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Saturday, June 18, 2011

The ultimate TWSBI review! Part 1!

This is going to be a super-sized review of a pen that's caused a lot of excitement in the fountain pen community. This review is promising to be extremely long, so I will be posting it in separate parts -- probably around five -- as I go. I hope you will enjoy this review as much as I'm enjoying putting it together for you!

Also, make note of my method for ranking this pen. I will consider each aspect of the pen from two different angles. It will be given a rating for both:

  1. What the pen is, in comparison to others in its price range
  2. What the pen could be
The reason for these classification is to ensure that the review is accurate. By comparing the pen to others in its price range, you'll be able to see what incredible value this pen has to offer. By comparing the pen to what it could be, you'll get my honest opinion on what could be improved about the design.

That being said, let's move right in and get started!

Part 1:
  • How did the TWSBI come about?
  • What is the TWSBI all about?
  • What exactly is the TWSBI Diamond 530?

I'm going to start with a full run-down of what the TWSBI is, and how it came to be. It has taken me a long time to gather this information so be sure to read it all. You won't find it in one place like this anywhere else...

How did the TWSBI come about?

As most of you know, I frequent an awesome forum, made specifically for the fountain pen enthusiast, known as the Fountain Pen Network. This forum (along with a separate Chinese forum) is the place where the TWSBI Diamond 530 was born. 

In October 2009, we were presented with the following information from FPN member speedy -- the username of the man responsible for the amazing TWSBI Diamond 530. Here is a snippet of the original post. To find the entire thread/conversation (which is extremely long), go here. Please keep in mind that speedy is not American; therefore, his English is a tad rough at times. It is still perfectly understandable though. :)

"Hi I am a fountain pen user, also a pen maker.
I am developing an inexpensive piston ink feeding system FP. This project is actually a discussion result with Taiwan and China fountain pen users, kind of build by users wish list. This is a very interesting project, many ideas are from the web friends, even the red logo mark you are seeing is from these friends.

I have a forum showing the progress of this project, unfortunately it is only in Chinese, but it does have some photos that everybody can understand, hahaha!

In some of those pictures you will see the piston system made by brass then aluminum (weight different reason). But the real basic version these piston parts will be made by plastic, for both cost and weight reason. The aluminum version will be used in higher grade version in the future.

The tooling for plastic parts are in process; this project has been running for about three or four months. All the toolings are scheduled for test end of this month, Oct., expect the plastic packaging box. Early next month we will perform the fountioning test, then debug... Let's cross the finges, if everthing thing goes smooth, it should be ready to go on market within three months.

By the way, the target retail price for this pen is US$35-40/pen. When available, I will sell it on ebay first.

this link shows the latest update

this link shows the packaging design

this link shows the nib graphic design

this link shows the piston system sampling"

Posted Image

After members of FPN saw this, speedy was easily able to gain three-hundred volunteers to purchase the first batch of pens. Then, it was a matter of waiting until all of the fine tuning was done and the first batch released.

Somewhere around July 4th, the original three-hundred pens were shipped out. A huge hype had been building up about this pen, and it got bigger every day the pens came closer to arriving. Sadly, there was a problem to dampen the happy arrival of these new pens. Shortly after being shipped out, a seemingly small problem with the piston was discovered. Here is a snippet from the post:

"Dear 300 Pre Sale pen Owners,

The pens are on their way to your hands, I hope you will enjoy them after receive.

The pens were made while I was away in Japan trip then sent out to you immediately after they were completed. After my return I grab a latest pen from the production line, check the whole pen by myself, unfortunately I found this pen has minor leaking on the piston sealing between line1 and line2 (pls refer attached photo, this photo shows the worst result it developed after I fool around it a lot). This is not acceptable by me, definitely will not by you.
This leakage on line 1 is not going to cause any writing problem, or ink storage problem, but it looks un-pleasant.
Further checking on existing pen on hand, we found only a small percentage of the pens has this situation, majority of the pens are ok.

The cause of this leakage was due to unqualified piston seal; some of them has smaller diameter then the spec. Actually the diameter of this very soft seal is almost not possible to be measured due to its softness. Batches of sample we made before did not show clearly the line 1 seal leakage issue, so no pre-inspection before assembly on this parts has been defined on the SOP. Since this find out, we add the in process checking on semi assembled barrel with clear water testing to prevent it from further happening. In the meantime some modification on the seal ring size will be applied; parts with new diameter is being made for testing. p.s. the qualified seal in original design is functioning well without problem.

I feel sorry and apologize for this line 1 leakage will happen on some of the pen you will receive. It is my fault. if you find it happen on your pen please send me an email ( ) , I will send you new parts for replacement. In the meantime you can still write with it without problem.

Any comments on this pen please do not hesitate to let me know, so we can make further improvement to your wishes.

