My real 149 (top) and the fake Chopin (bottom).
The fake looks ok, and from a distance, such as across a boardroom table, it probably could fool most people. The 149, made of MB’s “precious resin,” feels ever so slightly slippery; the fake lacks that tactile sensation. Still, unless you have a real MB on hand to compare a fake with, odds are you wouldn’t be able to tell by touch that the fake’s a fake.
The fake even has “Pix” engraved under the clip, which some claim that fakes do not have:
Taking the caps off by unscrewing the rough and gritty threads (another clue – real MB caps unscrew smoothly), the fake still looks pretty convincing from a distance. Sure, the trim ring below the threads is a little thick, but you’d have to be a total MB nerd to notice:
The nib, too, looks ok from a distance (although when you write with it, you hopefully would notice that it’s stiff as a nail and offers no feedback whatsoever):
Only when you look closer does the fake start to fall apart. The nib is gold plated steel. Here you can see some where some plating has flaked off:
And if you look at the underside of the nib, it’s raw steel. Not even plated. Compare that to my 149, which is a solid gold nib – the underside is gold:
The clip ring has a serial number, but it’s not engraved on the level. And remember, the trim is supposed to be plated in platinum; I’ve never seen platinum look this crappy:
If you hold a real MB up to a strong light source, it will show through a little crimson. Think of a real MB as made of a material that is akin to the world's darkest sunglasses. It's long been said that one easy way to tell a fake from the real thing is to hold it up to a light because fake ones don't have a crimson glow.
I can state that, at least as applied to this particular fake, that assumption is not true.
The fake actually showed much more red when held up to a light than the real MB. My camera's white balance got thrown off, so the real MB looks slightly blue in this picture. It's not. In reality, it was a deep red, close to the color of blood. The fake was close in color, but much brighter, likely a combination of the caps being made of different material and the fake Chopin’s cap being thinner. Note how the real one has much less show-through at the open end of the cap. The "precious resin" seems to be double thick there, which is where the threads are. The fake Chopin lacks that detail:
To sum up so far: there are some “tells” as to the Chopin being a fake: the underside of the nib is a big tell, and the trim work’s sloppiness is another. Looking for “Pix” under the clip, or checking for a red glow, are not reliable ways to deem a Montblanc real or fake.
But I started this post by mentioning infrared light. A real MB is transparent to infrared light. Can we use infrared light to help identify fakes from the real thing? Yes and no. Let me explain:
The fake Chopin is transparent to infrared light pretty much to the same extent as the real 149 is. The fake is a tiny bit less clear, which I suppose is down to it being made of a different mix of plastics than the real MB's "precious resin." Check out the caps. The fake (the smaller one) is slightly tinted, while the real deal is transparent to infrared:
Lighting, technique, or a host of other factors could impact how the infrared image came out, so I'm not comfortable proclaiming that one way to tell a fake from a real MB is by the transparency of the pen under infrared. Some of the fake Chopin is as transparent as the real 149. Look at the non-nib end of the fake Chopin. See how it's clearer than the body of the pen? It's almost as clear (maybe just a tiny bit cloudy) as the real 149:
But remember I said that the answer to infrared as a verification tool was both yes and no? The reason the answer was no is because fakes can be made to be transparent to infrared light to a degree essentially indistinguishable from the real thing. But using infrared as a sort of pen X-ray, seeing into the pen in a way that you couldn’t otherwise – even if the pen was disassembled – is a valuable tool to help determine whether the pen is real.
The 149 (top) has a gooey sealant where the nib is set into the body. It shows that care was taken in assembling the pen. The fake Chopin (bottom) lacks the gooey sealant.
Again, up close the real 149 (notice the micro cracks where the threads meet the ink chamber. Those are normal and common):
And the fake Chopin. Notice the stress fractures inside pen where the nib and feed appear to have been roughly pushed into place. I would not expect to see this on a real MB:
Infrared examination does not work on all pens. Here’s my humble collection, plus the fake Chopin (second from top);
In infrared, the Stealth Namiki Vanishing Point, made of brass and plastic, is not transparent to infrared. The Pelikan M400 White Totroise’s body is somewhat transparent to infrared, but its white plastic is not.
To conclude, infrared is a very useful tool to look inside the pen to see how carefully it was put together. The fake I examined evinced a lack of care in assembly. This is not to say that a better fake couldn’t be put together more carefully, though.
Next up, I did something even nerdier than looking at the pens in infrared. MB’s “precious resin” is a trade secret, I assume. So the fake will not be made of exactly the same blend of plastics. They should, therefore, have different resonant frequencies. I tested the cap of each.
In theory, and all else being equal, the bigger cap should make a deeper sound when hit compared to the smaller cap. Think of drums: bigger usually equals deeper. Oddly enough, the real (and larger) 149 cap had a higher resonant frequency than the fake (smaller) Chopin cap: 1530hz vs. 1088hz.
In general, the higher the resonant frequency the stronger something is, but the more likely it is to shatter when it fails. Put the other way, the lower the resonant frequency, the less strong it is, but the less likely it is to totally shatter when it fails. How to explain this result? My best guess is that the real cap, made of "precious resin," has some sort of glass fiber in it, making it strong but more brittle. The fake cap is probably just some sort of deep red plastic without the glass in it.
Unrelated to whether the Chopin was a fake, the gent who sent it to me for testing also sent me some scratch remover. I dutifully tested it by scratching the surface with a knife:
I put some fine abrasive goop on and rubbed with a bit of cotton:
And after about a minute, the scratch was pretty much all gone:
That's pretty neat!
Let's sum up:
- From a distance, a Montblanc fake might impress someone. But up close, or by handling or using it, the lack of quality is easier to identify.
- The red glow is not dispositive. This fake had it. Others could, too.
- "Pix" engraved under the clip is not dispositive. This fake had it. Others could, too.
- Whether the pen is transparent to infrared light is not a reliable method by which to determine a MB's genuineness. This fake was about as transparent as a real Montblanc.
- Infrared is a wonderful tool to X-ray the Montblanc to see how the innards are put together. On this fake, the infrared revealed numerous cracks and a lack of sealant where the nib and feed apparently were roughly forced into the body.
- Real Montblanc "precious resin" may make a higher frequency sound than a fake made of a different sort of plastic.
I hope this was helpful and enjoyable.