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Rotring Techniker-Zirkel II: Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the drawing board

The name Rotring will forever be synonymous with the tubular technical pens on which their business was built, so it easy to forget that they were also highly regarded for their compasses. The first of these was the “System Haff” quick setting wing compass introduced in the 1960s, which remained the mainstay of their range for more than thirty years and is considered one of the best of its kind.

Rotring 1601 System Haff quick set wing compass

However, arguably the most innovative and sought-after of Rotring’s compasses is their Parallelzirkel, a design that reimagined Lotter’s famous parallel compass as a high-gloss chrome precision instrument for the late 20th century. Both compasses featured in Rotring’s flagship compass set, the magnificent Grosses Zirkelbesteck, which represents the pinnacle of their drawing instrument production.

Easily mistaken for the Parallelzirkel is Rotring’s far less common “Techniker-Zirkel II mit Teleskopverlängerungen”, so similar in form that it was supplied in the same box. This seems to have been an ultimately abortive effort to produce a double-barreled successor to Rotring’s original Techniker-Zirkel, first introduced shortly after the System Haff. This was a simple compass with interchangeable bifurcated pen-holder and pencil insert on one side and a telescopic leg on the other – the latter being another trademark Lotter feature.

The Techniker-Zirkel II is matte chrome plated as opposed to the high gloss chrome of the professional series parallel compass, indicating that it was targeted at the same level as Rotring’s technical range. The main selling point of the Techniker-Zirkel II was its maximum diameter of 600 mm as touted on the front of the box, beating that of all Rotring’s other compasses even taking into account extension bars. By comparison, the maximum diameter of the parallel compass was 430 mm.

Rotring 531109 Techniker-Zirkel II box details

The trade-off is that the points must be manually adjusted, as is the case with all of Rotring’s other non-parallel designs with bifurcated pen socket. In practice, this is not too onerous and the compass is reasonably stable at full extension, although I prefer the heft and steadiness of the Parallelzirkel.

It all feels rather like an attempt to capitalise on the success of the parallel compass, while economising with a design that used the same basic chassis and packaging. Rotring’s original Techniker-Zirkel from the late 1960s was, I believe, produced for them by Riefler who then went on to make the Parallelzirkel. It therefore seems likely that Riefler was also responsible for the Techniker-Zirkel II, which shares many details with its more expensive sibling.

Rotring's 1969 compass range

That it was introduced after the Rotring parallel compass is clear, evidenced by the early parallel compass boxes which only have cutouts for the lower side screws, while those for the Techniker-Zirkel II and later Parallelzirkel models have dual cutouts to acommodate both designs.

Rotring Parallelzirkel and Techniker-Zirkel II in boxes comparison

As to when exactly it first became available, Rotring’s catalogues show the parallel compass case with only the lower set of cutouts up to and including 1984, but by 1990 (the next full catalogue I have) it has both upper and lower cutouts. On the other hand, the Rotring logos on the outer cardboard packaging, the hard case and the compass itself are all the old version that was phased out by 1983, confirming that the Techniker-Zirkel II was in production before that date.

In Rotring’s October 1979 catalogue, the Parallelzirkel is not marked “NEW” so had clearly been introduced in an earlier publication (but not much earlier). I have seen enough examples of the parallel compass with single cutout packaging to suggest it was sold in significant quantities before the moulds were revised to accommodate the Techniker-Zirkel II.

The most likely scenario is that Rotring used the same catalogue photo of the Parallelzirkel until there was a reason to update it, namely the box colour change around 1986. However, this does mean that the Techniker-Zirkel II did not appear in Rotring catalogues – certainly the English language ones – at the time it was being made, suggesting a limited distribution. As yet I have found no official Rotring documentation about this compass.

Rotring Parallelzirkel and Techniker-Zirkel II comparison closed

While it was definitely a cheaper model than the highly-covetable parallel compass, it is much more difficult to find today, presumably due to its limited market and relatively low sales. Indeed, I have seen only one other example, and at present it returns only one google hit (a classified ad in a 2014 weekly newspaper from Holstein in the far north of Germany). If Rotring is your thing and you happen to see one, grab it!

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