Ballograf Chrome Epoca

On my recent trip to Amsterdam I discovered the lovely Ballograf Chrome Epoca pen. I had never heard of Ballograf before and I’ve learned a lot about the brand since buying my first product.

Ballograf is a Swedish producer of ballpoint pens and mechanical pencils and is based in Gothenburg – set up in 1945 by a lone Austrian. Apparently Ballograf employ thirty employees but produce four million writing implements a year. That’s 133333.3 pens per employee! Its main market appears to be Scandinavia and western Europe although I haven’t come across this brand during my usual stationery jaunts, neither online nor in person.

Look and feel

This pen features a simple push button mechanism and is refillable with Ballograf refills. Pushing the button has a nice resistance to it which kicks in about halfway down.

The pen has several simple details which really make the look and feel of this writing implement. The pen clip features the Ballgraf symbol, the silver barrel is lined on each hexagonal face, the join between the barrel and the grip section features, very very finely, the words Ballograf Epoca Sweden. I’ve seen a few websites where you can have your Epoca engraved and sure enough, there is a short section of barrel which is waiting for your name. There’s an overriding historical vintage feeling about this pen – like it’s something that hasn’t changed since the 50s – even though it’s brand new and looks brand new. Its design is timeless, simple and honest.

Can you make out the writing between the barrel and the grip section? It's there!
Can you make out the writing between the barrel and the grip section? It’s there! This section says “Sweden”.
Close up of the lined barrel.
Close up of the lined barrel.

I love the cornflour, lavender blue of the grip section. It’s untextured and has a softly rounded taper towards the end which suits me just fine, and really complements the surrounding silver. It also adds a touch of brightness and femininity to the pen, which is a good contrast against the straight sides of the barrel. The only downside of an untextured grip section might be that it could get uncomfortable writing for long periods of time particularly if, like me, you don’t hold your pen close to the nib or ballpoint.

Lovely blue grip section.
Lovely blue grip section.

The ink in my pen is archival blue. I rarely choose a blue ink, particularly with ballpoints as they tend to be a very obvious blue, if that makes any sense. Luckily the pen is refillable: there are medium and fine refills in blue, black, red and green. I don’t find this blue offensive at all though. Apparently early in the brand’s history, the ink used in their Epocas was certified as archival, meaning that it could be used widely for official purposes in Sweden and this increased its popularity in offices.

Performance

Ever since reflecting on what I want from a 0.4mm gel pen in this post, I have thought about what I expect from several different stationery items. The things I expect from a ballpoint are a smooth writing experience without any ink stickiness, an ink that writes dry on the page and also no ink skipping – this is a common expectation among all pens for me. I think a stationery mantra everywhere should be “every touch has to leave a mark” because it’s so true among all writing implements for me. Finally I really dislike ballpoints where the refill “wobbles” inside the pen casing. I think you’d have to experience this one to understand what I mean but I think it’s caused when the refill isn’t supported properly by any mechanism inside the pen casing or barrel leaving it free to move depending on the pressure you apply.

So on those expectations. Every touch of the pen leaves a mark! Even the dot of an i. You don’t need to apply much pressure to achieve this. I’ve used this pen in a Word notebook, Rhodia dotpad, Field Notes notebook and my Tsunami Fools notebook and I haven’t experienced any pressure marks on the reverse of pages I’ve written on. I’m not sure I would ever risk a ballpoint pen with my Hobonichi though or on paper any lighter than found in your business as usual notebooks.

Close up of writing and so you can better see the archival blue ink.
Close up of writing and so you can better see the archival blue ink.

This pen gives you a really smooth writing experience even on cheap copy paper and whether you’re writing on a single sheet directly on a hard surface or whether you’re writing in a notebook. This is so important for a ballpoint because I think this is one of the main things that makes them compete with gel and fountain pens. Thankfully there’s no wobble either. There is, very infrequently, a pleasing squeak of ballpoint on paper.

Obviously you can’t post a push button pen. It is comfortable to write with but I personally wouldn’t want to write with a much shorter pen. Overall it comes up at a slightly shorter length than my faithful Uni SXN 150-38 and about a centimetre shorter than my Uni Signo .38. Unless it’s a mini-sized fountain pen, I notice the pen’s length much more with push button ballpoint and gel pens because of the clip – I generally only hold a clipped pen in one position with the clip facing upwards rather than rotating it in my hand if necessary.

