29 March 2018

The Sapphire and the Maki-e

Spring is always a fertile time in the pen scene in Japan. Spring is the season of the biggest pen events in Tokyo where oftentimes pen makers show their new releases. That was the case, for instance, of the new line if Sailor inks recently mentioned on these Chronicles.

At the event named “Fountain Pens of the World” at Mitsukoshi Department Store in Nihonbashi (Tokyo), a new pen brand showed its creations. Its name is Kemma, and it is the brainchild of Mr Tadao Abe, of Yuzawa (in Akita, Japan), and is part of the Akita Grind Industry.

Two Kemma pens and the cap of a third one. As seen at the "Fountain Pens of the World Festival" organized by Mitsukoshi.

The fundamental originality of Kemma’s pens is their non-metallic nibs. They are, actually, made of sapphire (patent US 2017/01366803 A1), and they do not have a slit. The ink is delivered through a V-groove carved in the sapphire.

The sapphire nib.

On the left, an unfinished sapphire nib--unpolished and not grinded. On the right, a finished nib.

As for the rest, the feed is made of ABS plastic, and the filling system is a simple cartridge-converter. The body is metallic, albeit the external decoration hides it. And the final result is a hefty pen.

And very expensive too.

The pen on this picture cost over JPY 1,000,000. The red and white one seen on previous pictures is one of the basic models and costs JPY 300,000, plus tax.

Then, how does it work? The sapphire nib is very rigid and its writing is boring and uncharacteristic. However, its major problem is its tendency to dry up very quickly, and this problem was present in all the testing units. I repeated those tests on a second date with much better results. This suggests that the whole system –nib and feed— had some room for adjustment, but this could only be based on the relative position between nib and feed, and this is a lot less than what could be done to a regular metallic nib.

Writing samples made with several Kemma pens. On this day, one of the pens was adjusted so that it provided a very wet flow and was less prone to drying up. But that was not the case of all of the testing units. My personal experience with most of these pens was that they dried up within seconds after stopped writing. They were not comfortable pens.

Then comes the price of these pens, and Kemma pens are very expensive—starting at JPY 300,000, plus tax. On the other hand, the master company –Akita Grind Industry— tries to add some value to the product by means of some maki-e and urushi-e decoration made in one of the Meccas of these decorative techniques: Wajima, in Ishikawa.

The sapphire and the maki-e.

But, is that all these novelty pens can offer? Are they just canvas for maki-e? The pen indeed writes… albeit a Vpen is more satisfactory at that.

Whether Kemma pens succeed or not will depend, from my point of view, on whether or not they attract the attention of maki-e aficionados. As I have already said on these texts, for those fond of maki-e the pen itself is secondary.

The sapphire nib together with the ABS feed.

Welcome be, though, the innovation of non-metallic nibs that Akita Grind Industry is offering now; but they need further development to compete with the traditional technology of steel and gold nibs.

Lamy Safari – Tomiya Original Ink (Sailor)

Bruno Taut
Nakano, March 28th 2018
etiquetas: Kemma, evento, soluciones técnicas, plumín, maki-e, urushi-e

10 March 2018

Inks: Price and Variety

More reflections on ink prices in Japan.

On my previous Chronicle I mentioned the idea of how 50 ml inkwells might be too big for this time and age. Apparently, variation –i. e. large selection of colors— is a  lot more relevant than the price of the ink or than being able to replace that exact color we grew fond of.

The, commentator Brian suggested that most users do not really think in terms of price per milliliter but in price per ink or, I might add, price per inkwell regardless its actual size.

These two arguments seem key to understand the recent policy of Sailor to market the rebranded but traditional inks of the company (::1::, ::2::, ::3::, ::4::). But Sailor’s shrinkflating moves –preserving the nominal price while reducing the amount of product— is very detrimental to the consumer. The rest of makers will surely feel the temptation of copying the example of Sailor.

The following graph shows how Sailor’s are –in the Japanese market and among Japanese manufacturers— the most expensive inks. Hakase inks, those made of real squid ink, are not included on it because their presence in the market is marginal.

The graph shows how Sailor inks are, in general, more expensive than those by any other maker in Japan. There are some exceptions to this trend:
1-The 15 ml inkwells of the Pilot Iroshizuku ink at a cost of JPY 46.7/ml.

2-The soon-to-be-released (April 2018) presentation of 20 ml of Mix Free inks by Platinum at JPY 50/ml.
3-The basic triad of the old Jentle inks by Sailor (black, blue-black, and blue) for JPY 20/ml. This particular point in the graph is hidden under a Platinum point of the same coordinates: 3 inks at JPY 20/ml.
The number of inks of Nagasawa Kobe (69 on the graph) and of BunguBox (42 on the graph) is in actual terms subject to frequent changes.
All prices quoted are catalog prices (MRSP), in Japanese Yen (JPY) without taxes (8% in Japan).

