If you read this blog regularly you will know that this pen is not my typical cup of tea but as I was traversing the Warsaw airport I couldn’t help but see sale signs on a large Montblanc display. The only pen that caught my eye was the Montblanc Meisterstück Solitaire Platinum-Plated Facet 146 (or LeGrand as they now call it). I was curious to know how much it was and after seeing the price I decided to go for it.
This pen is the typical Meisterstück design but in a faceted platinum plated stainless steel body instead of the usual “precious” resin. It really is quite a stunning pen to behold and has much more of a presence than its resin sister.
The facets create a tiled pattern. You will notice that the face of the tiles are a mirrored platinum finish while the edges are brushed; this is a particularly nice touch and a testament to the craftsmanship put into this pen.
This 146 came with a medium nib which was too fat for my tastes but Montblanc has a free nib exchange program than can be utilized within six months of purchase. At the Montblanc boutique in Berlin I was able to try their tester set and found that the OB nib offered the most line variation and the next morning I picked up my pen with the OB installed. That is exceptional service.
The 146 is a full size pen fitted with an 18kt gold nib, a piston filling mechanism and a striped ink view window. The standard resin 146 has a 14kt gold nib and when compared with the 18kt version I could not tell the difference.
The nib is noticeably soft and is a very nice to use. The ink flow is on the drier side but the smooth nib conceals this quite well. I have found that lubricating inks work best with this pen.
As is obvious in all of my pictures, this pen is a fingerprint magnet. If you cannot handle finger prints and patina this 146 is a not a good choice.
This pen retails for around $1,300 and even at over 50% off I don’t feel as though the price was a home run. It’s very well made and nice to look at but to me it is not as special as say a hand turned Japanese pen or a pen made of beautiful Italian celluloid (all of which can be hand for a similar price). If you want a flashy pen with the Montblanc brand cachet then this could make sense but otherwise at anywhere near retail I say forget it.
The 13X series of pens were the first Montblancs to feature a piston filling mechanism. The 136 was the senior size pen just as the 146 is today in the current Meisterstück line.
The 13X series was produced in the mid 1930s to the end of the 1940s and possibly into the early 1950s as there was a brief point when the 13X line and 14X were sold simultaneously.
There are several variations of the 136 which I won’t cover here other than to say that my version is a later model with the shorter ink window.
The differences between the 136 and the original 146 were mostly in design. The 146 had (and still has) a streamlined cigar shape where the 136 has more of a flat top.
They both had the same telescopic piston filling mechanism but if you look at the end of the barrel on a 136 you can see two knobs…the one at the very end is the regular piston filling knob you use to draw ink into the pen and the one below that is used to remove the actual piston filling mechanism…this makes repairs slightly easier.
I am quite fond of vintage Montblancs because they were very well made and have wonderful nibs. Unfortunately, these pens are expensive today, despite being mass produced. Montblanc is now very valuable luxury brand name and this has had an effect on the prices of their vintage pens.
Like most pens, the larger the size in a given series the more expensive the price and that is certainly the case here. The oversized 138 and 139 are the most valuable and the 132 is the least. A 136 in black celluloid can range from about $400-$1,000 depending on condition. Most will be in the $600-$800 range.
All piston filler Meisterstücks that I have owned are suitable for daily use; they are reliable workhorses. With the older celluloid models, however there are a couple of things to look out for: 1) The cork piston seal. If the cork dries out there will be no seal, meaning you won’t be able to draw up ink. The best thing you can do to prevent this is to use the pen regularly. Alternatively, you can store your pen with water but be advised this method is not foolproof 2) Celluloid shrinkage. Many old Meisterstücks suffer from this and sadly there is no cure. The good news is that this rarely causes functional problems. Shrinkage on the cap can cause the cap rings to come loose and you may see subtle dips and bulges on the body and cap. On my pen there is some shrinkage on the section. You can see a little bump in the middle of it.
My 136 is fitted with a beautiful OB nib.
This nib is very soft and is wonderful to write with. These nibs were hand made and most I have come across are very soft. I have seen some Meisterstücks with flex nibs but these are considered extremely rare and generally command a small fortune.
You can see that the 136 has a larger and more shapely nib compared to what is currently used on a modern 146.
The 136 has a flat “ski-slope” ebonite feed that provides a generous amount of ink to the nib.
