Just kidding (well, mostly), because I’m not quite at that point myself, but I’m beginning to get why Caran d’Ache seems to be so successful with their luxury line. For the past couple of weeks I’ve had the pleasure of using a selection of Caran d’Ache pencils, each of which is relatively expensive as far as pencils go (in the $1.00-3.50 per pencil range), and I’ve enjoyed spending some time with them.
Caran d’Ache is a Swiss company that manufactures fine writing and art supplies. Founded in 1915, the company takes its name from the pen name of the 19th Century French satirist and cartoonist, Emmanuel Poiré, who it turn took his pseudonym from the Russian word for pencil, karandash. In the U.S. (where I'm located), Caran d’Ache is best known for its drawing pencils (both graphite and color), and in fountain pen circles the company is highly regarded for its fountain pens and writing inks.
I have had very little experience with Caran d’Ache products until recently. I’ve used fountain pens since I was in college, but I’ve never been tempted by the Caran d’Ache line of inks, finding them too pricey for what I’d consider the wrong reason. They run $32 for a 50ml bottle of ink, with most of the premium price apparently going towards the design and construction of the bottle itself. The prices of their pens also run high, with most exceeding the $220 market for a pen with a steel nib. On the pencil side, Caran d’Ache has received a lot of attention for their special edition “Crayons de la Maison Caran d’Ache” series, which is a pack of four pencils made from exotic woods that retails for $30.
Given my limited blog budget as of late, I decided to try some of their standard pencils instead. I picked four: (1) the Black Wood, which is a matte-black “mini-jumbo” sized pencil in which the wood itself is also dyed black with ink; (2) the Swiss Wood, which is made from Swiss beech taken from the Jura forest (per information released by the company); (3) the Grafik, a textured pencil which appears to be Caran d’Ache’s answer to the Faber Castell Grip 9000; and (4) the Technograph, best described as a high quality standard yellow pencil (with no eraser).
Here are my thoughts after spending a week or so with these pencils:
- Caran d’Ache makes very high quality pencils. The pencils all sharpen well to a good point. The finish is also nice, and the end cap on the Swiss Wood pencil is dipped in red and marked with the white cross of the Swiss flag. I would characterize the Black Wood, Swiss Wood, and Technograph as “luxury” pencils on par with the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni and Palomino lines, in terms of finish and smoothness of the graphite.
- The Black Wood and the Swiss Wood pencils have excellent weight and balance. I typically have an issue with using pencils that do not have erasers, since I find them too light and uncomfortable to write with. The Black Wood and the Swiss Wood are so heavy that I don’t notice they are eraserless. The Grafik and Technograph are both standard weight, and therefore a touch too light for me.
- Point retention on all of these pencils is excellent, and you can go a long time between sharpenings. I’ve been journalling with a Black Wood in a Baron Fig Confidant (which has textured paper), and I can go a full 2-3 pages without having to sharpen that pencil. Using the Swiss Wood at work, I’ve made it almost half a day on a single sharpening. The other side of point retention, however, is lighter graphite, which many will find to be a drawback (see below).
- Price. These pencils aren’t cheap. The Swiss Wood cost me $3.50 for a single pencil. That’s not outrageous: the pencil costs approximately the same as two Palomino Blackwings, and due to the relative hardness of the lead, it will probably take me twice as long to use up as a Blackwing. In the end, I think I’ll come out even. The Black Wood also runs at $3.50; the Technograph at $3.00, and the Grafik at $1.40. (All prices are taken from cwpencils.com, which has one of the largest selections of Caran d’Ache pencils on the internet.)
- Darkness. When evaluating a pencil, many people value darkness of the graphite above all else. Caran D’Ache pencils contain a lighter grade of graphite than most Americans are probably used to. The difference in graphite is particularly noticeable in the Swiss Wood pencil, which is marked HB, but I would peg at the equivalent of a No. 2.5 or No. 3 pencil. I’m tempted to describe the grade as “German HB,” but I think it’s even lighter than a Staedtler Noris or Wopex. Part of me wonders whether Caran d’Ache did this intentionally, knowing that purchasers of their “luxury wood” pencils would want them to last longer.
Of the four pencils I have reviewed, the Swiss Wood and the Black Wood pencils are my favorites, and I will probably add a few more of each to my stash. Of the other two, the Technograph wins out over the Grafik, but I’m not sure either differentiates itself enough from the less expensive pencils I have in my collection to warrant stocking up.
I purchased these pencils from Caroline Weaver Pencil Enterprise (cwpencils.com) at retail price, with my own funds. The views expressed in this review are my own; and I am not affiliated with the retailer or manufacturer in any way.