Introduction

This is a review of the Visionnaire fountain pen by Visionnaire design which I received through the Kickstarter campaign and I should start this review by noting that as of this time, I’ve been writing with a fountain pen for about one year and consider myself to be, at best, and advanced novice with regards to the wide variety of pens out there. However, a bad pen is a bad pen and this was a bad pen. The controversy that has come up around this particular Kickstarter is addressed at the end of the review to the best of my ability at the time of writing.

The Visionnaire, uncapped

The Visionnaire, uncapped

 

Review

This particularĀ  Visionnaire pen came from the Kickstarter campaign and I was fortunate enough to receive the pen for the $37 “early bird” pricing instead of the $45 level. The pen is currently listed at the Visionnaire Shop as having a normal pricing of $85 but is currently reduced to $49 and I should start by saying that even the $37 dollars I paid is too much by my standards.

What Kickstarter backers received

What Kickstarter backers received

The packaging overall is nice enough and the pen is shipped in a cigar tube with the Visionnaire logo and a microfiber bag is included for the pen. This is a nice touch; however, oddly enough the pen was inside of a plastic bag in the microfiber bag. For Kickstaters a thank you note with a “Founders Club” card and a small box of five half-sized black cartridges were included. The converter (not pictured) was shipped in the pen itself and was wedged in quite tightly. This didn’t bother me that much since I prefer to use the converter; however, it is worth noting.

Overall, I am a fan of the aesthetics of the pen and the clean lines are one of the reasons that I backed the Kickstater as I thought the chrome version of the pen looked quite sharp when coupled with the metal nib. Obviously the looks are not for everyone, for myself personally it is an attractive design. Weight-wise it is the heaviest fountain pen I have and a good deal of that weight seems to be in the cap of the pen as opposed to being evenly distributed. While I was writing I actually found this to be an issue as the pen does feel “top heavy” for lack of a better term. Adornments of the pen is limited to “VISIONNAIRE” inscribed around the base of the cap and the cap presents a fair degree of resistance when being removed and goes back on the pen with a satisfying click. As might be expected for a shiny metal pen, it does pick up finger prints during use which could bother some people.

For testing purposes I filled the pen with Omas Black ink with the initial plan of using the pen for about of week of regular use and reporting my findings. During the initial filling I noticed thatĀ the twisting the piston that it seemed to wobble around and was loose in the converter. While this didn’t present any issues during testing, but is a behavior I have not seen in the Lamy Z24 Converter. Initially things seemed to go well and the pen had good flow and while the nib is rounded off so I was really able to practice my italics hand, for general taking notes and other tasks it was performing decently enough. When not using the pen it was either being kept on top of the pad of paper I use for keeping notes throughout the day, or in the pen pocket of the sport coat I was wearing.

Writing samples from Visonnaire, Lamy Vista 1.1mm nib, and Sailor 1911 Music Nib

Writing samples from Visonnaire, Lamy Vista 1.1mm nib, and Sailor 1911 Music Nib

Above (click for a larger picture) is a writing sample that I did from the Visionnaire, a Lamy Vista with a 1.1mm nib, and a Sailor 1911S with a 14kt gold music nib. Two things should standout from this sample, 1) is that I need to keep working on my penmanship and 2) the Visionnaire sample has spots where there should be ink, but there is not. This is a problem that developed after a morning of light use and by the time I left work for the day I had already decided against continuing to use the Visionnaire since was having major feed issues.

Visionnaire Nib, "Iridium Point Germany"

Visionnaire Nib, “Iridium Point Germany”

The nib is a generic “Iridium Point Germany” which doesn’t really mean much of anything. The nib is pointed so I was not able to really get anything close to the italic hand I’ve been working on and when I examined it with a 10x loupe I noticed nib is misaligned with the feed and the breather hole is just slightly misaligned with the feed channel. This strikes me as a quality control issue that should not exist on a $37/45/49/81 pen. I checked the Lamy Vista (list price $35) and the Sailor 1911 (list price $195) and didn’t observe this issue in either of them.

Flaking chrome plating can be seen after one day of use

Flaking chrome plating can be seen after one day of use

Much more damning to me is the fact that by the end of the day, the chrome plating was already starting to flake off of the pen. As you can see from the above picture, it is around the name engraving and if this was limited to a single spot I could forgive it as potentially being a manufacturing defect. However on my pen it has also started in other spots near the engraving which makes it more of a concern for me as this strikes me as something that should be noticed during product development. If engraving is going to cause the pen to be prone to losing the plating in that area, why release it anyway? This is also very worrisome given that the Kickstarter campaign made a point of comparing the Visionnaire to Waterman, Parker, and MontBlanc pens that retail for $160 and up which is part of the reason why I included the Sailor 1911 in the writing sample. One could make a case that the higher end pens are over priced, but generally those higher prices do ensure a certain degree of quality in the product that you receive.