You will notice that unlike modern Meisterstücks the cap band is English, not German, and reads “MONTBLANC MASTERPIECE”. This signifies that my 136 was an export model. There is some debate about whether pens with “MASTERPIECE” on the cap band are more or less common than those that read “MEISTERSTÜCK”. Based on what I have seen for sale on 13X and early 14X pens the cap bands in English are the most common.
The 136 weighs approximately 24 grams and measures 13cm long (or about 1.5cm shorter than the current 146). The 136 feels nice in hand and is a very comfortable size.
If you are looking for a vintage Montblanc I highly recommend a 136.
I am about halfway through my trip and while I haven’t been actively seeking out pens and pen related items I haven’t been able to avoid them.
While in St. Petersburg I found a nice lacquer miniature box made out of paper mache that fits a pen quite nicely.
Minding my own business at the Warsaw airport, I found a duty free store with some rather bold discount signs in a small section of their Montblanc display and I accidentally bought this Platinum Facet Le Grand fountain pen…oops
Today in Budapest I came across BomoArt’s beautiful little shop.
There I bought some very reasonably priced notebooks as well a Le Typographe propelling pencil with built in lead sharpener.
The interior is lined with a beautiful paper featuring hot air balloons.
I picked up a small 2016 calendar as well. It has a leather binding and an antique map paper cover.
The paper is very fine…I was told that it holds fountain pen ink well.
I also bought four pairs of shoes (quadruple oops)…but perhaps this would be best suited for another blog.
Hopefully I will be able to make it through Germany and Austria without buying anything…that’s all I have for now.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I am very fond of the Essential’s simple shape, it’s not flashy, it’s subtle.
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.
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.
The cap material is very thin but so far no issues to report.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
The Essential #9 has a unique feel and enough charm to make you forgive its faults.
I have been collecting fountain pens for a little while now and have made a few poor purchases. My most expensive blunder has been this pen, a Montblanc 149 Meisterstück. (If you want just want to hear about the 149 as a pen skip down to the “Appearance” section.)
There is a well-regarded pen catalog (whose name I will not mention) and the best pens are purchased almost instantly upon release of the catalog so you don’t have much time to think.
The 1960s 149 that I had wanted sold before I had a chance so I jumped on the still available 1972 model and paid a hefty premium as it was new-old-stock.
The pen arrived in the original box with the original guarantee and with the sticker still on the pen. When I took off the cap and found that the nib was tarnished and the rhodium plate had disappeared in spots. The pen must have been dipped at one point and then put away uncleaned.
I contacted the catalog owner and to his credit he offered a few fair options: 1) lower the price, 2) re-plate the nib, or 3) refund my money. I foolishly became attached to the pen and decided to go for the lower price when I should have simply returned the pen. Oh well…
When I first saw a 149 in person years ago I thought it looked like a ridiculous cartoon pen; it is just so large. I have come around to liking the looks of it’s imposing size but if I am honest I would be embarrassed to use this pen at work…or around people in general.
The streamlined shape with black resin and gold furniture is a classic and this pen really is the archetype for a luxury fountain pen. The 149 is an icon much like a Rolex Submariner and as such there are many lookalikes.
The 149 has the best shape of any pen in the Meisterstück line. It is more cigar-like than the other Meisterstücks, which tend to have a longer and thinner profiles. There isn’t too much to say other than it’s a classic and a very attractive shape.
Montblanc has been producing the 149 since the late 1940s/early 1950s and there have been numerous iterations. The first models were the best quality and as such are the most valuable. So what about my early 1970s model? In my opinion, the Meisterstück line has gotten worse over time.
My 149 is made from plastic (“precious resin”) and has a plastic piston mechanism (not the metal telescopic one from the 50s and early 60s nor the metal one in the current 149). The barrel is a single piece of plastic compared to the modern two-piece barrel, which is cheaper to manufacture. The plastic is soft and scratches easily. Montblanc finishes the plastic with a very high shine so it is possible to polish out scratches if they are not too deep.
The tri-color nib is made of a soft 14ct gold with a solid ebonite feed instead of the plastic feed and stiffer 18kt tri-color nib on the modern 149. Montblanc produces all of their nibs in house and hand grinds and hand finishes each nib. If you look closely you will see that the slit between the tines doesn’t quite line up with the design.
One sore point on my pen is the plating on the nib. The rhodium (white metal) plating seems to have come off a bit. Which is something that shouldn’t really happen on a pen this expensive. I have confirmed through accounts of members of the Fountain Pen Network that this is not that uncommon for Montblanc pens.
