I just received my PenBBS 323 Aluminum from China. Given that my daily writer is (and has been for a while) a Gravitas Entry, which lives permanently on my desk, a comparison between the two was immediate and inevitable.
In case you are not familiar, the purple one on the top is the PenBBS 323 and the teal one at the bottom is the Gravitas Entry.
On first impression, the pens are very similar. Both are made from anodised aluminium with pretty much identical finish. They are both clipless pens, with screw-on caps, cartridge converters and #6 size nibs, and weigh an identical 31g each (inked).
The PenBBS is slightly shorter and significantly girthier, with a curvaceous barrel. The Gravitas is more streamlined and narrower. Both have similar conical ends to the barrel and the cap, although the Gravitas is a little more pointed than the PenBBS one.
With the caps removed however, the two pens start to look quite a bit different. Gravitas uses a more traditional arrangement with the cap threads at the end of the barrel and takes a full two turns to unscrew, whereas the PenBBS has opted to put the cap threads at the front of the section and needs just over one turn to unscrew.
PenBBS however missed a trick here: Instead of taking advantage of the location of the cap threads to create a smooth transition between the barrel and the section, they opted to add a decorative band where the threads would be, with the name PenBBS, which has an annoyingly sharp step down. Especially as the resting curve in the section is much higher and almost forces you to rest your knuckles on it making it irritating for longer writing sessions. The machined grooves of the Gravitas section give it a much more secure grip, and the design allows you to hold the pen closer to the nib, without the barrel threads interfering at all with the hold (and even if you hold the pen higher, they are smoother than the PenBBS step anyway).
There is another key difference between the sections. Even with the caps removed, the Gravitas pen is about only about 2g heavier than the PenBBS one. However, weighing the sections on their own (with nib, feed and converter) the PenBBS one comes at a mere 8g whereas the Gravitas one weighs more than double at 17g.
Why is that important? Balance! The heavier section of the Gravitas balances nicely the weight of the metal barrel and brings the balance point forward, making the pen extremely comfortable for writing under its own weight. By contrast, the lighter section on the PenBBS makes the pen slightly back weighted which makes writing much more tiring as you need to press the nib down more. The shaping and lower positioning of the indentation on the Gravitas section adds to the effect.
On the point of balancing, it’s worth mentioning that the Gravitas cap does post securely without impacting the pen balance (even if I personally don’t use it posted), whereas the PenBBS cap does not post at all.
Both pens come with a good quality general purpose converter included. The Gravitas takes the standard international converter and cartridge, whereas the PenBBS take the much wider ‘Parker’ style one. Interestingly, the PenBBS comes with a rather significant silicon O ring in the section which makes the barrel stiff to remove (whereas in the Gravitas I added one myself at the end of the section threads, just so that the barrel does not “arrive” metal-to-metal. It’s just personal preference and it ensures that the section does not unscrew by accident from the barrel if not fully tightened). I’m not sure what the purpose of the O ring is, as I would not recommend using a metal pen as an eye-dropper. It is possible that the process these metals have gone through protects them, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The barrel unscrews from the section with 4.5 turns on the PenBBS, and an eye-watering 10.5 turns on the Gravitas.
The Gravitas comes with a manually tuned and tested standard #6 Jowo nib (EF in this instance) whereas the PenBBS has it’s own proprietary #6 nib (this particular one is an F) although it looks visually quite a bit smaller than the Gravitas one. Both nibs and feeds worked a bit erratically when I first used the pen, but since I’ve been using the Gravitas daily (and extremely reliably) for several months it is unfair to compare them directly. The PenBBS started flowing quite quickly after adding the inked converter and, even though it was skipping quite a bit to start with, after a couple of hours of writing it settled into quite a smooth writer. The PenBBS nib is closer to an <M> than an <F> though, as it was advertised.
Price-wise there is a significant difference between the two pens. As of today, the Gravitas Entry will set you back about £54 ordered from Ireland, whereas I ordered the PenBBS 323 directly from China for £30, including postage and tax. However, availability of the 323 in generally very limited.
I would be happy to recommend either pen. Given the choice, I would choose the Gravitas any day, as it is by far the more comfortable pen to use. But for its price the PenBBS 323 is still a great pen despite my niggles with the section and, if you can get hold of one, it will still make great writer.