Namiki Custom Impressions Fountain Pen Review

Namiki Custom Impressions Fountain Pen-1

The Namiki Custom Impressions line of pens was produced in the late 90s and while it predates the very popular Pilot Custom 74, it is essentially the same pen with a “celluloid” body and no markings on the cap band.  These pens are cellulose acetate and not the cellulose nitrate normally associated with the word “celluloid”. The difference is that the cellulose acetate feels and can often look like a more typical plastic without the depth and oily feel of real celluloid.

The Custom Impressions came in five colors: Sapphire, Medley, Ambertone, Ruby and Emerald. I have Sapphire, Medley and Ambertone. It has been suggested (and from what I can tell rightly so) that Aurora used the same green plastic as the Emerald in their Optima. I have photographed them with a couple of Optimas…I am not certain that the Ruby is the same as Aurora’s Burgundy but they are close.

My Namiki Custom Impressions with two Aurora Optimas
Left to right: Custom Impressions in Ambertone, Medley, Sapphire, Aurora Optimas in green and Burgundy

I particularly like the Sapphire and Medley colors; these to me are the most unique and beautiful.

These pens came with a con-70 converter and a 14kt gold #5 nib.

Namiki Custom Impressions Fountain Pen-7

There is another variation of the Custom Impressions that very closely resembles the shape of the Custom 845, but again in “celluloid” and with a #10 instead of #15 nib. This model seems to be much more scarce and considerably more expensive than the pens I am showing here.

Like the Pilot Custom 74, the Namiki Custom Impressions make excellent workhorses. The nibs are butter smooth and wonderful writers.

Namiki Custom Impressions Fountain Pen-6

To my knowledge these pens were only produced in fine, medium and broad nib grades.

Medium nib on top, fine on bottom
Medium nib on top, fine on bottom

I also find the nibs on the Impressions to be softer than the ones on the Custom 74. It seems to me, based on a small sample of Pilot/Namiki pens, that the pens from the 90s and early 00s have softer nibs than the ones produced more recently.

I have a decent amount of experience writing with Pilot/Namiki nibs from size #5 to size #20 and while I find all of these nib sizes to be very comfortable, the #10 seems to hit the sweet spot, with the #5 feeling a bit small and the #15 and #20 feeling a bit big. If you have big hands, which I do not, you may not like the #5 nib on these pens.

Namiki Custom Impressions Fountain Pen-2

The Custom Impressions are full size pens measuring just over 13.5cm long, capped and weigh approximately 22.5 grams empty (with the con-70 installed).  These pens post very well and I find them comfortable to use posted and unposted.

Namiki Custom Impressions Fountain Pen-8

Prices for the Custom Impressions range a bit as they do not come up for sale all that often. If you can get one for around $150-$200 (depending on condition) I think that is a fair price but keep in mind if you prefer the look of a simple black body, a Custom 74 can be had for around $90 new.

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Aurora Afrika Fountain Pen Review

Aurora Afrika Fountain Pen

The Aurora Afrika is the first in Aurora’s Continents series of limited edition pens. Each pen is based on Aurora’s top-of-the-line Optima, which is one of my favorite modern fountain pens. Aurora produced 7,500 Afrika fountain pens and I have acquired No. 2486.

 

Appearance

The Afrika looks like an Optima but with some key improvements. The shiny black resin section and end caps have been replaced with matte black resin. The cap ring has been improved with a deeper and more intricate engraving that provides much more contrast.

Aurora Afrika Fountain Pen

The clip is engraved with the shape of Africa and the finial is engraved with the pen’s number and features a “precious deep-black Onyx”.

Aurora Afrika Fountain Pen

 

The body is made out of a marbled “Land of Afrika” resin that is a gorgeous orangish gold color with black swirls. This resin has a lot of depth, much more than an “Auroloide” Optima.

Aurora Afrika Fountain Pen

The large and beautiful 18kt gold nib shares the same design as the Optima and other high-end Auroras.

Aurora Afrika Fountain Pen

The design of the Optima is uniquely Aurora and while it looks like no other pen, I do have to admit that its stocky appearance has not always been my favorite. With some key enhancements the Afrika has more than just a great personality, it has a beautiful face as well.

Score: 4.5/5

 

Build Quality

Let’s start with a confession; I recently broke my Aurora Optima. The piston knob came off. I set the pen down with the piston unscrewed to attend to something else and when I came back to it I suspect that I turned it the wrong way without thinking and off it came. This is the first pen I have broken in very long time, ten years maybe. It is now on holiday in Italy for the time being.

It is possible that the glue failed but I am waiting to hear Aurora’s assessment before I make any judgements.

