Fellow pen nuts - I‘m happy to announce the arrival of my new Michel Perchin Blue Serpent LE fountain pen. This handsome pen came to me through eBay; neither of the two brick and mortar pen stores in Atlanta was able to source this pen since it was a 1997 limited edition, and is now sold out. This particular example is #40 from a total release of 250 pens. It’s NOS and has never been inked. I've been hunting for one of these little beauties for quite a few months now.
(photo from Michel Perchin's website)
The Blue Serpent Pen was the very first limited edition from Michel Perchin. The story of the release of this limited edition is a bit unusual. According to a Michel Perchin dealer, the edition was planned to include 500 Blue Serpent Pens, with an initial release in 1997. Much less than halfway through the edition numbers, production was halted – either because of limited sales or because the workshops were turning their focus to another new pen. In 2005, eight years after the initial release, production was restarted and the initial production numbers were completed up to a final capped edition run of 250 pens. In the initial production run, pens were numbered xx/500, anticipating a final planned edition of 500 copies. In the later 2005 completion run, the pens were engraved xx/250, signaling the final total capped run of 250 pens. My pen is engraved “040 / 250,” suggesting that my pen was part of the 2005 Completion Run, rather than part of the 1997 initial production.
This was an expensive pen for me – one of the more expensive pens in my small collection. It wasn’t something I could afford when I was in school, or early in my practice. The Michel Perchin Blue Serpent originally retailed for $3,700 in 1997. I paid $2,700 as the only bidder in a recent eBay auction with the seller whitemountaintrading. The seller is an authorized Michel Perchin dealer though he did not complete the warranty certificate to make any future service easier. I plan to ask him to sign the warranty certificate. The seller represented the pen correctly and knowledgably, was prompt in correspondence, and shipped my new toy safely and very quickly. The same seller is now auctioning one more Blue Serpent on eBay (not my listing – no affiliation – your mileage may vary) http://cgi.ebay.com/...1QQcmdZViewItem
For me, this is a dress pen. It won’t be my daily workhorse – I looked too long to find this pen to have it drop from my desk onto a hardwood floor and crack the enameling. But the pen will get its share of use. I do not buy what I will not use.
Edition Release Date: 1997 and 2005
Edition Size 250
Full Retail Price New in 1997 $3,700
Auction Price Paid in 2008 $2,700
Warranty one year
Many high end limited edition pens come with significant dollars devoted to packaging – a large polished rare wood casket with a well documented back-story, maybe a specially bottled ink supply, maybe a pen stand, maybe a polishing cloth or pen case. A recent survey of FPN members seemed to show that most members would prefer cheaper and simpler packaging with more of the purchase price devoted to the pen itself. Those members will be pleased.
Michel Perchin seems to agree with our poll, and packages this limited edition in a small, plain, but nicely crafted Swiss-made burled maple clamshell, tucked inside a protective cardboard box. Simple and well crafted with no extras other than a nice polishing cloth and a six pack of ink cartridges.
The paper documentation is stunningly minimal – a logo embossed warranty certificate and short instructions covering use of cartridges and the included converter. Nothing covering the history of the Faberge Blue Serpent Clock Egg, the story of this pen’s design and production, the contemporary Michel Perchin company, or the guilloche and enameling process they developed. The backstory and documentation of this pen on Michel Perchin’s website is much more thorough and much more interesting than the paper documentation included with the purchased pen. www.mppens.com and http://www.mppens.co...einfo.cfm?id=11
Personally, for high end limited edition pens, I prefer a higher end presentation. I had expected a much larger burled wood varnished casket, or (here’s my idea) a snakeskin-leather upholstered box with a glass window in the top, with a nice inkwell (maybe in the shape of an apple), with a clear crystal pen stand engraved with the Michel Perchin logo, and maybe a miniature replica of the Faberge Blue Serpent Clock Egg on which the pen was designed. These miniatures are already commercially available, and are not prohibitively expensive. The paper documentation could have been much expanded and bound into a small leather hardback volume, setting a higher tone for the whole presentation. Just copying the text from the company website would have been an improvement. Lacking purpose-built display accessories, I will probably display this pen on my “pen dresser,” resting atop a modified Jac Zagoory “Atlas” pewter pen holder with some silicon dots glued to the hand rests to prevent the pen’s enameling from abrading against the metal of the pen rest. http://www.jaczagoory.com/holders.php (Or maybe I’ll use Zagoory’s Snake Pen Holder – but I think that duplicates the theme excessively, don’t you?)