Best regards

Attached Image: post-36526-023483800 1278230343.jpg

Attached Image: post-36526-095843500 1278230374.jpg

So, with that being said, the pen proceeded as planned even with the slight problem. As expected, there was some slight leaking with the piston version 1.3, when the pens were inked by the new three-hundred owners. So far nothing bad, but just an ugly mistake.

Only a handful of the pistons ever leaked past the second seal. Those that had any seal leaking were treated by speedy's excellent customer service. In response to the problem, speedy created a new piston seal (v 1.5), which would fix the current problem. Here's the next snippet of info:

TWSBI Diamond 530 Piston Seal Leakage Report 2010/07/20

"As you may have known that from the first 300 FPN pre-sale pens we found certain pen has seal leaking issue. Here in short are the explanations and solutions.

Piston version 1.3 : The final version before mass production. The design of this version works fine without problem providing the parts dimension is within the spec. All of the early day samples were made by this version.

Piston version 1.3b1 : First mass production batch of version 1.3, but being found some parts are out of spec on sealing ring size.

Piston version 1.3g1 : version 1.3 piston made by harder material to enhance the contact force to the barrel inner wall.

Piston version 1.5 : new version design, sealing rings outer diameter and wall thickness be increased to enhance the contact force to the barrel inner wall. Aiming to eliminate 100% water test procedure during production.

Barrel version 1 : Current version with large inner wall tapering angle to facilitate ejection of core pin during injection molding, so not to leave scratch mark on inner barrel wall.

Barrel version 2 : Future version with reduced inner wall tapering angle, if successful, will made piston design easier and even harder material can be used, this will make piston design and manufacturing easier.

Phase 1 : Pen made with piston version 1.3b1 without water leak test.
Minor leak: small sign of ink pass through seal 1, no ink reaches seal 2
Medium leak: larger amount of ink pass through seal 1, did not break through seal 2
Major leak: ink passes through seal 1 and seal 2
Number of pen sold: 300 FPN pre-sale plus roughly 50 others, total around 350 pens. From customers' feedback around 110 leak pen, most of them are minor to medium leak, only 2 or 3 major leak. TWSBI will send replacement parts for repair.

Phase 2 : Pen made with piston version 1.3b1, but with water leak test, without pen tapping against desk top. A few feedback came in reporting still some leakage. Immediately we made house check on 10 completed pen (same batch from 160 speedy carry to LA) ink filled, drop test from 20cm high to desk top(blind cap head down), 1 out of 10 pen has minor leak, I estimate the leak rate can be 10%. If sold pen still found leakage, TWSBI will send replacement part for repair.
Number of pen: 160 pens speedy hand carry to USA plus roughly 20 pens sold by Taipei office. Total around 180 pens.

Phase 3 : Piston version 1.3b1, water leak test, pen tapping against desk top. Few pen left house already. These few days we are still confirming the result.

Phase 4 : Piston version 1.3g1, water leak test, pen tapping against desk top. We anticipate will have no leak issue.

Phase 5 : Piston version 1.5 + barrel version 1. I strongly believe this will permanently prevent seal leaking problem.

Phase 6 : Piston version 1.5 + barrel version 2. We will enter the real test soon, as I heard the barrel version 2 sample came out already. This will be the ultimate solution I wish to see it success.

I feel really sorry for the inconvenience that bring you and hope the solutions will bring back your trust to the TWSBI brand we try to establish.

Sincerely Yours

People were actually getting more hyped about the pen than ever. The reason? Because speedy was showing such excellent customer service! This drew people in by the dozens. The piston has undergone a few minor changes after that incident, but nothing major enough to report, as it didn't affect the pen performance in any way.

That's basically the "history" of how FPN became familiar with the TWSBI project. This brings me to the present day, were I will continue on with the review by describing the following:

What is the TWSBI all about?

At heart, the TWSBI is a fountain pen created for the avid fountain pen enthusiast. Speedy wanted this pen to be enjoyed by and available to anyone. This is one of the main reasons he's kept costs so low.

Here is what TWSBI is saying the Diamond 530 is all about. This snippet below comes with every TWSBI Daimond 530. It's printed on the back of the instruction sheet for taking the pen apart.

