Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen Review

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

When I discovered the Romillo Pen brand last year I knew I had to have one.  On the surface Romillo embodied my perfect pen; one with no frills, just a simple pen focused on writing pleasure through a giant hand-made nib.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

After some back and forth with the pen maker, Álvaro Romillo, I decided on an Essential #9 in blue/black hard rubber with a semi-flexible #9 italic nib with rhodium trim and a solid silver lentil.

The lead time was only 1 month and after half a year with this pen I am finally ready to review it.

Appearance

The design of the Essential is ultra simple, flat ends, slight taper on the cap and barrel, and a rhodium plated solid silver roller stopper.  The blue and black mottled rubber has a nice semi-matte finish.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

The rhodium plated 18kt gold nib is enormous and paired with the skinny the long skinny pen body it really stands out.  The nib features hand engraved wings and the Romillo logo.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

I am very fond of the Essential’s simple shape, it’s not flashy, it’s subtle.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen
Swirled mottled rubber on the top of the cap

Score: 5/5

Build Quality

The Essential is all hand made and this shows for better or worse.  The fit and finish of hard rubber is excellent with not flaws that I could detect.  It is a beautiful material.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

There is an engraved number on the end of the barrel that isn’t well aligned and while it does not bother me, I point it out simply because I have never seen a pen numbered in this (sloppy?) way.

387 is the number of my Essential
My Essential is #387

The cap material is very thin but so far no issues to report.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

The finish on the nib is not perfect.  There is a dirty area on the left side at the base of the nib.  It is some sort of flaw in the finish.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

On the left tine if you look closely you can see what I am guessing is an air bubble in the rhodium finish.  Neither of these imperfections are really noticeable.  My fingerprint on the nib looks much worse than any of these flaws.  If you turn the nib upside down you can see that the underside of the tines are badly finished.  This flaw stands out the most.

Badly finished tines
Badly finished tines

There is a lot more handiwork that goes into making this nib than I have seen with other “handmade” pens.  I suspect that these flaws are a byproduct of more manual processes.  These imperfections could likely be avoided but the end result is still a beautiful and unique handmade nib.

When I think of the best fountain pens made today, I think of Japan and brands like Hakase, Nakaya, Ohashi-Do and Pilot/Namiki; while their nibs are of excellent quality they are all more or less based on a mass produced nib and that is where Romillo really stands out.

Score: 3/5

Size & Weight

The Romillo Essential #9 can be ordered in a custom length for no additional fee.  I went for the standard 153mm length (capped).  The Essential is a very long pen.  It’s longer than my Nakaya Naka-ai and my Montblanc 149, yet it is skinner than both of them.  At it’s widest point its about 14mm.

Left to right: Nakaya Naka-ai, Romillo Essential #9, Montblanc 149
Left to right: Nakaya Naka-ai, Romillo Essential #9, Montblanc 149

Uncapped the Essential measures just under 15mm.  The pen can be posted but the cap doesn’t sit very far onto the back of the barrel.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

The Essential weighs a 26 grams empty.  Because of the brass threading it is not well balanced and makes for a nib heavy pen even when posted.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

The nib is nearly 30mm long and I found “finger writing” to be quite uncomfortable with this pen. When I use my arms to write (as one should) I found no discomfort after 5 pages of writing.

Left to right: Aurora Afrika, Nakaya Naka-ai, Romillo Essential #9, Montblanc 149, Soennecken 1 Extra
Left to right: Aurora Afrika, Nakaya Naka-ai, Romillo Essential #9, Montblanc 149, Soennecken 1 Extra

If I were to do it again I would opt for the smaller #7 size nib as there are times when I do revert back to finger writing.

Score: 2/5

Performance

Performance is what a Romillo is supposed to be all about.  My nib was setup to be a “semi-flexible” 0.7mm italic with a generous flow.  First things first, it is not semi-flexible in the way that a vintage nib can be.  The tines do spread with ease compared to a modern rigid nib but it is no where near as soft as a vintage nib.

A huge thirsty ebonite feed
A huge thirsty ebonite feed

In addition to the enormous nib there is an enormous feed and I found that when freshly filled it can take a little while to get going.  Once it starts flowing there is no interruption in service and the pen performs beautifully.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

Again, there is an issue with “finger writing”.  The nib, like most italics, has a sweet spot but unlike other italics I have come across, the Romillo doesn’t provide the same sharp feedback, so initially, I found it difficult to get the pen writing properly without skipping.

