Tortoiseshell has a long history of use in small items such as combs, glasses, guitar picks, knitting needles, boxes, and even as furniture inlays. The beauty of the material’s mottled appearance, its durability, and its organic warmth against the skin made tortoiseshell attractive for both manufacturers and consumers. The time invested to hunt and harvest the tortoises and the care needed in working with the shell to preserve its color made such items rather expensive. Unfortunately, the quest for profit has resulted in several of those species being hunted to near extinction with many now findings themselves on the endangered species list. The trade has been banned internationally for some time but that has not deterred harvesting shells for sale within the black market. Thankfully, more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives exist. The tortoise look is well suited for the likes of fountain pens and fans of Pelikan’s fine writing instruments can’t seem to get enough of such releases. The company’s tortoise finishes have been captivating people for decades thanks to their refined, upscale look. I’m happy to report that no actual tortoises have ever been harmed by Pelikan, the characteristic look instead being derived from cellulose acetate crafted to artificially resemble the mottled pattern of true tortoiseshell. There is no shortage of tortoise variants out there with some of the company’s most iconic and sought after models having been tortoises of one type or another. The original M800 Tortoiseshell Brown (1989) or the M600 Maruzen Tortoiseshell Brown (1999) come to mind as more recent examples of nearly mythical birds and that is just counting the company’s relatively recent production history to say nothing of the countless historic models such as the 400NN Light Tortoise (1957-60). To close out 2020, Pelikan has given us the M600 Tortoiseshell Red which looks to be a take on the previously released M101N Tortoiseshell Red (2014), now adapted to the more traditional Souverän line. Rather than a straight up adaptation however, this new model appears to be a reimagining of sorts. With a color scheme apropos for a December launch, this one is sure to please with its bold, vibrant hues and unique tortoiseshell application. Read on to learn if this model stacks up like Theodor Geisel’s Yertle the Turtle, king of the pond in Sala-ma-sond.
Appearance & Design (9/10) – A deep, vibrant red that improves upon the prior M101N’s implementation
The M600 Tortoiseshell Red fountain pen and its companion K600 ballpoint come in Pelikan’s standard G15 gift packaging. As previously described, an outer box gives way to an inner box which houses a small booklet and a faux leather envelope inside which you will find the pen. For the most part, it makes for a nice presentation but one that is also easily forgettable. That’s fine though since it is the pen that was designed to steal the show. First impressions are just how strikingly vibrant and deep the red resin components are. It’s a deeper red than say the Toledo red we’ve seen on other releases. The hue skews closer to something akin to fire engine red whereas the M101N Tortoiseshell Red (2014) had a more pinkish tint to its resin components (something that is very hard to photograph). Some have pointed out small, rectangular areas between the cap bands and the trim rings of the piston knob that have a lighter tone. This is not a defect in the material but rather the way the cap bands/trim rings are designed as a single piece. The look is a product of how those areas don’t have the same amount of resin overlying and can be seen on many of Pelikan’s past releases. The lack of uniformity might bother some but I do not find it particularly disruptive. Beyond the deep red resin, the pen’s other standout feature is the tortoiseshell barrel that is made up of orange and red hues arranged amongst pearlescent stripes with some darker lines of varying width which help to break up the appearance a bit. Overall, the barrel has a warm and inviting look, much more so than the M101N of the same name that preceded it. One thing that becomes quickly obvious is the lack of a discrete ink view window. Many of Pelikan’s tortoise models have had some translucency between the striations resulting in a creative and unintrusive way to view the remaining ink within the pen. Not only is that not the case here, but the barrel is also so opaque that even using a strong light is not overly helpful in gauging the remaining amount of ink in the chamber. A major strength of Pelikan’s models for 90 years now has been the ability to view the ink chamber so this will be a big negative for some. I can understand it as a creative decision, not wanting to break up the design, or perhaps a technical one where the engineering necessary to facilitate the view would have been prohibitive. Whatever the reason, it still feels like a disappointing omission and perhaps the biggest knock against this model. Still, its stunning look does make up for a lot and, at the end of the day, the transgression in design can be forgiven. If there is a silver lining, the lack of an ink view will allow you to select ink with impunity since there is no concern over staining. Bottom line is that this is one of the more provocative and well executed tortoises that we’ve seen in some time.
