These Just In: Sheaffer Balance Oversize Lifetime (Marine Green) and Diplomat Aero Volute

Photo of the Sheaffer Balance Oversize Lifetime (top) and Diplomat Aero Volute (bottom)

I’m combining the introduction of these two fountain pens since they are similar to other pens that I’ve written about. Plus, I’m getting really tired of this string of This Just In posts.

The Sheaffer Balance Oversize Lifetime is my favorite pen style. I love the acrylics, and the nibs are great writers. The Marine Green from the early 1930s is the best ever. I’ve also seen it referred to as “Green Marble.” Unfortunately, the cap on my original Marine Green Balance Oversize broke into two pieces, making it unusable. I’ve been on the lookout for a replacement since then.

Comparing my two Marine Green Sheaffer Balance Oversize fountain pens
The new Sheaffer (left) compared to the original, now broken, Sheaffer (right)

This Sheaffer Balance Oversize Lifetime in Marine Green was an eBay purchase that arrived in early March. This was from a trusted seller that I bought from in the past. Even so, I still always assume the pen looks better on eBay than in reality, and bid accordingly. Even if it’s because I missed something in the photos. In this case, the color looked less vibrant and darker than my original Marine Green Balance. From experience, I knew this seller usually had well lit and accurate photos, so I figured this was true. It was also a solid gold-colored nib, and I prefer the two-tone nib. On the positive side, it was a fine nib, and I love vintage Sheaffer fine nibs.

I’ve really, really wanted a Marine Green Sheaffer Balance Oversize ever since mine broke, and my recent pen show visit had been a bust. So I decided to bid on the pen since the next pen show was obviously going to be in the distant future. I set a maximum bid pretty close to my personal ceiling for an eBay Balance, despite the less than vibrant color and the lack of a two-tone nib. I ended up winning the auction. As a side-note, the same seller had a second Marine Green Balance Oversize go on sale a couple of weeks later. This one had a two-tone nib and what appeared to be slightly more vibrancy. By the time I decided to bid, it was already near the maximum I would spend on eBay for this pen, even if in seemingly excellent condition. So, I didn’t bother even bidding. It eventually sold for over $500, which is well above my eBay fountain pen comfort level. So, if that’s the new price level for this pen, it will take a pen show or other in-person sale before I get one. So for now, this pen is it.

Photo of the Marine Green Sheaffer Balance Oversize Lifetime on a pen stand

The fountain pen arrived, and it was what I expected. The Marine Green material is clean, but it is subdued and on the dark side as I expected. The flat-top ball on the clip, along with the marine green, date the pen from 1934 or 1935. It’s a lever-filler, which is my preference over the vacuum (plunger) fillers. The cap does fit my original Marine Green Balance, although the colors are way off. If I wanted to use the stub nib on the original, I could use this cap.

Writing samples: Sheaffer (top) and Diplomat (bottom)
Sheaffer Balance Oversize Lifetime (Fine) writing sample on top. Diplomat Aero Volute (Fine) writing sample on bottom.

I inked the pen up with Sheaffer Green to inaugurate it. As I expected, it was a smooth and consistent writer. The Balance Oversize form factor is comfortable in my hand. The pen wasn’t inked up when I started drafting this post, but before it was done, I missed the pen and had to ink it up.

I’m not disappointed with the Marine Green Sheaffer Balance Oversize Lifetime since it was what I expected. Although it isn’t the ideal replacement for the Marine Green that I loved.

