About six months ago, I discovered the amazing treasure trove of cheap Chinese pens available on eBay. While suspicious of the quality on offer at such low prices, I thought it worth plunking down fifty bucks of fun money to find out. I had heard the Duke was one of the more reputable of the Chinese pen manufacturers, so I spent $7 of the Duke/Uranus snakeskin. At that time, the Pelikan Lizard had just come out and I wanted to compare the Chinese and Pelikan versions of lizard/snake scales. It goes without saying that, in all ways artistic, the Pelikan blows this pen away, so this review will only examine the pen on its own merits. I've now had the piece for six months and used it off and on during that time. It's been in various rotations three times, or about 6 weeks of reasonably intense usage.
The pen arrived in a nice blue Duke labeled gift box or approximately the same dimensions as a typical Waterman pen box. Inside, the pen was enclosed in a narrow plastic bag. It came with the converter pre-installed and, from first appearances, looked pretty good. Like most Chinese pens, this one features a brass body with a silk-screened pattern and then a clearcoat layer of varnish on top. The pen itself is of moderate weight, approximately that of a Sheaffer Prelude. It is a thin pen, but not obnoxiously so. A close inspection of the pattern reveals no disastrous defects, but the screening is certainly imprecise and incomplete in places. The design looks much better from a distance than up close, where the sloppy craftsmanship is more readily apparent.
The pen does have some nifty features that elevate it somewhat. The cap band is handsomely inscribed "URANUS" in a Roman font, together with some stars and some Chinese script. Uranus is, I believe, a sub-brand of Duke. After 6 months, it has held its luster and looks quite nice. The clip features a lovely compass rose design, and the tassie features an ivory circle in a sea of black. These details are all well executed.
The nib is a nice design too, featuring a crown logo with rays splaying out toward the end of the nib. At the bottom is the word Duke inscribed in san serif all-caps. While the design elements are good, the craftsmanship of the stamping is less so as the imprint is weak. Holding the pen side by side with a Pilot 78g, the difference in the quality of the nib inscription is striking. All of this is to say that you do, to some extent, get what you pay for. A large part of the difference between a $100 pen and a $7 pen is in the quality of the materials and craftsmanship. I would say that, for the price, Duke has done a very creditable job on the design and execution.
The cap snaps on and off and posts securely. Many Chinese pens feature snap on/off caps, presumably for cost reasons, but getting the correct amount of force to hold the cap on seems to be a challenge for many. Most err on the side of way too much force. Baoer, in particular, seems to suffer from this problem a fair bit. Some, like certain Hero pens, employ too little force. Duke, however, has found the "butter zone" for the force needed with this cap. It's easy to remove, but does not remove itself. One also worries that, even if the force is correct initially, wear and use will lead to a situation where it's no good. After 6 months of use, however, there is no sign of any problem.
On to the writing. (See attached written review.)
This pen is perfectly fine. I'm glad to have satisfied my curiosity about Chinese pens, but I do not see myself getting any more of them, at least at this price point. The $30 Kaigelu pens that are an homage (copy) to the Parker Duofold Centennial are rather nice, but these very inexpensive pens have to make too many sacrifices in the name of cost reduction to be inspiring. In a way, I'd prefer the more honest approach that Pilot and Sailor have taken with this market. The Platinum Preppy and Plumix cost about the same or less. They do not try to pretend to be a high-end pen, even from a distance. What they do well is to produce an interesting writing experience with a number of options. Duke/Uranus, on the other hand, provides a reliable writing experience, but not an interesting one.
I would recommend passing on these unless you are in the position of needing a reliable pen with a more upmarket (at least from a distance) design. Even then, I would say that springing for a Pilot 78g is probably still a better bet as these can be had for around $15.
By the way, if anyone wishes to trade for this or other inexpensive Chinese pens I own, I would happily take most deals. Please PM me.
Edited by Mister John, 21 May 2013 - 21:04.