If you write (again, as you should) with your arm and not your fingers the nib works flawlessly.

The biggest success of this pen is the nib, it feels like none other.

Score: 4/5

Filling System

Pens fitted with #9 nibs are only offered as eyedroppers and I was told that was because a converter could not provide enough ink flow to the feed.  The #9 is indeed very thirsty. The Essential has a large 2.1 ml ink capacity (roughly four times as much as a standard converter) and despite this I find myself having to refill this pen quite often.

Unlike other eyedroppers I have seen this one uses brass threading and a rubber o-ring to seal the pen.

Brass threading and O-ring
Brass threading and O-ring

I don’t know if the brass will do anything to the ink or if the ink will do anything to brass but to me this is an unusual application of brass.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

When filling this pen I recommend being conservative with the amount of ink you fill it with.  1.7ml is pretty safe.  If you fill up to the O-ring you are going to have a mess on your hands as when the section is threaded in O-ring is pushed down approximately 5mm into the barrel.

The section in this picture is not fully screwed down
The section in this picture is not fully screwed down

Lastly, it should be noted that screwing the section onto the barrel needs to be done with care.  I found that the section needs to be quite tight on the barrel so I had to twist it on more tightly than other eyedroppers I have had to use.

Score: 2/5

Value

With shipping from Spain the Essential cost 965€, that is a whole lot of money for a pen.  It is hard to call the Essential a value as there are pens that perform as well for much less money; what those pens will lack though is the personality and feel of a Romillo.

So how does it compare to the likes of my similarly priced Montblanc 149 and Nakaya?

Left to right: Montblanc 149, Romillo Essential #9, Nakaya Naka-ai
Left to right: Montblanc 149, Romillo Essential #9, Nakaya Naka-ai

From a writing perspective the 149 is the closest.  The 149 has an oversized nib and even larger ink capacity.  The 14C OB nib on the 149 is softer, and being from the 1970s it has more of a vintage nib feel.  The Nakaya shares a similar handmade feel to Romillo.

The Romillo is the least practical of these three pens because it’s the hardest to fill and runs out of ink the fastest.  That said, no other bespoke pen maker that I am aware of makes their own nibs; that is reason enough to own one.

Score: 3/5

Bottom Line

The Essential #9 has a unique feel and enough charm to make you forgive its faults.

Romillo Essential #9 Fountain Pen

Final Score 19/30

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March 2015 Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea Pen and Paper Haul!

Today I returned home from Seoul after spending a couple of weeks in Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea.

Here is what I bought back:

Japan Pen Haul
Pens (left to right): TWSBI Vac 700, Stylo Art Karuizawa BO, Platinum Izumo Yagumonuri, Nakaya Portable Writer, TWSBI Micarta
Japan Pen Haul
I already have too many notebooks but these managed to follow me home

Thanks to the favorable exchange rate in Japan there were a few pens that I couldn’t pass up.  While shopping at Itoya in Tokyo I noticed that prices for Pilot and Sailor pens were more or less the same as they are in the United States BUT prices for Platinum and Nakaya pens did not seem to be adjusted.  This Platinum Izumo Yagumonuri was just over $600 USD (after tax refund).

Platinum Izumo Yagumonuri fountain pen

This Nakaya Portable Writer was just over $400 (after tax refund).

Nakaya Portable Writer

While in Osaka I stopped by the Hankyu department store and to my surprise and delight they were having a pen fair!

Hankyu Pen Fair

The ink display was absolutely drool worthy, unfortunately my friend’s patience at the hour and half mark waned and it was time to go before I had a chance.

Hankyu Pen Fair
Sooo many Sailor inks (´ q ` ” )

I came across the Stylo Art Karuizawa table and was blown away by their beautiful wood pens.  I got to meet the pen turner, Motoshi Kazuno, and he showed me through the model lineup.  Depending on the model, the pens can be fitted with Platinum, Sailor or Pilot #10 and #15 nibs.