The second fountain pen, a Diplomat Aero Volute, is a more recent arrival. One problem with discovering a new pen brand, and then realizing that they make great pens is that I start exploring other options. While Diplomat is not a new brand, I only recently bought one of their pens. This was the Orange/Black Diplomat Aero, which I got at the Long Island Pen Show. I was pleasantly surprised by this pen when I used it. So I was browsing other Diplomat pens when I came upon the Aero Volute. The barrel and cap have a base color of grey with a black design on top of it. The black design is applied using a process called hydro-dipping or water transfer. (While a pen isn’t used as an example, this video shows the hydro-dipping technique.) Black and grey are my aesthetic these days. Recently purchased furniture and linen have been black and grey. The Volute is a limited edition and has a list price that is $100 higher than the regular Aeros. So, while prices varied, they were still expensive, especially since I already had an Aero. While I used to go crazy with fountain pen models that I like, I now try to limit myself to one fountain pen per model. But I still added the pen to my watch list.

I then came across a Pen Chalet sale, which dropped their price down to $177 (the price has moved back up). Not the absolute lowest price I saw (which was $175), but the lowest I saw from a retailer that had the pen is stock and ready to order. Like a former boss once said, businesses can list any price they want it they don’t have to actually take the order. So with the lower price and one of Pen Chalet’s always easy to find 10% off coupons, the price dropped to a more reasonable amount, so I ordered it. The fountain pen drop-shipped from Yafa, the distributer, but arrived in a reasonable time. It was only a couple days later than the Benu pen that was in the same order.

The packaging was the same as my Orange/Black Aero, although with a limited edition card included. Mine is number 524 of 1000. There’s no number on the pen itself that I could see.

Photo of the Diplomat Aero Volute with the authentication card

Like other Aero pens, it is made of aluminum. The hydro-dipping process means no two pens are the same. My pen thas some lines between the cap and the barrel that do line up and cross from one to the other. While there are other lines that just end, and don’t cross over. Also, while not a literal seam, there’s a visual seam running down the length of the cap & barrel. It’s where lines seem to end and don’t match up. But the design is random, and I only notice these things upon close inspection. They don’t stand out or bother me at all, so this isn’t a complaint or something I consider a flaw. I assume it’s the result of the way the pen was dipped.

I bought the fountain pen with a fine steel nib to provide a slightly different writing experience than my Orange/Black Aero and its extra-fine nib. Like my original, this is a nice smooth nib. Diplomat continues to impress me with the quality of their pens, and I’m glad to see they expanded into more elaborate designs. I wouldn’t buy the Volute at the typical street price, which is around $236. While I do love the design, that would be an $80 premium over the regular production Aeros. I’m sure there’s more labor involved, just like their flame version. However, I find that I do grow tired of distinctive designs, so I couldn’t justify the premium to myself since I already had one Aero. But thanks to Pen Chalet’s often weird pricing and ubiquitous 10% discount coupons, I was able to get one for only a couple dollars above the standard pens. That made in an insta-buy.

I’m thrilled with the Diplomat Aero Volute, and I’m enjoying the pen.

Photo of the Diplomat Aero Volute - capped
Sheaffer Balance Oversize Lifetime (Fine) writing sample on top. Diplomat Aero Volute (Fine) writing sample on bottom.

This Just In: Diplomat Aero Orange/Black

Diplomat Aero showing printing on cap

I bought the Diplomat Aero from Fountain Pen Hospital (FPH) while at the 2020 Long Island Pen Show. Diplomat pens have been around since 1922 but only popped up in the U.S. a few years ago. While their pens are made in Germany, I found it interesting that the contact address on their corporate website is in France.

The Aero design comes in versions for mechanical pencils, ballpoint pens, and rollerballs in addition to fountain pens. The Diplomat website also lists a gold nib version of the fountain pen. I didn’t stumble across a gold nib for sale at a U.S. retailer, but my search was only cursory.

I liked the Zeppelin inspired design of the Aero right from the start when I first saw it at the Washington D.C. pen show several years ago. But, I’ve avoided buying one until now. I also didn’t keep up with the available colors.

Last time I went to the Long Island show I didn’t buy any pens. This time I hadn’t bought anything when the time to leave approached. I was itching to buy a pen, and the only pen that really called to me was nearly $1K. I wasn’t going to answer that call. So, I decided to buy the Aero. Only three pens were on display at the FPH booth, black, blue, and red. I decided on red. Admittedly, more because I didn’t want to walk away empty-handed, rather than a deep desire for the pen. The pen show price was further reduced by an FPH gift card given at the door, making the price slightly better than the typical online price.

