Parker Sonnet Lookalike Comparison Review.
The Parker Sonnet is a well made, high quality pen. Because of this, it is the target of a lot of fake manufacture, but it has also inspired legitimate pen manufacturers in the Far East (China in particular) to produce their own versions - rather in the same way that in the 1920's, as a major manufacturer came out with a new model, it inspired a plethora of second and third tier manufacurers to produce their own version. Recently I was given the opportunity to compare a number of these Sonnet copies. I have already reviewed the Hero 5020 in detail point by point against the Sonnet, so I thought I'd use that text as the basis for this extended comparison. It had a secondary advantage - I didn't have to think quite so much about what to consider! I am sorry there are so few photos at the moment. I'll try to get a few more some time soon.
My Sonnet came from JML, and has the Date Code PIII, indicating 1st quarter 2007, so it's a 2007 Sonnet 'Refresh' in the parlance used for Sonnets. The Sonnet went through another slight re-design in 2008, but I'm afraid I don't have one of those for comparison. All the pens were new at the time of their initial comparison. The pens being considered are:
- Parker Sonnet 2007 'Refresh'. Flighter, Chrome Trim. (Frequently shortened to 'PS' in the text)
- Baoer 388, Flighter, Gold Trim. (B388)
- Duke 209, Matte Black Finish, Gold Trim. (D209)
- Hero 5020. Flighter, Chrome Trim. (H5020)
- Kaigelu 356. Flighter, Chrome Trim. (K356)
Comparison of the Five Pens
When capped, the most noticeable difference between the Sonnet and the Flighter pens is the colour. The Baoer, Hero, and Kaigelu have a more traditional brushed finish of a Parker Flighter, while the Sonnet has a bead blasted finish and a slightly different colour. So, the initial, ironic, impression is that the B388, H5020 & K356 are more like Parker pens than the Parker. The Hero finish is very, very smooth, and it's so smooth it almost feels like polished plastic, however it's not laquered or coated. The Sonnet feel is marginally nicer, but a rougher finish from both would be more tactile and nicer still. The B388 & K356 finish are both rougher, with the K356 roughness being almost identical to the Parker 61 Flighter - which is close to perfect for my fingers. It's rough enough to be felt, but not coarse enough to be scratchy. The B388 is slightly rougher and not quite as nice as the K356, being as nice to hold as the PS. The matte finish of the D209 is attractive, but after experience with the matte black finish on my 1981 Parker 25 I'm dubious about how long the finish will last. Duke may have sorted the problem of the laquer coming off, but to be honest, not many firms have done it adequately.
The PS, D209 and H5020 are of identical length when capped (132mm). The B388 and K356 are longer at 135 and 136mm respectively.
All the look-alike pen barrels are magnetic, indicating they are from a ferritic/martensitic stainless steel, while the Sonnet is non-magnetic, so the barrel is made from an austenitic stainless steel. Interestingly the Kaigelu barrel is barely magnetic towards the section and strongly magnetic at the end of the barrel. I am speculating, but it seems reasonable, that the stainless steel has had its crystal structure so distorted by the deep drawing process making the barrel that the crystal structure is no-longer suitable for orienting magnetic flux, which is why it doesn't seem magnetic over a large part of the barrel.
The empty weights are as below:
- Sonnet: 26g
- Baoer 388: 25g
- Duke 209: 24g
- Hero 5020: 23.5g
- Kaigelu 356: 25g
Considering the Caps.
The clip of the B388 is almost identical to the PS, except that the metal is thicker and has more curvature, consequently the spring of the clip is stronger - about double that of the PS. The feathers are incised in the clip slightly less sharply than on the PS. The gold coloured plating looks nice & even.
The D209 clip is not a copy of the PS clip. It's stiffness is similar to the B388. The plating appears to be as good as the B388's gold coloured plating.
The clip of the H5020 is almost identical to the Parker Frontier in that the edges of the clip need to be de-burred before plating. The feathers are incised in the Hero clip less sharply than on the PS, and about as well as on the Parker Frontier.
The K356 clip is reminiscent of the Parker arrow, but is not a direct copy (unlike the B388). The clip strength is about 50% greater than the PS. The edge was not touched up after being stamped out, and as a result it's not as smooth as it could be - though it's much better than the H5020 and on a par with the B388 - and the plating over the clip edges is, consequently, a little rough.
The cap finial on the Sonnet is obviously a separate piece, with a distinct curve of the body as it bends under the finial. On my Sonnet the rivet holding the finial has always been a tiny bit loose and the finial has about 0.25mm movement available relative to the cap body. It doesn't rattle, but a fingernail can move it.
The B388 Cap finial is Flush with the cap body & doesn't move at all, giving a greater impression of design and build quality than the PS.
