Rhodia, which is a sub-brand of Clairefontaine, is justly famous for making some of the best paper out there for writing on with a fountain pen. So you'd think it was bound to make sense to extend the range to pens and ink some day, n'est-ce pas? Mais non. They've gone and started selling pencils.
What the actual pourquoi is going on there, then? Well, they weren't going to sell ballpoints, obviously, and a good pencil is certainly the next best thing to a real pen, but still, why? It's all to do with horizontal integration, essentially. Rhodia and Clairefontaine products are marketed internationally by Exaclair, who also promote the products of one Monsieur J. Herbin and his descendants. So perhaps it was reasonable after all not to attempt to compete with the oldest fountain pen ink brand there is. Fair enough, then - let's put them through their paces.
First up, the Rhodia wood-cased pencil. The trademark orange and black theme literally goes all the way through, with the wood died black and looking hyper-cool beneath that citric exterior. On top of a Rhodia pad, it looks the absolute bee's knees. As graphite goes, it's a usable HB rather than quite up there with Blackwing smoothness, but it works. Rhodia are a bit coy about who makes this for them, but both the lead and the triangular barrel are remarkably similar to Milan's, so Barcelona may be a fair bet.
For those who want the ultimate EDC (that's every-day carry, in English) solution, there's a seriously good mechanical pencil, or port-mine, too. Slightly less coyly, Rhodia do admit that this is made in Japan, and of course that's no bad thing as far as mechanical pencils are concerned; the original manufacturer is not stated, but from many of the styling cues and interior components Ohto seems a safe guess. It's big and chunky and feels like it too, but it's also surprisingly light; sagacious use of aluminium there. One or two reviewers have noted a slight rattle, but it really is barely susceptible, and easily quelled by inserting a small strip of rolled paper (Rhodia is ideal, as it happens) between the internal lead tube and the outer barrel. It comes pre-loaded with very good HB lead, and as 0.5mm is one of the best-served sizes of graphite the refill options are extensive. It writes well, looks like nothing else and, true to the brand... is also available in black.