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Duke Beijing Opera Rhythm


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#1 iamchum

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Posted 08 February 2013 - 06:52

So guys, this is my first review, please go easy on me :rolleyes: (This is more of an exercise than anything else). I noticed that, while there was a host of Chinese pen reviews, most of them typified the cheap dollar-pen types. While Chinese pens are, I would say, somewhat unfairly, characterized as being typically cheap and lacking in consistency and usability, there hasn't been a lot of Western exposure to their higher end pens, and of their higher end pens, most are so gaudy, that they verge on the cringe-worthy, hence the disproportionate emphasis on lower end pens.

I feel, as it is within my heritage, I had some responsibility to at least give one a go, and to that end, I asked my cousin to ask Duke directly for the discontinued limited edition Beijing Opera Rhythm, mostly because I was after a pen that displayed a traditional Chinese decorative technique and I wanted a blue one.

What ended up arriving in the mail shocked me…

I knew I was getting a pen that could be safely described as bombastic, but, have a look below at the box it came in (and it wasn't the only box). For a reference, I have place the pen in front of the box and the box for my Stipula Etruria next to it (which is a more typically sized package).


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Within this wooden box was a pillow a felt, and nestled within this felt was… No… Not the pen… It was another box. And within that wooden felt lined box was the pen beneath which was some warranty papers and a brochure, none of which I could read. Talk about packaging overkill.

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Which leads me to the next point:

1. Appearance and Design (8/10) – To match the bombastic packaging the pen itself is equally bombastic, if consistently so. Duke has used a relatively rare and ancient technique over the whole pen called the Cloisonné technique, which involves soldering thin metal wires over enamelled sections to create dimension and separation between colours. The result is a bold, vibrant, detailed and fantastically textured finish, which I cannot relate to another pen I have used beyond some Taka Maki-e pens I have witnessed, and even this cannot compare to the clarity in dimensionality this pen exhibits. The brass soldering's have already begin to develop a consistent patina, further adding to the uniqueness of the design. While the extravagance of the design is an acquired taste, no one can dispute the skill and craftsmanship that went into the creation of this design.

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2. Construction & Quality (10/10) – Being a pen that exhibits Cloisonné, it is inevitably made entirely out of a thick core of metal (Brass I believe), and for durability, I do not believe I have another pen that provides me with the same assured ruggedness I get from this pen, outside of perhaps a rOtring 600. The clip is springy, but not delicately so, and the cap solidly clips into the barrel (it is not threaded). So solidly, in fact, it requires some force to put it on and take it off.

3. Weight & Dimensions (7/10) – If anyone owns a Noodler's Ahab, then the Duke Beijing Opera Rhythm draws some similarities with that pen's dimensions. The same overall cigar shape, the same girth and perhaps a 2-3mm difference in length (5 ¼"), only because of the dual jewels on the end of the Duke pen. This provides a comfortable dimension for most people to use. However, that is where similarities and comfort end, because, in terms of weight, this pen is exceptionally hefty. One would expect an all metal pen to be quite hefty, but weighing in at approximately a whopping 68 grams, this is a pen for the sturdiest of users, as I can imagine fatigue would start setting in with the less ham fisted. It can be posted (and the cap posts quite well, in fact), but users will find the length and weight of the pen difficult to wield, as there is a severe imbalance in weight in favour of the posted end of the pen (as the cap itself is also made of brass). Post this pen at your own risk.

4. Nib & Performance (9/10) – The nib is available is the standard sizes of Fine, Medium and Broad, and in 14K gold (incorrectly labelled as 580 on the nib, funnily enough). The design of the nib is unique in that the shoulder is quite uniquely rolled off (or double rolled off, I guess), whether or not this affects performance I haven't a clue. However, this was a pen that worked straight out of the box, surprisingly (as most pens I have purchased that haven't been adjusted prior to reaching me have required a little work). I decided to choose a Medium, just to be on the safe side, and it has proven to be quite a luscious wet medium, more akin to European standards than Japanese, smooth and with a touch of feedback that allows for some control. There are, however, two surprising characteristics of the nib that, I am told, are quite consistent with all Beijing Opera Rhythms. Firstly, it squeaks. And quite noticeably so. This may irk some people, but I find putting some headphones in and listening to some music tends to drown this out. Secondly, and more pleasantly, while this doesn't exhibit an altogether full vintage flexible flair, I would class it as a very springy, almost semi-flexible modern nib, that provides quite a decent amount of line variation. Beyond the squeaking, the combination of being both wet, smooth (but not to a fault), and pleasantly, subtly flexible, makes this pen one of my best writers in my collection

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5. Filling System & Maintainence (6/10) – The only real irk I had with this pen was the filling mechanism. While it is a typical international C/C system, the piston-style Converter that was included with the pen, it is built rather flimsily (and I have a mind for replacing it in the future with a more sturdy one). It seems to fit snugly into the nipple within the section, but, due to some unknown air leak, it is never able to fully fill itself, resulting in less than satisfactory ink capacity (probably in the range of about 0.6-0.7cc, I have not measured it with my ink syringe as of yet). However, this is a minor quibble, and, is easily remediated. The rest of the pen is quite solidly built and the brass finishing develops a patina with use, especially around the area where you typically hold it. This can be polished away if so wished (I do not), however, my advice would be to not do so aggressively, as, previously mentioned, as they are thin wires soldered onto the body, aggressive polishing may wear them down to the enamel over time.