Construction & Quality (10/10) – A high quality fit and finish that leaves no qualms about construction
The M600 Tortoiseshell Red does not disappoint as far as craftsmanship is concerned. Like any Souverän, this model has a highly polished appearance and I can find no evidence of any seams or other indicators of the manufacturing process. All of the pieces fit together well and the piston knob snugs reassuringly to the end of the barrel when retracted. There is a trim ring at the section which could theoretically develop corrosion with repeated exposure to caustic inks over the years but this would likely take decades to develop and can be easily mitigated by routine pen maintenance and not letting ink sit on the trim. The remainder of the gold plated furniture includes two trim rings at the piston knob, two cap bands, a plated cap top, and a beak clip. The cap is able to be posted without issue for those that prefer to do so. I predominantly carry my pens clipped onto a shirt pocket and am happy to report that I have yet to experience the cap coming inadvertently unscrewed which can be a disaster when it occurs. Still, with just 3/4 of a turn, the cap can be quickly unscrewed to get down to the business of writing. On the whole, I find no issues to fault this pen based on the merits of its construction.
Weight & Dimensions (10/10) – A medium sized pen that will still fall short for some
The post-1997 Souverän M600 sits between the smaller M400 and the larger M800. It is an awkward place to be. While it serves as a great option for those that might find the M400 to be too small for comfort but the M800 too heavy to handle, it still falls short for a lot of enthusiasts that identify the heftier M800 as their go to pen comfort wise. The M6xx lines have certainly gotten some of the more colorful releases in the last several years, a boon to those who felt the series was neglected for some time. I’m sure there will be many left hoping that this finish eventually sees its way to the M800 line or, better yet, the M1000. As far as the M600 goes, it measures approximately 5.28 inches when capped, 6.10 inches when posted, and is 0.49 inches in diameter. It weighs around 0.57 ounces, lacking the heft afforded the larger models due to its all plastic construction. The M600 is very comfortable to use whether you post or not. The pen is exceptionally well balanced when posted and I have not had any issues with fatigue when writing. Its stature also allows it to fit comfortably in most pockets and cases. The Tortoiseshell Red is definitely worth checking out if a medium sized pen is at all to your liking.
Nib & Performance (8/10) – A dependable workhorse of a nib that can really shine with a custom grind
The Tortoiseshell Red, like the rest of today’s Souveräns, comes equipped with Pelikan’s standard bi-color 14C-585 gold nib. Widths available from the factory include EF, F, M, and B. Based on countless past examples, these nibs are generally firm, slightly wider than their designated width, and very generous in the feed. They lay down a tremendous amount of ink and do an admirable job of resisting drying out. Of course, some vendors will do a custom grind at the time of purchase which can add a bit of spice that is sorely lacking from the standard options. You could also employ the services of a nib meister after your purchase to achieve the same effect. For such a special looking pen, I splurged this time around and went with a Fritz Schimpf italic grind. This is a nib ground and sold exclusively via this retailer and is available at the time of purchase as an add on for various models. In this case, a stock medium nib has been customized to provide a thicker downstroke and a thinner cross stroke. The nib remains fairly smooth and easy to use with just the right amount of feedback on the paper. The grind imparts a welcome bit of variety to the writing which really adds something special to the overall experience. The rating here is for Pelikan’s standard nibs and does not reflect my custom grind which would not be fair comparison with past reviews. As an aside, if I had to grade the Fritz-Schimpf italic, I would give it a 10/10.
Filling System & Maintenance (10/10) – Easy to fill and easy to maintain
I don’t think calling Pelikan’s differential piston filling mechanism best in class would be an exaggeration. It has been a standard for 90 years now. There is a lot of heritage there and the design has proven its durability. Filling is a cinch since a single cycle of the piston gets you an almost complete fill of the ink chamber. The M600 is stated to have an ink capacity of approximately 1.30 mL which should suffice for plenty of writing. The piston travels the length of the barrel smoothly and can be easily serviced by the user. Necessary only every couple of years depending on your usage pattern and maintenance regimen, the nib can be unscrewed allowing for the tiniest drop of pure silicone grease to be applied along the inside of the barrel. The user removable nib facilitates maintenance, cleaning, and can be helpful for those that wish to swap nibs due to needing repair or just to add some variety. The M600 features a piston assembly that is snap fitted into the barrel and therefore is not easily removed though there is rarely ever a legitimate reason to do so. Removal should not be considered a part of routine Pelikan pen maintenance and attempts to do so could permanently damage the pen. Because of the lack of legitimate indications, the inability to remove the assembly should not be regarded as a negative. Pelikan’s pens are very user friendly and should provide decades of dependable service when well cared for.