Stylo Art Karuizawa Bo Fountain pen
Stylo Art Karuizawa Water Buffalo Horn Fountain pen
Stylo Art Karuizawa Bo Fountain pen
Stylo Art Karuizawa Water Buffalo Horn Fountain pen

He also had two beautiful buffalo horn pens and I ended up taking one home with a Sailor Naginata Togi nib.

tylo Art Karuizawa Bo Fountain pen Sailor Naginata Togi nib

Naginata Togi nib point.
Naginata Togi nib point

In Taipei I stopped by T. Y. Lee’s pen shop and picked up a TWSBI Vac with a 1.1mm stub and a Twsbi Micarta.  I only planned on buying the Vac but when I saw the Micarta I had to have it

Twsbi Micarta Fountain Pen

Twsbi Micarta Fountain Pen

These pens have a distressed look and are lovely to touch.  It is my understanding that TWSBI stopped making the Micarta because they were too costly to produce and there was not enough demand.

Twsbi Micarta Notebook

The Micarta came in this great hollowed out notebook!

Twsbi Micarta Notebook

That’s all for now…I will be posting in-depth reviews of these items as soon as I get enough time with them.  Next week I will have a review of my Romillo Essential No 9…stay tuned.

Platinum 3776 Century Chartres Blue Fountain Pen Review

Platinum 3776 Century Chartres Blue Fountain Pen

On specifications alone the Platinum 3776 fountain pen is a winner; it’s affordably priced and it features a full-sized body and solid gold nib…what’s not to love?

Appearance

There are a lot of Japanese Montblanc look-alikes but the Platinum 3776 takes the cake with its mountain theme. The streamlined design and gold furniture are all very similar to a Montblanc Meisterstück. If you look at the nib of a Montblanc Meisterstück you will see the number “4810”; this number represents the height (in meters) of Mont Blanc in the Graian Alps. What do you suppose “3776” refers to? It’s the height (in meters) of Mount Fuji.

Platinum 3776 Century Chartres Blue Fountain Pen

The nib features a mountain design with “#3776” right in the middle.

When you put the Montblanc similarities aside the 3776 is a pretty plain looking fountain pen.

Platinum 3776 Century Chartres Blue Fountain Pen

The Chartres Blue body is translucent but not clear enough for this pen to truly be considered a demonstrator. I quite like the Chartres Blue body because it allows you to see the innovative “Slip & Seal” cap mechanism that prevents the pen from drying out. Supposedly you can leave this pen inked for 24 months without problem…I don’t want to test that, so I will take Platinum’s word for it.

Platinum 3776 Century Chartres Blue Fountain Pen
You can see the spring portion of the “Slip & Seal” mechanism through the cap.

The 14kt gold nib is large and shapely; it’s a much more agreeable size than similarly priced Pilot Custom 74.

While the 3776 has a well proportioned, modest and understated design, it isn’t going to win any style awards.  At the end of the day this pen has a boring unoriginal appearance.

 Score: 2/5

 

Build Quality

The build quality of the 3776 isn’t bad. There are seams in the plastic but everything fits together as it should and the use of the “Slip & Seal” mechanism shows that Platinum isn’t just pushing out cheap Montblanc lookalikes.

The gold plated trim matches the color of the solid 14kt nib.

Platinum 3776 Century Chartres Blue Fountain Pen

I compared the 3776 to the similarly priced Pilot Custom 74 and to my eye the engraving and the overall fit and finish of the gold furniture is better on the Pilot BUT the gold trim on the Pilot is much more yellow than its 14kt gold nib…so you kind of have to pick your poison: mismatched nib and trim or cheaper looking engraving?

Score: 3.5/5

 

Size & Weight

The 3776 measures 5.5” capped and 4.7” uncapped. The pen weighs a comfortable 24.3 grams. It is an agreeable size that most people will find comfortable. The pen posts well and has a good balance posted or unposted.

Score: 4/5

 

Performance

The fine nib on the 3776 is a phenomenal performer and in my opinion it is the reason to buy this pen.   Being Japanese the fine point is an extra or extra extra fine by western standards but despite this the nib is smooth and a real pleasure to use. I haven’t noticed a single skip or hard start since I began using this pen four months ago.

The nib is pretty stiff so you wont be seeing much in the way of line variation.

Left to right: Pilot Custom 74 Music Nib, Nakaya Naka-ai Negoro nib, Platinum 3776 nib.
Left to right: Pilot Custom 74 Music Nib, Nakaya Naka-ai Negoro nib, Platinum 3776 nib.  Notice that the similarly priced Pilot has a much smaller nib.

This is the same nib that is used on $500+ Nakayas. In the sub $100 range I don’t believe you can find a better performer.