Packaging 2/5 (Come on guys – at this price point, put some creativity and effort into the packaging and presentation.)
Design and Craftsmanship
Design and craftsmanship are the strengths of Michel Perchin. This is a luxury pen company. It was design and craftsmanship that put this pen in my small collection.
I like the color palette. I took my undergraduate and medical school degrees at UNC-Chapel Hill, and the pen is only slightly more color saturated than Carolina blue. (If God is not a TarHeel, then why is the sky Carolina Blue?)
The serpent theme reminds me of the medical caduceus. It also reminds me of the newly resurrected US Jack – the flag now flown for the duration of the War on Terror at the bow of every US Warship while not underway. Exactly one year after 9/11, the traditional US Jack (the blue canton of the US Ensign with fifty stars) ( http://www.flagline.com/id01700601A ) was replaced with the original Jack of the US Navy - the serpent with the motto “Don’t Tread On Me.” http://www.flagline.com/id01140125 Indeed.
The Blue Serpent Pen is carved from a solid block of English hallmarked 0.925 sterling silver, and designed on the theme of the Faberge Blue Serpent Clock Egg crafted by Mikhail Perikhin (does that name sound similar to Michel Perchin?) for the House of Faberge and presented by Czar Alexander III to his wife The Czarina Empress Maria Fyodorovna in 1886. The Blue Serpent Clock Egg is part of Prince Ranier III of Monoco's collection of Faberge Eggs, now under the stewardship of HRH Prince Albert. A poor quality photograph of the original Faberge Blue Serpent Clock Egg is here: http://andrejkoymask...b/05/fab05.html.
(photo from www.andrejkoymasky.com)
In the original Sevres style clock, the stationary serpent’s head is the hour hand and the upper hemisphere of the egg rotates in time, bringing jeweled Roman numeral clock hours in line with the fixed serpent’s head. I suppose designing a tiny functioning Sevres style clock into the end of the pen’s barrel, like the original Faberge Clock Egg, would have pushed the price point up by an order of magnitude. It would certainly have pushed the price beyond my demand curve. I may be nuts – but I’m nuts with a small “n”.
Beyond the three dimensional serpent, the pen’s two most striking design elements are the engraving to the sterling barrel & cap and the overlying translucent blue enameling. The serpentine guilloche carving work on the pen is amazing and the translucent blue kiln fired enameling gives the pen a depth and glow that is magical. It's functional art.
(photo from eBay seller)
The section of the pen, also carved from solid silver and overlaid with Rhodium, is textured with a deep engraving pattern of diamond shaped reptilian scales. That engraved texturing improves the grip and continues the serpent theme.
The tip of the cap is embellished with flowers and foliage crafted from the same rhodium covered sterling. The tip of the barrel is similarly embellished with leaves and foliage. Are these elements suggesting the Garden of Eden and the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge?
The eponymous serpent winds around the barrel and continues around the cap of the pen. I had wondered whether uncapping and recapping the pen would always align the two spiraling halves of the snake. My Visconti Divina Proporzione required a hook-and-slot cap closure mechanism to properly align the spiraling inlaid bars of silver set into the celluloid body and cap. The Blue Serpent has only a seemingly standard screw cap design. But what do you know – it always aligns perfectly. The cap screws into place, and then beyond the limit of the screw turns there is a twist motion that brings the two halves of the serpent into perfect alignment. Precision - attention to detail - these are marks of a highly skilled team of craftsmen.
