Gravitas: a rising star in pen making

Historically Ireland has had a weaker engineering tradition that many equivalent small nations and regions in Europe and there has never been a tradition of Irish pen making. All that has changed, changed utterly, as Ben Walsh’s Gravitas has brought its clutch of innovative designs to the pen community. Gravitas’ pens are typified by excellent design, attention to detail, interesting material and eye-catching and smelling packaging.

Gravitas is based in the port town of Drogheda, some 50 kilometres north of Dublin. It is an historic region and town that has been settled for thousands of years and is home to the 5,000-year-old Neolithic stone-age site of Newgrange (a UNESCO world heritage site), suffered the siege and slaughter of 2,000 by Cromwell in 1649, and was the site of the Battle of the Boyne where in 1690 William of Orange’s forces defeated those of James II (the latter known unaffectionately by the Irish as Seamus an Chaca, or James the Shit).

Ben’s pens also have a strong Irish cultural dimension with the use of Ogham symbols on the packaging and heraldic escutcheon similar to the ermine of Breton coats of arms or the fleurs de lys from the family crest being branded on the pens and the packaging, although not on my bronze pen. (Walsh is a Norman family name from Breathnach, the Gaelic for Breton, foreigner or Welshman. The Normans invaded Ireland in the 12th century and fairly quickly became completely Hibernicised.)

The Gravitas fountain pen started as a kick-starter project before furniture designer Ben Walsh opted to execute the project without the lead time and overheads of the crowdfunding platform and to do it himself. However, there was neither arrogance, nor foolhardiness to his decision as he asked many people in the pen community for their thoughts and feedback. One such person was pen aficionado Anthony Newman who kindly contributed his thoughts and advice (https://ukfountainpens.com/2020/08/11/will-you-be-backing-ben-walsh-designs-kickstarter/).

The end results of his design iterations certainly show Ben to be a good listener as well as an excellent designer of pens. The pens and the packaging have certainly made an impression on the international community with the prolific reviewer Figboot on Pens very recently giving some Gravitas models a run through and positive report. In late 2020 Gravitas’ pens hit the market with a series of offers in pen materials and nib widths. Facebook Fountain Pen UK group pen folk were offered a 10% discount and many of us took the plunge.

The Gravitas Bronze model

I opted for the Gravitas bronze model and this hefty piece (almost 100 grams) arrived from Dublin in fairly quick order despite the staggering surge of post caused by Christmas on-line ordering in Covid-times. The pen came well-packed inside a jiffy bag in a cardboard tube. The pen was wrapped in tissue paper and tightly plugged into the tube’s base to keep it safe in transit. The tissue paper smelt good, of a perfume, and still smells good after 4 months. This is a pleasant and thoughtful touch in Covid times where the virus is renowned for depriving infected folk of their sense of smell. The exterior of the tube sports Ogham alphabetic runes translating to: Gravitas Pens and “May your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow and trouble avoid you wherever you go”.

The bronze material is nickel free Ampco 18 alloy of aluminium (10.5%), iron (3.5%), and the rest copper, and heat treated to provide a high strength, very ductile and unusually tough metal typically used for aircraft parts (gears, bearings, etc). So, this pen will last. The finials are silicon nitride embedded in cap end and barrel end matching the toughness of the pen body. Drop it and your foot or floor will be hurt. This is a big pen, a heavy pen, even compared to other metal-bodied fountain pens as the table below summarises.

PenLength (mm)Width (mm)Weight (g)Uncapped
weight (g)
Gravitas bronze144.661597.1570.70
Pilot Metropolitan1371325.6014.40
Lamy Al-Star1391521.7012.20
Lamy CP11359.319.3010.75
Diplomat Aero1401541.6030.00
Cross Peerless 125143.7013.2045.7028.25

GRAVITAS: Metal-Bodied Pens Compared

Reflecting the listening to others: pleasingly, the cap comes off in just one twist courtesy of triple start threading. This reveals a quite large metal section of just under 30mm which compares to that of the 25mm on a Diplomat Aero though not as big as that of the Lamy Al-Star (35mm). There is a 60-degree bevelled drop from the 15mm diameter body to 12mm of the section at the top, which then gently tapers down to 11.5mm at the bottom of the section. For me the section feels fine, neither initially slippery or even after much use. However, I have dry hands so folk who do not may find the metal section an issue. Stroking the pen between my dry finger tips it gave a pleasant zipping sound. (Ben has experimented and perfected a really neat and nice-looking laser micro-texture patterning on his metal sections and this may well be an option when he restocks this and other models.) For me the section threads were comfortable; indeed, almost unnoticeable. The nibs are Jowo #6 and I had a fine fitted in my bronze model. You can get nib widths extra fine, fine, medium, broad through to stubs in 1.1 and 1.5. The pen came supplied with a Schmidt K5 converter as well as a Gravitas-branded pack of the small international standard ink cartridges. The nibs are all quality checked before being sent out to buyers and this attention to detail adds to the feeling of a quality product that the maker has invested in at every stage of the pen’s journey to you.

