Review: Blissfully Wrong - The Jinhao X450R Fountain Pen
Sometimes I just love being wrong. So much so, I'll happily admit it in public.
After my post a couple weeks ago on Esterbrooks, Mak, an acquaintance of mine in Hong Kong wrote to tell me that there were plenty of quality fountain pens still selling brand new under the $20 mark. Now, given that the list price of the Lamy Safari is $30 USD and the inexpensive but highly-regarded Waterman Phileas is $60 USD (though they can often be found for about $20 and $30 without converters), I was hard pressed to think of a single example. Even in the eBay "roll the dice, take your chances" game of slugging through remnants of estate sales, it's hard to find something that isn't scratchy, leaky, sac-less, ugly or just plain broken. I expressed my skepticism, but my friend apparently lives in quite a different world, one where good deals are far more common than in the far north of Canada. The next thing I knew, Mak had procured a little $10 gift for me and sent it on a journey half-way around the world.
While I waited for it, I couldn't help but remember one of my first fountain pens. While that "Asia Wood Stunning Pen" cost about $8, the seller insisted that adding a few no-name ink cartridges bumped the shipping price from $10 to $22. When it finally arrived, the cheap cap wouldn't fit snug, the nib was misaligned and scratchy, the "jewel" atop was a dollop of hot glue, and the splinters skirting every corner sent me running for tweezers. Straight into the junk drawer it went.
But, oh, was this one a pleasant surprise.
It's almost impossible to find information about the manufacturer of my new pen, but the ISellPens.com Jinhao page gives a clue as to its origins: "Jinhao is made in China and a relatively new company started by a previous employee of a major pen manufacturer." It came in a simple little unostentatious red cardboard box, but the pen itself was quite beautiful, and far more than what I expected.
The "Flaming Red" Jinhao X450R (or X480R -- the hand-written sticker wasn't very clear) is a full-size, weighty pen. Its internal metal barrel is covered by what seems to be a three-layer lacquered effect consisting of inside layers of deep red and amorphous black shapes, with an outer layer of subtle golden daubs, all building into beautiful translucent strata which catches and reflects the light. (Forgive my poor photograph, but good light is lacking here this time of year.) A fairly wide gold-plated band sporting a tasteful scripted "Jinhao" rims the cap, and smaller gold bands near the top and bottom of the pen are punctuated with polished rounded black tips. A gracefully curved two-tone clip sets off the bands and feels quite solid and well-constructed.
The snug cap removes with a satisfying click to reveal a black plastic section (the place where you grip the pen with your fingertips) that is shaped and etched with three flatter sections, allowing for a certain degree of ergonomics while writing, as well as letting the fingers "know" which way the nib it to be held, preventing rotation in the hand. Yet another gold band edges the top of the section, and then there is the intricately designed two-tone gold and silver nib.
The nib itself is quite large, in line with the rest of the pen. The gold and silver plating is etched with something akin to a Victorian filigree design near the edges, offsetting another "Jinhao" brandmark running vertically up the centre of the nib. Behind the nib, the feed is a standard comb-style, its black plastic styling fitting in well with the section design.
But how does it write? Surprisingly well, it turns out. I drew up some good ole' utilitarian Parker Quink into the pen via the included converter, gave the nib a quick wipe, then put the point to some Rhodia vellum. The results were completely unexpected for such an inexpensive pen: a solid, wet, fine-medium line, delivered with an incredibly smooth nib. The flow started immediately, and demonstrated no skipping. The results were similar even in a Chinese-made Moleskine, with almost no bleed-through -- a rare thing for a wet pen. Only when used on cheap index cards was there any noticable feathering, which is no surprise. Writing with the nib upside-down also gives a steady, slightly finer line.
If I had to mention a downside, it's that the pen is perhaps a little too wet for my taste: I can be a very fast writer, and on a small surface like a Moleskine page, my hand will occasionally cross the ink while it's still a little damp. (No such problems on larger pages, however.) Also, I should mention a warning passed on to me a few times now, that Chinese pen manufacturers often suffer through inconsistent quality control processes. For example, a friend of mine bought two identical Hero pens -- one wrote and performed beautifully, almost as well as his mint Parker 51, while the other proved scratchy and leaky. So while I can guarantee that this Jinhao works beautifully, I've seen or experienced no other from this maker.
I've temporarily lost contact with Mak for a while while he's travelling on a geographic survey in Tibet, so I'm not sure where to point you online at the moment for purchases of this pen. ISellPens.com has a Jinhao page with a few models of the X450 (mostly sold out), although I don't see my particular colour there. (The "Electric Red" seems to lack the layered fuzzy black shapes and golden overlay of mine.) Does anybody, possibly with a command of Chinese, know of any other non-eBay source for Jinhao. Or perhaps someone can clue us in on this mysterious manufacturer?
So, I eat my words: the inspirationally-named X450R is not only an attractive, solid, hefty pen --my favourite type-- but it writes well enough to find its way into my daily rotation. Not bad at all for a pen costing only $10.
I thank you, Mak, for this lovely little gift, wherever your travels have you now.