The D209 doesn't have a cap finial at all, with the end of the cap being part of the same deep drawn cap body.
The H5020 finial is flush with the body of the cap and gives a greater impression of design quality than the PS.
The K356 has a flush cap finial, which looks very good.
None of the lookalike pens have the anti-choking breather holes around the jewel that are present on the Sonnet, so the ends of the cap look nicer than the PS. The K356 has a kangaroo moulded in the black bit at the top of the cap.
The cap lip on the Parker is rather wide, and all the engraving is on the lip machining, as occurs with the K356. In fact the K356 looks very like the Sonnet, with the same step to the cap body, diameter, height & similar engraved bands, though the engraving is not quite as sharp as that of the PS. The B388's cap lip is slightly deeper than the Sonnet's, and it is almost flush with the cap body, being just proud enough to feel. The D209's cap lip maching is slightly shallower than the Sonnet's, and is fractionally under-flush, making is the smoothest and most attractive to the hand of all the pens considered. The D209's engraving is sharper than the PS's. The H5020 has its engraving on the cap body just above a much thinner cap lip. The engraving is sharper than on the Parker, but not as deep. The cap lip looks to be proud of the cap body, but it can't be more than 0.1mm proud, just enough to feel but not enough to snag.
Approximate relative force to remove Cap:
- Sonnet: 1
- Baoer 388: 4 to 5
- Duke 209: 1.5
- Hero 5020: 0.75
- Kaigelu 356: 2
The B388 can be quite hard to remove, and the H5020 isn't far of the force where the cap will come off on its own if used in a shirt pocket.
On removal of the cap, the pens seem more differentiated. The nib protrusion of the pens is as below:
- Sonnet: 17mm. (#95 Broad Italic nib & standard Medium nib)
- Baoer 388: 17.75mm
- Duke 209: 17mm
- Hero 5020: 19.5mm.
- Kaigelu 356: 17mm
When uncapped, all the pens are the same length, except the D209 at 116mm long compared to 120mm for the rest. The D209 is also alone of these pens in having a shiny chrome plated section.
The B388 & K356 have identical size nibs, though the K356 seems smaller because it's silver coloured rather than the two tone gold of the B388. Both nibs are smaller than the PS, D209 and H5020. The D209 and PS nibs are the same width at the widest point, though the PS nib seems bigger because the nib shoulders are further away from the section. The Hero nib is longer than any of the others, and looks slightly out of proportion. All-in-all I think the B388 and K356 have a more attractive nib size in relation to the remainder of the pen. It must be remembered that the Sonnet & these look-alikes are not big pens, so long or wide nibs look wrong. The B388 and K356, interestingly enough have the same size nib as that found on the Jinhao Century Mk2.
Considering the Sections.
The sections are a mixture of metal and plastic, so I shall describe them separately.
The Sonnet has a metal cap click ring at the nib and a metal connector thread to the barrel, the remainder of the section appears to be a very hard acrylic. In the usual Parker manner, the connector is metal with the thread starting three millimeters above the joint. The connector forms a decorative ring visible at the base of the barrel, but it's actually part of the section.
The Baoer has a plastic section, which doesn't feel as hard as the Sonnet's, the cap click ring just above the nib seems well plated and well fixed. The plastic moulding extends up the pen to a second machining that forms the connector and a ring around the section at the barrel interface. This is presumably to reduce marking of the soft-ish section.
The D209 section is all metal with a plastic moulded insert for the feed. From the way the plating is shaped over sharp edges, it's obviously thickly chrome plated and should last a long time. The barrel thread is moderately smooth.
The Hero has a moulded plastic section with a similar metal cap click ring just above the nib. The plastic section continues up to the barrel. A diameter reduction occurs at the joint, then the barrel-section thread appears to be plastic, but it's lined with a metal insert to re-inforce this critical joint. The barrel-section thread is continues to the shoulder with the section, unlike all the other pens where there is at least 2mm of thread run-out before the section. The section length is 2.5mm shorter than the PS's section, making the distance from the end of the nib to the barrel exactly the same. The cap click ring on the H5020 is now loose, and spins easily on the section. The fact that it's loose is irritating, as it wicks up ink when dipped to fill the pen, and releases it slowly onto your fingers while writing.
The K356 section initially looks as if it's identical to the PS section. On closer inspection the hardness of the black part is achieved by painting a metal section. The connector ring visible on the PS is duplicated on the K356, but as the end of a threaded insert in the end of the barrel. The K356 section is about 2mm shorter than the PS, though the shape is well duplicated. The overall uncapped length of the pen is the same of the PS by virtue of a longer barrel.
Considering the Barrels.