For all intents and purposes the Afrika is of the same build quality as the Optima. The engraving on the cap ring is the only thing that stands out to me as an improvement…the other differences I sighted in the appearance section are merely a more tasteful selection of materials and design choices.

Note the different African tribal shields.
Note the different African tribal shields.

Aurora Afrika Fountain Pen

Even though I broke my Optima I still believe that it is one of the highest quality fountain pens money can buy. Like the Optima, the Afrika has the smoothest piston mechanism I have used and the fit and finish are flawless. Aurora makes their own nibs in-house and uses solid ebonite feeds…I don’t think there is more that I can ask for.

Score: 5/5

 

Size & Weight

The Aurora Optima first appeared in the late 1930s as a competitor to my favorite vintage pen, the OMAS Extra Lucens.

1938 OMAS Extra Lucens

One of the things that Aurora got right that almost all vintage Italian makers missed was girth. Aurora made fat pens. Anything other than the senior and oversized models from OMAS, Ancora, Montegrappa, Columbus and so on are too skinny for me to use comfortably but the medium and small Auroras are comfortable because they are fat.

The Afrika takes after the vintage Optima’s 1930s proportions. Measuring just 5.1” with a section diameter of 0.4”; that’s the same size my Nakaya Naka-ai and my OMAS Paragon which each measure almost 6” long.

Aurora Afrika Fountain Pen
Notice how much of the body is the section compared to the OMAS above.

The section is fat but unlike my Nakaya and OMAS the grip section is also very long which makes the Afrika (and Optima) one of the most comfortable pens on the market. The section is big enough to accommodate almost any grip style.

The Afrika is ever so slightly heavier than the Optima weighing in at 22.2 grams which still makes the Afrika a lightweight pen by any measure.

When it comes to size and weight the Optima is appropriately named….it gets everything right (as does its African sibling).

Score: 5/5

 

Performance

As I mentioned earlier, Aurora makes all of their nibs in-house and as such their nibs feel different than any other manufacturers. Aurora’s obliques, stubs and italics are sharper than any other big brands I have come across.

Aurora’s round pointed nibs have more feedback than most other quality brands as well. They are more or the less the opposite of the buttery smooth nibs Visconti is known for and as such Aurora’s nibs can be polarizing.

People love them or hate them. I for one like the feedback because it helps me slow down my cursive and really focus on properly forming my letters (don’t look at my writing sample)….if a Visconti nib is a rollerball (which slides all over the place) the Aurora is like a pencil…you feel in control.

Aurora Afrika Fountain Pen

My Optima has a 14kt gold nib and the Afrika has an 18kt gold nib and while the design and shape are all the same I have noticed some differences using a small sampling of each. Both nibs are nails…one isn’t more flexible than the other but the 18kt nibs seem to have a finer line width than the 14kt gold ones that I have tested.

Aurora Afrika Fountain Pen
The ebonite feed holds a lot of ink thanks to it’s many fins.

Another great thing about these nibs is that they can be easily swapped. The nib units unscrew out of the sections just like Pelikans do and with Aurora’s wide range of exotic nibs there is a lot to chose from. I should warn you though that their nibs are expensive. Street price for the 18kt gold nibs are $420 ($440 for italics, stubs and obliques). The 14kt gold nibs are $300 ($320 for italics, stubs and obliques).

All of my Aurora pens have been flawless performers out of the box and the Afrika is no exception.

Score: 5/5

 

Filling System

The Afrika is a piston filler that holds 1.1ml of ink which is more than most converters but less than many full sized piston fountain pens. The Afrika also features Aurora’s “reserve tank” technology. When the pen runs out of ink you twist the piston knob all the way and the “reserve tank” is activated, allowing you to write for a couple more pages.

Personally I find the reserve tank annoying. It makes it difficult to clean the pen and change ink colors because with the piston fully depressed there is still water or ink left in the pen by design.

Score: 1.5/5

 

Value

Aurora recently raised their prices and the Afrika now retails for $1,075 but these pens can be found new in box on that auction site for around $350-$400. I picked up mine used for about $250 which is oddly less than you can get a used Optima for (these pens seem to be under the radar for the time being).

Aurora Afrika Fountain Pen

The authorized dealer street price is about $860 which when compared to a Montblanc 149 doesn’t seem crazy but the 149’s $935 price is only justified by people who view it as a status symbol and that’s something the Aurora cannot offer.

Also I should point out that the Afrika is a limited edition of 7,500 pieces and even though this pen has been out for more than 5 years Aurora dealers still have brand new inventory to sell.   It seems as though Aurora made too many and is asking too much.

Aurora Afrika Fountain Pen

Score: 3/5

 

Bottom Line

The Afrika is truly sublime and presents a tremendous value on the secondhand market.

