Story behind the pens:
I’d heard that Conklin were introducing a new version of the Omniflex nib. There was a lot of backlash in the community about their previous versions having little flex, and poor quality control, so I was curious to see how this one would turn out.
I then happened to see the Abalone Endura advertised and thought that it, with the brand new Omniflex nib, would be great for pensharing as a try-before-you-buy, especially as these pens are exclusive to Goulet in the US.
By coincidence a friend from the Fountain Pens UK Facebook group said she had just splashed out on the Laban Abalone, we got talking, and she suggested sending me her Laban to do a side by side abalone shoot out. So here we are!
I’m not much of a marine biologist myself, so a quick google reveals that abalone are gastropods and while the outside of their sturdy shell is dull, the inside is glorious. Their shells protect them from marine predators, and they produce nacre inside the shells – a dazzling mineral composite which is iridescent, and its exact colouring varies from species to species. Anyway, enough David Attenborough, onto the review!
Looks, description, build quality, dimensions.
These pens are in many ways very similar. Both have chrome finials, clips, cap bands, sections (including threads), and barrel ends. But the main event is the beautiful Abalone – both pens are made by applying thin strips of Abalone to the cap and barrel then covering with a clear resin. With both pens, the cap and barrel appear faceted as the Abalone is applied in strips, but the resin is actually rounded off.
The Conklin is a darker shade, much more green than the Laban which is a lighter colour with much more pink.
What is also immediately obvious is that the abalone on the Laban is of much higher quality than the Conklin, because the individual strips actually line up in many places so you can genuinely get a feel for what the inside of the shell would have looked like. With the Conklin, whilst the pieces may derive from the same shell (the fairly uniform colour of the strips leads me to think this although there is nothing on the Goulet page to confirm this), they do not in any way match up as you rotate the pen in your hand and in fact some of the strips are actually made up of 2 smaller strips joined together.
In terms of the other features of the pen, the Laban’s finial has the nice L logo and wreath, compared to the plain finial on the Conklin, although the Laban’s clip is plain compared to the Endura’s which carries the Conklin logo. The Laban clip is big, sturdy and hinged – the Conklin’s is their usual rather flimsy looking one and you can see at the back of the clip where it’s been riveted at the top to a bracket. Not pretty.
Both have branding on the cap band, the Laban’s with “Laban”, the Conklin’s is busier with the Endura name and Limited Edition plus the number out of 1898.
|Length capped (mm)||145mm||135mm|
|Length uncapped (mm)||127mm||120mm|
|Length posted (mm)||177mm||165mm|
|Weight capped (g)||61g||47g|
|Weight uncapped (g)||32g||26g|
|Section diameter at its thinnest (mm)||9mm||9mm|
|Section length to threads (mm)||20mm||15mm|
The Laban is certainly the more imposing of the two pens – it’s longer, wider and heavier. I don’t usually post my pens and unposted, the Laban is 7mm longer and 6g heavier. The plastic nib housing on the Laban is fully recessed into the section, whereas on the Conklin it protrudes from the end of the section and for me rather detracts from the overall aesthetic. Or put another way, it didn’t bother me until I saw the Laban..
The Conklin has a threaded barrel end for super secure posting, although posted, the pen becomes too long for me – see later photos..
Both use a cartridge converter system, the Conklin’s is threaded for a touch more peace of mind.
The nib is really the only area aesthetically where I prefer the Conklin. The new Omniflex really looks the part. Gone are the rather odd elongated proportions of the old Omniflex, so it immediately looks “right”. It retains the lovely cut outs on the shoulders for a kind of dramatic harpoon look (continuing with the aquatic theme!), plus some delightful scroll work which follows the cut outs, and finally the word “OMNIFLEX” in capitals from below the breather hole to the base of the nib. It is mono-colour stainless steel so complements the chrome finish throughout the rest of the pen.
The Laban’s nib is a two tone steel nib – the gold colour slightly jarrs against the all chrome finish. Beneath the breather hole it has “Laban, Iridium” then the flourished L wrapped in the wreath, as per the finial.
Unfortunately, the abalone in the cap of the Laban suffered a large crack during manufacture. It’s perfectly sealed within the resin however it’s a fairly major quality fail and the retailer Scrittura Elegante has promised a full refund.
