This Just In: Benu Briolette Secret Garden

 

photo of the Benu Briolette cappedThe Benu Briolette arrived at the end of May, so calling this a This Just In post is a bit of a stretch. My two Benu Scepter fountain pens arrived after the Briolette, and I’ve already given my first impressions of those pens.

Since the Briolette is still working on its first ink cartridge, albeit a long international cartridge, I’m still calling this a This Just In post.

The fact that it’s been over four months on the first cartridge says something about my view of the Briolette. When I look at the pen or write with the pen, there’s a lot to like. I like the green & black design, and much to my surprise, the sparkles don’t ruin it for me. The extra-fine steel nib is an excellent writer. There’s a lot I like, and nothing that sticks out as a negative, yet the pen doesn’t click with me. So, the review timeline has dragged out, and I’ve already decided that the Briolette needs a new home. But let’s back up a bit.

The Briolette was the second Benu fountain pen that I purchased, the first being the Minima. There have been more since. I ordered the Briolette because the Minima was too small for me and couldn’t be lengthened by posting the cap. So, I moved up a size. The Briolette arrived in what I now recognize as standard Benu packaging. Classy, but less flashy than the pens. Gold lettering on a heavy cardboard box. The pen is in a cardboard sleeve on a bed of shredded paper. A long international cartridge is included, although there was no converter. Some websites, such as Goulet Pens, say a converter is included. The Benu website itself offers a converter as a $5 upsell. JetPens, which is where I purchased mine, does say no converter is included. So be sure to check carefully if a converter matters to you.

The Briolette is a many-faceted pen, so it doesn’t roll easily, despite not having a clip. It takes significant effort to get it to roll at all. The pen does not post and is on the smaller end of the scale at 5.4″ (137.4mm) long when capped, and a body that’s 5″ long (126.7mm) from nib tip to back-end.

I do find the Briolette comfortable to write with, for the most part. Its size is at the boundary of being too small in girth for my comfort. My hand did get tired and a little sore during my longest writing session using the pen, which was a little over an hour. It’s a light fountain pen, with no apparent metal. So the fatigue wasn’t due to the weight. Personally, I’d prefer a little more weight. The gripping section is thinnest at the point where I grip the pen. Although, at 9.4 mm, it’s not outrageously thin. The section does have a drastic taper to it so that a higher grip will provide more girth, 11.3mm just below the threads. The threads are smooth and seemed comfortable when I gripped them, although that’s too far from the nib for my taste.

photo of the Benu Briolette Secret GardenI picked the Secret Garden design since I’m partial to green. Green is the base color, although there significant areas of black. And of course, there are also silver sparkles. I’m not a fan of the cap band. It’s wide and black, with the Benu name molded onto it. It’s not exactly a band; instead, it’s a separate piece that attaches to the main cap. At least this is the appearance it gives. The threads are molded into this piece. I don’t hate it, but it does break up the look of the pen. At least the Secret Garden has some black in it, so it isn’t totally out of place. The colors, and glitter, are not uniform, giving the impression that each pen could be slightly different.

The lack of metal also means eyedropper filling should be possible, although I did not try it.

The extra-fine nib performed well out of the box. It’s a #5 extra-fine steel nib made by JoWo, in a nib unit assembled by Schmidt. Nib sourcing info is from the Benu website, so as always, it can change anytime. A while back, they mentioned nibs came from both Bock & JoWo for assembly by Schmidt.

The nib performed well out of the box. It was smooth, and I didn’t have any problems with skipping or hard starts. The nib stayed ready to write, even after being capped for over a week. I used the included long international cartridge that Benu had in the box. I like a firm nib, and this fits the bill. I’m currently going through a phase where I’m enjoying some variety in my nibs, so it was unexciting while the nib performed well. Excitement for nibs in sub-$100 fountain pens can often mean bad things, so boring could be considered a positive.

size comparison

L->R Kaweco Sport, Benu Briolette, Lamy Safari

uncapped size comparison

L->R Kaweco Sport, Benu Briolette, Lamy Safari, Lany Safari (posted)

Wrapping Up.

The Benu Briolette performs well and appears solidly built. It’s a $75 fountain pen, so there’s a lot of competition from pens that write just as well, with some costing less. They do have eye-catching materials and designs. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so whether or not you like the look will be personal. If you like the look, then you should enjoy using the pen. While $75 might be a little much as a starter fountain pen, the bright designs could make it a fun fountain pen for a new user.