The Sonnet, D209 and K356 barrels appear to be lined with a plastic insert. In the case of the PS & K356 the inserts form decorative plugs on the end of the barrel.
The B388 & H5020 barrels seem to be slightly thicker & don't need a plastic insert to prevent denting.
The decorative upper ring (that appears to be on the section) is actually part of the barrel on all the look-alike pens, and re-inforces the barrel lip & incorporates the barrel-section thread. This is a design improvement compared to the Sonnet, as the very thin barrel body is left unsupported on the PS for about 0.5mm. This is vulnerable to damage when the barrel is removed (say for filling or if your fingers need something to play with).
The barrel diameters are almost identical.
Due to the similarity of the pens you'd expect quite a bit of interchangability. Well, there is some, but the pens are not really interchangable, and none of the bits really fit properly on any other pen, so I won't go any further with this idea.
Oh help. This is a remarkably subjective area, but it needs to be addressed.
The Parker, even though it's a bottom of the range pen, due to its high retail price would be expected to be much higher quality than the Chinese look-alikes. Well. What can I say? The Sonnet and K356 are basically identical when considering build quality. The only differentiation between them is design quality. The PS has better design quality in that the user has been considered in that provision has been made for different nibs. That's it. A Sonnet can be got in the UK for £35-£40, while the K356 can be obtained for under £5. Can the Sonnet's packaging make up the difference? I leave that for you to decide for yourself, but my view is a categorical 'NO'.
The D209 is the next quality pen. I do not know the durability of the finish, so cannot comment on that yet, but the pen seems to be almost as good as the K356. If it weren't for my concerns about the black finish & gold coloured plating, I'd say it's equivalent to the K356.
The B388 and H5020 are not quite as good quality as the K356 or D209. Due to the longevity of the finish, the H5020 shades it, because there is no gold coloured plating to wear away.
Beyond what I have mentioned there is depressingly little to differentate the quality of the PS from the look-alike pens.
Writing with the pens
Again, this is a very subjective area.
When I got my Sonnet with its medium nib, it would not write on all paper I had. It skipped and sometimes wouldn't make any sort of mark on the paper. All the Chinese pens wrote immediately, if not superbly, and on all the paper I have. So, in the inital factory produced state, I have to declare (based on a sample size of 1 of each type, which is representative of the pens I have) that the Sonnet utter rubbish and totally unusable, while the others were just not very good. .
Yes. That's right. The Sonnet was infinitely worse than the Chinese look-alikes in the factory state.
The Sonnet wouldn't write properly because it had been given an excessive baby-bottom shape in an endeavour to make it write smoothly on cheap paper. The Chinese pens didn't write well because they weren't smoothed properly or set properly.
Because I had to do more work to the Sonnet to get it to write at all on some paper, in a comparison review I cannot reasonably gripe about the fact I had to polish the nibs on the Chinese pens to make them feel nice.
Having removed some of the 'baby bottom' syndrome on the Sonnet it's very nice to write with, though not quite so smooth as it used to be on ultra cheap paper.
In writing quality terms I probably rate the D209 slightly above the K356. Neither pen needed much work to make them nice to use (a little spreading of the tines and a small polish with 8000 and 12000 grade micromesh). The nib on the D209 is broader than the K356's nib, which is what makes me prefer it, though both qualify as a Western Medium. Both these pens are fractionly less pleasant to use than the Sonnet, but it only shows how nice the Sonnet is now that it will write on all paper.
The B388 and H5020 needed more work to make them write nicely, having to use 6000, 8000 and 12000 grade micromesh to smooth them off to an acceptable degree. Neither writes as nicely as the D209 or K356, but are perfectly acceptable and are no scratchier than the Broad Italic alternative nib I have for the Sonnet.
During writing, due to the similarity in size, weight, weight distribution and shape, the nib is the only thing to differentiate these pens, and the Sonnet just comes out on top. Followed by the Duke & Kaigelu. Get a Hero or Baoer only if the Duke & Kaigelu are unavailable.
If you like medium nibs, I would recommend a Kaigelu 356 instead of either the Sonnet or the Duke 209. This preference is based on the fact the K356 is better value for money than the Sonnet, and the finish is likely to be more durable than that of the Duke 209.
If you want something other than a Medium nib, there is no choice, it has to be a Sonnet.
The D209 is better than the H5020 or the B388, but any of these pens are perfectly good writing instruments, just not as good overall as the other two.
Hmm, food for thought when I end up recommending a cheap Chinese pen over a member (albeit the cheapest) of one of Parker's flagship ranges. I cannot comment on the gold nibbed Sonnets, or the fancy finishes, but the basic Sonnet has now been at least equalled.
I do hope this comparative review has been of interest.