Cost & Value (8/10) – Prices will vary widely depending upon which markets you shop
The M600 Tortoiseshell Red has a US MSRP of $600 which translates into an average retail price of $480 when the usual 20% discount is applied. Regional discrepancies in pricing continue to be a major consideration when purchasing. For example, some retailers in the EU are offering the fountain pen at €320. When the 16% VAT is excluded, US customers can pick one up for €275.86 (~$338.85). That’s a 34% percent savings available over US pricing when shopping overseas which is hard to overlook. I think that there is a lot of value here though and this one is going to not only be well received but hard to come by in the future. It is not often that Pelikan brings the tortoise finish to the M600 line so it should not be taken for granted that it might be a while before we see another. Please support your local brick and mortar pen shop if you have the means. Otherwise, shop around as there are significant variations in regional pricing that might put this one within easier reach for those on a budget.
Conclusion – A retouch of the Tortoiseshell Red theme that is sure to please
M600 Tortoiseshell Red: 55/60 or 91.6%
The M600 Tortoiseshell Red is one of the more exciting releases that we have seen out of Hannover in some time. I think the deeper red than the prior M101N of the same name brings the pen to life and gives it a vibrancy that seems lacking in comparison. The orange and red hues of the tortoise barrel come together and play off one another incredibly well. The lack of a dedicated ink view, the lack of character in the nib selection, and the wide variation in regional pricing are issues with this model, but none of them are true deal breakers in my opinion. The lack of an ink view is probably the only insurmountable issue but the pen more than makes up for any such shortcoming with its warm and inviting appearance. Many will find fault with the size, preferring the larger, heftier M800 to this one. Depending on sales, I could see this finish coming to the M800 line sometime in the future but that is just speculation on my part. I expect this one to sell like hot cakes in its current incarnation and can recommend it without reservation.
BONUS – K600 Mini Review (9/10) – A companion ballpoint worthy of purchase
The K600 Tortoiseshell Red is the companion ballpoint to the above fountain pen. I do not usually purchase ballpoints which is why you don’t see them regularly reviewed on the blog. Everything that I stated about the look of the fountain pen applies here. The top half of the model displays the tortoiseshell pattern while the lower half is a deep red resin. The combination is done to great effect. The pen’s furniture includes a plated cap top, a beak clip, two bands at the bottom of the top section, and a finial at the tip, all plated in gold. The K600 has a twist mechanism and takes Pelikan’s 337 refill which comes in fine (0.8 mm), medium (1 mm), and broad (1.2 mm) widths in the colors of blue, black, and red. The point is deployed with just a 1/2 twist and glides smoothly over the paper. The pen is comfortable in the hand though definitely weighted towards the back. Measurements include a length of 5.00 inches, a diameter of 0.45 inches at its widest, and a weight of 0.85 ounces. The twist mechanism makes it heavier than its fountain pen counterpart. The K600 has a US MSRP of $450 and retails for $360. Some overseas vendors are selling this one for a retail price of €203.45 (~$249.91). Admittedly, picking up the pair, no matter where you shop, is an expensive proposition. Few models have spurred me to seek the matching ballpoint but the look of this pair made the purchase an easy decision.
- The deeper red of the resin components is sharp looking and makes the M101N appear dull in comparison
- The red and orange hues of the barrel take the tortoise look to a whole new level
- The M600 is easily serviced by the end user which is a boon for what is already a low maintenance pen
- There is no dedicated ink view window with which to gauge the remaining ink in the pen
- Pelikan’s pricing in the USA is significantly higher than what is available elsewhere
- Pelikan’s standard nib selection does not offer any kind of variability in line width and therefore lacks character
- Despite being a medium sized pen, it will still be too small for those that prefer the size and weight of the M800
A Look At The Pelikan M600 Tortoiseshell Red
Pelikan M600 Tortoiseshell Red Writing Sample
*The pens utilized for this review are my own from my personal collection and therefore the opinions expressed are also mine and free of any undue influence.