Platinum (Belage, made in the 1980s, or Cool/Balance currently on production) or by Muji. The price of the Zoom 980 was around GBP 50 in 2002, and that sounds expensive for what it actually offers.

Tombow Zoom 980 – Pilot Blue

Bruno Taut
Inagi, October 7th, 2013
etiquetas: Tombow

10 September 2010


Review of the Tombow Zoom 828 (1989).

Some days ago I spoke about a jumbo pen presumably made by Platinum/Nakaya. As I already explained, jumbo pens were oversize in their girth and somehow short in their length. Although their golden age were the thirties and forties, they have been on production –sometimes as souvenirs— until recently. Such was the case, for instance, of the Platinum Glamour from the 1980s.

Another example could be the pen under analysis today—the Tombow Zoom 828, also known as “the egg”. Tomow realeased writing tools with this shape in 1987, but the fountain pen had to wait until 1989. The original price was JPY 3500.

Tombow is a company very fond of new designs and of rethinking the form and use of writing utensils. Thus, very thin, or very short, or very thick pens could be found in its catalog. In this task, Tombow has collaborated with a number of designers well beyond the Japanese borders.

1. Appearance and design. (8.0/10)
This pen is a short and fat version of the stereotypical Montblanc torpedo. Its shape and size are unusual and many express their skepticism at its functionality. But that is the topic of another section of this review.

Suffice to say now that this design is an additional twist to a very traditional idea of a fountain pen.

2. Construction and quality. (7.5/10)
Some people might call this a “precious resin”, but at the end, it is plastic. This one in particular seems quite resistant to scratches. The golden coatings on clip and nib are disappearing. This pen, I must say, endured constant and heavy use during my college years.

So, I give it a 7.5 because it was not an expensive pen and it still works perfectly after years of heavy use—albeit cosmetically is quite worn.

3. Weight and dimensions. (7.5/10)
This is the key point of this pen.

Diameter: 23 mm
Length capped: 110 mm
Length uncapped: 98 mm
Length posted: 135 mm
Weight: 32 g

Figure wise, this is a heavy pen. But being so short, the center of gravity is well between the grabbing fingers. Therefore, the balance of this pen is very good. The overall comfort, though, could be much better had the pen been longer or the posting system more secure. The grip, given its girth, is very comfortable.

4. Nib and writing performance. (8.0/10)
This is a steel nib, gold coated. A very smooth and rigid fine point. It is on the dry side, but nothing uncomfortable. Very constant and reliable flow.

5. Filling system. Maintenance. (8.0/10)
This pen uses international short cartridges. Some small aerometric converter might fit in, but I have not found it.

The barrel has a lot of empty space inside, and the short cartridge looks a bit ridiculous when attached to the pen. So, given this conditions, this pen could be a very good candidate for an eyedropper. The only problem is a metallic piece in the area of the nipple that could be corroded by the ink.

Maintenance is easy, as is the case with most cartridge/converter pens.

6. Cost and value. (8.5/10)
Not an expensive pen originally, and a good reliable writer make a good value. Nowadays, it has the additional element of the originality.

7. Conclusion. (47.5/60=79/100)
Original pen. Good and reliable writer. Correct, even if boring, nib.

(Tombow Zoom 828 – Waterman Havana)

Bruno Taut
(Inagi, September 10, 2010)
[labels: Tombow]

06 August 2010


All three big Japanese pen companies have torpedo-like models on their catalogs. Pilot calls them Custom –74, 742, 743, 823,…—; Platinum, either 3776 —the altitude of Mount Fuji— or President; Sailor, Profit in Japan and 1911 overseas. Of course, we all think of Montblanc and it seems that the German brand is not very happy about these copies. Rumors say that there were a number of legal actions against them.

Several torpedo pens, including a French Bayard, and a Japanese Tombow.

The usual explanation goes by saying that Japanese express their admiration by copying. However, I find this explanation hard to swallow.

Some Pilot models. From left to right, Custom Sterling (1976), Custom 743 (2009), Super 100 (late 1950s or early 1960s), Custom 742 (2009), Super 200 (1960).

The Montblanc Meisterstück was created in the late 1940s and early 1950s. During the 1960s and 1970s, Japanese companies did not copy them. Pilot’s Custom models or equivalent (the Super series) could be equally boring in looks, but they were also different.

The Pilot 65 released on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the company (1983).

Actually, only in the 1980s modern torpedo pens were marketed. It was on 1983 when Pilot created the limited edition Pilot 65 on the occasion of their 65th anniversary. With some minor variations, that model is nowadays the Custom 74.

Montblanc Meisterstück 147, Pilot Custom 74, Sailor Profit, Platinum 3776.

My conclusion is that this copying strategy obeys to marketing arguments: Give ’em what they want! And the general public still thinks of Montblanc when fountain pens are in the conversation.

From top to bottom, Sailor's Junior 21 K gold nib, Montblanc's 14 K gold nib in a 144, Platinum's music nib, Pilot's falcon nib in size 15. All of them in boring-looking torpedo style pens.

Luckily enough, Japanese nibs are a lot more exciting than their boring Montblanc counterparts of these days.

(Platinum 3776 Music nib – Sailor Red Brown)

Bruno Taut
Inagi, August 6 2010
[labels: Japón, Pilot, Sailor, Platinum, Bayard, Tombow, Montblanc]