Length comparison against some of my other push button pens.
Length comparison against some of my other push button pens. As you can see it’s the shortest of the lot.

In summary

I’m really glad I chose the Epoca as my first foray into this brand. Ballograf don’t produce a huge selection of products and are confined to pens and mechanical pencils. I think I’m happy with having this as my Ballograf toolbox addition rather than trying out a range of their other products as I may normally do when discovering a new brand; my impression is their products are likely to perform similarly. In all honesty I think investing in the Epoca and sticking with it without needing to collect the rest of their products is a testament to the brand and pen in this case. It’s timeless in appearance, refillable and writes smoothly and comfortably. It’s also clearly designed to be reliable, apparently each Epoca Chrome will give you 8000m worth of writing. I’d love to know how many Field Notes this equates to!

I am generally shy of ballpoints because I find them to be similar writing experiences whatever the pen is that you’re using. The design, weight and smoothness of the Epoca make for a really enjoyable writing experience. It’s not a standout revelation moment for me with ballpoints, I didn’t expect it to be, but I’ve come away with a product that is unexpectedly high performing, is lovely to look at and use and is a great reflection of a brand I’ve never experienced before. Although four million of them are produced a year I feel it is a unique addition to my toolbox and one that I’m going to keep in my regular collection for the near future.

I can’t find many UK retailers of Ballgraf products but if you’re interested in buying one I suggest you do a bit of googling and find a retailer which suits your requirement best. I bought mine at Like Stationery in Amsterdam where there were a few different colour options including one with a pale pink grip section, and a gold version with a black grip section. 

3 thoughts on “Ballograf Chrome Epoca

  1. Wonderful review. Not many people know a good unknown brand like the Ballograf. Thanks for sharing and keep it till every drop is finished.

  2. Hi,
    I was very happy to find your post from April 2016 on Ballograf as I was googling the company name.
    As a Ballograf-fan I thought it might be interesting to add some trivia about the company and its pens and pencils and fill in on the information on what is generally considered the most common ballpoint pen and pencil in Sweden.
    Although the brand is little known outside of our country it was, as you noted, the ”archival” feature that has made it a staple-item in Swedish governmental-offices and private businesses from the 1950’s and till this day. And as an example, where I work, in the Swedish armed forces, I will just go to the stationary-room and get the Epocas or Rondos I need .
    The clicker-mechanism in a Ballograf pen comes with a lifetime guarantee, which means that you can simply post your pen to the company in Sweden for refitting if it stops working. (But given the pens relatively low pricetag it seems to be rarely used, people will usually just get a new one – if the break down. They are VERY reliable..)
    The company has been producing 925 Silver- and Golden-versions of most of its products, The Epoca Sterling Silver being the most sought-after. On the rare occasions when one comes on the market, usually on the Swedish auction-site “Tradera.se” (It’s the Swedish part of ebay) they will most commonly fetch about 1000-1500 Sek (roughly £100).
    Ballograf was bought up by the French BIC-company in 1959 and sold to its Head of Operations in Scandinavia in 2004. During that period Ballografs were also manufactured in BIC–factories in Austria (I belive from the mid 80’s to ca. 2000). However the clicker used in these pens very of poor quality and it did not give that distinct “Ballograf-sound” and they were seen as a contribution to giving the brand a bad reputation. Also, in the same period, Ballograf produced fountain pens that used standard Pelikan cartridges. The production was small and these fountainpens are very rarely seen today.
    The Ballograf Pen is good, the company homepage is not. While you will see other manufacturers of pens and fountainpens do aggressive advertising using their hompages, Instagram, Twitter and other channels, Ballograf do have a homepage http://www.ballograf.se where their whole line of products can be found. But they seem quite happy with their share of the penmarket in the Nordic countries and this is probably the reason why you, and other pen-lovers, have been missing out on the Epoca.
    Also… I like Ballograf – a lot – and have some of the more unusual ones, but No, I do not have anything with the company to do!

    Best Regards
    Björn Andersson
    Kristinehamn, Sweden

    1. Björn – this is fascinating! Thank you very much for this information. The company has such an interesting history for a brand that is quite unknown in the UK. I have seen Ballograf ballpoint pens sold in more homeware / design type shops, but very rarely in stationery stores. I would love to come across a Ballograf fountain pen one day – although noted that they are very rare! What unusual Ballograf pens do you have?

      Very best
      Priya

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