Things are moving fast for the Chinese fountain pen landscape. That is what I was thinking when I got the mood to do some research about the domestic fountain pen market in China. Besides the standard release and upgrading of their products, pen makers are conducting a white-hot arms race for the co-branding endeavors. Cross-overs and collaboration are happening on a level that I would never think of-be it a mobile game, a newly released blockbuster movie, or a museum in UK, companies, even including big names like Parker and Hero, are moving fast to improvise their rigid product formula.
HERO x The Wandering Earth
The Wandering Earth was a blockbuster in Chinese New Year. As a groundbreaking piece that proves that China can make a sci-fi movie as the average Hollywood tentpole, it also got an unexpected brand to collaborate with: the Shanghai HERO Pen Factory.
Three models have been announced, starting from the 616 Plus that costs 5.82 each. The 616 Plus line is a variation of the widely loved Hero 616 with highly vibrant colors. The Wandering Earth edition of the 616 Plus got new packages and body artworks themed after each main characters, as well as a gold-plated arrow shape clip which is new to the whole 616 line. (Having a factory 616 with a golden clip has always set on the wish list for the Hero, now it came right thanks to a movie.)
Then comes the Hero 927 The Wandering Earth Special Edition. The standard 927 is a stainless steel nib Hero pen with a wheeled clip. The Special Edition 927 gold many details customized to the film, such as the logo on the flat top, the name etched over the cap band, and the main body is themed with a sketch of a fire-stone, the crucial element used to propel the planet in the film. The nib used in this pen is still unclear, and I really hope it is not a gold-plated one. The 927 costs around 25 dollars on Taobao.
The top one among these special releases is the Hero 2060 Special Edition. This is a royal blue pen with a Hero12K gold nib. The top finial was carved in a way to pay homage to the giant planet thrusters in the film, and a big, well-made project logo is sitting on the main barrel. I tried to look for a standard Hero 2060, but with little success. Most of the time, the search result of ‘Hero 2060 fountain pen’ is another model produced by Hero Lishui, a privately owned company based in Zhejiang that also holds the right to make whatever Hero branded pen it wants.
Hero broke my heart each time when it tried to emulate other big players in the industry, but this time it successfully wins my attention back with these three pens. At least it seems to be more reactive to the pop-culture and consumers’ need.
PARKER x King of Glory
The King of Glory aka Wangzhe Rongyao is a highly addictive multiplayer online battle arena game developed and published by Tencent Games for mobile platforms, exclusively for the Chinese market. (For the international market, Tencent has the Arena of Valor, a global adaptation.) By 2017, it was already both the world’s most popular, most downloaded and highest-grossing game of all times.
The game has done a great job in remixing historical characters into its own narrative which seems to be grounded under the Tang Dynasty, and the gaming experience is smooth and sometimes resonates with those ancient names. But still, when I was browsing the options to redeem my mileage and ran into the Parker products created under the King of Glory theme, I was amazed.
Besides the two big names, e-commerce giant JD.com (yes, that JD.com with n9) seems to be also a participant of this collaboration. Here are the product lines they finally present to the domestic Chinese market:
|Parker Jotter||Zhuang Zhou/ Zhuangzi||$55|
|Parker IM||Zhuge Liang||$88|
|Parker Urban||Di Renjie||$110|
|Parker Sonnet||Li Bai||$560|
The pricing strategy of these pens is more aggressive than the other co-branding pens on the market. But the purchasing power of the game’s fan base should never be underestimated. Needless to say that Parker has the confidence to ask for a premium when the mass market in China is still welcoming the brand. My experience from my last short stay in China told me that Shanghai Parker Pen Co. is enjoying a good time thanks to the changing spending habits of ordinary Chinese shoppers.
KACO x V&A Museum
KACO is steadfast in improvising its cornerstone-alike SKY model each year. Last year we saw the model with upgraded Makrolon and aluminum material, this year they switched to cooperate with The Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
This release contains not only three pens themed around three artists from the museum, but also a wide variety of lifestyle goodies such as travel mug, briefcase, and notebook.
As I said last year, the SKY II’s keywords are “maturity and refinement”, on that basis, these three artists editions demonstrate how brilliant a canvas a Sky pen could be thanks to its straightforward chassis design.
One of the three artists picked by them, William Morris once said that “nothing useless can be truly beautiful”. Emm…I think the V&A special edition of SKY is indeed beautiful.
Tang Fountain Pen x The BAI
This is not the Tang FP’s first attempt to do a collaboration product, but this time the partner they chose really makes a difference.
