Galerie

You may remember that I made a quick review of Caran d’Ache Alchemix ballpoint pen, but I never came back to it. To sum up, after about a month, I was very disappointed by this pen and its various little problems. In the end, I’d lost it and hadn’t any regrets about it (and being a working poor, the loss of any object over ten bucks is not something I take lightlly, usually). The last straw was of course the day mechanism got stuck and exposed the ballpoint outside the pen barrel.

That said, when I’ve discovered they had released an entry-level version of that pen, I was quite intrigued and decided to give it a shot. The fact that it took me about six months to discover they have a new proposition in their assortment tells a lot about the marketing power of Caran d’Ache.

The newish 888 Infinite is not a disposable pen, and at CHF 8.- is about half the price of a classic aluminium 849, which was the best ballpen in the world for quite a long time (it is getting slightly out-of-date because of the slow decline in production quality and the competition of Japanese cartridges for comfort of writing).

That price is, for me, in a sweetspot since it’s cheap enough that if I misplace or break it, I won’t lose sleep over that, but already costly enough that I will take care of it and watch it if I lend it (I don’t like to lend my pens, I’ve had too many pens stolen in the great pen wars of the various offices I worked in – one of my favourite tactic was to have the brightest neon pink pen available so that nobody would be interested in it, but I digress).

The 888 Infinite is a very pretty pen, with a streamlined profile that would not had been out of place in the Fifties. The barrel is made of colorful plastic (mine is a bit dull in navy blue, but I like it that way, and it was also the last one available in the shop – but I would not mind getting the pink, orange, yellow, green, powder blue and gray versions). The fit and finish is really good, and to be honest, way better than the Alchemix one (while being about eight times cheaper). I really like the little detail of the hexagon at the basis of the clip (not that bad for a plastic clip, by the way, should be plenty durable if the user resists the tentation to play with it while bored), reminding of the traditional body shape of wood pencils and Caran d’Ache older pens.

Balance of the 888 is excellent, thanks to both its metal push button and tip ; the weight is perfect for me, allowing for comfortable writing for a long period of time.

What is really great about this ballpoint pen is the inkholder cartridge. I don’t know if it’s totally new technology, but it is a very smooth and refined writing implement, really on par with the Japanese competition – and even inkgel pens. Of course, it’s smaller than the traditional Goliath cartridges, so it will probably last less time. I can live with that in exchange of the bump in smoothness and regularity (and normal ink cartridges from Caran d’Ache are not that bad to begin with).

I’m using it since about two months now, and I’ve found only two problems with it.

The first one, that really throw me back and almost made me swear to avoid definitively the brand, is the mechanism needing a run-in. Seriously, Caran d’Ache, don’t you have a quality control good enough to catch that kind of problems ? So you have to know, that contrary to all (in my experience at least) other retractable pens, the mechanism needs about 100-150 usages to be reliable (meanwhile, the tip of the cartridge get stuck outside the barrel, or doesn’t go out). That’s really disappointing. After that run-in period, the mechanism is a joy to use, like in all metallic Caran d’Ache retractable pens.

The second one is not an immediate concern, but more about the long-term durability ; like in the Alchemix, Caran d’Ache took the road of screwing the metal tip on a plastic interface with the barrel. I don’t know what kind of tests the Genevese engineers submited the 888 to, but it’s obviously the structural weak spot of the pen. I don’t see my 888 breaking in my pocket for the next few months, but I have not a lot of confidence over that in a few years, since I can already see a little wear on the part (and I don’t play with it a lot). You may find it funny that I have such concerns for an entry-level pen, but considering that my 849 is older than some Tumblr users, and is still strong, I’d say I can appreciate good design. That kind of choice reminds me of the design of Audi V8 engine’s plastic guides for the timing chain, if you know what I mean.

Caran d’Ache with the 888 Infinite is at last proposing a very refreshing offer on the ballpoint pens market, and is catching up with the competition (against European cheap pens, and very technical American and Japanese ones too). It won’t break your budget, it’s very-very nice to use, and is more durable than previous Caran d’Ache entry level retractable ballpens. For two years now, Caran d’Ache has seriously disappointed me in various ways, and my writing tools were coming more and more from Japan (mostly Pilot and Uni). I’m glad I can tell again that my favourite pen is made in Switzerland.