6. Cost & Value (9/10) – As previously mentioned, my cousin helped me procure this pen directly from the Duke head office, so, by no means was the price I paid indicative of retail (I believe it was around USD$200), however, they are listed on HisNibs.com at $350 (I am not aware of the MSRP). At the price I paid for it, it was well worth the cost, and I would probably have been happy to pay another USD$100 for the build quality and heritage of the decorative technique. That being said, if it did not come from a Chinese manufacturer, I could see could command a price upwards of three to four times what is being listed at online, and, in that sense, it is fantastic value, minus the drawback created by the converter.


CONCLUSION (Final Score 49/60, 82% out of 100% (or 8.2/10))

This is a pen that is consistently in my rotation, and is a joy to use. As previously mentioned, it is rugged; the nib is exceptional for a Chinese pen (in fact, exceptional for most pens, for that matter); and the dimensions make for comfortable use (for me). That being said (and I may have been overly harsh in my scoring), there are some drawbacks. This pen is an acquired taste, both from an aesthetic point of view, and a usability point of view. It is very very heavy, and will not suit everyone's taste (for example, this is not a pen to be posted), and the converter is subpar compared to the rest of the pen.

However, would I buy the pen again, either for another or myself? Yes… Yes, I would. The uniqueness of it's design, the way it speaks to my heritage, as well as the quality of the nib, far outweighs any negative aspects of it.


My two best writers.

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.........I call this one Günter. ......... I call this one Michael Clarke Duncan.


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#2 Uncle Red

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Posted 08 February 2013 - 17:56

Nice review and a great pen. Any chance of a writing sample?

BTW, they solder the wires on and then put powdered glass in the spaces, fire it 'til the glass fuses, polish the glass and then do another layer. Different colors fire at different temps so the hottest melting colors go first and they have to be careful they don't melt the wires.

Edited by Uncle Red, 08 February 2013 - 17:59.


#3 penultress

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Posted 10 February 2013 - 12:44

Thanks for the nice review. It's quite an impressive looking pen, but both the price and the squeaky nib stop me from considering it. A writing sample would be great!

#4 Sir Nibs

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Posted 23 April 2018 - 23:27

Nice review.

 

I, too, have a higher-priced Duke pen with a 14K medium nib. Its barrel and cap feature pieces of mother of pearl embedded in the black enamel coating which covers the pen's brass shell. Interestingly enough, my pen's nib also squeaks. I would describe the sound as a metallic squeak, and while the sound kind of surprised me when I first detected it, I do not find it bothersome. 

 

I have not written with the pen in quite awhile, but your review gives me the incentive to drag it out of mothballs and back into my hand. The pen's cap, by the way, does not post, which I have found a little disappointing. Without the cap, the pen is on the short side, as pen barrels go. The lovely abalone shell accents, however, make the pen very attractive, in my opinion.

 

Right now of eBay (April 2018), there are several Duke Beijing Opera Rhythm pens for sale. There  is a pair of 18K pens for USD$750, a single 14K pen for USD$249, and a single 18K pen for USD$275. The pair of pens at $750 is a "or Best Offer" listing, so I am actually tempted to submit a lowball bid. Then again, maybe not.

 

The pens are certainly a bit garish, but I respect and admire the cloisonne technique which is necessary to give the pen's artwork a three-dimensional look. I recently sold an unbranded cloisonne pen on eBay for 99 cents (which is what I paid for it in a thrift store here in Pittsburgh). Of course I was disappointed that the bidding did not go above 99 cents, but I was more disappointed because I kind of miss having that pen.

 

Yes, it did require a little smoothing, but surprisingly not very much. After smoothing, the nib wrote very well indeed. While I am not 100 percent sure the cloisonne on the pen is real cloisonne, it certainly looks genuine. Compared to other inexpensive Chinese pens which are advertised as being cloisonne but are clearly not, this unbranded pen clearly required a much more involved manufacturing process that the former pens which feature a painted-on, wannabe cloisonne wannabe design


Edited by Sir Nibs, 24 April 2018 - 00:07.

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." (Jim Elliot, Christian martyr)

#5 Mech-for-i

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Posted 24 April 2018 - 05:26

I believe the pen is Cloisonné as in vintage Cinese Cloisonné, not the western definition of that, in Chinese art / craft Cloisonné is usually referring to 3 different type of craft, where the western definition of Cloisonné is one of a enameled inlay of solid pieces. Chinese Cloisonné however had developed into different technique and fashion a different look where the craftsman hundred of years ago had combine fine porcelain firing and glazing technique onto the Cloisonné making process and generally that's what's termed Cloisonné now in China, where original technique of Cloisonné as in western definition are often termed inlaid-enameled or " Copper base wired inlaid enamel" ( pretty much self explanatory ). There is a 3rd type of Cloisonné which is called Fire Blue which is more related to glass making and actually firing the material into glassified state on the vessel itself instead. There were also many sub variant of technique and material used but generally that's the 3 major category they fall into though I've seen  cloisonné that's using multiple technique on a single piece and I suppose they will just call it  cloisonné still.


Edited by Mech-for-i, 24 April 2018 - 05:31.







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