My collection includes a number of OMAS fountain pens. I hold these pens in high regard. I, like many other fountain pen users, feel an OMAS pen reflects a high standard of styling and superior workmanship. The OMAS nib in particular, is known for its smooth writing quality. The ebonite feed delivers a dependable flow of ink.
I had the pleasure of visiting the OMAS headquarters in Bologna. My visit was just after OMAS had updates the styles of its classic pens - the Arte Italiana including the famous Paragon. Before I say anything more about the visit, I just say how sad it was that at the end of 2015 the company was sold and efforts for employees to buy the company and keep OMAS viable were not accepted. I will talk more about that aspect near the end of this article.
Armando Simoni founded the company in 1925. He named the company OMAS - Officina Meccanica Armondo Simoni. Although formally founded in 1925, Simoni opened a work shop on via S Vitale in Bologna in 1919. There he produced film reels and the mechanisms used in safety pens. He was successful and started to make entire pens. In 1925 he opened his new factory located on Via degli Orbi.
OMAS grew from a small workshop to an internationally recognized pen company. That was part of the lure of the future sales and transfers of the company to interests in China.
Armando held an interest in Greek culture, was a skilled technician as well as an artist. This background and interest is evident in the design elements of the OMAS pen. The influence of Greek culture is seen in the classic design of OMAS pens, such as twelve-sided Arte Italiana line. The dies reflect the shape of Doric columns in Greek architecture. The twelve-sided shape of the pen body won numerous awards and I must say, it is a pleasure to hold. I particularly like the way the pen does not roll off a desktop!
It is said that Armando would say: "A pen must make writing pleasurable". Yes, indeed, I can confirm that writing with an OMAS pen is one of the pleasures of writing.
The company remained a family business for most its lifespan. After Armando's death in 1958, his daughter, Raffaella and her husband, Angelo Malaguti took over the leadership of the company. In 1983, their son Gianluca continued in the role. More on the sale later.
Just before my visit, OMAS President Christophe Artaux issued a re-design of its lines that included the Arte Italiana, Bologna and 360 lines. New lines included the Emotica. The re-design was not universally accepted! I me Christophe. He took great pride and enthusiasm for redesign and the future of the company.
Others I talked with included Marta Cruciani, Marketing Manager. I asked the question regularly quoted on pen discussion boards. Why make the change?
As Marta pointed out, pens were changing. While the Arte Italiana line is a classic, to reflect the the modern look of pens today, a larger size was more appropriate. Pick up the new Arte Italiana Paragon and this is very evident. The redesign also brought forward the inclusion of the new OMAS logo and placement of the "O" icon that is now found on the top of the pens as well as a new stylized clip.
Known as a "faccettata", or "faceted pen", this is one of the best examples of Italian style and craftsmanship. The Arte Italiana has been a highly regarded pen since its original design in 1930. The twelve side of the pen body represent a Doric column. For many pen owners, the Arte Italiana is the OMAS pen.
The pen clip has also been re-invented to be larger and reflect a more dynamic design. The previous three band motif has been replaced with a simpler single band that holds the OMAS logo, the Greek etching, and with the Paragon, simply the name THE PARAGON, ITALY. The end section of the Paragon also has a new look being in sterling silver or gold plate depending on the model.
I found the new larger Paragon has a solid feel with the weight of the pens well balanced towards the nib section. It is comfortable hold and with the good balance you won't feel this pen tilting back in the hand. I pens in both the classic and new designs. (See Pens of Note).
The Emotica is a new line that was released in 2007 and represents a bold new look. A well accepted line, this pen has been recognized with awards including "Best Pen-High Design, 2007" based on votes from Pen World readers and the prestigious "Trophee Du Stylographee 2007” award for Design & Artistic Creation.
Emotica stands for; emotion (E), movement (MO), titanium (TI) and caoutchouc (rubber) (CA).
The clip is unique as when snapped down on the pen, it appears as a normal pen clip. But when flipped up, it forms two legs to hold the pen at an angle to the desktop.
When trying the pen at the visit to OMAS, I found the material used to construct the pen to be soft and very comfortable to hold.
