A Modern Classic: The Parker Sonnet

One of the more underloved modern pens is the Parker Sonnet.  There are some good reasons for this.  Parker's quality control has been less than pristine in recent years, since their acquisition by Newell-Rubbermaid and moving production to France.  While I was writing this review, I glanced through the pen forums and many new Sonnet owners complain that their pens skip, or are hard starters after the pen's been sitting for more than a day or so.  I've experienced these problems intermittently and will discuss further below. 

That said, I love the look of this pen and couldn't resist, so when I saw a used Sterling Silver Cisele ("Chiseled") model at the DC Pen Show last year, priced well below what I would have paid for a new one, I jumped and walked it over to Mike Masuyama to tune before I ever used it.  For the most part, it's a good writer, with a springy 18k nib that I ended up landing for sub-$100, including nib work. 

Early model Parker Sonnet Cisele.  My research dates this pen to the early to mid-1990s, because of the two-toned cap band. 

The pen has a black plastic grip section.  It's sturdy, and doesn't become overly slick during long writing sessions. 

The Build.  This pen is hefty, given that it's sterling.  I'm not sure whether it's pure sterling silver or plated, but it looks nice and feels durable.  The cap is a slip-cap, which pops on and off securely.  There's no rattling involved.  The clip is still tight.  To me, this pen has near-perfect weight and balance, posted or unposted.  It sits in my hand well, which is why I find it keeps its place in my rotation despite the fact that it's the one pen in my collection that cannot handle a wide range of inks well (see below).

Posted, this pen is the perfect length and weight for me.

I can use this pen posted or unposted, but I prefer to use it posted.

There is nothing special about the pen's cartridge/converter filling system, but mine came with Parker's old style large-capacity converter, which holds almost 1ml of ink. 

The Nib.  The nib is 18k, which gives it some spring.  Sonnets do NOT have flexible nibs, as many understand that term.  I've heard second hand that more recent versions of this pen (mine likely dates from the early to mid 1990s) have stiffer nibs, with some describing them as nails.  Mine has just enough give in it to lend my writing a bit of flair, but the feed is nowhere near good enough to allow me to actually "flex" the pen.  

Parker's 18k Sonnet Nib is understated and generally an excellent writer, if a bit picky about what types of ink you use it with.

A basic writing sample in Aurora Black, probably my favorite ink to use in this pen.  There's no crazy flexing going on, especially in my day-to-day print-style.  However, under certain circumstances the softer nib can give your handwriting a touch of line variation.

Apparently a common problem with the Sonnet is that the nib skips, and can be a hard starter.  This likely has something to do with the feed not being able to maintain sufficient ink flow to the nib.  If I use a particularly dry ink, and write quickly, I will experience occasional railroading.  For example, well lubricated inks like Iroshizuku Kon-Peki, Aurora Black, or any of the Watermans work fine.  Inks with iron gall content such as Montblanc Midnight Blue (old IG formulation) or Pelikan Blue-Black make the pen temperamental. 

The Finish.  The reason I love this pen so much, and put up with its quirks, is the chiseled sterling silver finish, which is reminiscent of the old sterling silver Parker 75 in a larger pen.  As I mentioned earlier, my pen could use a good polishing to restore its shine, but it still looks great after 20+ years of heavy use.  The silver has developed a patina, which in my opinion adds to its character.  

The Verdict.  For all its quirks, I would still call the Sonnet a modern classic.  Parker has made this pen for nearly twenty-five years, and it has a loyal following, myself included.  If I were to purchase another, I would either pick it up at a pen show where I could have a nibmeister tune the nib, or I would order it from John Mottishaw at Nibs.com.  John tunes all of his pens and makes sure they are in proper working order before he ships them to you.  For certain pens, it is well-worth a slight premium in price.