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OMAS pens

OMAS Milords in green and black Vegetal resin, c 1995. These are mid-size examples of the iconic Paragon series that OMAS has produced for many years.

People ask me: If a pen breaks, don't you just throw it out?

They often seem surprised when I tell them that there are still folks who make at least part of their living repairing pens — we're not talking just crazed hobbyists, but people who actually repair other people's pens as a means to help pay mortagages and orthodontist's bills. If this seems quaint and anachronistic today, that's because pens were very early to go down the road traveled by successive categories of consumer goods, from shoes to clothes to home electronics. Someday, I predict that when our cars break down, we'll just phone the dealer to come pick them up and leave replacements.

Detail of the trademark OMAS greek-key cap band

Anyhow, in the old days, pens were so expensive that repair was often a more attractive alternative than replacement. Fortunately, these old pens were made to be repaired by skilled technicians using basic (if specialized) hand tools. Of course, someone had to make all the parts, and that's where Cav. Armando Simoni came in.

In 1919, Simoni left his job with a small toolmaker to go into business for himself, making (among other things) retractor mechanisms for safety pens. In 1925, he set up shop officially as the Officina Meccanica Armando Simoni, a mouthful of a name that soon got shortened to OMAS.

OMAS Ogiva in green Vegetal resin, c 2000. The Ogiva (from "ogive arch") is similar in construction to the Paragon series, but has a round cross section and a baguette shape.

At first, Simoni concentrated on making replacement parts for the variety of foreign pens that found their way into Italy during the early years of the century, but from there it wan't difficult for him to begin making complete pens of his own design. These early pens included two mechanically ingenious models of "Doctors' pens", sac pens that concealed thermometers. This began an OMAS tradition of unusual and innovative products that included the "two-in-one" double-nibbed pens of the 1920s, and the adjustable-flex model 361 of the 1950s. This tradition persists to this day with the new Advanced Cartridge System and the triangular OMAS 360.

Detail of OMAS Milord showing point and section band.

In 1932 (or 1930, the date seems to be in dispute, and critically so), OMAS introduced the Extra line, beautiful 12-facted celluloids reminiscent of the contemporary Wahl Dorics. This could be one of the "borrowings" for which Italian penmakers were noted in these years, although I've also heard that the man who designed the Wahl pen later went to work for OMAS. Later in the decade, the Extras were joined by the Lucens line, sacless piston-fillers of translucent celluloid. Ever since, variations of these designs (like the Paragon Milords pictured on this page) have remained in the OMAS line, making them an unusual and direct link to the penmaking past. OMAS continued to produce high-quality pens over the decades, and although there were many more contemporary designs, the old-fashioned faceted models never stayed too long out of the lineup.

Today's OMAS pens are known for their featherweight solid-color cotton-based "Vegetal" resin, with hand-turned cap threads and exceptionally well-executed detailing (like the famous greek-key band pictured above). The hand-cut and press-fitted hard rubber feeds, the roller clips, and the screw caps are all design touches straight from the 1930s (although their modern nibs, while touted as "flexible," are no more so than most other new pens today). OMAS uses exotic celluloids and other hand-worled plastics on their more exclusive models, such as the Arco and in some current variations of the 360. OMAS also offers pens in fine woods (in the 360 series and in some of their limited editions) and exotic metals (like titanium in the T-2 series).

The recent OMAS Arlecchino (Harlequin) was accurately modeled on a 1930s pen of which only one example is known to exist.

OMAS is a big player in the Limited Edition market, and has had more than their share of downright silly offerings in this genre, although many of their LEs are actually quite nice. In particular, I admire their accurate reissues of past products like the Doctor's Pen, the Lucens (and Extra Lucens), and the Arlecchino (Harlequin), all of these part of the "Homage to Armando Simoni" series.

OMAS seems to be a sort of well-kept secret among pen enthusiasts. Few people, outside pen fans and habitues of luxury-goods stores, have even heard of the brand. However, they do have an ardent following, including a semi-official club you can join to receive special OMAS pens that can be found nowhere else. There's now even an official factory website for OMAS. Recently, OMAS was acquired by the LVMH group of companies, a sort of all-star lineup of European luxury brands that also includes Louis Vuitton and TAG-Heuer (among many others). This has resulted in a severe tightening-up of the dealer network (at the expense of some internet-only dealers), but there has been no let-up in the design and production of pens. Indeed, the OMAS regular line, as well as the inevitable LE series, has been greatly diversified in the past five years or so.

I have bought several OMAS pens since starting this website, and I find them to be the happy exception to my general impression that new pens are inferior in quality and utility to vintage pens. They're not cheap (few if any sell for less than $300), but they're about as close as you can get today to a true vintage pen and still get a fancy box and factory warranty.