Score: 5/5

 

Filling System

 

Platinum 3776 Century Chartres Blue Fountain Pen

The Platinum uses a proprietary cartridge converter filling system but for $1 you can buy an adaptor that will allow you to use international cartridges.

Platinum cartridge installed.
Platinum cartridge installed.

In Japan, the 3776 is sold without converter but in the US it is sold with the same Platinum converter you get with a Nakaya and I have to say its one of the nicest converters out there.

Score: 2.5/5

 

Value

I bought my 3776 new in Japan for about $80, which is an awesome deal for a pen with a phenomenal 14kt gold nib. The US street price is about $175 ($220 retail). I am not sure why it is so much more money in the US but you can buy a new one on eBay from Japanese sellers for $90 (I haven’t tried this but it’s what I would do if I were to buy one again).

Score: 4/5

 

Bottom Line

Platinum 3776 Century Chartres Blue Fountain Pen

This is a sleeper pen, boring looks but with a monster performer under the cap.

Final Score 21/30

 

Here are some great reviews of the Platinum 3776:

(I have no affiliation to the sites linked below)

The Pencil Case Blog – Platinum #3776 Century fountain pen

From the Pen Cup – Merry Mary: Platinum #3776 Century Chartres Blue Fountain Pen

The Fountain Pen Quest – Review: Platinum #3776 Century Bourgogne

The Pen Habit – Pen Review: Platinum 3776 Century

I Laike Pens – PLATINUM #3776 CENTURY FOUNTAIN PEN REVIEW

The Pen Addict -Platinum 3776 Century UEF Nib Fountain Pen Review

 Inkophile -Platinum #3776 Century Fountain Pens

Pen Shopping in Paris and Copenhagen

Round 2: Shopping in Paris and Copenhagen.

Paris has a number of excellent pens stores but the one that really stood out to me was Mora Stylos.

 

Mora Stylos Paris

This beautiful little shop has the best selection of quality pens that I saw on my entire trip.  So what do they offer?  In addition to most major brands, they had a very nice selection of mint to near mint vintage pages as well as a beautiful selection of new old stock pens.  They also have an impressive selection of highly optioned Nakaya pens. The sales woman showed me one where the clip had been painted in the same midori urushi lacquer as the barrel; she was proud to say that this was a custom option that had only been done for their store.

The real star of the store though is Oldwin pens, these pens are made specifically for the shop and feature huge customized number 7 and number 8 Bock nibs.  What really stands out with these pens are the materials used.  They select very old materials like hard rubber from an 1930s bocce ball and vintage celluloid used by OMAS.  The result is a stunningly beautiful collection of pens.  Each pen is a one off; no two pens are the same.  I got the chance to write with a medium nibbed Oldwin with a”cracked ice” (black with white veins) celluloid body and the pen wrote beautifully.  The nib was a true medium and not the overly fat medium I am accustomed to with many European pens.

I did not buy an Oldwin but I do hope to add one to my collection at some point.  It is advantageous to be a foreigner when buying an Oldwin pen because when purchased through Mora’s website you get the VAT removed from the price and free shipping.  The sales women also stated that when you place an order you can request minor customizations to the nib, to increase or decrease the flow of the pen free of charge.

If you only visit one pen store in Paris, this is it.

Copenhagen:

I am sorry to say that I was only able to find one pen store in Copenhagen and while they had a large selection of new Montblancs, and Lamy pens that was really about it.

Stelling A/S Copenhagen

On the plus side Copenhagen did have some amazing food:

Geranium Copenhagen
“Dillstone”: Mackerel, Horseradish & Granita from Pickled Cucumber

 

Geranium Copenhagen
Jerusalem Artichoke, Rye & Walnut

Pilot Custom 845 Urushi Fountain Pen Review

Pilot Custom 845 Urushi Fountain Pen

The Custom 845 is Pilot’s top of the line fountain pen (limited editions and Namiki branded pens not included).  The 845 retails for an eye-watering 500,000 YEN (approximately $495 USD) and has received some mixed reviews.  People have questioned whether it should command a price near an entry-level Nakaya.

What do you get for $500?

You get Pilot’s largest (Pilot branded) #15 nib in two tone 18kt gold with a large “gem” carved ebonite body and urushi lacquer finish.  You also get a black painted Con-70 converter and an upgraded box.

