The pen was released by Lamy in 2003, launching the Dialog series of high-end writing instruments and collaborating with famed industrial designers in their conception. The Dialog 1 in particular was designed by the Munich-born Richard Sapper, known for designing the Artemide Tizio desk lamp in 1972 and the IBM ThinkPad in 1992.
Appearance and Design (10/10)
The Lamy Dialog 1 has a metal body with a triangular cross-section and matte titanium finish. It uses a top-push click mechanism.
The triangular shape of the pen is equilateral with curved vertices, even though the oblique ends may give an illusion that it is not. Length wise, the pen follows a parallelogram profile.
The clip is spring-loaded and made of stainless steel, also with a matte titanium finish. The Lamy logo is etched just beneath the clip.
The 'underside' of the pen has a slight curvature. There are two very slightly-raised black textured plastic tabs to protect the metal surface from rough exposure to hard surfaces; you'd have look very closely to notice that they're raised.
The removable front end of the pen is textured black plastic, and has a protruding, stylized sleeve with a metal tip for the ballpoint. A nearby small button with a rounded spherical depression is pressed to open the pen and swap refills. Inside the pen, there is additional black plastic reinforcement to guide the narrower part of the ballpoint refill. The 'button' itself constitutes a protrusion of this reinforcement that is bent to dislodge the plastic front end from the pen. Clever German engineering.
The pen's design is masculine, industrial, and practical. Apart from the design, the triangular shape serves as an ergonomic feature to aid in writing comfort, particularly for right-handed writers. Overall, not too exhibitionist, not too plain. Not fancy, not boring. It's appropriate at a university lecture, engineer's desk, or executive boardroom. Simply put, form follows function, as expected from the creative mind of Richard Sapper. YMMV, of course, so with the photos, you be the judge. A few coworkers found it flat out ugly, but I say the opposite! The Dialog 1 received the Chicago Athenaeum Good Design Award in 2003.
All Dialog pens come in a wooden case made of beech with magnetic closure, also designed by Richard Sapper. The case interior is coated with a rubbery material to prevent scratching if the pen stored inside moves. Smelling the case reminds me of IKEA, with that familiar scent of wood furniture. The case comes packaged in a black box with a warranty slip and descriptive instruction leaflet. Finally, the Dialog 1 includes a Lamy M16 proprietary ballpoint refill in black with a medium point.
Construction and Quality (9/10)
Overall the pen construction and quality is excellent, as expected from a German made pen. The click mechanism is smooth and authoritative, confirming that the ballpoint has been extracted with slight tactile feedback. There is no rattling of the ballpoint refill inside. The assertive, non-wobbling, spring-loaded clip cooperates when you want to place the pen in a pen sleeve or shirt/jacket pocket.
The metal surface attracts fingerprints, but not as significant as a chromed surface. If you are too careless, scuff marks and small scratches can form on the surface, but are usually noticeable if you look closely and cast light on the pen at a certain angle. Tossing the pen in a common pencil pot or cup with 'the others' is not recommended.
Weight and Dimensions (9/10)
Despite metal being the dominant material of the Dialog 1, the pen is surprisingly light. It is only slightly heavier than a Lamy Safari fountain pen with a converter installed.
The length of the pen with the refill retracted is almost exactly the same as that of the Safari fountain pen capped, at 14 cm (5-1/2”). Extracting the refill extends the length by 3 mm. The equilateral sides of the triangular pen measure roughly 12.5 mm (1/2”) each. The photo below compares various other pens to the Dialog 1 in the middle.
In terms of writing experience, the weight feels evenly distributed throughout the pen, and length appropriate enough to allow comfortable writing for long periods without fatigue.
I am left-handed and feel compelled to make a few remarks for lefties that may be interested in this pen. Normally, I either hold writing instruments at a 45-degree or 60-degree angle, depending on which is more comfortable factoring in the weight and shape. We lefties have evolved to hold pens in unique ways, and the Dialog 1 will initially take time getting used to. The triangular shape was not optimized for lefties, but I've found a comfortable sweet spot, holding the pen at a 60-degree angle, and the writing experience is heavenly. I've also observed that the oblique front end of the pen can act as a rest for your middle finger if it feels more comfortable. If left-handed, you are urged to try this pen at a shop before buying; your experience may be the opposite of mine! On the other hand, it feels more “natural” (no pun intended).
Refill and Pen Performance (8/10)
The pen's main body contributes the visual appeal, weight balance, and comfort level to the overall writing experience, but ultimately the quality of the refill determines the usability of the ballpoint pen. With Lamy ballpoints, it is even more critical, since they all use proprietary refills. Inserting, say, a Parker-sized (ISO G2) refill into the Dialog 1 will not work because it is too short. The pen will require a Lamy M16 'Giant' refill, available in fine, medium, and broad points with black, blue, red, and green colors. The refills, as per Lamy, have an 8000-meter writing capacity.