But it’s not for me. In past days I may have kept the Benu Briolette Secret Garden in my pen case to pull it out and use it every now and then. But these days, I’m trying to be cutthroat in my pen choices, so this one is going up for sale.

These Just In: Benu Scepter II & Grand Scepter X

photo of the Benu Grand Scepter X (top) and the Benu Scepter II (bottom)

Benu Grand Scepter X (top) and the Benu Scepter II (bottom)

I received the Benu Scepter II during the first week of June. I’ve been remiss in writing up my This Just In post with my first impressions. When the Benu Grand Scepter X arrived last week, I decided to combine the two into one post. They are very similar fountain pens. While I expected similarities, they are more alike than I expected.

Benu names each Scepter model with a Roman numeral, rather than naming each color. The Grand Scepter continues the Roman numeral sequence right where the original Scepter leaves off. There are currently 13 fountain pens in the Scepter line, which Benu lumps into the Scepter Collection on their website. Online retailers seem to split them apart. Currently, 1 thru 8 (I – VIII) are the original Scepter, and 9 thru 13 are Grand Scepters.

Commonalities & Differences

Both have the same twisted helical design and bodies with a concave shape. Despite the “Grand” moniker, that pen is nearly the same size as the original Scepter, and both are the same size when capped and neither pen can post the cap The differences are in the gripping section and nib. I also see the Grand Scepter acrylics as more muted and subdued.

photo of the Grand Scepter X and Scepter II, both uncapped

Both models have a black cap band with Benu molded into it. Both pens taper out towards the ends of the pen, reaching just over 18mm on both pens. Those big ends do make the pens a tight squeeze in some pen cases. Benu own site lists the capped pen length as the same (133mm) for both models.

Both the Scepter & Grand Scepter require 2 1/2 rotations to be remove the cap. But unlike some pens, the cap can be quickly rotated, with no friction, and needing only three quick flicks of my fingers to remove.

The biggest difference between the models is when the pen is in writing mode, which is where it can matter. The Grand Scepter has the larger #6 nib while the regular Scepter has the smaller #5 nib. The Grand Scepter a longer fountain pen than the regular Scepter when they’re in writing mode. The Grand Scepter is 125.74mm long, while the Scepter II is 121.76mm long. The gripping section girth of the Grand Scepter is also bigger, 10.38 mm versus 9.79mm for my Scepter II. I measured where I grip the pen which is near the nib, and where the section on these pens is thinnest.

The Grand Scepter has glow-in-the-dark acrylics. Personally, I don’t see the point, but that doesn’t make it wrong. Benu lists each pen’s glowing ability on their website under both incandescent and LED lighting. (Check the pen listings for the charts, I couldn’t get a reliable link to them.) My Scepter X is the least “glowy” of all the models. To my eye, the purple ends on my Grand Scepter (the part that glows) looks washed out, so I’m not a fan.

One final difference – the Grand Scepter is not available with an extra-fine nib.

One final commonality – the gripping sections are swappable between the pens.

Benu Scepter II

photo of the capped Benu Scepter III’ve been using the Scepter II regularly since it arrived. The only ink I’ve used with it is Rohrer & Klingner Alt-Bordeaux.

The extra-fine Schmidt nib is a smooth writer and has been problem-free, with no skipping or hard starts. Schmidt uses nibs made by JoWo, according to the Benu website. In the past, the Benu website said Schmidt nib units used to be built with nibs supplied by both JoWo and Bock. Now, the site only mentions JoWo as the nib maker. The nib has the typical Schmidt engraving on a single-tone silver nib. Some color variations do have gold-colored nibs.

photo of the Benu Scepter II

The Benu Scepter II with an extra fine nib

While I don’t want a lot of sparkly fountain pens, and the Benu Scepter II positively sparkles, I can handle one or two. I love the look of the Scepter II’s acrylic. Green is my favorite color, and green is the dominant color in this pen. Also, while the color varies (shades of green, blue & white), each of the colors has sparkles that appear to be embedded at different levels in the acrylic. The sparkles intensify and fade as the light changes.

The extra fine nib provides a smooth and pleasant and skip-free writing experience.

