Pen Review: Retro 51 Tornado (with Schmidt EasyFlow refill)

This review has been a long time in the making. The folks at Retro 51 were kind enough to send me a promotional version of their pen a few months ago, along with a blue ballpoint/gel hybrid refill. (The Retro 51 Tornados usually come with a rollerball refill, which just isn’t my thing for everyday use.) I’ve been using it for just over three months, and it’s time to finally review this guy.

IMG_20131217_122739 - Retro 51

The first impression I got from this pen, even before I wrote with it, was the level of quality. No, it’s not fantastically precise or delicate. It’s a pen made for work, and that’s what comes across. It has a good heft to it, from the all-metal construction, which I appreciate. It feels solid, which is one thing I’m looking for in my ideal pen. Oddly enough, it’s top heavy, which was strange at first. A lot of the weight is concentrated near the twisting mechanism. Now that I think about the design, I suppose this makes sense: the pen tapers toward the tip, so the weight distribution can’t be uniform. It took some getting used to, but the adjustment period was short. I don’t notice it anymore when I write. The clip is also a great design–it has good tension, so it stays clipped to my pants pocket, but isn’t so tight or rough that I have trouble getting it in and out. The tip of the clip flares up ever so slightly to make clipping this pen quite easy.

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The Retro 51 Tornado (which, by the way, I think they call it because… well, it tapers like a tornado) uses a twist mechanism, which is pretty great. There’s some sort of bump or divot at the end of the turn that helps finish the movement–so when you turn the knob to start writing, the last bit of the turn gives a little “bump” and then you’re ready to go. You also have to overcome the “bump” to retract the refill. I rather like how tactile it is. I’m not sure it really does anything helpful, since by muscle memory I know which way and how far to turn the knob, but it’s a small touch that demonstrates their thought in design. One small thing that doesn’t bother me: my mechanism isn’t completely smooth or noiseless. If you give me a quiet room and some downtime for me to play with the pen, there’s some scratchiness in the turning motion that is accompanied by some noise. Again, this isn’t a super fancy pen. It has a “weight class,” so to speak, but it’s punching pretty hard.

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With this particular pen, I’m using the Schmidt Easy Flow 9000 refill, which is a ballpoint/gel hybrid, much like the Uniball Jetstream–although I find this one to be closer to a ballpoint, which I enjoy. It’s a very smooth writer. The pen does much more gliding over the page when I write than a normal ballpoint pen would. The color is also much richer, owing to the gel ink part of the hybrid. It’s a great royal blue, a sort of conservative and austere color that I think is great for correspondence. I haven’t tried the Schmidt rollerball that’s usually included with the Tornados, but I hear those are also quite good. One of the major upsides of this pen is that it takes Parker-style refills, so if for whatever reason you don’t like either of the Retro 51-Schmidt refills, you can scour the Internet for one to your liking. And speaking of color…

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This pen does a fascinating thing where it changes color depending on what light its in. In situation where there’s not as much light, it looks like a navy blue, bordering on indigo. But as you can see from the picture above, the purple hues really come out when it’s bright. A fascinating result of their coloring process. The pen is lacquered in acrylic, I think, so it’s definitely not scratchproof. I rather like it, though! It gives the pen some character. (Although I wouldn’t be lying if I said I didn’t miss how shiny it was when it was new.)

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This one’s a promotional pen, since they have no idea who I am and didn’t want to send out one of their retail Tornados. It’s a clean design, and the lettering has endured months of being in my pocket with keys and other metal pens. Not a scratch to the logo or a chip to the pen, only minor scuffing on the lacquer finish.

My biggest issue with this pen is its open tip design, or its lack of a cap. I carry pens around in my pocket, so what I discovered while carrying this pen around is that pocket lint can get stuck in the opening in the tip for the refill, and it sucks up some of the ink. There have been more than a few times when I’ve turned the knob to start writing, only to find some lint stuck to the refill. When I’ve gone to knock it off and clean off the tip, I get ink on my fingers because the lint has absorbed some of the ink. It’s bothersome enough that this pen, sadly, does not end the pen hunt. I think I’m looking for something with a cap. (If anyone at Retro 51 is reading this, can you bring back rollerball pens with caps? I know you used to do them, because I own one, and I really like it. A Retro 51 Parker-style refill pen with a cap would come pretty close to ending my ongoing pen hunt!)

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That being said, this is a great pen. It’s just the one thing about the open tip that sometimes bothers me. If you don’t carry your pens in your pocket–so basically, everyone–then this would be a great choice for you. It writes well with the Schmidt ballpoint refill, and I’ve heard good things about the rollerball refill. At about $20, it’s not a cheap pen (compared to a BIC Stic or even a gel pen like the Uniball Signo DX), but it’s also a quality pen. If you’re looking for something durable and you think this might be for you, I’d encourage you to try it. The fact that you paid so much for a pen will help you not to lose it–you’ll be very sure to get it back if you lend it to someone. It’s good looking, it’s durable, it’s dependable. If you’re interested, you can find the Retro 51 Tornados at JetPens.

(This pen was provided free for review by Retro 51, but the opinions contained herein are solely my own.)

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