A pod of Narwhals have been basking on my desk. Sun shining off their bodies. Alas the British weather means the last part might be more than a little stretched, however recently I have been using three examples of the new Key West model from this young pen company out of California.
Starting off with cheap acrylic piston filler pens, Narwhal has been a company to watch as they introduced a second range using higher quality resins, the Schuykill. Recently two more models have been added. The ebonite Nautilus, and this the Key West. Available in two regular sparkling finishes and a purple limited edition, the pen also introduced a couple more in-house nibs, broad and stub, plus a change in filling mechanism to cartridge converter.
The three pens are the yellow Islamorada, the blue Key Largo, and the limited edition purple Las Coloradas. All have a large amount of multicoloured glitter in the resins meaning they are hardly subtle to look at. In some respects this makes them perfect for this time of year where it is getting darker outside (here in the UK anyhow) and we’re leading up to Christmas. I can imagine some pen fans using these as baubles on a tree (inside only please).
The pens are the traditional cigar shape and while displaying festive ‘bling’ with the materials, the only external adornments are a a band at the opening of the cap and the standard Narwhal clip. Open up and the threads are also metal and interestingly are the same width as the band. with which they nicely line up when capped. The resin with all three finishes is translucent allowing you to see the nib through the cap and also where the end of the section meets the start of the inner cap. Through the barrel you can see the metal threads and the converter. The only downside to this is on the yellow pen, the Islamorada, where you can see ink at the bottom, by the nib, and it does stand out. This is not the case with the darker finishes, however also could be a side affect to a nib issue I will cover later.
I’m going to admit it. I actually quite like the look of these pens. Sure the glitter in the resin may remind me of tinsel and it is that time of year, but their appearance does bring a smile to my face. Subtle these pens are not. The cap comes off in just 1.5 turns and does not post. At first it appears it should but it is not secure and the cap falls off with the slightest of movement. I think it is a combination of the shape and the material as this does feel slightly slippery compared to the resin used with my Schuykill. The caps do seal well and I have seen little to no sign of ink evaporation with all three pens.
The clip is of the t-bar type and works well, however on two of the three pens it is not straight. This was one of my complaints on my Porpita Navy and does worry me, after all it should be simple to get this right yet three out of the four Narwhals I have now tried have suffered from this same manufacturing issue. I should add that with these pens the angle is no where near as bad as on my Schuykill and it is just a bit of OCD that picks it up, but once noticed it is hard to ignore.
Compared to a Schuykill these are of a similar section size and general width making them comfortable in the hand. The threads are wide and soft so barely noticeable, and the step up to the barrel is shallow. The latter is slightly more prominent than on the older model, but then the threads on that are harder. The balance point is towards the front due to the metal thread unit in the barrel, but not unduly so. The section is long enough to make finding the perfect grip an easy exercise. The lip by the nib is also prominent to the touch meaning inky fingers should not be a risk.
Narwhal make their own nibs and here we have two medium and one fine. It is a shame we could not try the new broad or stub but these pens were passed to us at the London Pen Show and so we were given what was available at the end of the day. The nibs are very firm, reminiscent of those used by Parker, so if you are a fan of that brand then you’ll like these. The tipping is smooth and well applied, though there is a sweet spot, which I previously noticed on my Schuykill, outside this and writing can be unpleasant. This is more noticeable on the fine nib, but that is to be expected. The net result is keep within the sweet spot and the writing experience is good, but if you struggle it find this then Narwhal pens are not for you.
While on the nibs there is an indication of quality control issues with Narwhal pens. I previously had pointed out I was not alone with finding the piston rod in my pen (the Schuykill) was not connected to the knob, well here it is a case that two of the three nib units have not been assembled properly. On the yellow and purple pens the nibs are not far enough in and so sit high on their feeds, in fact on the yellow pen I think the nib is barely in, hence the visible ink at the end of the section. I’m certain the nibs and feeds can be pulled from the collars and properly reinserted, however you should not have to do this and there is always a risk of misaligning the tines or cracking the collar when attempting the process. Interestingly there are no ink flow problems, but if I’d bought these and spotted the issue then two of the three would have been returned.
The packaging is interesting and needs to be mentioned. Rather than being foam encased in a lidded box as with the older pens, each pen comes in a black leather pouch, reminiscent of a pipe smokers tobacco pouch (I grew up with these as my late father was a pipe collector and smoker) that could hold a couple of pens and protect them from external scratches. The outer box is suitably branded and has a tray that slides out of the side to access the pouch. One of the three pouches shows signs of wear and also an indication it is made of low grade leather, however the former could be through people being rough with it at the pen show or this particular pen being an existing tester, so I’m not too worried, and in addition for a £45-£50 pen it would be hard to justify the cost of high grade leather for packaging that is unlikely to be used. Let’s be honest here, the pouch that Pelikan provide is actually fake leather, so the one here is still a step up. I should add that while this pouch will help protect the pen from scratches, that’s about all so it’s a nice to have and can be used, however you will not feel it is a replacement for a commercial wrap/roll/pouch. Do remember though, this is a cheap pen and a decent quality pouch could cost more than the pen.
The pen uses a cartridge converter or cartridge and comes with just the former. While this might appear to be an oversight or an omission it must be remembered that all the other pens Narwhal make are piston fillers and their main market, the USA, is very much in to bottled inks not cartridges. Problem is in Europe and the Far East it is the reverse and it does mean if you buy this pen and do not have a bottle of ink you’re not going to be using it to write when it arrives.
On the surface of things, even with the glitter, this is an attractive pen in the £40-50 range many would like. I have enjoyed using these pens and to be honest it is easy to over look their faults, especially as the nibs do work for me both with ink flow and with regards to the sweet spot. Problem for me is I have concerns over the quality control with Narwhal pens. Clips slightly out of alignment may be picky, but nibs not being properly seated is a real issue. Narwhal are no longer a new kid on the block, so by now they should be properly manufacturing pens, or more accurately choosing Chinese partners who can produce to the quality and standards expected. I do hope they improve but I’m not convinced. I wrote about how my Porpita Navy looked little like the marketing pictures. The one Stephen Brown looked at was similar, yet when I posted that article I had people say they had received pens that were made from the correct acrylic. Mean while I have now heard from others who have received other Narwhal pens which also look little like their pictures (including the new Nautilus – I have seen comparison pictures). At present it feels like Narwhal have found their price and profit point and only care about getting pens out of the door. I do hope I am wrong, however my fears have been building up over time as I hear more tales, and not based on my first experience.
Would I recommend this pen to others? Hard to say. The price is still very good for a small scale maker, especially considering they make their own nibs, however at the same time the issues over quality control do cause me concern. I think if you can get to a pen show or a shop that sells the brand then you should be able to find a pen that is properly made, appeals to you and works with your writing style, at which point buy it, however at present I am loath to recommend buying pens from this brand blind (most shops will look at a pen for you and send photos if you ask), which is a shame and I do hope Narwhal get on top of things and prove me wrong over their priorities.
- Attractive material (to me).
- Decent price.
- Comfortable in the hand.
- Smooth nib if you find the sweet spot.
- No free cartridge provided.
- The glitter effect will not be to everyone’s taste.
- Supplied pouch is usable but not a pen pouch replacement.
- Quality control issues.
- Two out of three nibs not properly installed.
- Nib sweet spot means if you roll the pen too far it is an unpleasant writing experience.