Silver is a metallic element with the atomic symbol of Ag from the Latin word 'Argentum'. It has an atomic number of 47 and is a soft white metal with the highest electrical and thermal conductivity of any metal. It also happens to be shiny, very shiny. It normally is used in an alloy form, an alloy being a mixture of metals, with one of the most common alloys being sterling silver. Sterling silver is a mixture of 92.5% silver & 7.5% of other metals (normally copper) and it is used because without the added copper the metal is too soft for most applications. When you want the really shiny appearance of a pure silver all you have to do is coat sterling silver with a very thin layer of 99.9% silver or alternatively rhodium.
Silver was historically used in the manufacture of currency, although these days you would be more likely to find it used for jewellery or in the production of solar panels and medical equipment (as it also has anti-bacterial properties). Most importantly for us, though. it is the material of choice for the great British brand of Yard-O-Led - who manufacture all their writing instruments from 925 sterling silver. When I say manufacturing, I mean literally crafting by hand, with each piece being lovingly put togther by highly skilled people in their Birmingham workshop.
Before we look at the pencil, a final note on silver as it is a rather great element. You may often see silver tarnishing but it is more often the copper in the alloy reacting to form copper oxide than the silver. Silver itself is pretty corrosion resistant, so a pure silver coating will stay shinier for longer than normal sterling.
The pencil arrived packaged in a faux wood box that was held closed by a rather ornate latch. Inside was a padded tray that held the pencil and under this a cleaning cloth and guarantee certificate was stored. Whilst I appreciate that the pencil is a rather expensive item and that most people would expect a case that reflects this, I think it was a little wasted on me.
It is the fine details that I find most alluring with this pencil:
- The diamond pattern on the hexagonal barrel of the pencil is beautifully chased by an antique hand-powered number-control mill. Some slight imperfections to the pattern make this even nicer and more interesting to look at.
- A gentle taper from the barrel to the end of the grip section in beautifully polished silver.
- A sweeping clip, also made of silver, branded vertically on the top, with plenty of spring and grip and the individual pencil number near the top.
- The visible hallmark showing the grade of silver and the manufacturer next to the clip and 'Made in England' engraved in small precise capital letters on the twist cap.
- Eleven further 3" leads hidden in a compartment below the twist cap, adding up to the 'Yard-o-Led' that the brand is named after (a gentle shake allows you to hear the leads). New packs of lead are also supplied in twelves, another classic touch.
In use the pencil is surprisingly light considering the amount of metal, and is very well balanced. The grip is tapered down to an elegant thin point and there is plenty to grip onto - the pencil shows none of the usual slipperiness of a metal section. It feels only slightly larger in diameter than a normal wooden pencil, which is perfect for drawing, sketching and writing.
The leads are 1.18mm in diameter, quite thick for everyday writing, if you really want a sharp point then you can use a lead pointer but I rather enjoyed the thickness. The lead felt like HB in use, leaving a pretty good line on the paper but not quite dark enough for my preference; I would probably buy a pack of their B leads straight away if this was my pencil, a 2B would be better but these are not commonly found. On the other hand I kept writing for page after page using the lead that was loaded on delivery and didn't seem to wear it down at all, so you would certainly get some use out of the yard supplied.
To dispense more lead all you have to do is twist the cap of the pencil and it slowly feeds lead out of the pencil. Once you have finished reverse the direction and the lead will be pulled back into the body. The mechanism feels a bit like a cross between a mechanical pencil and a clutch pencil, I really like this. I did notice however that when I wound the pencil lead back in that the twist cap gradually lifted away from the barrel of the pencil, it was easy to push back into place but this was an odd experience for a pencil that otherwise felt engineered and crafted to within an inch of its life.
Really great mechanical pencils can be bought for next to no money. My everyday favourite is the OHTO 2.0 pencil which I reviewed previously, and if you are judging the pencil on how it writes as the only criterion then it is difficult to choose a pencil as expensive as this one. After all there is no nib or feed that significantly affects the performance of the pencil, just the lead that you choose to put in it. But if you think like this then you are completely missing the point. This pencil is excellent value for money; the craftsmanship that went into this item is just superb and it feels amazing in the hand. The pencil needs to be treated more like a piece of art that can be used everyday, kind of like expensive fountain pens where you are sometimes paying for detail rather than the writing performance.
If you haven't already guessed I love this pencil and was unbelievably sad to see it go back to Yard-O-Led. It is really beautifully made, the attention to detail is superb and it makes you feel great when you use it. I would love to go and see the craftspeople at work making these and revel in their expert skills. I have started saving already to get one but this will be hard to justify to my Wife who only sees it as another pencil - then again this has never stopped me yet!
Where to buy:
This pencil was kindly loaned to me by Yard-O-Led for review. I would recommend visiting their website and taking a look at their superb videos showing the pencils and pens being crafted. Their range looks beautiful and there is a nice spread of options available for purchase - when I buy mine though I will not be looking any further than this model. This pencil was the Diplomat Barley Pencil.