Benu Grand Scepter II Gallery

 

Benu Grand Scepter X

photo of a capped Benu Grand Scepter XThe Grand Scepter X is a very recent arrival, so it’s had minimal use. I inked it up with the long international cartridge that was included. A converter is also included. I’ve been using the Scepter II with the smaller #5 nib for so long that the Grand Scepter’s #6 nib looked weird when I started using it. I did get used to it, and my brain no longer pauses to process what I’m seeing when I first begin writing with the pen.

I found the nib to be a little on the dry side, especially when compared to the thinner extra-fine nibs in the Scepter II and the Briolette that I have. With fast writing, while the pen never skips, the line gets thinner and lighter when I write fast. I’ve used the ink in other pens (supplied in the pen box), and it doesn’t have the same problem. On the Briollete, which also has the same ink but an extra-fine nib, doesn’t have the same issues and easily keeps up with fast writing. The writing sample photos show both pens. To my eye, the nibs put down lines of the same width. While I didn’t flush the pen before inking it up, I did clean it before writing these first impressions. It didn’t change the performance.

photo of the Benu Grand Scepter X with its fine nib

To be clear, the pen flows consistently, just dry(ish), even when writing multiple pages at my normal pace. Fast writing results in a lighter line, but it still seems to flow consistently at with lighter line. I can’t write fast for long enough to see if the pen ever gets staved for ink.

Other than being a bit dry, the nib has been a solid performer without skipping or hard starts. I don’t feel a real difference between the grip section of this Grand Scepter X and the Scepter II. Both are comfortable.

I don’t find the Grand Scepter X (or it’s Grand siblings) nearly as beautiful as the original Scepters. The large glow-in-the-dark areas lacks the sparkle, while the color is muted and dull, lacking any pop. The sparkles also seem more subdued. On the Scepter II, they appear embedded in the acrylic, spread across multiple levels. They also sparkle in indirect lighting. On the Grand Scepter X, all appear to be on one level, near the surface. The Grand Scepter needs more direct light to get any sparkle. The exception is the small splashes of blue that cover some of the glow-in-the-dark purple which do have some vibrant sparkle in them.

Benu Grand Scepter X Gallery

Wrapping Up

writing samples of the two pwn

I didn’t check the measurements when I ordered the Grand Scepter. I just expected it would be larger than the Scepter II. I was surprised when it was the same size in almost every measurement. Even the gripping section doesn’t feel different to me, despite some slight differences and different nibs. So while the section girth of the Grand is wider, the Scepter II has been comfortable in the 1 1/2 months that I’ve used it.

On looks, the Scepter II is a clear winner for me. While it could be my specific pens, I find the #5 EF nib to provide a more pleasant writing experience. That writing experience does transfer to the Grand Scepter X if I swap the sections (which includes the nibs). While I like dry(ish) nibs, I found the Grand Scepter a little too dry for me.

There’s a $22 difference in price between the models. The original Scepter (Scepter II) is $88, while the Grand Scepter X is $110. I have a hard time justifying the price difference. If I wanted a replacement #5 or #6 nib unit from a retailer, I’d expect the #6 to be about $5 more expensive than the smaller #5. Maybe the glow-in-the-dark acrylic costs more, I don’t know. While it’s purely subjective, I don’t like the look of the Grand nearly as much. The pen bodies are the same since there’s not more acrylic needed for the pen body. So, while I don’t think $110 is out of line for the Grand Scepter, the regular Scepter is a much better value.

When comparing the Benu Scepter II and the Benu Grand Scepter X, the Scepter II is the clear winner for me.

This Just In: Benu Minima

photo of the Benu Minima with a writing sampleThe Benu materials have intrigued me since the first time I saw them online, which was only a month or two ago. Their fountain pens seem reasonably priced, although with plenty of competition at all their price points. While shopping for the Diplomat Aero Volute I came across the Benu Minima. It’s a small pen, and it had a small(ish) price. I don’t remember if it was on sale, but I suspect it was since it got my attention. The price has since risen, further making me think it was a sale. I decided this would be an excellent opportunity to try out the brand, so I added the Mystical Green model to my cart.

I’ll digress a bit into the Benu Minima pricing. It’s weird, so shop diligently if you want one. The Benu website sells the Mystical Green for $120, but I paid less than half that. Benu itself lists some other Minimas at $120, but most Minimas are $80. Retailer pricing varied from full list (matching the Benu website) or higher to the more typical 80% off, even at the same retailer. They do have a long list of U.S. retailers, although I only checked the ones I typically buy from.