I asked for a red model with an extra-fine nib. Luckily they didn’t have one, but mentioned that they had EF nibs in “orange and black.” I heard that as meaning two pens and asked to see the orange pen. When the orange/black appeared, I knew I’d be getting the pen. It jumped from being a consolation pen to a pen I really did want. So, I walked out with an orange/black Diplomat Aero with an extra-fine steel nib.

I’ve read elsewhere that the nibs are by Jowo, although they are Diplomat branded. They are stamped with the Diplomat logo along with the words “Diplomat Since 1922”. The nib is a solid silver color, which is my preference.

The pen itself is all metal (aluminum), including the gripping section. The pen body is a dark orange. The cap is black, as is the section. The words “Diplomat” and “Made in Germany” are stamped around the base of the cap in silver. It gives the appearance of being a cap band, especially since the bottom of the cap is flat. The tip of the body is crowned with a bit of black. The end of the cap has the Diplomat logo in silver.

I popped in the included blue-black (?) cartridge when I unboxed the fountain pen. The cartridge went dry as I was drafting this article, but it’s still the only ink that I’ve loaded in this pen. It performed well, and I saw no reason to replace it. The box actually included two cartridges, of the same ink, along with a converter. Diplomat does like branding any surface they can, so the converter has the Diplomat logo along with “Diplomat Made in Germany” stenciled on it.

The packaging was a bit elaborate, although not too expensive. The outer cardboard box had the Diplomat name and logo printed on it. (Did I mention that they like their branding?) Opening the box revealed a metal covered sliding box, which also had their branding. The metal was unexpected until I realized that they promote all their pens as being made from metal due to its durability (I do see one lacquer pen in their lineup). Sliding the cover off revealed their brand yet again, in a cardboard flap that covered the pen. Removing that flap finally revealed the pen. The pen rested on the typical pen box removable shelf. The two cartridges and a converter were below the shelf. The pen uses standard international cartridges and converters.

Diplomat Aero in the box

Maybe it’s because I’ve been cooped up for weeks, but I found all that branding comical. Literally, it made me chuckle as I opened the Russian Nesting Dolls to get to my pen, seeing their logo and name each time. But the reality is that the branding is subdued and not flashy. The packaging contributed to making it feel like a quality product and bought in volume, it probably doesn’t add much to the cost of the pen.

After getting to the Diplomat Aero fountain pen, I inked it up with one of the included cartridges. By the time I picked up the packaging and stored it away, the pen was ready to right. The ink made it to the nib without any help from me, and while lying flat on its side. That was an encouraging start.

The Aero is comfortable in my hand, even for long writing sessions. Even though it’s a metal pen, aluminum is relatively light, and I wouldn’t consider the Aero heavy at all. Sure, it is heavier than a resin only pen of the same size. The grip section is also metal, and it’s smooth. I haven’t had any problem with the pen slipping. But, the weather is still cool and dry. It may be a problem when heat and humidity move in.

The nib is a smooth writer that was well-tuned. The ink flow has been perfect, and I haven’t had any problem with skipping or hard starts. I’ve been rotating through my pens, so the Aero would spend 4 to 6 days stored nib up between uses. There weren’t any hard starts. It is a firm nib which I like.

Diplomat Aero writing sample

I’m happy with the Diplomat Aero. It’s a great writer, and I love the look. It probably won’t rise to the level of being a core pen, but it will be around for a while, and I expect it to be inked up frequently. I cleaned out the pen and put it in storage for now. I’ve been trying to rotate through my pens and revisit ones that haven’t been used in years. So it will sit out for now, but the Diplomate Aero fountain pen will stay handy and return to the rotation in the not too distant future.