Following up on our last pen review for the Kaweco AL Sport, this week we examine the Aluminum offering from Lamy, another German pen manufacturer, the LAMY AL-Star. Lisa and I have been looking at Lamy for months now and finally had a chance to purchase some. While my eye was initially drawn to the Safari line, the AL-Star just kept coming back to me. The final straw was at this years Raleigh Pen Show, when I got my first chance to try one. That was it, I had to have one.
The day the box arrived Lisa was getting ready to head out the door. What better gift to give a pen-o-holic than a large box of Lamy AL-Star, Safari, and Vista pens! I opened and examined every one, then lined them up in a tray to see which one would be the next member of my modern collection. I once again kept going back to the heftier, more rugged looking AL-Star, despite the Charcoal Safari being an attractive pen as well. It was meant to be, the Ocean Blue AL-Star with medium nib was mine, and with the optional piston convertor installed, I was ready to fill it up with my current favorite ink, J. Harbin Sapphire. Lisa chose the Coffee AL-Star with a fine nib and opted for the included Lamy blue cartridge.
Before I get into performance, let me first mention the box. Well, I’d mention something about it, but it’s not really much of a box. It has slits cut into the box on opposing sides. So, while it looks kind of cool, it’s a pain from a dealer perspective, as if I’m going to rubber band several of them together, the slits get in the way. I guess what do I expect for a pen with an MSRP of $45? Maybe I should be thankful they bothered to put it in something other than a standard box after all. It’s interesting, that’s for sure.
The fit and finish of the pen is something I would expect from German engineering. It is first rate and well thought out. The barrel has a large oval hole in either side to show the level of ink in either your cartridge or convertor, and the gripping section is clear plastic to see the ink in the internal feed. The section is long, almost an inch and a half, but has two comfortable recessed areas for your fingers. This has the added benefit that when you grab the pen you automatically hold it in the proper manner in a position that is optimal for the nib to touch the paper.
Capped, the Lamy AL-Star is 5-1/2″ long with a barrel length of 5-1/8″, and posted comes in at 5-5/8″. For vintage pen fans, this is nearly identical to a Sr Duofold, both posted and capped. I’ve found with the pen posted, I grip it a bit further back on the barrel, but without the cap posted, I grip on the recessed areas. Both methods are comfortable, as Lamy has put a nice rubber grommet between the barrel and the section and there is no real step like there would be with some other screw cap pens. The pen’s friction fit function snaps on securely, but I would have expected a little more “give” when I put the cap on. You don’t have to push very hard to cap the pen, and the “click” it makes seems a bit week. It’s all in my head though, as the cap is secure when capped and it takes a good deal of force to get the cap to come off. I guess at least we know there is something in my head after all.
Speaking of the cap, it posts nice and firm. This isn’t coming off any time soon. It almost seems like it takes more force to pull the cap off the barrel end then it does to remove the cap from the pen itself. The clip is a thin wire clip, but its design grabs a wide patch of fabric on your shirt. Too tight a clip? You can adjust the clip buy pulling it out a bit. A nice feature not found on other pens.
The barrel is threaded to the section in such a way that it always lines up the ink window with the center of the nib. Lisa’s AL-Star did not line up quite as nicely. On one side of the barrel the LAMY name is engraved in the aluminum. Normally I would have problem with such a large logo on a pen, but due to the fact you can rotate the barrel 180 degrees and hide it (and it is completely hidden during posting), and the fact the pen is completely devoid of any other marking makes this ok. I like the simplicity of this. The barrel is otherwise essentially a round barrel with two sides shaved off. I didn’t find the aluminum material to be too smooth either, which is nice. Some people avoid metal pens for this reason. It has been 90+ degrees here all day and I haven’t had a problem, or expect to, yet.
The nib is steel and reminds me of some vintage Chilton Wingflow, or Mont Blanc nibs that wrap around the sides. The nib plainly says LAMY and the nib size above it. Interestingly enough, the nib does not retract back into the section, it sits on top of the feed outside the section, a design of which I have never seen the likes of before. I attached the optional converter and ran the piston twice to get a full fill. I found the converter to not be as nice as some offered by other manufacturers, but it’s also half the cost too.
The converter and the cartridge both fit tightly into the back end of the section. This isn’t going to come loose, ever. The cartridge fits just as tight, and in fact when you get the pen there is a cardboard spacer set between the section and barrel to prevent you from accidentally screwing the barrel on and piercing the cartridge. Lamy engineers left no margin for error here. The part of the section that wraps around the cartridge or converter seems a little less rugged than the rest of the plastic found on the pen’s section. I’m not sure if this is by design, but you can flex the tabs a little bit. Perhaps this is because the cartridge fits so tight it may be necessary to wiggle it a bit to remove it. With a converter, I don’t expect any problem as I won’t be removing it very often.
I chose a Medium nib as I always do for this experiment, and found it to be a bit on the broad side. Size didn’t matter for this experiment as boy, was this nib SMOOTH! I found myself immediately drawing circles and figure eights just trying to find where the rough spot on the nib was going to be. To my surprise I never found a rough spot anywhere on the nib. I grabbed Lisa’s pen, which was a fine nib and it was equally as smooth.
All in all, I can see this pen being in my rotation for quite some time, and I’m sure it’s going to get some heavy use at our table during shows. The color is simply beautiful as are most of the Lamy AL-Star pens, and the length, weight, and girth are nearly perfect (I don’t know what pen would be). For the money, this is a heck of pen to beat. If you don’t like cartridge converter fillers you’re out of luck, but if you don’t let that bother you, this would make for a good pen in your briefcase. For around $41 street price you’ve got a rugged, dependable pen with some cool design elements. What’s not to like about that?
Brian & Lisa