Feel in the hand
Cap on, the Laban oozes quality, mainly because of the size and weight but also the flawless finish – everything from all the chrome parts to the silky smooth resin. It’s delightfully tactile.
I have come to realise that my ideal pen length in use is around 130mm (either capped or uncapped, I don’t mind) and the Laban at 127 mm uncapped just about hits the spot perfectly.
The section is generous at 20mm, more than enough room for me to find a nice grip. The threads are squared off and very wide, so unnoticable for me.The threads actually are the only part which give off a lower quality feel – they rattle a bit when capping/uncapping. Uncapping takes about 3 turns. The concave section is very nice to hold.
The Conklin is a little too short for me uncapped, yet too long capped. It feels equally as nicely made as the Laban and yet because it is a little shorter and lighter, perhaps doesn’t have quite as much of a premium feel.
The section is much shorter so the threads are unavoidable however they are totally unobtrusive. Uncapping is a single turn and is a nice smooth action – definitely better than the Laban. The section is concave, less so than the Laban, and then there is the issue of the black nib housing spoiling the view.
At this point it must be said that both sections are chrome and therefore potentially slippery. However their concave shape does make them slightly easier to hold than say the Lamy Studio. At 9mm for both they’re neither particularly slim nor particularly wide and I could find a comfortable grip on both.
Nib feel on the paper, ink flow, line variation
Let’s start with the new Omniflex. It’s not really a true flex nib, any more than the old Omniflex was. Glad we got that out of the way! However, it’s actually extremely pleasant to use. It has some nice bounce and delivers a nice crisp fine line. Strangely, when I first inked it up, it absolutely gushed with ink, however that now seems to have settled down to deliver a normal not-too-wet-not-too-dry flow. What also appears to have happened is that as the flow has become drier, it has started to skip, and that is quite obvious on the writing sample. I prefer a wetter nib, so I tend to prime the feed a little and this does deliver the more generous flow that I like and cures the skipping. Some people may feel that this is not acceptable and that the nib should write correctly straight out of the box.
There’s hardly any line variation but what you do get is some nice shading as the slight bounciness of the nib does open up the tines a fraction on the downstroke and deliver more ink and this is very pleasant, particularly with an interesting ink like Troublemaker Abalone (what else!) with which both pens are inked.
The Laban has a B nib which is not really my preference, however this pen is on loan for the purposes of this review. It’s very smooth with moderate flow – nice nib. There’s nothing outstanding about it but it certainly does the job. It’s stiff, and there’s no line variation to speak of, but note that I have not applied any pressure at all as the pen is on loan.
How do they make your handwriting look?
I find this is a combination of the comfort of the pen in the hand and the performance of the nib. For both pens, the chrome sections count against them. For me, it just doesn’t make sense to use such a slippery material on the part of the pen you actually hold! Even after a couple of lines of writing I feel like I need to constantly readjust my grip, probably as the section warms up to the touch.
It’s a close contest, but for me the Omniflex has the edge. It delivers a crisper line than the Laban (the Laban gives the letters a kind of fuzzy edge, being a B) and has that little bit of extra shading, although the Laban does deliver more ink to the page overall.
Value for money
Excluding any discounts for signing up to a newsletter, or Black Friday deals, or shipping costs etc the Laban retails at EUR 240 (approx £214) compared to USD 116 for the Conklin (approx £85) so the Laban costs exactly 2.5 times as much as the Conklin. The Laban was purchased from www.scritturaelegante.com and the Conklin from www.gouletpens.com.
However you can see and feel exactly where the extra money goes – everything about the Laban is more premium. Certainly the abalone itself, which is really the whole point of the pen – the colours are nicer with that gorgeous pink mixed in with the green and black; the craftsmanship is a step up too, with thinner strips, many of which join up from the original pattern. It’s a heavier pen which does imbue a sense of higher quality and things like the ornate finial and imposing clip add to that impression.
However whilst the Conklin doesn’t have the real premium feel, you are getting tons of genuine gorgeous abalone, very well made, in a nice pen, for only slightly more than say a rather boring black Pelikan M200 which does make it excellent value.
Conclusion and recommendation
Let’s assume the cracked abalone on the Laban is a one off – the owner also has the Mother Of Pearl model which is flawless.
So that aside, if you don’t like chrome sections, you’re probably best to avoid both of these. But that doesn’t bother you and if money is no object, the Laban is the better pen.