A pink version of the Serpent Pen was also available with Vermeil (22 kt gold over sterling) – designed as an hommage to another of Faberge’s Eggs – the Duchess of Marlborough Pink Serpent Clock Egg (which was very similar to the Blue Serpent Clock Egg except for the color palette). Both the Blue Serpent Pen and the Pink Serpent Pen were also available in a jeweled special edition of ten copies in blue and ten copies in pink, set with diamonds crowning the cap. My pen is blue and has no diamonds – and for a guy those are two good things. Recently, a Pink Serpent Pen in Vermeil was available in one of Atlanta’s dedicated pen stores - Total Fine Writing. www.totalfinewriting.com/collectors_corner/collectors_corner.htm
(Photo from eBay seller whitemountaintrader)
Design and Craftmanship 5/5 (It really could be 6/5, but I hate fuzzy math)
Length Capped 6.0 inches (152.5 mm)
Length Uncapped and Unposted 5 4/16 inches (133.5 mm)
Length of Cap 2 13/16 inches (71.5 mm)
Length Posted - the cap is not designed to be posted, and will not fit over the barrel tip
Adherence to Phi (I am, after all, also a fan of Visconti’s Divina Proporzione)
Golden Ratio: 1.618
Ratio of Barrel to Cap when Pen is Capped: 81.0 mm / 71.5 mm = 1.13
Ratio of Uncapped Barrel to (Section + Nib) = 81 mm / ( 28.5 + 24.0 ) mm = 1.54
While the capped pen is designed with a cap that is disproportionately long to approximate Phi, the unposted pen shows a very high congruity with Phi, measuring the ratio of the Barrel to the Section and Nib.
Diameter at widest point of barrel 9/16 inches (14.5 mm)
Diameter at Cap Ring 11/16 inches (16.5 mm)
Weight Capped (with full converter) 113.4 grams
Comparison with Pelikan M800 (capped) 28.8 grams (from Richard Binder’s website)
Comparison with Pelikan Majesty (capped) 62.5 grams (from Richard Binder’s website)
Weight Unposted 68.0 grams
Balance Point – midway from the nib-end of the section to the tip of the barrel
As a card carrying Kool-Aid Drinker for Montblanc, I like a large pen. Size matters. The Montblanc 149 was my very first fountain pen, purchased over twenty years ago, and so my tastes have been shaped by that early “big pen” experience. I use most fountain pens unposted, making even the larger production pens fit comfortably in my medium hand (size 7.5 gloves). Unlike the MB 149, I actually prefer a heavier pen, and that usually means a metal body. Words should carry weight, and a heavier pen reminds me of that. The Michel Perchin Blue Serpent is carved from a solid block of sterling silver, and so this pen has the weight that I favor. Despite its weight, the unposted pen is perfectly balanced for my grip on the textured upper section. The significantly heavy weight makes the pen inappropriate for a shirt pocket; this pen weighs so much that even the most stiffly starched cotton shirt pocket will sag rather unattractively. The pen needs to be clipped to an inner jacket pocket, or diagonally between the second and third buttons of a dress shirt.
Ergonomics Conclusions: This is a heavy pen, almost identical to the Montblanc 149 in size, though much heavier than the lightweight resin construction of the MB 149. The size and weight are perfect for me, and the pen is balanced – but only because the pen must be used unposted.
Ergonomics 5/5 (Those who favor lightweight pens or who use pens posted would not be so generous in their evaluation)
Michel Perchin pens are cartridge/converter pens – this pen is not piston filled. Additionally, there are no O-rings to support eyedropper filling (though I suppose a set of O-rings could be retrofitted). The pen uses standard international sized cartridges. For a high end LE, I would actually prefer a piston mechanism and an ink level window; though I prefer cartridges in my daily writer for convenience.
