Wednesday, July 30, 2008

S.T. Dupont Olympio Mechanical Pencil / Ballpoint Pen Review

S.T. Dupont Olympio Mechanical Pencil / Ballpoint Pen Review

Well the Olympics are nearly upon us, so time for me to join the Olympic theme with a review of the S.T. Dupont Olympio.

I guess Waterman would be the most well known luxury brand of writing instruments associated with France, but they are not the only one. S.T. Dupont are a French manufacturer who started out in 1872 making luxury leathergoods, and they released their first pen in 1973. These days they sell leather goods, pens, lighters, eyewear, etc – a rather similar product range to the likes of Mont Blanc and Caran d’Ache.
Firstly, despite the heading, this is not a multi pen / pencil ! Rather, most Dupont ballpoint pens come with a pencil converter cartridge, so you can load them up as either a ballpoint pen or as a mechanical pencil. But they can only be one the other at any one time, they only hold one cartridge, so you have to dissemble them and replace the cartridge to swap formats.My model is the Midnight Blue theme lacquer. The lower half of the body is fully lacquered, but the top half has 4 long rectangular panels of lacquer set into the metal. These panels are very well inserted into the metal surround, a seamless transition. Each panel is ¼ of the way as you go round the circumference of the body. I must admit to being unsure if the metal is platinum or palladium plated – the web just confuses rather than resolves the issue. Either way though it’s certainly a very nice bright shiny chrome/silver sort of plating.

The midnight blue lacquer is very nice indeed. A deep dark dense blue - very midnight. Dupont seem to regard themselves as lacquer specialists, so this is the real thing, Chinese lacquer that started out as tree sap before ending up on my pencil. It looks rather like good quality plastic, but the feel is a bit different. Very smooth and shiny, but yet with quite a lot of grip. Great stuff. Dupont claim that lacquer is very hard wearing and scratch resistant – well I haven’t really put that to the test so, no comment.

Overall I like the looks of this pencil. The geometric aspects of the inserted lacquer appeal to the engineer and art deco in me. I also like the styling of the central band in the middle between the two halves of the body. The various grooves and engravings all look good. ‘S. T. Dupont, Paris’ is engraved on the central band area.

As you might expect, this pencil is heavy. It looks solid, like it should have a substantial weight in the hand, and it doesn’t disappoint. It will ker-thump down on your desk if don’t place it with care. I always enjoy writing with a heavyweight pencil – every time you pick it up you are reminded of its presence. The balance is good, but perhaps a fraction top-heavy for my personal taste.

The Olympio is a twist action ratchet lead advance mechanism. The whole top half of the pencil twists to activate the mechanism. The first twist of about 180 degrees advances the tip or lead sleeve out of the body. It ‘click-locks’ into position. Twisting back the other way will retract the tip. The tip is a small short conical sleeve and is obviously fully pocket-safe. Having advanced the tip, further twists advance the lead. Ten activations will get you about 6mm of the 0.7mm lead. The full range of the twist is still 180 degrees and the spring back is good and powerful. I found this 180 degree range of motion too much to comfortably operate one-handed. The lead actually advances with about 120 degrees of twist but you haven’t reached the stop position and can’t easily be sure what’s happening. Overall I would have to say advancing the lead is a two handed job, particularly if you don’t have good dexterity. Despite my earlier statement, a couple of times I did note that the spring back after twisting was a little laboured. Pulling the top off and on seemed to fix that.

The top half of the body pulls straight off to allow access to the cartridge. There is a small emergency use eraser on the pencil cartridge. You can pull the eraser out to refill the lead cartridge. Dupont do not sell refill leads, just whole refill cartridges so I am surprised they allow this refill method to side-step their cartridge sales. You can buy both 0.5mm and 0.7mm cartridges so your one writing instrument can interchange between BP, 0.5 MP and 0.7 MP at will. Excellent. Photo: Top half of body pulled off and cartdridge removed. Two cartridges shown - pencil and ballpoint.

As you can see in the photo, the ballpoint pen refill is quite thin – more mini capacity than jumbo. The pencil cartridge has “Made in Japan” on it.

The cartridges screw in and out of that long central tube with the spline halfway up it. The body top section push fits easily and securely back on. The pocket clip is a very nice spring loaded job. Very functional. ‘Made in France’ and a serial number are finely engraved on the side of the pocket clip.

The Olympio comes in a very nice presentation box with lots of little booklets and a nice leather pen sleeve for protection when carrying it around.
  • Best Points – BP/MP convertibility, sturdy looks don’t disappoint.
  • Not So Good Points – see my comments above about the twist action.
  • Price Range – Stratospheric.

Dimensions – Length 139mm, diameter about 10mm in the main grip area about 12mm at widest point. Balance point about 80mm up from the tip.

Note 1 - It appears the Olympio is also sometimes marketed as the Orpheo? Two names for one thing, no idea why.
Note 2 – In a world awash with counterfeits it’s often hard to know whether you get the real thing or not when buying from anyone but an authorised dealer and paying a huge premium for that privilege. Maybe even that might not be 100% certain either. In my work I have some Asian suppliers who cannot guarantee anything. They buy the real brandname component X from the genuine authorised agent, but then scammers intercept the delivery truck and swap the shipment so you still end up with the counterfeit. It’s got so bad that some of the reputable ones just say, “No, we cannot quote you on the basis of using brand X componentry”.
I did a bit of research on Dupont. Apparently there are plenty of very good Dupont counterfeits, the type that even experts have to take a careful look at, and are actually quite acceptable for the discounted but still expensive price you usually pay for them. Reading some articles on how to spot the counterfeits still leaves a few questions, as like all companies Dupont change things over time, models come and go, the articles don’t always agree with other, they are always about a different specific version to your one, etc. The articles did leave me with a nagging question or two – either I’ve got the real thing or a much better than average counterfeit. No point in loosing too much sleep over it though. I bought it several years ago from a long established reputable retailer. Done is done. I guess maybe though if I buy a Mont Blanc I might buy it from Mont Blanc rather than a very reputable pen retailer, because…well who knows…?


Germ said...

Only one or the other? Bummer. Don't alot of people like both? :) :) :) :) :)~~ hehehe

Looks like a nice pen or pencil. Classic design/styling elements.

Anonymous said...

Some very interesting features.

Thanks for the review.

ImAnOxymoron said...

Have you reviewed the Cross Tech 3 yet? it's like $25 USD online and works really well.

Michael J Corry said...

Cross has a new line out which copies this idea of replaceable innards.
The Cross ballpoint refill looks very like the Dupont one so I wonder if the pencil mechanisms are from the same stable?

Michael J Corry said...

I see from the official website that Cross is now offering the 0.7mm pencil converter as a stand alone item. They're calling it "switch-it".
I suppose it makes up for the dwindling range of mechanical pencils in the Cross catalogue, but does it mean that they'll be phasing out their 0.5mm pencils?
At least now you turn any ballpoint pen in their range into a pencil.

Kiwi-d said...

Interesting. Thanks Sapphire.