Monday, October 4, 2010

The AL-Star Lineup

No question, I love my Lamy fountain pens. I’ve been using a Safari since December of last year, and a 2000 since March of this year. Both pens have brought nothing but complete satisfaction and continued admiration for Lamy design and engineering. True, I am not the biggest fan of steel nibs, but I’ve adjusted to my Lamy nibs over the course of using them. I have great respect for designers Wolfgang Fabian (Safari) and Gert Müller (2000), and am also a big fan of the Bauhaus principles of functionalism and simplicity.

The spotlight here is on what some call the upscale Safari, the pen introduced by Lamy in 1997, the AL-Star. Anyone looking at the AL-Star will see immediately that it bears close resemblance to the hugely successful Lamy Safari. The AL-Star was in fact designed by the same Wolfgang Fabian of Lamy fame. But he has made two noticeable shifts in the AL-Star design, perhaps both in the hope of giving the pen a high-tech look and feel. Side by side, the AL-Star is bigger than the Safari, but not in length, and not in weight. It’s the diameter that is bigger, and a close look at the caps end-on makes clear the difference in size. The other shift comes in the material. Unlike the Safari, which is crafted in plastic, the AL-Star is lightweight durable aluminum. I have the polished matte aluminum model, but it also comes in five other colors: coffee, blue, graphite, green and ocean blue. As for the shift to durable lightweight aluminum, Lamy indicated that they hoped to link the AL-Star with the prestige of high-tech industry. I would say they succeeded in that. Certainly, the designer has achieved the look and feel of high-tech. Despite the almost 100 year history of Bauhaus design as envisioned by Walter Gropius, the Lamy design looks as fresh as tomorrow’s bread.

Consider the ergonomic design of the AL-Star’s grip. Unlike the upper body, the grip is made of smoky-transparent plastic and ends in sculpted finger pads. The pen is amazingly comfortable in the hand, and at the same time provides grip-guidance for young, inexperienced users. Here again they succeeded, if we are to believe the Lamy label, which calls it “The most successful young person’s pen on the market.”

Like the Safari, the AL-Star measures 5.5 inches capped, and at 6.7 inches posted, is slightly longer than the Safari. The nib on the AL-Star is black chromium-plated stainless steel. It comes in extra fine, fine, medium and broad. The cap does not screw on, but clicks into place, and posted maintains a strong airtight seal. The top of the cap has cross-shaped slots cut into a black plastic disc, almost like a Phillips-head screw. I inserted a dime and turned it, but nothing happened. The clip is a repeat of the Safari design, black painted spring brass wire in the distinctive broad upturned design. The pen takes either cartridge or converter and the barrel has an ink window, which I find somewhat hard to read in terms of ink level.

Overall, the AL-Star is a tough and rugged design, with young users in mind, and only slightly expensive for a start up pen. It lists for about $40, but a better price is available from several dealers. I call the pen slightly expensive because the best priced start up pen in my opinion, is the Pelikano Junior for about $10-12.

Performance wise, the AL-Star is okay, but I am more comfortable with a medium nib, and feel the scratchiness of a fine steel nib a little bothersome. My other Lamy pens are medium and the feeling is smoother, more comfortable, providing a better flow of ink. Writing with a full cartridge I still get the feeling that the ink is low. Little wetness to the fine nib on an AL-Star. Unless you have a real bond with fine nibs, I recommend a medium. Hard for me to imagine what the AL-Star extra fine nib must be like.

Considered all around, I have to echo other opinions and say that the Lamy AL-Star represents good design, good engineering and strong manufacture. Great pen for a high school student.

Look here for earlier reviews of the Lamy Safari 1, Safari 2 and Lamy 2000.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America