"The TWSBI Dimaond 530

The idea behind the TWSBI Diamond 530 was to go back to basics and capture the simplicity and elegance of traditional writing instruments.  In recent years, the development and modernization of writing instruments has resulted in traditional writing instruments, such as fountain pens, falling into obscurity.  It was our goal to bring the past back to life by creating a traditional fountain pen that even modern day society can appreciate.
We discovered a tight-knit group of fountain pen lovers on the Internet and asked them why they loved fountain pens so much.  They answered that the fountain pen is a great traditional writing instrument that is able to transport people into the more relaxing lifestyle of the past.  As a result, the pen can teach its user to slow down, appreciate the little things, and enjoy life.  Even the simple act of disassembling and reassembling the pen is an experience that can break its owner out of the monotonous cycle of fast-paced modern day life.
It was with this in mind that we assembled a team and designed a pen according to their wishes.  The result was the TWSBI Diamond 530, a classic fountain pen with a piston ink-filling system.  By fusing the traditional mechanisms of the fountain pen with a modern industrial design, we have created an eye-catching fountain pen that is simultaneously appreciative of the past and relevant in the present.  Most importantly, we wanted to be able to bring this quality writing instrument to our customers at a very favorable retail price, by means of the shortest possible distribution channel.
The Diamond 530 comes with a benchmark ink-filling mechanism and has all detachable parts.  We felt that it was important to allow the user to disassemble and reassemble the pen and completely experience the traditional aspects of owning and using a fountain pen.  The Diamond 530 is a pen with a purpose.  We hope that it can teach its users, however young or old, to understand the value of enjoying life.  We at TWSBI approach each project with the end user in mind.  In this particular case, we had the following goals:

  • For the pen to be functional, as well as aesthetically pleasing
  • For the pen to help the user express him- or herself
  • For the pen to bring people together
  • For the pen to be affordable
  • For the pen to teach the user how to enjoy a slower-paced lifestyle
With the TWSBI Diamond 530, we believe that the project was a success."

There you have it. That bit of text describes exactly what the TWSBI is all about. I think TWSBI's goal is a noble one. I'm personally very glad they've decided to make this pen available to a larger audience by keeping it affordable. Now that we know what the TWSBI is all about, the only remaining question is:

What exactly is the TWSBI Diamond 530?

To sum it up in a few words, I'll put it like this.

The TWSBI Diamond 530 is:
  • A Pelikan M800-sized fountain pen
  • A piston-filler
  • A demonstrator (a pen of which the internal components can be seen)
  • An inexpensive pen
  • A well-built pen
  • A pen made specifically for the FP enthusiast
To wet your appetite here's a picture of the TWSBI Diamond 530!

That's all for this part of the review. More to come very soon, so stay tuned! Make sure you subscribe to my blog to ensure you don't miss out on the next part of the review:

Part 2:
  • Packaging
  • Presentation

Don't forget to drop me a comment and tell me what you think of this review. I'd really love to hear your opinion!

777 - Tyler Dahl


  1. Holy crap this must be the uber-most review of the 530! It could turn into a repository of information about this pen.

  2. It basically is! It's going to cover every aspect of the pen. I'm trying to make sure I don't leave out a single detail.

    It's a ton of work to do, but I'm really enjoying it! I'm thinking around 5-6 parts total when it's finished. :)


  3. Thanks for the great new series about this pen. I've enjoyed the history about how this pen came to be. Keep it coming!

  4. Glad you liked it! I've got part 2 almost done now. Should be here by Tuesday. Hopefully... :)

    777 - Tyler Dahl

  5. I'm really looking forward to part 2.  I'm still trying to decide about this pen and the upcoming Diamond 540.  If you hear any news about the latter would you please post the information here.  Thanks.

  6. Hey Freddy. Glad you're looking forward to part 2. So am I! I'm aiming for Tuesday but we'll see what happens. :)

    I certainly will post what I can about the 540. The last part of the review will be an overview/what's coming next. I'll gather what I can and post it there.

    777 - Tyler Dahl

  7. This was fantastic--and it's only the beginning? The detail is unreal; and phenomenal. Thank you, Tyler, for the most comprehensive compilation of this material available. And I didn't even check any of the links---I'm afraid I may get "Lost In cyberSpace"! The rest of what you have to say is going to read like a novel, and I can't wait for the next chapter.  Even though I only found this site in the last two months, it has made its' way into my top 5 and I subscribed!

  8. Hello Karen. Wow, thank you for the kind words. It's comments like your that make my blogging a pleasure and a joy!

    I'm also looking forward to seeing how long this will end up being. :) I thought 3-4 parts maybe in the beginning but I think that was a bit of an underestimate.

    Thanks for subscribing too. It encourages me to know that there are people reading my stuff.

    777 - Tyler Dahl :)

  9. Awesome start to the review.  I am new to FPs and hadn't heard of this pen before.  I must say I am very intrigued now.

  10. Hello Andrew! Glad you're intrigued. :)

    Part 2 was supposed to be here today but I wasn't able to get it up. Hopefully tomorrow then...

    This is definitely a good pen for new FP users.

    777 - Tyler Dahl

  11. Thank you so much for all this valuable information. The funny thing is, I searched your blog yesterday for any reviews or tutorials on your inking, since I really want to try it thoroughly myself. And suddenly you posted a blog entry about it. Talk about luck! :D Thank you! 

  12. Thanks for the post. & giving wonderful ideas. good luck for future.

  13. I have been a fan of this blog for just a few days now ... I really am enjoying myself here.
    Thank you so much!