Introduction: The other day I was poking around on www.isellpens.com (which has become my favorite bargain-pen website) and stumbled on a brand I hadn't seen before: Haolilai. A quick search here at FPN yielded nothing, so I went back to the website and stared at it for a while. It looked good, and the description said good things, so I decided to order one. (I needed some more converters anyway, and it seemed a shame to waste the shipping charge on just those. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)
The pen was $18.99. Remember that number.
Appearance/finish: The pen is made of black lacquer over a metal body, the lacquer having spots of gold flake imbedded. It is gorgeous! The gold flake gives it a definite Asiatic feel, and the lacquer work is flawless. The lacquer feels quite hard, and I believe it will wear very well.
Besides the beautiful lacquer work, the fit of all the rest of the components is perfect - no gaps or irregularities. Even the regions where the lacquer and metal meet show quality construction; rotating the pen and observing those areas shows no unevenness or run-out.
It is a striking pen from any angle, but not gaudy; I had some concerns that the gold flake would be ostentatious, but it's not. This is a nice looking pen from any angle.
Mine came in a simple black padded box; it's nothing to write home about, but the pen more than makes up for its simple packaging.
Design: The 601F is a medium-size pen, measuring 5-1/2" long capped, 6-1/4" posted, with a maximum girth of just a shade over 1/2". The section is relatively short, but is steeply tapered and is embossed with a slight "tread" to help the grip. (Thank you, Haolilai - I hate the ultra-smooth sections on many Chinese pens! They always feel like they're ready to jump from my hand and land on the nearest unsuspecting white poodle; not so this pen. The textured section makes it feel quite secure in the hand.)
The body of the pen is tapered, and rather than a jewel at the end the maker chose to simply make a little "stair step." The cap has a domed top, with a small gold-colored flat jewel bearing the embossed Haolilai logo. (The logo is unobtrusive, and in fact I missed it completely on my initial inspection.)
The metal parts of the pen are in very nice proportion; not too big, but enough so to provide a nice counterpoint to the black areas. It looks terrific in a pocket, helped by the simple pierced clip.
That clip starts with the "v" piercing and tapers gracefully to a simple ball. However, this is not an unsubstantial, easily bent clip like you see on some vintage pens - no sir! It is quite strong and secure, but not so tight as to make pocketing difficult.
The 601F is a bit on the heavy side of medium weight; I hesitate to call it heavy, but there is substantial mass. When I first picked it up, It seemed just a bit heavier than I expected, but not surprisingly so. The cap is a snap-on type, and seats with a solid "click". Taking the cap off requires slightly more than average force, though I'm sure that it will "break in" with use.
Writing with the cap off feels a little "naked", as though it needs some weight toward the back end. With the cap posted, though, it seemed just a wee bit back-heavy for my tastes. After writing with it for a few days - including one long session - I came to the conclusion that it wasn't as bad as I'd originally thought. Even after that one full evening of writing, my hand wasn't tired (and with my finger-writing, my hand tires easily!)
Filling system: It came with a Haolilai-branded piston converter installed. The converter is a dead ringer for a Cross Century unit at the top, but the bottom appears to be the standard International cartridge type. The converter is of higher quality than most I've seen, and I think Haolilai should consider selling them as an accessory - my Rotrings are crying for a converter this nice.
Operation was smooth, and the converter easily filled to its capacity. It just worked, what more can I say!
The Nib: The pictures show the unique semi-wrap-around nib, stamped "22kGP". It is a solid American-style medium, quite wet but with some shading. (In comparison, it is ever so slightly wider than an Esterbrook medium.)
So, how does it feel? ABSOLUTELY SUPERB, that's how. I couldn't believe it when I wrote my first Legal Lapis lines with this pen; virtually no friction or tooth at all. It was clear from the first that this nib was better than any of those in my regular rotation; in fact, the only other pen in my collection that feels even close is my prized Cross Century (old model.) Naturally, I had to try them head-to-head.
Results? No matter how much I wrote, I kept coming to the same conclusion: the Haolilai was at least as good, if not better in some respects! In fact, the only difference I can find is the type of sound they make gliding across the paper!
In comparison, my stable of Esterbrooks - including two #2668 medium nibs, which are great writers by many people's standards - feel downright scratchy. As for my beloved Rotrings, as nice as they are they can't match the Haolilai's performance.
Writing upside down, the nib produces a fine line but it's actually WETTER! In this position the nib has a very slight amount of tooth; if it were judged on its own merits, it would still be considered quite good. Also, though I can't explain why, this pen is more comfortable to use upside down than any of the others in my stable. A combination of balance and nib height just makes it seem less "odd" than most inverted nibs.
Cost and value: Remember that number? This pen cost $18.99 - reread the description, pay attention to the performance of that gorgeous nib, and then look at the price again. This qualifies as a screaming deal; at perhaps even 10 times that price, it would still be impressive.
Conclusion: If it seems as though I'm very enamored with this pen, it's because I am. Frankly, if this is what Haolilai is capable of I can't wait to see more of their pens. The design is gorgeous, the construction is excellent, and the performance is stunning. Get one before they run out!
Edited by GrantC, 13 April 2006 - 01:58.