Galerie

My December EDC :

– Clairefontaine notebook and Caran d’Ache 849 ballpoint pen

– wallet and keys

– Philippe Perotti Sac à pièces

– pepper spray, Fred Perrin Neck Bowie and Street Bowie

– Motorola G 2nd generation

– whistle, rosary, lighter in a kydex sheath, Lansky knife sharpener, Victorinox keychain knife, Fenix E01 flashlight

missing : Casio watch, wool gloves, bonnet hat.

wynfrith replied to your photoset : 

Bought a new main pen for work and EDC, a Caran…

I like Caran d’Ache for pencils. I’ve never used one of their pens. Kaweco is my choice for writing instruments. Perhaps give one of their models a try?

You should. High end models are still incredible, and any of their ballpoints got a very nice and smooth inkflow. Caveat emptor : they are using proprietary ink cartridges (the famous Goliath), their entry level models aren’t as good as they were ten years ago (I suspect some tiny cost-cutting measures were taken, not exactly ruining, but making it lose its edge over other cheap pens) and last but not least, they were incredible 50, 40, 30 years ago, but now Japanese pens technology is on point and had let Caran d’Ache hanging in the dust…

Galerie

Bought a new main pen for work and EDC, a Caran d’Ache AlCHeMiX (I’m not drunk, this is the correct way to capitalize it).

After a little more than a month writing with it, here is a quick reviews of pros and cons of this new entry-mid level offer from the pen manufacture of Geneva.

First, the good things:

– the body is heavy and feel well balanced in the hand

– price is correct (CHF 62,00.-, about $65). It comes with a Goliath ink cartridge and a flattering metal flatbox

– Goliath ink cartridge is of course old school compared to what Japan produce today (I think about Mitsubishi), but it’s still nice and very durable

– mechanism is very, very, very nice to use, both the sound and the haptic feeling (can I say “haptic” about something analogic?)

– you can have this pen in several options of noble modern materials

– a very good waranty

And then, what let me down a little bit:

– it’s far more thicker than a Caran d’Ache 849 (my old red one) or an Ecridor

– the new “medium blue” is banal. I prefer the old greenish tint. But I can live with the new one.

– some sloppiness in the finish, which is really troubling at those level of prices. It’s a general problem at Caran d’Ache, you can really see and feel a difference between pens produced seven or ten years ago and today production. I blame it on the anglo-saxon business model invading Switzerland and fucking it up since several years, but maybe it’s just they are now employing more French workers

– in the third photography, there is a very visible drip, evoking the famous orange peel paintjob of the 80s’ Peugeot
– in the fourth pic, there is something almost invisible but very annoying when you got the pen in your hand: the metallic cap isn’t perfectly aligned with the body. Itr’s truely nagging, you can really feel this kind of slight irregularity, almost a gap under your fingers. Once again, I could live with it if it was a thirty cents Chinese pen, not on a Caran d’Ache
– in the fifth pic, you can see that one of the most critical part of the pen in term of strenght, is made in fucking grey plastic. I’m pretty sure the choice of a brass or aluminium barrel would have sunk the company because of added cost of at least twelve cents a pen (see what I was saying about anglo-saxon business model earlier?)

– pocket clip seems flimsy, particulary since this pen is the size of the Hindenburg; it’s more a feeling than anything, but I’m not very confident about the durability and reliability of this little metal piece

– a huge confusion/deception about the nature of the materials of the barrel. My pen was sold as wood, but I think it’s “wood”, instead. Maybe  plastic or resin? I don’t know. It don’t feel cheap at all, mind you (apart for the bad finish), but it’s better to be upfront about it. 

In the end, if only Caran d’Ache take its job seriously, and with minor tweaking (better clip, metal inside, attention to detail) it has the potential of being of future classic pen. For the moment, I regret not having bought a vintage Ecridor.