Final Score 24/30

 

Nock Co The Lookout Pen Case Review

Nock Co Lookout

I finally got my hands on some Nock Co cases and while I haven’t had a chance to use all of them yet I have been carrying around the Lookout case the last few days.

The Lookout is a 3 pen case made out of a soft but heavy duty nylon exterior and a smooth pack cloth interior.  I choose the steel exterior and the blue jay interior.  The color combo looks great; I especially love the blue stitching on the grey exterior.

Left to right: Montblanc 149, Nakaya Naka-ai Negoro, Aurora Optima
Left to right: Montblanc 149, Nakaya Naka-ai Negoro, Aurora Optima

The exterior nylon feels somewhat similar to a Cordura nylon, that is to say it is a textured nylon which gives it a more organic and less technical feel.  The interior packcloth actually reminds me of  the nylon material on Nakaya’s Kimono cases.

When I backed the Nock Co Kickstarter I was not certain that I would want to use the cases with some of my more expensive pens.  After handling the cases I believe them to be pretty safe.  Being a soft case the Lookout may not provide as much external protection as the Pelikan 3 slot pen case, which has a more rigid structure; that said, the Lookout separates the pens better so I am much less worried about my pens coming in contact with each other.

Nock Co Lookout

Unlike the Pelikan case, the Lookout can hold three large pens comfortably.  I was able to fit my Nakaya Naka-ai, Montblanc 149 and OMAS Paragon into the lookout without problem.

So how is the build quality?  The Lookout, like all Nock Co cases, are made by hand in Georgia, USA.  The stitching is tight; I measured a consistent 9 stitches per inch which means the seams should be very strong.  I noticed that the band that holds the flap isn’t perfectly aligned; the right side seems to be a bit lower. The stitching while, tight is not perfectly straight in some areas but being a handmade item there is always going to be a bit of variation and that’s part of the charm.

Nock Co Lookout Case

I am not certain what the price will be when the Lookout becomes available for sale on the Nock Co website but in the $15-$25 range, this pen case is a great buy.

Here are some great reviews of the Lookout:

(I have no affiliation with the sites linked below)

Alt. Haven – Review: Nock Co – The Lookout

Ed Jelley – NOCK CO. – “THE LOOKOUT” PEN CASE KICKSTARTER LAUNCH

The Well-Appointed Desk – Review: Nock Co Lookout 3-Pen Holster

 

Nakaya Desk Pen Stand Review

Nakaya Desk Pen Stand with Nakaya Naka-ai Cigar Negoro Shiro-tamenuri
Nakaya Desk Pen Stand with Nakaya Naka-ai Cigar Negoro Shiro-tamenuri

Last year I purchased my first Nakaya, a Naka-ai Cigar Negoro in Shiro-tameuri.  I tried using the Naka-ai at work and found that it was a complete pain to use for a number of reasons.  Being a cigar model it has no clip; I would have to use the pen with a Nakaya pillow so that it wouldn’t roll off the desk.  That was annoying.  The second issue is the threading on the Naka-ai; because this pen is designed to be finished with complex paintings and designs there is a lot of threading so that you cannot accidentally misalign the artwork (or in the case of the Negoro model, the scars).

These two “annoyances” make the Naka-ai unusable for quick notes.  To remedy this issue I purchased a Nakaya desk pen stand and now my Naka-ai is a pleasure to use at work.

Nakaya Desk Pen Stand

I had read that Nakaya desk pen stand is compatible with a lot of other common non-Nakaya pens so I opted for the basic plain black Urushi lacquer finish with gold trim as I thought this would work well with more of my pens.

with 1950s Montblanc 146
with 1950s Montblanc 146
with OMAS Paragon
with OMAS Paragon

I have found that the stand works very well with my Montblanc 146, my Aurora Optima, my OMAS Paragon, my OMAS Ogiva, and my Visconti Van Gogh (original model with the K locking cap. It may not work with the smaller more recent models).  Nibs.com (no affiliation) lists many more compatible pens that I have not had the chance to try with the stand.  Sadly it does not fit a Montblanc 149.

with Aurora Optima
with Aurora Optima
with Visconti Van Gogh
with Visconti Van Gogh

The fit and finish is as good as any other Nakaya product.  The lacquer is gorgeous.  The stand is sturdy and will hold your pen at any angle you choose.

Nakaya Desk Pen Stand

The base is made of wood and the bottom is not finished in lacquer as the top is; this prevents the base from sliding around.

Nakaya Desk Pen Stand

Overall, I am really happy with the desk stand as it has made a number of my favorite pens more usable.  The utility it provides makes the $140 price tag well worth it for me.  I definitely recommend this stand to Nakaya Cigar owners as well as anyone that gets tried of uncapping their pens.