Back to the Minima. It’s a pocket or bag pen, at least as far as the size is concerned. It’s clip-less and is just under 5″ in length. The Benu website says the minima weighs 18 grams, which seems about right. The fountain pen has a Schmidt branded nib. I believe that Schmidt now sources all their nibs from JoWo and Bock for assembly into their nib units. This is confirmed since Benu does say that they use Bock and JoWo nibs supplied by Schmidt. Benu is based in Moscow, Russia, and makes their pens there. Their U.S. distributor is Luxery Brands USA.

The Minima arrived in a white cardboard box with Benu printed in gold. Opening the box reveals a thin, white cardboard sleeve, also with Benu printed in gold on it. The Minima is in the sleeve. The box also contains a product sheet and shredded paper for cushioning. A nice overall presentation.

I bought my Benu Minima with a Fine nib and Mystical Green acrylic. The style of acrylic, multiple shades of color, and sparkles make it hard to judge in online photos. So much depends on lighting along with my own computer screen. The same can be said for other Benu pen models. Overall, I think the Mystical Green was represented accurately, and I’m happy with my choice. The acrylic doesn’t have the depth of the Leonardo or Kanilea that I recently added to my accumulation. The sparkly bits seem to be on the surface, rather than part of the acrylic itself. That does seem to be appearance only. While it’s hard to see inside the cap, shining a light inside does show some sparkles. So the lighter green, with sparkles, does appear to go all the way through. Plus, the pen’s surface is flat and not as rough as if the sparkly bits were applied to the surface. This is a long-winded way to say that although this isn’t a Jonathan Brooks level acrylic, I do like it.

The Minima is often described as being a faceted pen, and some (maybe most) are faceted. However, the Mystical Green Minima is not faceted. If you are buying a Minima, and facets matter to you, either scrutinize the pictures or visit the Benu website. Websites that list each acrylic separately seem to get the description right. Websites that use one Minima listing and then a pick-list for the acrylic seem to get it wrong. Not being faceted, and being clip-less, my Minima rolls easily.

The nib itself is all silver, with some engraved scrollwork. The nib size (“F” for fine) is also engraved along with the Schmidt branding. I’m used to larger fountain pens with larger nibs, #6 or bigger, so this #5 nib looks tiny. But the pen is small, so it’s the right size for the pen, a #6 nib would be comical.

The Minima does not post. Although the cap does fit over the tapered end, it does not hold the barrel at all. At best, it will wobble, although it would probably fall off. (Benu does say the cap doesn’t post.) The Minima is listed as a standard international cartridge/converter fountain pen. However, a full-size converter will not fit, as it is too long. A converter that fits in a Kaweco Sport should fit. However, I never found those small converters worth the hassle and won’t be trying one in the Minima.

Despite being a small fountain pen, I find that the Minima is comfortable to use. It’s just long enough to fit comfortably in my hand. It was comfortable enough to write the three page draft of this post in one sitting. I also found myself picking it up at other times simply because I liked using it. It’s my daily writer rotation, so when its turn comes up, I happily use it.

The Minima is slightly bigger than my Kaweco Brass Sport that I often carry. I’m not sure how well this acrylic will hold up to the abuse of my keys if I put it in that pocket. Unlike the Brass, the scratches and dings won’t add character to the acrylic. My phone often rides in my other pocket, so I don’t want the pen in there. I’d be afraid that the metal cap band would find a way to scratch the phone screen. So, I’ve yet to carry the Minima as a pocket pen. I have little need for a pocket pen these days, and the Kaweco Brass Sport is already inked. While that’s the main reason, another is that I bought the Minima as a rental, figuring I’d be passing the pen on after getting a good look at it. A scratch would undoubtedly make the pen less desirable. The acrylic does appear to be durable, and I’m curious as to how it will hold up. If I decide this pen is a keeper, I’ll probably carry it with my keys to see how well it holds up.

Overall, I’m very impressed with the Benu Minima. The acrylic is a nice variation from my typical pens, very mystical. I wouldn’t want all that sparkle in all my fountain pens, but it’s a pleasant change. The Fine nib was a smooth writer out of the box. I haven’t had any skips or hard starts. I’ve only had the Minima for two weeks, so these are early impressions and could change once I’ve used the pen more. I had expected to sell off the Minima once I’ve used it enough. I’m reconsidering, and the Benu Minima may be a keeper. [Update June 20, 2020: I decided that the Minima doesn’t have a place in my rotation, so I’m putting it up for sale,]