I confess: I’m a pen snob, and over the past couple of years it was easy for me to dismiss Benu from Russia as, well, naff.
Why? Collectively, they press a lot of my buttons. Over-the-top resins packed with glitter. Crazy faceted shapes that often result in enormous barrel-to-section stepdowns. Marketing speak about being ‘premium’, but generic steel nibs that look undersized for the chunky pens themselves. I really rolled my eyes when I saw the crystalline pen stands and glow-in-the-dark models, and all the excitement they generated in the community. Benu seemed like the definition of style over substance. I mean, it’s not the elegant craftsmanship of a Nakaya, or the writing-first philosophy of a Scribo, is it?
But now courtesy of Stonecott Fine Writing, I’ve spent time with three Benus, and I have to admit: even I’m starting to see the appeal.
Derek at Stonecott sent me a Hexagon A, a Dreamy Chameleon, and a Briolette Gold Ore. These three pens look very different, but they do have a lot in common — so I’ll review them as a set.
With all three pens you’ll find the same basic section — it’s interchangeable between the pens, and is long, fairly slim, made of plastic, and flares at the business end. The nib is a #5 Schmidt (steel, of course, but where appropriate gold-plated to match to the design of the pen), and at the other end is a standard international converter, which is included.
Behind the section, all three designs have square-cut threads of a similar feel, but surprisingly they don’t all take the same number of rotations to cap, so the design is different for each one.
Each pen is essentially 100% plastic. There’s no metal trim, no clips, no liners, no metal thread inserts. Only the nib is metal. Yet the plastic is thick, so they’re not as featherweight as you might expect. They all feel reassuringly solid in the hand.
Benu pitches its pens as luxury items, although the three here range between £70 and £100 ish, so you’re not talking Montblanc levels of luxury. For the price point you get consistently good fit and finish: everything lines up, the polish is nice, there are no rough edges, and so on. The packaging is a small cardboard box, which is not exactly luxury but at least is environmentally friendly and easy to store or dispose of.
Now, that’s the basics of the range as a whole out of the way. Let’s look at the detail of the individual pens themselves.
The Hexagon is the most conventional of the three Benus in this roundup. It’s longer, not so tapered, with flat ends.
But that doesn’t mean it’s normal. It still has a huge, almost crenellated smokey cap band that reminds me of a cylinder from a revolver pistol.
The pen itself has a deeply cut hexagon pattern all over its surfaces. And a REALLY glittery black resin with gold throughout.
The smoked cap band and section is interesting because it means you can actually check the ink level even when the pen is capped.
The Hexagon I received has a broad nib, and it’s absolutely fan-fucking-tastic.
Smooth, juicy, just a wonderful writer. I love it.
In the hand, the Hexagon is extremely comfortable. It’s not as light as I thought it would be, and it’s really well balanced. I could write with this for a long time.
The downside? Nearly three turns to remove the cap, on slightly rattly threads. Luckily, they’re the kind of threads where you can spin the cap on or off, so it’s not as inconvenient as some brands.
This is the most extreme of the three pens here. It has a HUGE cap band, striped and emblazoned with an enormous Benu wordmark.
It has a hex/triangular faceted cross-section, and a really pronounced taper, with conical ends.
And its resin is insane: a ‘chameleon’ resin switching from blue to purple, mixed with a ton of silver swarf, which is floating in transparent resin.
It looks nuts. Personally the black cap band ruins the look for me, but from my small research sample it’s a polarising design anyway: my partner thought it was the most disgusting pen she’s ever seen. My eight year old daugher thought it was the prettiest of the three.
This one’s cap comes off in just under two turns. The threads click into place to align the facets well every time, and there’s a little nick cut in the body for the cap to click on, for a secure post.
Despite being huge, the barrel step is very far back (thanks to that huge cap band), which makes for a really comfortable grip.
The silver-coloured medium nib on this one writes OK, but it clicks and wobbles.
I will have a go at reseating it.
Briolette Gold Ore
And lastly, the Briolette, the cheapest pen here. And actually, the prettiest in my opinion. It’s still a torpedo shape, and exactly the same length as the Chameleon, but it’s faceted like the Gherkin in London.
This one is gold on gold, and I really like the resin, especially with the facets to show it off.
It’s captivating in person.
The cap band is much smaller than on the Chameleon, and I think that really helps the overall look.
This design decision does mean the cap is shorter, though, which means in turn that the barrel step is closer to the fingers, so this was by far the least comfortable of the three pens for me, with a noticeable pressure point on my thumb.
The gold-coloured fine nib on this one writes like a Japanese extra fine — it’s really, really fine, not that wet, and somewhat scratchy. Not at all what I was expecting from a German nib.
Am I a convert?
These three models range from £70 to £105. If you want a full-size #6 nib, you have to step up to the Supreme, which is £150. And at first I felt that was high. In my head, I thought: this is a plastic pen with a cheap generic steel nib and a boatload of glitter dumped in to catch the eye.
But then I stopped and asked myself: is that any different to any of the hundreds of pen turners on Instagram today? I’ve paid more, much more than £100 for a simple turned plastic pen with a Bock or JoWo screwed into it.
And when you buy a Benu you are getting a lot more than that.
Instead of simple turned cylinders, you get a genuinely unique, provocative set of designs with unusual shapes and textures. Instead of bought-in pen blanks, Benu only uses resins that it designs, mixes and cures itself, so you literally can’t get them anywhere else. Despite being priced like a machine-made pen, these Benus are very well put together, nicely finished with a significant amount of careful hand assembly. And as actual writing instruments, they’re much more comfortable than I expected, and, on the whole, decent writers. It’s worth drawing your attention to the detailed step-by-step explanation of Benu’s production processes listed on its website — this is the kind of transparency and confidence that I am looking for from brands.
So whether I actually like the designs of the pens or not, I’m certainly not looking down on Benu as a snob any more, and neither should you. They make a unique product for a competitive price. They’re provocative, and as they say on their website, you won’t mistake a Benu for anything else.
But will they have a home in my collection? Annoyingly, I wish I could mix my own. I’d like the Gold Ore resin and facets, with the shape and broad nib of the Hexagon, and the long comfortable grip of the Chameleon. Of the three, the Hexagon was my favourite, and I may even promote it from my review pile to my pen tray — right next to my Montblancs. Who’d have thought?
If you’re interested in seeing what the fuss is all about, check out the Benu Pens at Stonecott.