This review is long overdue. I bought my first Soubriquet (cocobolo barrel and ebonite cap prototype) from Desiderata Pens in September 2018, although it feels like I’ve owned it forever. I bought a second Soubriquet in amber acrylic in March 2019, and ordered a third, with a one-piece cocobolo barrel and cocobolo cap, in April 2019, which has yet to arrive.
So, where to start?
Clicking the button
Once upon a time I owned a Desiderata Daedalus made from delrin, during my “experimenting with flex” stage. So I was subscribed to Desiderata’s (infrequent) newsletter. I remember getting the email announcing the Soubriquet as I walked home from my daughter’s school, and I stopped in the street and immediately bought it on my phone.
Why did the Soubriquet grab me so quickly? Lots of reasons. The cocobolo wood and ebonite, in a completely handmade pen, for a start — this is an antidote to mass-made plastic and metal. The attractive, curving shape. The in-house made pneumatic filling mechanism. It all sounded so different.
Ordering was pretty easy. I got to pick my choice of nib from a wide range; I went for a #6 0.6mm Nemosine stub.
The pen arrived after some delay at customs (sigh), with no packaging, just bubble wrap and newspaper. I’ve rather gotten used to big and impressive boxes, so I confess I was a little disappointed by this, but I’d rather have a nice pen than a nice box.
As I said, one of the things that immediately attracted me to the Soubriquet was the materials. Cocobolo is one of my favourite woods, and to have a pen made from it, including the section that you actually put your fingers on, was a special opportunity. It looked great in person, with visible grain and texture and a deep reddish-brown colour.
The wood of the fixed barrel portion didn’t align or match with the wood of the blind cap, but that to me adds to the charm.
The design is incredibly well thought-through. The Soubriquet is not quite stepless, but it has smooth curves, a truly lovely shape. The curve from the pointed tip of the barrel to the flare of the section is well proportioned and graceful.
There are a lot of distinctive design features when you start to look at the details. The logo is laser-engraved in neat block letters (in the wooden version). The clip is a single piece of bent wire, held in place with a hidden screw inside the end of the barrel. The section is wooden, which I’ve only seen before on the Graf Intuition Platino. All together, the Soubriquet is like nothing else in my pen tray. It’s good-looking and clearly a lot of thought has gone into it.
Pretty much every part of the pen was made by hand, by Pierre, without computerised machinery. Only the spring, nib and feed are production items. This is so impressive when you think about the complexity of the design. It has a blind cap that has to fit flush on a curving barrel; a complex filling mechanism with spring, plunger, and ink window; a clip; and multiple materials including wood, which all have to fit together.
And the pen is not just handmade by Pierre, but handmade by me: the wooden section is unsealed and you can only fill the pen by dipping it in ink, so now the end of the section is stained blue-black. This pen is forever mine.
In the hand
In the hand, the Soubriquet feels warm and natural, thanks to the ebonite and wood. You can tell it’s handmade, I think, but the finishing is good.
The cap threads on my cocobolo version are stiff, but not problematically so. They’re fine on the amber version.
The clip is one part of the Soubriquet that I’m not a huge fan of. I don’t use clips except to assist with uncapping and as a roll stop, and I fear that the wire will bend with lateral stress. It’s also quite prominent, so I fear it will snag on jumpers and the like.
What struck me most upon starting to use the Soubriquet is the comfort. This is what I’d call a midsize pen, although Pierre calls it large. It’s nowhere near the size of a 149 or M1000. The section flares like an Aurora, and is long and grippy. The overall pen is light, and well balanced. I could hold it all day. It’s really special in the hand.
The filling mechanism is fun. Insert the section in ink, depress the plunger and ink is drawn up into the barrel. You can see it through the ink window. I prefer to use two hands and brace the pen against the bottle so I don’t end up dipping the section too far into the ink, but technically you can fill one-handed.
The unfinished wood section does soak up some ink, so cleanup is important and inky fingers can still result, but I’ve never minded inky fingers.
Flushing is a pain, I’ll be honest… you can’t exactly soak a wooden pen, can you? But I’ve dedicated my wooden Soubriquet to one ink (Birmingham Celestial Blue), and I’m relaxing and getting on with just enjoying it.
Writing with the stub
The Nemosine stub nib on both my Soubriquets was not a good fit for me out of the box, and needed some flossing and smoothing to write the way I like.
For my third Soubriquet I’ve chosen a Jowo fine nib. The nib units screw out, and though their housings have been customised to the filling mechanism through the addition of a little plastic tube, they should be interchangeable between the three Soubriquets.
Acrylic vs cocobolo
The amber acrylic Soubriquet has a very different feel to the cocobolo version, despite being the same size and shape (although there are some small differences between the two versions, like the details of the filler mechanism).
In some senses the acrylic version is more fun, youthful – it’s a bright swirly colour – and it’s more practical, with no worries about staining the section or submerging it in water. It’s also a true demonstrator. You can see the ink sloshing, and the colourful ebonite filler button, through the material.
In the hand it’s not as warm or textured, though, and so to me it doesn’t have the same appeal as the cocobolo.
Value for money?
The amber Soubriquet was $265. The Cocobolo prototype was the same. The third, the one-piece Cocobolo barrel, is $279. For a handmade pen with a complex filling mechanism and premium materials, I think that’s pretty good value — although it doesn’t have a gold nib.
The Soubriquet in cocobolo has a special place in my collection. I love the materials and design, and how comfortable it is to write with. And I admit that I enjoy feeling that this pen is unique to me, not just as part of a short prototype run, but thanks to the ink-stained section and hand-tuned nib. I can’t wait to see what version two is like!