While in Japan I was able to play with a number of Pilot/Namiki pens and I ended up loving the Custom 845.  Now that I have had a few weeks to put it through its paces let’s see how it stacks up.

 

Appearance

The Custom 845 is a classic looking executive pen with a black body and yellow gold furniture.  The cap has a flat top with a clip that starts broad and narrows ending with a ball.

Pilot Custom 845 Urushi Fountain Pen

The gold band at the bottom of the cap reads “* * * CUSTOM 845 * * * PILOT MADE IN JAPAN”.  The letters are filled in with black (paint?) so they look nice and crisp.  The back of the cap has “URUSHI” in gold letters.

Pilot Custom 845 Urushi Fountain Pen

The large two-tone #15 nib looks great and features some nice scrollwork on the silver center.  I really like that Pilot puts a date stamp on these nibs.  The left bottom corner of the nib is stamped “813” which translates to August 2013.

Pilot Custom 845 Urushi Fountain Pen

It’s hard to look at a pen like this and not think about Montblanc.  The 845 with its flat top clearly isn’t a Meisterstück but it clearly is a Japanese take on a German style pen and that is definitely not a bad thing.

Score: 4/5

 

Build Quality

Many people, including myself, rave about Pilot’s build quality.  I hadn’t spent much time with the Custom line before these last three weeks and while I still maintain that Pilot builds exceptional quality pens I do have some issues with the Custom 845 and the Custom 743 (review to come later).

To start let’s talk about the body of the 845.  Above I said this pen has a lacquered ebonite body and it does….mostly, except for the section, the end of the body and the ends of the cap, which are plastic, or “resin” if that sounds more appetizing.

Custom 845 with Custom 743.  Both have the same plastic section.
Custom 743 with Custom 845. Both have the same plastic section.

The plastic parts are not painted with urushi lacquer but nonetheless they do blend together well.  The section has two visible seams and this to me is just wrong on a $500 pen.

Pilot Custom 845 Urushi Fountain Pen

To be fair these “issues” aren’t actual build quality problems but more an indication that this pen was built to a price.  If you could build this pen without plastic and paint the entire pen in lacquer why wouldn’t you?

Other than the seams the fit and finish are flawless.  The pen is sturdy and does not have the delicate feeling that a Nakaya has.  With the 845, Pilot took a very practical design and really brought it to the next level by adding multiple coats of urushi lacquer.  It is a wonderful pen to touch.

I compared the 845 to my Montblanc 149 and based on superficial fit and finish alone the Montblanc wins.  The engraving on the ring of the 149 to me looks nicer and the Montblanc has no seams on its body despite being made entirely out of plastic.

 

I suspect that in the long-term the Pilot will hold up better than a 149 as the lacquer is much more scratch resistant than plastic and I have seen real problems with Montblanc quality.  I have had plating issues with Montblancs as well as nib issues on brand new Montblanc pens; both things I have yet to see with any Pilot.

Score: 2.5/5

Size & Weight

The Custom 845 measures 5.7” capped and about 5.2” uncapped.  At its widest point it is about 0.6” and weighs about 28.8 grams.  The 845 is a good sized pen similar in girth to a 146 but closer to the 149 in length.

Pilot Custom 845 Urushi Fountain Pen
Montblanc 149 with the Custom 845

The 845 posts well and does have a good balance posted but for long writing sessions I prefer the 845 unposted.  I believe most people would find the 845 to be a comfortable pen.

Score: 4/5

 

Performance

Pilot Custom 845 Urushi Fountain Pen

I sampled the fine, medium and broad nibs and found that the medium to be my favorite.  Being Japanese, the medium is closer to a western fine.  The Pilot-made # 15 18kt gold nib writes beautifully.  I haven’t had any issues with skipping, hard starting or poor flow.  The nib is somewhat soft for a standard nib and it is ultra smooth and responsive.  It writes like a $500 pen should.  The feel is phenomenal; in fact I believe it’s the best writing stock round tipped nib I have come across on a modern pen.

Score: 5/5

Filling System

Pilot Custom 845 Urushi Fountain Pen

The Custom 845 uses Pilot’s famous Con-70 converter which is considered by many to be the best converter money can buy; despite this, the 845’s cartridge/converter filling system tends to receive some criticism as many people feel that the $200 cheaper Custom 823 offers more value with it’s vacuum filling system.

