Monday, March 06, 2006

Caran d'Ache Varius Ivanhoe Mechanical Pencil Review

Firstly let me say that like Pentel, Caran d’Ache is one of those brands that I am very keen on, so my comments maybe biased.

The Caran d’Ache Varius range of writing instruments is available in a variety of different body decorations, e.g. lacquer, wood, carbon fibre, etc. “Varius” translates to “various” in English, so I’m sure you get the idea. The model that I really like is “Ivanhoe”. It is supposedly a tribute to the great historical novel “Ivanhoe” by Sir Walter Scott, a classic story of bold knights and beautiful maidens. I guess some marketing person at Caran d’Ache really got carried away with this whole thing, but it’s an interesting gimmick. So being a tribute to a knight, the Varius “Ivanhoe” is decorated with a “coat of mail” on its body. I’m afraid that my photographs really don’t do it justice; it looks a lot better in real life.

The coat of mail is the first thing you notice about this mechanical pencil. It is a very fine metal mesh wrapped around the central body. It looks great! The pencil is rhodium plated so it's very shiny and shimmery, and you get those changing angular patterns in the mesh as you alter the angle you are looking at it from. The body is hexagonal at either end, and the large push-button top and pocket clip all go with the armour theme. I can really see this being the sort of mechanical pencil a knight would have chosen, if they had been invented back then! The “Ivanhoe” range should also be the choice of today’s military person.

Visually this pencil is a real winner, but nothings perfect. I must profess to yet again having problems with grip. I am beginning to consider that perhaps I am the problem, not all these pencils. But where are you supposed to hold this pencil? I also have the rollerball model, and as the photo shows, there is no doubt where you are supposed to hold that. But what of the pencil? You can see on the pencil that by comparison, the tapering cone at the tip turns into the hexagonal body a little over half way up the contoured grip section on the rollerball. Then there is a short section of hexagonal body, a joining ring, and then the coat of mail. So where do I hold the pencil? If I hold it the same distance up from the tip as on the rollerball I am in that cone-to-hex transition zone and it’s just not right or comfortable. Then the hex section isn’t really long enough to grip, and then it changes to the mail. I give up! Actually I basically hold it on the short hex section when I am doing any serious writing, and up on the coat of mail when doing any “rough” work that doesn’t need great control. Now if you want a serious positive grip, then you can’t go past that coat of mail. It’s comfortable, feels great and there’s absolutely no slipping or sliding around on that stuff! Now I know its totally off the subject, but a long time ago I was lucky enough to pat a Killer Whale / Orca. That skin was velvety smooth until you tried to rub your hand the wrong way up his body. Then is just grabbed you like a million tiny pointers – not painful, but that skin was rub one-way only! For some reason the coat of mail reminds me of that skin – it grips you good!

The pocket clip is the standard Caran d’Ache design, not spring loaded but very flexible and an excellent piece of engineering. But it’s against the coat of mail body, so if you use it the mail rubs against the fabric of your garment and will abrade it badly. There is a small double ended eraser under the push-button top, which of course activates the 0.7mm lead ratchet mechanism. The button is a very tight fit – almost a vacuum or suction type feel. You can usually put it back on without activating the ratchet mechanism. The sleeve point is not retractable. The pencil will also roll around on your desk – the rings that secure the mail are actually wider than the hex ends, so only the pocket clip stops the rolling. Overall the pencil is lighter than you might think for a metal body of its size. As I am sure you have guessed from the photos, it comes in a very nice large wooden presentation box.

Don't let my comments about the grip put you off - I really like this pencil.

  • Best Points – The coat of mail and the whole knightly/warrior/military look.
  • Not So Good Points – The grip, where do you hold it?
  • Price Range – Stratospheric.

Dimensions – Length 140mm, diameter 9mm. Balance point about 75mm up from the tip.

17 comments:

Dorai said...

I seem to remember that the Russian word for pencil is "karandash". Is the name "Caran d'Ache" a faux-French spelling of the Russian word, or did Russian adopt the brand name for its generic word for pencil?

kiwi-d said...

Yes indeed there is a connection. To quote from "The Pencil" by Henry Petroski,"...the Moscow born Paris illustrator and caricaturist Emmanuel Poire took his pseudonym from the Russian word for pencil, karandash. In turn, the Swiss pencil-making firm of Caran d'Ache was named after the artist, and a stylised version of his signature is now used as a company logo."

nontimeosedcaveo said...

Dave, why would a killer whale need a one-way skin? Does it help them "grip" the water when swimming? Can we learn anything to make zero-way grips for pencils? :))

kiwi-d said...

Hmmmmm, well Killer Whales are go-forwards sort of guys. They ain't got no reverse, so one-way skin is OK for them? :-)))

nontimeosedcaveo said...

Weird coincidence - New Scientist magazine for 15 Nov. 2008, page 16, has a short item on the skin of shortfin mako sharks, where the roughness of their scaly skin forms micro-whirlpools that reduce drag! Pencils are safer, though :-))

wes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wynne and Wes said...

is the ivanhoe mechanism better than a good old p205?

kiwi-d said...

No really. Once you get to the level of things like the P205, anything after that you are just paying for brand name, fancy materials, etc i.e. jewellery value. Mechanism wise they are not really any better, and sometimes worse.

Through My Lens said...

Contemplating to buy the ivanhoe or porsche design tecflex (P3110)...
Guys can you advise me which one to go for....

Anonymous said...

Ivanhoe Rhodium Rules - by an Engineer.

Penmaniacs said...

i have a review of the tech flex
its interesting, and looks awesome
also you can change it into pen function

Anonymous said...

My prized Caran D'ache Ivanhoe looks terrific, handling the chain-mail exterior brings satisfaction and writing with it is even better - just about to start writing a longhand novel with it - get one while you can by a retired Chief Mechanical Engineer.

Anonymous said...

Holding the Mechanical pencil is no problem. With the clip vertical, place the middle finger on the bottom hexagonal flat to support the pencil, the index finger tip falls naturally on the next-but-one flat, the thumb will naturally lie on the third alternative flat and the upper thumb will make contact with the Rhodium coated chain mail to steady the mechanical pencil for comfortable writing. An engineering dream design - my compliments go to the designer.

Siddharth said...

My Ivanhoe
http://picasaweb.google.com/sidharthsk/Ivanhoe?feat=directlink

2nd_astronaut said...

I know the question is ooold (over 2 years), but I want to give my impression on CdA Ivanhoe vs. PD 3110 and 3130:
- all are quite heavy and substantial pencils
- all are not completely perfect for intensive use (grip section, I agree with Dave's observations in this point)
- the CdA is of course a design pencil as well as the PDs, but it is more decent than them. People will not recognize at first sight, that it features a unique texture/material machining.
- the Tecflex and Micado pencil really stands out from the mass. They seem to shout: "Look, I am a design pencil" and people want to have a look at them. And indeed their ideas are just great: the flexing of the mesh or the unskewing of the bars...
- If grip is very important for you, maybe a look on PD 3120 is worth a try. It fulfills the claim of PD better, but ... the Tecflex or Micado is waaay cooler in my eyes. For a decent Porsche design, you can try to source a vintage pencil like this: http://www.fountainpennetwork.com/forum/index.php?/topic/20294-review-porsche-design-faber-castell-fountain-pen/ (needs registration for the pictures). This is one of my favorite pencils (Oops, I shouldn't reveal this here)

Kiwi-d said...

Thanks 2nd

Good things take time ;-)

J Ferguson said...

The tip sections also remind me of bodkin style arrow heads, which were invented to penetrate chain mail armour. A very attractive design.