Overall I would consider the build good but not great for a pen this expensive.
Size & Weight
One of the benefits of the plastic piston mechanism is that it keeps the weight down to 29.3 grams (empty). The 149 is the fattest pen I own and for me it is too fat to use comfortably for a longer period of time. See the picture below…
Even though this pen doesn’t have the biggest nib it clearly has the fattest section by a big margin.
The pen measures just under 15cm long and 1.6cm at it’s widest point. The grip section is about 1.3cm in diameter which is the most oversized measurement of the entire pen. You can post this pen but there really is no need to do so as it is a hair over 13cm long uncapped.
There are people with small hands and people large hands that love this pen so don’t assume that it wont work for you. If you want a 149 I highly suggest to you try before you buy. One of the major perks of owning a Montblanc is that there are many boutiques all over the world so they are easy to purchase and service. It is worth mentioning that pens serviced by Montblanc may be repaired with modern (often less desirable) parts.
The big OB nib is a great performer. The nib has long tines that make the nib soft and springy. The OB point is more round than the points on the older 1950s nibs. The rounder the nib the less line variation but the tradeoff is that nib is less position sensitive. Given the choice I much prefer the flatter nib.
The nib does allow for some line variation with pressure; it is much better than most modern pens in this regard.
One of the benefits of the 149 is the massive 2.7ml ink capacity. By comparison the average converter holds about 0.5ml of ink and the average piston filler holds about 1.0ml.
The piston is very smooth and the striped ink window is ultra clear and has remained easy to clean. One thing that I don’t care for is the amount of play in the piston knob once loosened; it hasn’t caused any problems but it doesn’t instill confidence.
If ink capacity is your top priority this may be the pen for you.
Used, these pens can be had for around $300-$400. The 1960s versions go for a bit more and the 1950s models are usually over $1,000. For $300 you get an impressive looking iconic pen that non-pen people will notice and appreciate; if that sort of thing is important to you, I can assure you wont do better for the money.
New, the 149 costs around $900 and for me there many other pens that I prefer in terms of quality and comfort but none can really match the imposing presence of the 149. If you want something with true snob appeal the $900 might be justifiable.
The 149 is fat….fat price, fat size, fat snob appeal.
Final Score 17/30
Here are some great reviews of the Montblanc 149:
(I have no affiliation with the sites linked below)
This year’s Montblanc Writer’s Edition celebrates Robinson Crusoe author, Daniel Defoe, with an unfortunately ugly pen. The good news is that the limited edition Daniel Defoe Palm Green ink is beautiful.
Palm Green is a dark yellowy green ink with great shading. The flow is about average and overall it is a well behaved ink. Dry time is on the longer side (though I was using a wetter pen than normal) and the ink is not waterproof.
I couldn’t find an ink that I had that was quite like it…its like a darker more green Alt Goldgrün.
This is my favorite limited edition ink Montblanc has come out with in the last few years. It’s not cheap at $19 per 35ml bottle but it’s such a nice color I think it’s worth it.
Side note: loved the label on the bottle as well as the packaging
The Pilot Custom 743 is the only pen to use Pilot’s full line of #15 size nibs. In the store I tried three of the more unusual nibs: a music nib, a Waverly nib and a falcon nib. I ended up picking the falcon nib, which is a soft flexible nib.
Like most pens in the Custom series, the 743 is a very traditional and classic looking executive pen with a black plastic body and yellow gold furniture. The trim level is the same as you get on the Custom 823 and they look almost identical. The trim ring on the bottom of the body is closer to the end of the pen than on the 823 (the 743 has vacuum mechanism to accommodate) but otherwise they look the same.
The cap has a rounded top with a clip that starts broad and narrows ending with a ball; this is the classic Pilot/Namiki clip and I think it looks great. The gold band at the bottom of the cap reads “* * * CUSTOM 743 * * * PILOT MADE IN JAPAN”. The letters are filled in with black (paint?) just as you would see on the Custom 845 and Custom 823. The large 14ct gold #15 nib is plain, with no decoration to speak of. The cuts on the sides of the nib help to increase flexibility and in my opinion make up for the lack of decoration.
The gold trim is much more yellow in color than the 14ct gold nib. This is quite apparent with the cap posted. I would like to have seen the gold match a bit better but it’s not a big deal.