Pilot Custom 845 Urushi Fountain Pen

It is true that the vacuum filing system holds more ink and it is likely a more expensive mechanism but as a cartridge/converter lover the black Con-70 is pretty much perfect.  The Con-70 holds more ink than most converters and has a unique push button mechanism that you push four times to fill.

Score: 4/5

 

Value

The problem here is what do you compare the 845 to?  At $550 a Nakaya is a great value and I know that because there are a lot of similar pens to compare it to.

The 845 is different, it’s more usable, it’s more solid feeling than a Nakaya, to me it’s an urushi Montblanc sans the status and for someone who wants that there aren’t many alternatives in this price range.  I think $495 is about right for this pen.  You will be hard pressed to find another high quality urushi fountain pen for less money and while it’s hard to call the 845 a steal it’s also hard to call it overpriced.

My ratings for this pen have been pretty harsh but I would like to mention that when I bought this pen I tired a TON of pens at the store including much more expensive Namiki pens with #20 and #50 nibs as well as a number of Sailors and Platinum pens.  I liked the feel of the 845’s nib the best and I think I would pick the 845 again given the chance.

Score: 3/5

 Pilot Custom 845 Urushi Fountain Pen

Bottom Line

If a Montblanc and a Nakaya had a baby it would be the Pilot Custom 845.

Final Score 22.5/30

Nakaya Naka-ai Negoro Shiro-tamenuri Fountain Pen Review

Nakaya Naka-ai Negoro

A Nakaya has been on my buy list for a few years now but because my taste in fountain pens has been moving towards vintage European pens it has taken a long time for my first Nakaya purchase to materialize.

Nakaya gets a lot of attention on pen forums and blogs and while the pens are clearly beautiful there is more to it than that; there is an x-factor to these pens.  Much like a handmade car, one has to use it in order to understand its real value.

I spent a lot of time on pen forums and on nibs.com (no affiliation) before selecting a Naka-ai Cigar Negoro Shiro-tamenuri.

Let’s attempt to explain the name: Nakaya is the brand which was the original name of the Platinum Company.  “Naka-ai” is the model name, which means “middle” in Japanese.  The Naka-ai is the result of a collaboration between Nakaya and John Mottishaw of Classic Fountain Pens Inc. (nibs.com).  “Cigar” refers to the pen’s cigar shape and lack of a clip; the version with the clip is called the “Writer”.  “Negoro” (couldn’t find the Japanese translation) refers to the weathered/cracked treatment applied to the pen. “Shiro-tamenuri” refers to the color and the clear urushi lacquer applied to the pen.

 

Appearance

The Naka-ai is really a work of art.  The many layers of Urushi lacquer give the golden brown color a lot of depth.   The “cracks” are hand engraved into the barrel and look beautifully weathered.  It takes over six months to make a Negoro model and it shows.  The lighter golden brown shows through near the edges of the cap and barrel as well as on the cracks and threading.  The long tapered shape of the Nakai-ai is beautiful and being a Cigar model it has no clip which offers a more uniquely Asian look than the more practical Writer model.

Nakaya Naka-ai Negoro

Under the cap is a big shapely 14k gold nib that features the Nakaya globe logo and some scrollwork.

Nakaya Naka-ai Negoro

The converter features Maki-e painted goldfish which not only makes the converter look like an aquarium full of ink but also really sets it apart from the cheap plain converters I am so accustomed to seeing.

Nakaya Naka-ai Negoro

The Naka-ai is easily the most exotic-looking and most beautiful pen in my collection.  I am not usually one for embellishments but the non-ostentatious look of the Negoro is fantastic.

Score: 5/5

 

Build Quality

The Naka-ai is clearly of a high quality but it has a very different feel to it than the high-end European pens I am used to handling.  To me it feels much more delicate.

It’s hard to explain; if it were a car it would be a handmade Bentley Mulsanne compared to a Montblanc 146 which would be more like a Mercedes S-Class, that is to say everything on the Naka-ai is gorgeous, but not made with the laser precision of the much less gorgeous Montblanc.

Nakaya Naka-ai Negoro

The feel of urushi lacquer is special…it almost has a moist or wet quality to it.  It’s wonderful to touch.  I believe that urushi lacquer is the same or at least very similar to the Chinese lacquer S.T. Dupont used to put on their pens.  I haven’t seen anyone test the flame resistant qualities of urushi though, so that special characteristic may only apply to Chinese lacquer.