The pen felt very comfortable in the hand despite a weight many magnitudes of your ‘average pen’ and I wrote an 8-page A5 letter without feeling cramps or tiredness. Like Seamus Heaney’s pen (from his Digging poem) it rests snug and was a pleasure to write with.  Perhaps somewhat predictably, stereotypically I picked a green ink to write with: Pennonia’s Gödényzöld – Pelican Green. (There is an Irish Hungarian link in the form of Arthur Griffith, founding father of the Irish Free State in 1921, who wrote: The Resurrection of Hungary, where in 1904 he advocated the dual monarchy model of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a basis for Irish independence.)

Sample of Handwriting with the Gravitas Bronze

As a writing sample I chose a poem by Francis Ledwidge, an Irish rural poet from the village of Slane, County Meath near the banks of the Boyne river, whose life and talent were snuffed out by a German shell in 1917 at Passchendaele. (I bought his book: Songs of the Fields, published in 1915 in Manchester 40 years ago.)

The Gravitas Aluminium Celtic Knotwork model

The Gravitas Aluminium Celtic knotwork pen is made from aerospace industry 6061-T651 aluminium with a laser-etched pattern set against the black anodized and polished finish. At 37.70g (and 27.85g uncapped) it is a mere smidgeon of a pen weight-wise against its bronze sibling. However, all the other general design and physical dimensions are congruent: length, width, section, etc. The end finials of the cap and body are also silicon nitride; the cap comes off in one turn, the section is anodised black metal, smooth and easy to hold for me.

The stand-out feature of the pen is the four laser-etched Celtic knotwork pattern that elegantly snake around the pen, tapering and terminating at the end of the cap and body. Ben’s father is a friend of legendary Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick who is renowned for a series of Celtic mythology artworks and he prompted Ben to make a pen sporting Celtic knotwork decoration. (Jim Fitzpatrick is very definitely a legend. As a young barman in 1962 he met Che Guevara in Kilkee, County Clare, when fogbound in Shannon the revolutionary on his way to Moscow, took time out to explore his grandmother Guevara Lynch’s Irish ancestry. Jim later produced a now famous poster image of Guevara.) Celtic calligraphy and knotwork are famous in designs in Ireland (for example, in jewellery, fabric prints, and Belleek pottery) and an echo of the traditions that monks scribed in the 8th century Book of Kells. In Celtic knotwork the starting point is the square King Solomon (the reference of ‘Divine Inscrutability’ and wisdom) and foundation knots which are then extended to a plait structure of the Josephine knot and this is really well executed on the pen.

This beautiful looking pen comes in Gravitas’ striking cardboard tube with Ogham symbols and with the pen wrapped in a perfume scented tissue paper and mounted into a hole in plastic in the tube’s lid to keep it safe and secure. Ordered in March from the company’s website for €85 (plus delivery) it came very fast: a matter of days from Ireland. The nibs are Jowo #6 and I opted for a 1.5mm stub nib. Other nib flavours are available: extra fine, fine, medium, broad through to stubs in 1.1 and 1.5. The pen came with a Schmidt K5 converter plus a Gravitas-branded pack of 6 small, international standard ink cartridges.

The pen is very striking in the hand and a real pleasure to use. I powered the pen with the same ink as its bronze brother: Pennonia Gödényzöld – Pelican Green. The stub nib showed off the ink’s shading properties to great effect. Indeed, you could use an italic nib in a Gravitas pen to have a go at doing your own Celtic knotwork patterns (see Aidan Meehan, Celtic Design Knotwork, Thames and Hudson, a wonderful wee book explaining the secrets of the Book of Kells knotwork patterns in his beautiful calligraphy).

Conclusions and Summary

The Gravitas bronze and Celtic knotwork model fountain pens were and are a real pleasure to have and to use. They were/are great value for money. They look and feel good in the hand and perform very well on the page. It is great to see a well-designed and engineered Irish pen making such an impact and strong impression in the pen community. However, fore by any imprudent chauvinism this is very definitely a great addition to fountain pen users to consider and the models can easily stand comparison with pen models that are double and more the price.

And the Gravitas pens have so many little and cumulative points of difference to truly stand out. I was really impressed by the whole package (design of the packaging, the scented tissue paper, the pens) and experience with Gravitas. You get a very clear impression of a pen maker who responds quickly and honestly to questions, thinks things through and who is learning all the while as well as open to critical challenge. This is really refreshing and exciting and it gives you a real buzz to be an early adopter of these excellent pens.

Gravitas has other very desirable products such as its micro-textured fountain pen, the Skittles model and its newly launched “entry level” model in teal, black or dark grey and we are sure to see more from Ben Walsh’s very innovative company. He is also offering a starter pack of Diamine ink and Rhodia A5 pad and a pen sleeve so you get an impression of someone thinking about his end users. Check out the site pen peeps: Gravitas

I look forward to seeing more Gravitas pens and hopefully to buy more.

Final disclaimer: the pens reviewed here were bought the same way as any other buyer in the FPUK Facebook group and without additional favour or discount. There was absolutely no incentive or benefit gained in making this review.  

Published by mickmckigney

I am an Irishman living in West Yorkshire. I have been using fountain pens for about 50 years but in the last five have increased my collection of pens, ink and paper. I am also interested in bookbinding and leatherwork.

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