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price of a classic aluminium 849, which was the best ballpen in the world for quite a long time (it is getting slightly out-of-date because of the slow decline in production quality and the competition of Japanese cartridges for comfort of writing).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.