Nakaya Naka-ai Negoro

The Naka-ai is designed to accommodate decoration on its body and as a result there is a lot of threading so that the design will always line up when capped. In practice though, I have found it to be difficult to properly line up the large crack (decoration) that spreads from the body to the cap.  When I use the Naka-ai regularly I can get the design to line up without too much thought but admittedly when I pick up the pen, not having used it for a week or two I find that it can take me 2-4 tries to get it correct.   I suppose this isn’t really a quality issue but it’s worth pointing out.

Everything on the Naka-ai fits tightly and there is no indication that this is anything less than an heirloom quality pen.

Score: 4/5

 

Size & Weight

Naka-ai next to Montblanc 149.
Naka-ai next to Montblanc 149.

The Naka-ai measures a little over 6” capped and about 5.5” uncapped.  At its widest point it is about 0.7” and weighs about 27.5 grams.  It is definitely a large pen but not so big as to be uncomfortable for regular use.  Because of its excellent balance I can write with this pen for long periods of time.  The grip section is on the smaller side but I find it to be quite comfortable.  By comparison, the similarly sized Montblanc 149 section is too fat to be comfortable; I can jot down some quick notes but I wouldn’t write a letter with a 149.

Naka-ai and Montblanc 149 nib and section.
Naka-ai and Montblanc 149 nib and section.

It should be noted that the Naka-ai is not designed to be posted.  If you get a cigar (clipless) model you will need a place for the cap so that it doesn’t roll off the table.  I started with a Nakaya 3 pen pillow but ended up opting for a Nakaya Desk Pen stand for my uncapped Nakaya. I leave the cap in the kimono case that comes with the pen.

Score: 3/5

 

Performance

A little background on the nib: I purchased my Nakaya from Classic Fountain Pens Inc (nibs.com) with a soft medium nib that I had modified to match the softness of the nib on my Montblanc 146 from the early 1950s (which was coincidently already at CFP for repairs).  I spoke with John Mottishaw on the phone and we decided that in addition to softening up the nib we would add a left foot oblique modification.

Nakaya Naka-ai Negoro

The 14kt gold nib writes beautifully.  It is soft and makes my writing look more distinctive.  I have had no issues with hard starting or skipping.  I have had my Nakaya for 5 months now and the performance has been excellent.

Nakaya Naka-ai Negoro

The softer nib makes for a little bit wetter writing experience; if you like a drier nib I wouldn’t recommend adding any flex.  Also, it should be pointed out that the modifications listed above make the nib less beginner friendly.  Being a Japanese medium the line is more equivalent to a western fine and when you add the oblique modification you have a more defined sweet spot than a regular ball-pointed nib or a wider oblique.

Nakaya Naka-ai Negoro

Score: 5/5

 

Filling System

As I have stated many times before, I am a big fan of converters and while they may not be as elaborate or as expensive to make as other types of fillers they are the easiest to use and keep clean.   Nakaya uses a very nice quality Platinum converter that holds a decent amount of ink.  I have both the standard Platinum converter and the special Nakaya goldfish Maki-e painted converter; both offer the exact same function but the painted one is a bit more special.

Nakaya Naka-ai Negoro

The Naka-ai will also take Platinum ink cartridges and can be fitted with an adapter that will allow you to use international short ink cartridges.

Score: 4/5

 

Value

Nakaya’s pricing has been going up over the last few years but comparable Urushi lacquer pens are (in most cases) at least $100 more expensive.  From the other Urushi lacquer pens I have seen in person (Danitrio, Platinum, Sailor, and Namiki) I truly believe that Nakaya gives you the most for your money without compromising on any important detail.

The Negoro version is an extra $350 over the standard Naka-ai  (in standard colors) and with my modifications and the Maki-e converter my pen was over $1,000, which is a lot of money for a pen, but to me this pen is a real work of art and priced quite fairly.

Naka-ai next to my Platinum 3776 Century Chartres Blue
Naka-ai next to my Platinum 3776 Century Chartres Blue

I should point out that Nakaya uses Platinum nibs and it is possible to get the same nib on a much more affordable pen.  I have a Platinum 3776 Century with the same big 14kt gold nib (sans the modifications) and it performs superbly.

Score: 4/5

 

Bottom Line

The Nakaya Naka-ai is a beautiful work of art that lives up to the hype.

 Final Score 26/30

 

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