Parker recently announced that they would revamp their entire pen lineup, including not only their lower-priced IM and Urban line, but their flagship Duofold and Sonnet lines as well. The Sonnet "Great Expectations" special editions would be discontinued. Since I'd been eyeing the "Subtle Big Red" model, I jumped before they disappeared from stores. While I enjoy this pen - it's beautiful and a nice writer - Parker's current pricing structure makes this Sonnet difficult to recommend, unless you're a red pen nut (like me) or you can find one on clearance or at a discount.
The name "Subtle Big Red" is an allusion to Parker's traditional "Big Red" hard rubber Duofold from the 1920s, which has become iconic in the world of fountain pens. Parker seems to be going all-in on the nostalgia - their updated lineup features a "Big Red" Duofold tribute. This version of the Sonnet, however, offers a more modern take on the classic, sporting a polished black metal body and cap with a brushed red cap band. The "Big Red" aspect is indeed quite "subtle" and understated, and in my opinion makes the pen quite attractive. This pen does have a metal section, but it's finished with a matte coating that makes it very easy to grip. No slipping and sliding here.
My writing experience with this pen was fine overall, but still a bit of a mixed bag in some respects. As with other Sonnets that have passed through my hands, this fine nib had a slight baby's bottom straight out of the box, leading to a few hard starts and skips. The issue wasn't severe, and eased up after a few days of writing on rougher paper as the nib smoothed out and the tines loosened up a bit. While this sort of issue isn't uncommon with modern pens, and can be fairly simple to fix, Parker's aggressive pricing of this pen towards the luxury end of the spectrum raised my expectations (pun intended) and I found it annoying.
In terms of comfort, I really like the Sonnet as a daily writer. I used this pen at work for a full week and enjoyed it. The size and shape is close to that of a classic Vacumatic Major, my favorite vintage Parker and perhaps my favorite vintage pen overall. The pen sits well in the hand, though unposted the Sonnet feels a touch too light. The friction-fit cap posts easily.
Takeaways and Where to Buy
Parker's Great Expectations line of Sonnets surprised a lot of people with it's adventurous (for Parker) design, showcasing what appears to be a desire to move away from the same general look that Parker has had since the 1990s. Overall, I'd say that I'm happy with the purchase. The design of the Subtle Big Red spoke to me, and since the pen was a special edition I wanted to be sure that I grabbed one before they went away forever. I bought the pen expecting that I might have to do some nib tweaking.
That said, in terms of recommending that other people buy this pen, it really depends on how much the design of this special edition pen speaks to you. As I hinted earlier, the price point is too high. Parker priced this pen at $320 MSRP, with the street price at a slightly less insane $250 or so. While you can typically get that price down even further with a coupon code, I can't help but think that the apparent the desire to aggressively price this pen as a "luxury special edition" entry in the Sonnet line resulted in a big missed opportunity for Parker. The designs of the various "Great Expectations" pens are very attractive and modern, but I can't say they justify paying the huge premium the company is asking.
If, like me, you still want to grab one of these special edition pens before they disappear, Ron at Pen Chalet has them priced at $256 (and you can use whatever great Pen Chalet coupon code or promotional discount Ron is running at any given time to reduce that further).
If you're interested in reading further on the Sonnet line in general, check out my earlier review of a 1990's-era model, and I'd also recommend that you read Brad's review of the Subtle Big Red over at the Pen Addict (his take is similar to mine).
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