Straight from the “Well, it’s not quite as inexpensive as my other Chinese Fountain Pens” files, I present the Chinese, yet somehow also German…
Duke 116 Fountain Pen
Filling System: Screw-Type Piston Converter
About the Pen:
Despite their relatively inexpensive prices and questionable quality standards, Chinese fountain pens offer some of the nicest and most interesting designs out there. I find that taking a chance on various Chinese pens is kind of an adventure. You never really know what you’re going to get. Some are stinkers, others are studs. The Duke 116 is closer to stud than stinker, although there are some aspects of the pen I’m not very fond of. And if I do say, the pen is quite a looker.
About the Company
Duke is the “street name” for the Shanghai G-Crown Fountain Pen Company, which is a Chinese company based in…you guessed it…Shanghai. The weird thing is that they also go by German Duke Lux Pen GmbH, suggesting that they’re a German company. GmbH indicates that the company is registered in Germany as a Limited Liability company. Soooooo…is it a Chinese company or German?
According to HisNibs, Duke is a Chinese company that has a research & development branch in Germany, and they use…
“…advanced German and European pen-making technology, and employs it to bring traditional Chinese motifs to mid-range and high-end pens and limited editions.” – Norman Haase, HisNibs
So they appear to be a Chinese company with operations in Germany. Now that we have that out of the way…
The Duke 116 is an awesome-looking pen. It’s generally marketed on Amazon and eBay as “Duke Father Fountain Pen in Red & Black Rhombus Pattern.” So odd. I’m not sure where the “father” part comes in, and while the barrel design is technically made up of a series of rhombus shapes, it just sounds weird. This type of design is more widely known as a harlequin pattern, so I’m going to go with that: red and black harlequin pattern.
The red material they use in the harlequin pattern is sparkly and somewhat translucent, giving the material some nice depth. The cap, end cap, and section are all shiny black with chrome accents.
The cap and barrel are made of metal, but they’re not as heavy as I expected. I believe they’re made of aluminum rather than the more typical brass used in other Chinese pens. The cap specifically is lighter than I thought it would be.
The cap body is coated in a shiny black lacquer, with a chrome finial, clip, and cap band. In line with the greater crown motif, the finial is in the shape of a crown and has the Duke crown logo and “German Duke Lux Pen GmbH” screen-printed on the top surface.
The clip has a simple, slightly tapered tongue shape with an oval area with the crown logo stamped into it. And the cap band is a single chrome ring with DUKE engraved on one side and Germany 116 engraved on the other.
The end cap is interesting. Like the cap, it consists of a shiny lacquered surface with silver accents on each end. The end cap is separated from the barrel by a single, narrow chrome band. At the other end is a chrome button that slightly tapers toward the end, but then widens to form a lip around the very edge. When posting, the cap snaps right onto this lip for a super-secure post that ain’t coming off unless you want it to. More on this later.
The section is also black, although unlike the cap and end cap, it’s made of plastic. There is, however, a chrome accent at the nib end of the section, and its shaped much like the chrome accent on the end cap. It has a similar lip that adds a bit of continuity to the look of the pen.
Finally, the large, stainless steel nib looks to be a #6, although it’s a bit narrower at the shoulders than other #6 nibs I have, so it might not be an exact fit. The nib has the crown logo surrounded by some other scrollwork etched/stamped into the surface, along with the words DUKE GERMANY. Nothing fancy, but a simple and elegant design.
Build Quality (5/5):
I’m super impressed with the quality of this pen. The construction is great. The fit and finish are very well done. Everything snaps or screws together perfectly. The cap snaps onto both ends of the pen very securely, but without requiring excessive force to remove.
Even though the section threads are plastic and the barrel threads are metal, the two pieces marry together perfectly: the threads on both pieces are machined very well and I don’t experience any misalignments or cross-threading.
I’m really liking the converter. It’s far nicer than the cheapo converters you get with most Chinese pens. This converter is Duke branded, it fully disassembles for easy cleaning, and it looks like it has a slightly larger ink incapacity than typical converters.