The Lotus Stone Tang FP is the result of its collaboration with TheBAI, a community-oriented stationery brand based in Guangdong Province. TheBAI establishing a core fan base with the help of a top ranking Zhihu (Quora’s Chinese counterpart) answer about the best gel ink pens on the market in 2015. After selling quality everyday pens from Uni-ball, Pilot, and Zebra for a while, TheBAI quickly expanded its practices into the fountian pen world. Although some die-hard Chinese fountain pen fans may find its marketing material of stationery to be bluffing or even confusing sometimes, its portfolio of fountain pen collaboration is still worth your second look. Thebai has worked with JinHao (or at least its suppliers), Schneider, Online and one Japanese Maki-e company called Oshita to make upgraded variants of their already existing fountain pen products.
This time, with Tang Fountain Pen, they pulled off the similar tricks by making the usually colorful Tang pen a mono-color stationery item that seems to be a better fit in a mountain temple.
According to the landing page, it is based on a grey aluminum Tang fountain pen but with the slight corrosion processing on the surface, it feels different from a normal Tang pen with its stone-like product.
Moonman S2 Koi, N3, M200 and M600
From many perspectives, Shanghai Jingdian is a leading player among the pen sellers since it is vertically integrated and has kept a fast pace of reiterating. It has the exclusive distribution rights to the PenBBS product line (which is doing great and could be found via Chris’ Youtube Channel) inside China, and under the same roof, it is also developing its inhouse brands. Among them, Moonman is the one that caught my eye in the first place.
Entering 2019, especially after the Chinese New Year, Moonman once again grabbed my full attention with a surge of new releases.
In the first glance, the S2 looks like the PenBBS 323, similar to the story of S1, which reminds me of the Live in You’s MiTu all the time.
But in reality, the user experience of the S2 is vastly different: the S2 is holding a #5 Schmidt nib with a metal section rather than the plastic section with a PenBBS nib in a 323. Both the ends of the S2 are fitted with a piece of flat metal, which adds a nice detail to the over-all Koi theme. But the most striking part of this one should be the packaging-this is the best Moonman pen box I have ever seen. The koi fish themed box has a complicated while also amusing graphics and texture design. An elastic band acts as the handle of the drawer style package, and on the front face of the box, it also bears the newest brand mantra for the Moonman brand: feel the temperature of writing.
It should be noted that the ink you’d get from this box would be a random pick from PenBBS’ SE24 of its color ink collection, and if you are considering buying it and ship it outside China, you’d better ask them to never pack the ink into the box.
N3 launched just as I was going to hit the publish button of this post. It seems that the company has a strong mission to fulfill and it must release this one within the February time frame.
The N3 is a straight pen with a straight forward message: while the M series bears the duty of explaining the Moonman brand, the N series denotes the word New and symbol of being gigantic in mathematics.
On the medallion and inlaid into the flat end of the cap, the symbol etched could be viewed both as the word Craftsman (, the second character of Moonman’s Chinese name ) or an exaggerated n.
Either way, the logo also retains a little similarity to a crescent.
As for the nib, the N3 is also honest: it is a Chinese nib that could hold a candle against Japanese and German nibs.
The M200 released several days after the M600, and the keyword of it, according to Jingdian, is being moderate.
For that purpose, the designer clearly has finished the mission: it is just another cigar shape pen that you can easily overlook during a pen show. But if you do want a modest daily writer, this one clearly wins over similar offerings from brands like Laban. Another interesting point for the M200 is the way its nib section is curved. According to the picture, it is an irregular shape. Would this make the M200 a pen that and fits almost everybody’s gripping style? We shall see.
The M600 hit the market roughly the same period as the start of the Lunar New Year Holiday, a once in a year period in China that no online retailers can mail packages in a big number. The intention of the Jingdian’s timing is clear: look, discuss and think about it.
It is a Parker Duofold Check homage for sure, the only significant variation on the Moonman M600 is its clip design. But it is not as simple as a second Kaigelu 316. While Kaigelu 316 tries to benchmark the Parker Duofold pens with swirl color scheme the M600 chose the hard mode by targeting the classic Duofold check.
Comparing the Moonman M600 with a Duofold check side by side, per one of the Jingdian’s customer’s review photo, you’d find how the progress Moonman has made. Kaigelu did make some check pattern acrylic fountain pen, but their pursuit of the details are missed is less impressive than the Moonman.
Another big difference is the #6 Schmidt nib being used by M600. Although Chinese nib makers now can produce #5 Schmidt-alike nib unit with at least comparable quality, there is still a vacuum for the bigger size nibs. On that condition, Jingdian insures the M600 a practical writing instrument by using a stock Schmidt nib.
Parker Duofold Check is good, but its hefty price tags and lack of volume keeps fans from owning it. The M600 is a very interesting development for Moonman and I am highly anticipating for Chris’ upcoming package which, of course, contains an M600.