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Waterman Gentleman and Le Man 100

Waterman Gentleman in dark red lacquer, c 1985

By the 1970s, many (but not all) luxury pens were made from metal (specifically plated or lacquered brass). There are a couple of reasons, I imagine, for why this happened: for one thing, the term "plastic" had become a perjorative term denoting cheapness, shallowness, or insincerity (as in Frank Zappa's "Plastic People, whoa baby, now you're such a drag," or The Graduate's "One word...plastics."), so some makers were often understandably leery of asking $100 or more for a pen made from the p-stuff. Furthermore, metal pens were all but breakproof, and could be given lots of different decorator finishes with which to enhance the line; they were also usually less labor-intensive to make (if not to finish) than were the old hand-turned resins (but not the new cast synthetics, but there we are with plastic again).

In any case, Waterman brought out a new top-line model in about 1974 called the Gentleman. This pen was made entirely from brass (even in the matching section), and carried mainly very fine lacquer finishes, like the subtle dark red in the example pictured above. This finish is quite resplendent under sunlight or incandescent lamps, but seems to go rather dead under standard office fluorescent tubes (which is a bit of a shame, since that's where most of us use our pens). Nevertheless, the Gentleman helped to strengthen Waterman's reputation in metalwork and lacquer.

The Gentleman was kitted out with luxurious hallmarked gold-fill trim and a handsome ribbed cap button with the looped-W trademark in gold surrounded by lacquer matching the barrel. Harley Earl's V-clip is here, carried over from the old C/F models, but given its own discreet hallmark at the tip. This pen has a very solid feel, almost as though it were cast rather than drawn from tube stock; the details are very well done, and it is clear that Waterman made an absolute virtue from the necessity of brass construction.

The pen has a nicely detailed 18k rigid point and writes well; I had a lot of trouble with it for a long time, but eventually took the bull by the horns and tore it down for a complete cleaning, after which it has become a fine performer. By the time the Gentleman was first offered, Waterman had abandoned its own proprietary C/F style cartridges (Waterman was the first company to make a successful disposable-cartridge pen) in favor of the so-called "international" cartridges first used in Montblanc pens of the 1960s. Watermans of this and later vintages can use either the short or long international cartridges. For those (like me) who prefer to use a bottle, the cartridge can be replaced by a piston converter of standard design.


Waterman Le Man 100 in black, c 1995

In 1983, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the original U.S. firm, Waterman offered the new Le Man 100 as its flagship pen. It is commonly supposed to resemble an old-style 1920s Waterman, but does so only if you squint very hard. The Man became a workhorse for Waterman's designers; it appeared in numerous guises, from the plain black-plastic-over-brass model seen here (the most common variant), to models resembling older Watermans (like the black chased Opera, the ornate Patrician, or the Rhapsody with its faux ripped hard rubber finish), to examples made from exotic dyed woods and even solid gold (made on request and sold for over $10,000 per copy).

If the Gentleman occasionally comes off as a bit, er, sensitive, the Le Man is much bigger and altogether more square-sided and masculine. The V-clip is here interpreted as a washer clip, which would seem to make the Le Man resemble an old Parker Duofold more than a Waterman 58, but who outside of a few crazed pen geeks would know the difference? Otherwise, the pen is mechanically very similar to the Gentleman.

The Man 100 was joined shortly by the Man 200, essentially the same pen but somewhat slimmer. The Le Man line had a very successful run and has only recently been discontinued (its place in the lineup seems to have been taken by the Liaison model).

The LeMan has a rigid, smooth-writing two-tone 18k point.

The Verdict

These pens are quite representative of the higher end of Waterman production during the 1980s and 90s. Neither are in production any longer, but you can often find them at pen shows or online auctions.

Of the two pens here, I prefer the Gentleman, which is an altogether more luxurious piece, and in a better size and shape for me. I've since sold the Le Man on this page to some more deserving owner.

If my experience with both of these pens is any guide, you will be able to get good service from them, but only if you make sure to keep their feeds well cleaned. Fortunately, you can soak the sections in water for as long as you like, and then flush them through with an ear syringe; if they still skip, you may have to have the points and feeds extracted and thoroughly cleaned (you can do this yourself if you are careful, but the parts are press-fitted and can't be knocked out in a feed block; you will just have to use a chamois and a bit of elbow-grease.