The Bologna line celebrates the 80th Anniversary of OMAS. The pens came in both and comes in cotton resin, enamels and celluloid models. The celluloid Bologna is in my Pens of Note.
Finally, the 360 line has also changed. The pen still features the traditional features an elegant triangular section designed by the architect, Stefano Bini. The shape is classic yet modern. Part of the new design was to change the shape of the to of the pen so as to accommodate the icon "O".
I did not have a 360 in my collection at the time of by visit. Now I have a number of the pens. Since the 360 has a distinctive shape, I would recommend trying the pen to see how it fits the hand. It is one of the pens that users like or dislike. The full 360 is piston fill, the Mezzo comes with a cartridge filling system for the fountain pen.
Raffaele Rispo, Operations Manager, led the visit through the factory explaining the various stages in the creation of an OMAS pen.
OMAS was one of the first of the Italian pen companies to moved into making pens from celluloid somewhere around the later 1920s. OMAS is highly recognized as making some of the most beautiful celluloid pens available. Raffaele showed the rods of celluloid stored in a fire-proof room. The celluloid, treated with camphor, has already aged six months by the time it arrives at OMAS. The rods are about a meter in length. I was not expecting the celluloid rods to be flexible as they were. But process and baking changes that state. The rods go through two manufacturing stages, as well as two periods of baking. Each baking takes one month and the result is the remarkable celluloid pen body for which OMAS holds a high point of recognition.
I had previously read about the baking process to produce celluloid and was expecting an intense heat. Raffaele showed the two ovens and he explained that the temperature is carefully controlled at a moderate 37 C for each of the two one-month baking periods. e is part of the art of creating the celluloid for the pen body. As Raffaele explained, if there was to be a loss of the heat control, the entire quantity in the oven would be ruined.
But, for OMAS it was the 1932 Extra that became the top line of pens for the company. A few years later, in 1936 the Lucens were issued and they were considered some of the most beautiful pens ever produced.
As I walked through the factory and discussed the various production stages it became evident as to the amount of precise handwork required to create for smoothness and fit. Polishing ensures the correctness of fit. The work to complete a pen takes time. The production cycle for a celluloid pen is over 100 days. It takes skilled workmanship. For example, training to use the cork polisher that finishes the celluloid pen takes two years.
specific stage of the production cycle. Raffaele has set aggressive standards for repairs to be completed.
In May 2000, OMAS became part of the LVMH Group (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton), a French Group producing and selling luxury goods. This partnership allows OMAS access to the benefits of the large LVMH Group while maintaining its own management and operations. At the time, OMAS was the only pen company of the LVMH group. In the last Quarter of 2007, Xinyu Hengdeli Group, from Hong Kong, who is a strategic partner of LVMH, acquired 90% equity in OMAS. This was a strategic alliance with LVMH and it was the plan to be a luxury pen in the Asian market. It did not work out and in 2011 OMAS was sold to another Chinese company, O-Luxe. They choose to close OMAS in 2015 with all assets liquidated in 2016. There were offers from employees to purchase the company but they were not successful.
But, some former employees started a new pen company, located in Bologna, Scrittura Bolognese, known as SCRIBO. This was not a company that produced existing OMAS lines under a new name. The company has its own soul and designed its own pens. First pens for other companies, then a line of Limited Edition pens, and then their own line of pens the FEEL. I have had the pleasure of meeting their leadership, and owning the FEEL fountain pen. Please see my notes on SCRIBO. They are their own pen company. This is not OMAS 2.0 - however, they purchased the original equipment that produced the legendary OMAS nibs. SCRIBO does have the famous OMAS writing experience
I remember walking to the stair well when I entered the head office. Having been in awe of OMAS pens, seeing their Art Deco iconic logo was a moment not to be forgotten.
After we visited in the head office, a tour of factory followed. It was big.
Seeing the tray after tray of gold nibs was like walking through a diamond factory. Where they going to frisk me at the end of the visit?
Even though the nibs were made by a third party, the nibs were finished and checked and checked at the factory. They knew the reputation of the company rested on the expertise with the nib.