I also (mostly) like the nib. It’s very smooth. Strangely enough, though, I found that the nib “sings” a little bit when I’m writing. Unfortunately, it’s not a nice sound like my Monteverde Invincia…it’s more of a squeaking sound. Kinda gross.
For the most part, this pen is rock solid. It’s only skipped or hard started once or twice over several pages of writing. The line is fairly consistent, although not perfect.
If I leave the pen uncapped for a minute, it starts up right away with no complaints. I left the cap off for a full 60 seconds, and the pen started right away with nary a hard start. I was pretty impressed by that.
Where the Duke 116 fell short, though, was how it performed after sitting for several days. This pen dries out fast. While using this pen, I had to clean and refill it twice because the ink dried up after about a week of not being used. If you plan to use this pen every day, there’s nothing to worry about. But if you will only use it sporadically, you’ll probably want to store it in a Ziploc bag or other airtight container.
The Duke 116 is very comfortable to use when writing unposted. It’s neither a long pen nor a heavy pen, so if you have large hands you might be tempted to post it. I wouldn’t advise that, though. Despite how slick the cap Posts onto the end cap, I think it makes the pen far too back-heavy. I found that If I relaxed my grip while writing, the back of the pen wanted to dip downward, pulling the nib away from the paper (like a see saw…”balance” is clearly not an item found on their QC checklist).
The balance is great when unposted, and despite the section being made from smooth plastic, it never felt slippery, even after writing for extended periods of time. There is a slight step-down where the chrome barrel band connects to the section, but it’s not sharp at all. I checked it out under a loupe, and it looks like there’s a slight bevel applied on the leading edge. So while you can feel a bit of an edge, it’s not uncomfortable at all to use. This is such a fantastic detail and shows a little of that “advanced German and European pen-making technology” that Mr. Haase was talking about.
Writing Experience (3.5/5):
There are two things that would keep me from using this pen as a daily driver:
- The line is a little broader than I’d prefer, and it’s slightly mushy.
- The weird squeak that comes from the nib while I’m writing.
The nib gives a slight bit of feedback, but it’s otherwise very smooth. But as the nib glides over the paper, it makes a noise that’s somewhere between styrofoam squeak and a harsh scratchy sound. It’s kind of annoying. Otherwise the pen writes beautifully. It’s a true medium grade nib, and it writes pretty wet.
One area where the Duke 116 suffered was with fast writing. It could have been the inks I used (Noodler’s Antietem, Noodlers Cayenne, and De Atramentis Midnight Blue), but if I wrote too fast, I found that the line would break up a bit. I think it’s more of an issue with the feed not being able to keep up than the inks running dry.
The Duke 116 is a really pretty pen, but it dries out quickly and its line sometimes comes out a little finer or broader (it’s a moody pen). For $18, I expect a little better performance than that. I love the way the pen looks, feels, and posts (even though it’s practically impossible to write when posted). If the consistency was a little better and it didn’t dry out so fast, I’d have no problem recommending this pen.
Is it worth $18? Yeah. Mostly, I guess. I have other pens that write nicer and cost quite a bit less, but their designs and materials aren’t as nice as the Duke 116.
The Nutshell: Overall Score: 21/25
|Best Qualities||Worst Qualities|
|Beautiful design & materials||Too back-heavy when posted|
|Smooth, dependable nib||The nib is squeaky-sounding|
|Excellent build quality||Ink dries out quickly|
|Not the best for fast writing|
Duke makes a wide variety of pens, with varying quality and prices. I’ve seen many of their designs on sale in the $125 to $150 price range, although most of their pens fall somewhere between $17 and $35. They also make a less-expensive line called Uranus. I did a review of the Uranus M25 a while back, and found it to be a pretty junky pen (poor build quality, flings ink when uncapping). I don’t know if that’s common with the Uranus line, but the 116 is definitely a higher caliber writing instrument.
The Duke 116 is a really pretty pen that’s put together well and writes very nicely. Although it’s more expensive than many other Chinese pens, it’s also made of better materials. And Duke obviously puts a lot more resources toward design and quality control. Duke is a brand I’ll keep my eye on going forward, and I’m sure this won’t be the last one of their pens I buy.