The big German nib is Bock crafted. All Michel Perchin pens use the same nib design. It’s 18 kt yellow and white gold, iridium tipped, bolstered by a round breather hole, and fed by a vaned ebonite system. The nib is stamped 18 kt, and has the Michel Perchin bearer elephant and royal palanquin logo. The nib is large, only slightly smaller than the size of the nib on my Montblanc 149. I understand that fabled Nibmeister Richard Binder finds 18 kt nibs to be too soft for proper function in a fountain pen, instead preferring 14 kt or lower purity gold for best performance. I have a very light touch on paper, and I don’t use flex in a pen anyway, so barring accident or abuse, this 18 kt nib is probably safe for my hand.
The nib starts reliably with the first stroke, and lays down a wet smooth medium line with no skipping. I have left this pen inked, capped, and unused for two days (now that was a challenge), to find that it still writes first time every time – no French nib kissing required. This nib is an unmodified Medium, and it lays down a 0.5 mm stroke (compare to 0.7 mm Cursive Italic Binder nib below) using Aurora black ink in the converter. Replacement nibs in Fine or Broad that screw out / screw in are available from Michel Perchin through authorized dealers. The nib is buttery smooth, with no tooth or tactile feedback – it glides across the paper just the way I like. But as a stock round nib, there is no line width variation between the down stroke and the side stroke – and line variation is a hallmark of a letter penned with a fine writing instrument. But of course, with a medium stock nib, I did not expect any line width variation. I will probably ask Nibmeister Richard Binder to modify the nib to a 0.9 mm Cursive Italic. A Binder 0.9 mm Cursive Italic nib would make this nib truly special indeed, and I think I’ll try to make that happen at the Atlanta Pen Show in April. A pen this handsome should not lay down a feeble timid line – a pen this nice should roar with broad wet expressive strokes.
The exposed white metal on the pen is actually Rhodium, which is layered over the exposed unenameled solid sterling silver parts of the pen to provide a harder and more tarnish resistant surface for the coiled serpent and the cap & barrel end embellishments. Though this particular pen is now three years off the production room table, I can see no evidence of tarnishing. I would actually have preferred platinum plating over the silver – rhodium can sometimes have a cold and dull finish. I do however appreciate the attempt to cover the tarnish prone silver.
The clip, fashioned as the serpent’s head, is smoothly polished on the underside, with no spurs to abrade and tear the cotton of a shirt. The tension and shaping of the clip seems good to grip a thick starched cotton shirt or the thin silk lining of a suit jacket pocket.
Conclusion of Functionality: The pen writes, and it writes well. But nobody has to spend a fist full of hundreds to get a pen that writes well. This ain’t about function. At this price point, function is expected – it is necessary but not sufficient. At this price point, it’s all about form. Form over function. For LE pens, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Functionality 4/5 (Half Point deducted for cartridge / converter filling mechanism – I would have preferred a piston fill. Half Point deducted for Rhodium rather than Platinum overlay)
The Michel Perchin Blue Serpent is functional art; it is simply a beautiful pen. To be frank, the beauty of the design and the stunning quality of the guilloche and enamel work are the only reasons to pay this much for this pen.
Functionally, the pen is just another good cartridge / converter pen with a Bock nib - functional, but nothing special.
If a pen is a tool and nothing more, then you’ll be flaming me with how many starving orphans I could-have / should-have fed by purchasing a Lamy Safari instead. Spare me – while my charitable work is private, I sleep very well at night.
The Blue Serpent is clearly art – usable art – but art. If you appreciate the Imperial Russian heritage of the design, the stunning detail of the sculpted craftsmanship, and the true beauty of the execution, then this is a pen with a high drool factor. Art is good for the soul; and supporting the work of talented artists and artisans makes the world a deeper and richer place to live, work, and play.
The Michel Perchin Blue Serpent Fountain Pen – two thumbs up – way up. Haudquaquam sorbeum.
Edited by yachtsilverswan, 02 February 2008 - 06:30.