Fortunately, the Lamy ballpoint refill is an excellent writer. The ink is ISO 12757-2 documentary quality. The ballpoint lays a smooth line. As a left-handed writer, this is in my opinion, one of the best performing and left-hand-friendly ballpoints I've used. The shade of blue is lighter than many other blue ballpoint inks. It is important to mention that Lamy refills may not be available at big-box office supply stores, but readily available online and at shops selling fine writing instruments that carry Lamy products.
Refill Procedure and Maintenance (8/10)
The unique and innovative design of the Dialog 1 warrants its own refilling category and evaluation. Most simple ballpoint pen designs consist of unscrewing the barrel and popping in a fresh refill, but this is not feasible in the Dialog 1 due to its triangular shape and oblique ends.
As mentioned earlier, there is a small button near the sleeve of the pen that you gently press with a pointy object. The end-tip of the M16 Lamy ballpoint refill you are about to insert works perfectly. After pressing, the black plastic end will pop off for you to completely remove, and you can then slide the refill into the shaft. Finally, you reinsert this plastic end (making sure to feed the refill point through an attached metal spring) until it snaps shut.
Recall that the button you press to remove the refill is part of the plastic reinforcement fitted into the metal housing. Although the button feels very sturdy and poised to handle some roughness, it would be prudent to exercise care with repeated opening, for it is not impossible to break and consequently render the pen useless. This is my only concern with the unique refilling scheme, but given the generous lifespan of the Lamy refills, this would not be performed too often even if the pen were to be used as a daily writer.
Other than the aforementioned remarks, there is not much maintenance needed by virtue of it being a refilling ballpoint. The Dialog 1 is not user serviceable. If there were to be any problems with the sleeve-bearing plastic end, clip, or click mechanism for example, it would have to be sent to Lamy for repair.
Cost and Value (8/10)
The Dialog series of pens are relatively more expensive than most of Lamy's other offerings. In Europe, the pen retails for €125 while in the USA for $125. In most cases it can be found for $99 in American online shops, and sometimes lower with more scrutiny. Through that big auction site, I was fortunate to win a bid for this pen in new condition with a price of about $55 plus shipping. The only Canadian online retailer to readily carry this pen sells it for a cool $230 CAD at regular price.
Frankly, I am reluctant to pay more than $100 for a ballpoint pen, knowing that the quality of the pen refill plays the most critical role. If the refill is mediocre, the pen is no good, especially if proprietary refills are required. However the price may be well worth it, because the Dialog 1 is most importantly a good, comfortable writer, in addition to being of robust quality with a unique industrial design that I personally find to be beautiful. All I can say is, I am very happy with the price I paid for the pen!
Lastly, it is worth discussing the price of the M16 refills because they are proprietary. They retail for $5.25 in the USA and $9.95 in Canada, but most American online retailers sell them for about $5. If you buy them in packs of 2, the price per refill is less. If you live outside a metropolis, or otherwise too far away from a retailer carrying Lamy products, online ordering may be your only recourse.
Conclusion (Final score: 8/10)
The Lamy Dialog 1 highlights modern, industrial, and utilitarian design. The triangular shape is ergonomic, but may not be comfortable for left-handed writers. The high quality is noticed right away when the pen is used, but the surface can show sweaty fingerprints. The refill is an excellent writer, yet it must be noted that this pen requires the Lamy proprietary version. Overall, the writing experience is excellent.
For the moment, it is my favorite ballpoint pen, and the one I will readily grab when a ballwriter is necessary. I wouldn't call it a daily writer since I don't use ballpoints often. The price may be steep for a such a pen, but may be worth it especially if the 'form follows function' approach to product design appeals to you. If well taken care of, the pen can last for more than a decade. Would I buy it again if I lost it and would I recommend it to others? Definitely. But that's just me. To each his own.
I am adding a few more photos of the Lamy Dialog 1 with additional info by request. This one below is a top (bird's eye) view of the pen:
Below is a close-up of the clip assembly when the ballpoint is retracted. In this position, it covers the "Germany" inscription on the black plastic oblique top (see corresponding 3rd photo in the review) and the small triangular tab underneath the clip is to the right-most part of the arc on the metal body (viewing it from the Lamy logo side). This tab will be on the left-most part of the arc when the pen's click mechanism is pushed to its limit, and will rest at left-of-center position when the ballpoint is extracted. This is all aesthetics; the clip's triangular tab does not serve as a 'stopper' for the click mechanism since it does not even make contact with the sides of the arc.
Lastly, the photo below is of the inner front and the removable plastic front end with a spring attached for extraction/retraction of the ballpoint.
Edited by watch_art, 18 March 2011 - 23:34.