Monday, April 22, 2013

The Grand TWSBI Review - Part 2. A Review of the TWSBI Diamond 530 Fountain Pen

This first review in the Grand TWSBI Review series harkens back to the early days of TWSBI, when their Diamond series was just being developed for the first time. The goal with this series was to craft a well-built fountain pen, piston-filler, that had superb engineering, good looks, and a longevity to match the aforementioned. However, TWSBI wanted to take the challenge one step further: They wanted to be able to offer the pen at a very affordable price. Without further ado, I present to you the TWSBI Diamond 530.

First Impressions (8)
I will admit to not having become familiar with the TWSBI brand until after the Diamond 530 had been replaced by the Diamond 540. However, the sight of this 530 definitely made me smile and get very interested. The shape looked simple and elegant in a hardy, “I am made for daily use”-way. Then, subtle complexities, like the diamond pattern, caught my eye. The Diamond 530 appeared to be a solid pen with decent looks and a lack of any presumptuousness. I cannot say that I was immediately wow-ed by the pen, but that came later...

Appearance (9)
Though this review attempts to be as unbiased as possible, I must say that I find the cyan Diamond 530 to be the most attractive of the 530 options. The 530 can be found in cyan, red, blue (now called sapphire), pink, orange (now called amber), and green. The other colors, especially the blue and green, fit very well with the look of the pen, but the cyan has a color that seems to go quite well with the silver fittings. Set into the end of the cap is the TWSBI logo, surrounded by the silver fitting that holds the clip. The clip itself has a simple and clean ridge, running its length. The cap band, then, is a wide piece with the TWSBI logo engraved on one portion and the words “Diamond 530 Taiwan” on the opposite portion. Standard scrollwork accompanies the TWSBI name and logo on the nib, which is also conveniently engraved with the nib size. As previously mentioned, the barrel is not round but rather multi-faceted with elongated diamond shapes, yet the design is very subtle and not pronounced.

Design/Size/Weight (10)
Lightweight pens are pleasant in my opinion, as they make holding them and writing with them feel much less like using a tool and more like gliding ones hand across paper. However, if a pen is too light, I can sometimes feel awkward, writing with it, as though I might accidentally drop it. The Diamond 530 has a perfect amount of weight for me. I write with the cap unposted, and it seems, as though there is a lot of weight in the cap, so those who post the caps of their pens, while writing, may find the weight and balance to be very backheavy, if they attempt to do so. In fact, the design of this pen and cap is not suited to posting, as the cap only fits over a small portion of the piston knob.
Between the cap insert that shields the nib (and prevents ink from getting all over the inside of the cap) and the o-ring, at the base of the grip and section threads, which helps to seal the pen tightly, when capped, this design strives for maximum enclosure and containment. I hazard a guess that these features also serve to limit, if not dispel entirely, any evaporation of ink.
The grip, which tapers toward the nib before flaring out slightly, is very comfortable, and the barrel is neither too thin or too fat for holding in my hand, while writing. At the end of the pen, the piston knob sits flush with the rest of the barrel, narrowing slightly. While I love the fact that this demonstrator is a piston filler, it has another secret to its filling mechanism! This special “no-mess” filling method was designed specifically to work with the TWSBI Diamond 50 and Diamond 50P inkwells, though the Diamond 50P did not exist at the time, when the Diamond 530 fountain pen was on the market. The nib and section may be unscrewed from the body of the pen, revealing an opening and fittings to mount the pen on the inkwell. After filling the pen, as one would a standard piston-filler, the nib and grip section are replaced on the pen and no clean up is necessary. The ability to improve the ease of use through the inkwell accessory is a fantastic addition, and I appreciate that TWSBI has designed their pen to be able to use normal ink bottles, too, in the case that the user does not want to invest in a TWSBI inkwell. (However, I highly recommend the inkwells for reasons that shall be forthcoming in my reviews of them.)
The TWSBI Diamond 530 does not have obvious flaws in the design, at least to my eye; however, the most-reported problem lies with cracking parts, especially on the grip section. Typically, this is a result of the grip not being fitted over the nib unit, properly, when the user is resetting the nib and grip assembly on the body of the pen. The Diamond 530 that I am using for this review has this very issue, and it came to me this way (from another fountain pen user, not from TWSBI). Despite all of the reports of cracking, I have never experienced or witnessed it in other TWSBI pens that I have used. Additionally, I know that TWSBI has been working to remedy this problem. The rating is 9.5/10, actually, on account of the cracking issues that have been experienced.

The crack in the grip of this Diamond 530

Nib (10)
My previous experiences with medium nibs have been both good and bad. Foremost, it is important to note that the TWSBI nibs follow Western conventions in nib sizing. Thus, this medium is probably comparable to a Lamy medium or a Parker medium for size. In my mind, the biggest difference is how gliding this nib is. It slides across the paper without any hang-ups, skipping, or snags. The medium nib in a Montblanc Meisterstück 146, which I once had the pleasure of trying at a boutique, was smoother, but that comparison is hardly fair. Overall, it is a nice nib with good feedback, which I appreciate in smooth nibs, as it makes them more manageable.

Filling System (10)
I love piston-filling systems. The engineer inside me really enjoys turning the knob, watching how the assembly moves, etc. It is worth mentioning again that the Diamond 530 has the special setup for “no clean up” filling from a TWSBI Diamond inkwell, but it can be used normally, too. I had no problems with the piston assembly. Everything turned and moved well. TWSBI included a bottle of silicone grease and a wrench for disassembly and maintenance, if ever things stop moving smoothly.

Cost and Value (10)
It should be mentioned from the start that the Diamond 530 has been out of production for some time, now. Its successor, the Diamond 540, also just went out of production to be replaced by the Diamond 580. As such, 530s can no longer be purchased from any online retailer that I have found. However, as some of their parts, like the grip section, are interchangeable with the 540, TWSBI still provides service for a number of 530 issues. Finding a Diamond 530 that is for sale may be a great challenge. Many used 530s will sell for much less than their original retail price. In fact, I recently saw a 530 sell for 20 USD and it had no cracks and only minor wear on the body. In my opinion, that price was a steal for a Diamond 530. If handled well, it should serve its owner for a long time with no problems. Even based on just my experience with the Diamond 530, these pens are fantastic values.

Conclusion (10)
(9.5/10 actual score)
If you can find one, buy one. If you would rather get a new pen, buy a Diamond 580 (that is another review, entirely). While their piston-filling mechanism may not suit them to be starter pens, the TWSBI Diamond 530 is a great fountain pen investment for the new and the experienced.

Feel free to post any questions or comments you might have!
This post was both unsolicited and uncompensated.


  1. That cyan is a very nice colour - I have a clear 530, with an EF and a medium nib & section.

    They're great daily writers (I can't remember ever picking mine up and finding it dry) - for me they're missing that certain something that my favourite pens have. But for the money, a great buy, undoubtedly.

    1. The feeling that these pens give off is far more workhorse than heirloom, I will agree. Do you think that missing feeling is the material?

    2. I hesitate to say it, but I think, for me, it's character.

      The TWSBI is absolutely solid in every way - I love that it can be tweaked and disassembled, and that the manufacturer supports and enables that. But it lacks quirks, and oddly, I think that's what makes me find it dependable, rather than thrilling.

      A bit more spring in the nib, or switching to a stub would change the writing experience positively for me - or, as you say, a more exotic material (I've similarly dependable, unexciting nibs in beautiful, or unusually designed pens, and think of those more fondly).

      It does seem churlish to pick at the 530 in this way though - I still think £40 for a pen of this quality is a steal.