All things considered, the Custom 743 is a clean looking pen with no strangeness to its proportions. It’s not going to score any points for originality but it’s a nice looking pen nonetheless. Score: 3/5
The build quality like most Pilot products is quite good. The section (as on the Custom 845) has two big seams that just look cheap on a $300 pen.
Unlike the Custom 845, the 743 also suffers from seams on the body as well. They are clearly defined in the threading on the body and then they disappear about a quarter of an inch in on the glossy part of the body. You wouldn’t really notice any of this unless you are looking closely. The fit and finish is otherwise quite good and I suspect this pen will last a long time. Score: 2.5/5
Size & Weight
The Custom 743 measures about 5.9” capped and about 5.2” uncapped. At its widest point it is about 0.6” and weighs about 25.6 grams with a converter full of ink. Like the 845, the 743 is a good sized pen similar in girth to a Montblanc 146 but closer to the 149 in length. I find the 743 to be well balanced in my hand. It looks quite long posted but it remains comfortable. Score: 4/5
I think it is fair to say that this pen will not be for everyone. I was lucky enough to try it in a store in Japan before I purchased it. It would be a mistake to think you are getting a new pen that is going to write like a vintage flex pen; it does not and I haven’t seen a modern flex pen that does.
The falcon nib is a bit on the scratchy side, not unpleasantly so but there is a good amount of feedback. With little or no pressure the nib writes with a pretty fine line, definitely an extra fine by western standards.
If apply some pressure you can get the line to become broad but this will require more force than you would need on most vintage flex pens. I find that with nib flexed and writing slowly (as you should) the pen has a tendency to railroad by which I mean produce two thin parallel lines instead of one fat line. The feed seems unable to keep up with the pen.
I have been experimenting with different inks and I have found Diamine inks to work the so far. I tried Noodler’s Blue Eel as I thought that might help with the railroad situation but alas it performed the same as the Waterman and Pilot inks I tried.
In normal writing there are no real performance issues and I can get some nice (not huge) line variation with medium pressure without causing any problems but if you want to make extra extra fine lines and triple broad lines the Falcon nib isn’t going to cut it. With a careful hand (sadly not something I possess) I have seen some beautiful western writing with the 743 Falcon. Score: 2/5
The Custom 743 uses Pilot’s top-of-the-line Con-70 converter that is considered by many to be the best converter on the market. It holds a good amount of ink and is quite easy to use.
The 743 has the standard metal Con-70 which is not quite as nice as the black one you get in the Pilot Custom 845 and most Namiki pens but the function is the same. Score: 3.5/5
I bought my Custom 743 in the low $200s, which I think is a pretty reasonable price for this pen. The retail price is 30,000 Yen (approximately $295 USD) is pretty high. If the pen had no seams and the gold trim matched the nib nicely I could easily justify a $300 price tag for the 743. Score: 3/5
The feed prevents the 743 Falcon from living up to its full potential as a “flex” pen.
To celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Meisterstück, Montblanc has released a limited edition Meisterstück 149 fountain pen and a permanent grey ink. The ink comes in a retro bottle that reads: “This ink fulfils all the demands made on it by durable, good-working, Fountain Pen”.
I have never been a fan of grey inks in the past but when I saw the bottle in the store I had to try it. The salesman was kind enough to let me dip the new 90th Years 149 fountain pen into a bottle of the Permanent Grey. The ink looked great so I bought a bottle.
The 90 Years Permanent Grey is a beautifully saturated almost black ink. The flow is excellent, especially for a permanent ink. Good saturation and shading. The big downside I see to this ink is the dry time…it’s long….very long. In my tests on Rhodia 80gsm paper it took approximately 75 seconds to fully dry.
(click the picture to enlarge)
To test the ink’s permanence I let the ink dry over night and with a few drops of water the ink remained well intact. I believe most of Montblanc’s permanent inks have an ISO certification but I don’t see any mention of that on the packaging of the 90 Years Permanent Grey.
If you like grey inks, this one is a must have. The price is on the expensive side at $20 for 35ml but I think it’s worth it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If a Montblanc and a Nakaya had a baby it would be the Pilot Custom 845.
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.
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.
Under the cap is a big shapely 14k gold nib that features the Nakaya globe logo and some scrollwork.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Size & Weight
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Nakaya Naka-ai is a beautiful work of art that lives up to the hype.