At the end of the day though, I can forgive some issues such as the plating if the pen was a respectable writer and when I backed the project I was hoping that for $37 I would get a pen that was comparable to the Lamy Vista that I use every day. This pen is not comparable and when using it, it seemed to be a step backwards from the Lamy Vista.

Save your money, avoid this pen.

 

Controversy

At this point I should address the controversy that has been surrounding this pen and I would like to start by saying that baring reading the updates on Kickstarter I generally avoid reading the comments and thus didn’t really find out about some of this until after the pen had arrived. As near as I can tell, this could have rose out of the Fountain Pen Network Forums discussion of the pen or could have come from the Kickstarter comments where one of the members from the Fountain Pen Network has been posting. To be honest, I can’t tell for sure which came first and in some ways it really doesn’t matter. The bigger issue is that a very good case is being built (see Reddit and DanteBertana.com) for the pen having been a pen that is already being produced in China and is being resold for a very tidy profit.

The link that I have been seeing the most to is that of a “High-end Fountain Pen” being produced by Leyica and listed on Alibaba.com. These pens have a FOB price of $0.85 to $4 a piece depending upon the order size and while I don’t know what the per-pen mark-up to cover the shipping would be, I can’t imagine that I would add a significant amount. A better link than the one usually given is to a “roller pen” in Leycia supplier section from which I captured the following screen shots since these links tend to break,

Screen shot from Alibaba.com showing "Visionnaire-like" pen manufactured by Leycia

Screen shot from Alibaba.com showing “Visionnaire-like” pen manufactured by Leycia

 

Open and closed profile images of the Leycia Visionnaire-like pen

Open and closed profile images of the Leycia Visionnaire-like pen

 

Packaging by Leycia of the Visionnaire-like pen, the third image is remarkably similar to what I received

Packaging by Leycia of the Visionnaire-like pen, the third image is remarkably similar to what I received

whether or not this pen was produced prior to the Kickstarter campaign remains to be seen. It is no secret that the pen is produced in China and the project’s FAQ even admits as much:

My manufacturing partner is located in China.

The lower overhead cost and large production quantities allows the Visionnaire to be made of high quality parts, have a perfect fit and finish, and being offered at a lower price point.

and in the Kickstarter comments the accusation that the pen was sourced through Leyica / Alibaba made its way back to the project creator which lead to the following being posted on November 14, 2013,

I am going to address these concerns direct. I do not have to disclose any information in regards to my manufacturing partner. I have clearly state again and again that I have designed the Visionnaire pen. I have sent over MY designs to my manufacturing partner to have it made earlier this year. I have visited my manufacturing partner in China (using my own savings) to see the process and its quality of product. It is now being replicated and copied by certain companies on Alibaba. It DOES NOT COST $1 to manufacture and produce. Like I said, the custom tube packaging alone costs more than $5 to make. What makes anyone think that having a pen custom made along with its molding costs, shipped to the USA, having paid customs, packaged, and reshipped out to the would costs that amount? It does not come free with no costs or labor.

The next day conflicting posts where made,

Thanks for your inquiry regarding the model LY120.

Yes, it is brand new design this year. Though it is designed by one of my customer,we have get authorization to advise on Alibaba. So it is not involving infringement. Before we offer an quotation,please advise below questions:

followed by,

I have Leyica’s catalog (PDF) published in 2011, listing this pen. The rep I talked to, told me, they been selling this pen since 2009. I looked at metadata on some of the pictures on Alibaba, they were taken in 2007.

So I’m not really sure what to believe. On one hand, given the fairly lax intellectual property right law in China, I would not at all be surprised that a manufacture would take the design of the pen and start reproducing it on their own. But on the other hand having held the packaging in my hand I find it very hard to believe that it could $5 to produce and if it really did cost that much, someone over paid by a large margin. Having looked around the Alibaba site it is really hard to say one way or another given how disorganized things there seem to be.

For now I’m reserving judgement with regards to if pen was being produced prior to the Kickstarter or not since there doesn’t seem to be enough evidence either way. Plus, the pen had enough issues standing on its own that it is moot in some ways as well, avoid the pen simply because there are better ones out there for your money.