Lamy 2000, Jinhao 80 – can you even compare the two?
The Lamy 2000 is much more than a writing instrument to me. It had appeared first in 1966, the year I was born. Made of what was then dubbed the “space age polymer” Makrolon, it had represented a huge step forward in the world of fountain pen craftsmanship. (That the material was later used to make the Lego bricks had also added to its enigma.)
However, the fact that the Lamy 2K embodies the Bauhaus philosophy – whose most basic tenet was “form follows function” – is what makes it so dear to me, purely from the aesthetic point of view. It is said that the Lamy 2000, along with the Atlanta green Coca Cola glass bottle and the Porsche 911 are the most iconic design statements that have defied tinkering for the longest time. I have heard people eulogize about the 2K winning honour as an exhibit in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York, though I have not been fortunate enough to have seen it myself. The Lamy 2000, is thus not just a fountain pen that I love, it is so steeped in history, its legacy status is so huge, that to me it is the John Lennon and Jimmy Hendrix rolled into one. An icon from Elysium.
But, even if I were to overlook all these facts, it would still love the Lamy 2000 for its sheer functionality; its you-take-my-breath-away looks, the obvious design and engineering excellence it embodies; the pleasure it gives me writing. If, the subtle etching of the Lamy name on the side of the clip borders on the obnoxious as an understatement, then the “Germany” etched on the back of the clip, which is visible only to the one making an effort to see it, is akin to dismissal with the mere wave of a hand. The hooded nib; the ink window that performs its function admirably without being garish; the bottom section that acts as an extension of the piston filler but is virtually impossible to discern with the naked eye, such is the craftsmanship of the pen. My first Lamy 2000 is decades old now and gives me the same pleasure writing as it had given me on day one. It was love at first sight, a love that has defied time. What else can I say?
Naturally when the world compares that Jinhao 80 with my love, the Lamy 2000 I am not consumed by blind rage, on the contrary I feel sorry. Sorry for several reasons. Number one, because you cannot compare the Kohinoor with a faux diamond simulant, cut, carat, colour notwithstanding. Number two, actually, if you take a closer look, the two pens are very different – as different as a cartridge / converter pen can ger from a piston filler. The styling of the nibs too is different. As for the material, they are as wide apart as chalk from the cheese.
Apologists for cheap Chinese pens – call them replicas, downright copies, tribute pens, or inspired ones – say that these pens perform an important function by bringing “classics” which are otherwise priced out of reach of ordinary aficionados. That they are actually helping expand the fledgling fountain pen market. But am I convinced? Are they even remotely near anywhere near the classics? What, when the cheap quality of these pens (to be fair, you cannot expect them to maintain the same impeccable quality standards that the originals adhere to) blow on the face of the buyers? Don’t they turn such fountain pen users (often newbies and novices) away from fountain pens?
The Lamy flagship was designed by Gerd Alfred Müller and the special polycarbonate resin (Makrolon) was produced by Bayer. Needless to say, both had cost huge sums to be adapted for commercial production. Now, if cheap copies are made with total disregard to intellectual property rights, the revenue loss alone will certainly dissuade brands and companies from investing in research and development. In the long term such situations are detrimental to the growth and flourishing of the industry, in which case, it is the consumers and aficionados like you and me who will ineveriably suffer. On the other extreme, if companies and brands investing in technology seek to recover costs in the shorter period, as they try to factor in the loss arising from the Chinese flooding the market with cheap copies (remember, the Jinhao 80 follows the earlier Kako pen, another so-called copy of the Lamy 2K), again it is the discerning consumer who will suffer.
One argument that is often put forward by the apologists question why the originals cannot be made available at cheaper price points to steal the thunder of the poseurs? I guess I will not get into that argument, as the answer is too complex and the question itself is a moot one.
A final word about the Jinhao 80. For its price it is a fairly decent pen. It writes well, and is buy worthy, if one stops comparing it to the icon.
My fountain pen collecting journey had begun in the footpaths of Sukumvit in Thailand many years back when I had bought my first replica Montblanc pens which had got me thinking – if the Chinese can make such good quality pens, why aren’t they branding them as their own instead of trying to pass them as what they are not? Well, I am still flummoxed.
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