Appearance and Design: 10/10
The pen arrived in a sealed plastic bag, with sticky-labelled instructions on how to use the converter and how to insert a cartridge. At first glance I was impressed. The pen is very black, very shiny, and very heavy. This is a behemoth, a zeppelin of a pen. Cigar-shaped, black, chrome trim, a gracefully curving clip with a small blue jewel at the end. For a Chinese-made pen, it is very tasteful and understated: definitely a take on a Montblanc 149 or Sailor 1911, or a Jinhao 159, the other name for this beast. The cap band says Bulow, with an umlaut where one should be. My first impression was not a disappointment.
Construction and Quality: 9/10
Picking the pen up, it is certainly solid. The body is most obviously brass, with a lacquer finish. The finish is high gloss, and shows fingerprints readily: I keep taking the microfiber lens cloth to it. I don’t know how rugged the finish is, and I’m not at the point of wanting to find out. Yet. The cap is a screw-on, taking about 2/3 of a turn to open. The clip has a nice curve to it, and no sharp edges. Threads on both cap and body are metal. There is a slight chrome lip on the end of the section, just enough for the fingertips to get purchase on.
Weight and Dimensions: 8/10
On the digital postal scale at work, the pen weighs 54g capped, and 30g uncapped; if I dropped this bad boy, I’d worry about cracking a floor tile before damaging the pen. The cap does not post; you can post it if you like, but it flops there like a rogue landmine. It also makes the pen very top heavy: you’d need a seatbelt to keep it from flipping you out of your chair. Unposted, the pen’s centre of gravity is (in my hand) right over where the barrel rests against my index finger. So, surprisingly well balanced for me. I wrote and scribbled for 30 minutes with little hand or wrist fatigue. Your mileage may vary, of course. All in all, good contruction: smooth threads, clean finish.
Nib and Performance: 9/10
When buying the pen, I opted for the “German” Knox nib, Medium. One reason was I thought the two tone nib would suit the pen. I also thought that having a nib fitted by the vendor would give that part of the pen a little attention when it was done. The nib is quite attractive: the pics on the website do it no justice (the nibs shown in the website look like they were dug out of the ground). Steel, two tone, with smooth lines between the silver and gold. The engraving is eye-catching but not over the top. Available widths are XF, F, M, B, Oblique Broad, and Oblique 2X broad. The website says the nib is iridium tipped.
Sure it’s pretty, but does it work? The answer is yes indeed. Smooth from the start, a slight amount of feedback from the Carpe Diem notebook paper I baptized it on. Using Skrip black, the nib lays a wet line, quite dark. The line is a little thinner than I remember a medium nib to be, and there is very little flex. Not a 6d nail, but not far off. However, these are good nibs, at least this one is. Snap some up before the vender reads all the recent ravings about them and jacks up the price, like they did with their inks. As far as ease of replacement, I don’t see much of an issue. I actually will update this, as I’m going to order an OB nib for a little more of a line.
After standing upright, capped, for 24 hours, it took about a half inch of scribbling to get a solid line going. Dry-out seems not to be a problem. There is some class of a seal inside the cap.
Filling System and Maintenance: 10/10
Of course, this is a cartridge/converter filling system we have here. Unscrewing the section shows a surprisingly well-made converter. The screw piston is not floppy or flimsy: I may just score a couple of these for other pens. There is a small ball in the chamber, presumably to agitate the ink. Note the band around where the nipple is on the converter: I think this would ensure a better fit and seal. It certainly fits well in my Kaweco. One could also use cartridges as a backup, or if one prefers using cartridges. Three cycles of the screw plunger filled the converter with about what is in an international cartridge worth of ink. No leaks, solid fit, what else can I say?
Cost and Value: 9/10
Xfountainpens shows a “list” price of $49.99 for the X530 ‘Mitternacht’, but that’s only if you just fell off the turnip truck. The $14.99 I paid is about the typical price, even on Ebay for a Jinhao 159. The nib upgrade was $6.99, but I got 50% off that because I happened to see a post here about discount codes. So I paid $18.48 plus $4 shipping. A good deal? I say yes, for an attractive pen that writes fairly well. It may have been cheaper on the ‘bay, but not with the nice Knox nib. The sale went smoothly, and shipping wasn’t bad considering Xmas was in the middle of the shipping period. Brief aside: why do parcels come to Canada quicker from China and Korea than from the US? Just wondering. There was no duty or tax due from crossing the border. Indeed, in the many many purchases I have made from US retailers, the only time I ever had to pay duty was for a piece of sterling silver jewelry, and I think that was because it came by courier. Avoid couriers for cross-border shopping, or else customs brokers get their hands in your pocket.
All in all, I am pleased with my purchase. Some might find more things to fault with this pen, but it is a $20 Chinese pen and that is how I judged it. And for a $20 Chinese pen, it’s not too shabby at all, atall. The Knox nib was a pleasant surprise; I plumped for it only because of possible pre-shipment attention, but it performs very well for a $9 nib.
Edited by wastelanded, 24 January 2012 - 18:24.