On the graph we can see how the cheapest of the Sailor inks –the pigmented inks Kiwaguro and Seiboku— are more expensive than any other made by Pilot and Platinum save for the 15 ml inkwell presentation of the Pilot Iroshizuku Mini.

On par with the most expensive Sailor inks are those marketed by stationer BunguBox that are also made by Sailor. These original inks have a very limited distribution in Japan, although it is possible to buy them online. Its catalog comprises 42 different colors, albeit the shop often runs out of stock of some of them.

The fundamental paradox of the new pricing policy of Sailor is the fact that the current line of Kobe inks is now the cheaper Sailor ink in the Japanese market. Kobe inks, let us remember, are Sailor-made inks for Kobe-based Nagasawa shop. However, these inks are available in Tokyo by the hand of Itoya (at its headquarters in Ginza) and of Maruzen (at its Ikebukuro branch). As a consequence, the 69 inks of the Kobe lineup have become a lot more attractive to the user.

The question, now, is how long this paradox will last.

Ban-ei, wide ring with Henckel nib – Noodler’s Zhivago

Bruno Taut
Nakano, March 9th 2018
etiquetas: Sailor, mercado, tinta, Nagasawa, BunguBox, Japón, Pilot, Platinum

Post Scriptum (March 13th, 2018).

I have changed the graph I originally published on March 10th. The new version solved an inexcusable omission and has more data following some recent news.

These are the modifications:

i. Sailor does have three inexpensive (in relative terms) inks at JPY 20/ml. These are the basic triad of black, blue-black and blue in the old Jentle formulation. This is, obviously, the inexcusable omission.

ii. This coming month of April Platinum will market the Mix Free inks in a new presentation: smaller 20 ml inkwells. Needless to say, smaller inkwells mean higher specific prices: JPY 50/ml. (Thanks, Rafael).

iii. In April as well, Sailor will release a new pigmented ink NOT belonging to the Storia lineup. From April on, there will be three pigmented inks: Kiwa-guro, Sei-boku, and the new Sô-boku.

However, despite these additions, the basic picture remains the same: Sailor is the most expensive brand, although there exists an inexpensive option at JPY 20/ml.

Platinum, on its side, keeps on pushing its ink prices up. The decision of marketing a new and more expensive presentation of the Mix Free series is just consistent with this policy.

And Pilot, finally, is the most stable company regarding inks, although this company also made an inflationary move—the release of the Iroshizuku Mini presentation in January of 2015.

Platinum pocket, Yamada Seisakusho – KWZ Brown #2

Brunot Taut
Nakano, March 13th 2018
etiquetas: Sailor, mercado, tinta, Pilot, Platinum, Japón.

08 March 2018

Sailor, Even Worse

First, the news:

Sailor has just launched a new line of inks by the name of Ink Studio.

This is a collection of 100 colors, bottled in 20 ml inkwells. The price, JPY 1200, plus tax. The ink identification is now just a three digit number.

100 new inks with very poetic names. Sailor strikes again.

The package includes the text “dye ink” and these inks are likely to be variations of the well-known Jentle/Shikiori type.

JPY 1200 per 20 ml means JPY 60/ml.

20 ml inkwells for JPY 1200, plus tax.

Now, my personal coment:


Now Sailor becomes even more expensive (::1::, ::2::) while offering the supposed benefit of a palette of 100 colors. However, I grant Sailor the realization that nowadays the variety in the palette is more desirable than the actual amount of ink. And 50 ml inkwells might be too big at this time and age.

The catalog of colors together with their reference numbers. 100 colors, 100!

But JPY 60/ml is very expensive.


Conway-Stewart Dinkie 550 – Pelikan 4001 Royal Blue

Bruno Taut
Nakano, March 7th 2018
etiquetas: Sailor, tinta, mercado

05 March 2018

Corporate Edition

The 95th anniversary of Pilot in 2013 saw the resurrection of the Elite pen in pocket size—a very popular model in the 1970s. This contemporary revision, by the name of Elite 95s (::1::, ::2::), was launched in June of 2013, and Pilot had the goal of selling 8000 units during the first year. It seems that the goal was achieved as the model make to the regular catalog, where we can find it 5 years later.

Old (1970s) Pilot Elite pocket pens with inset nibs.

The pen itself is a cartridge-converter with inset nib made of 14 K gold in three different points: EF, F, and M. Two different finishes exist—an all black pen, and a burgundy unit with a metallic finish cap. On both cases, the decoration is gold plated.

The two public models of the Elite 95s, released in June of 2013.

But, is this all? No, there is a third version of the Elite 95s. A version that was never available in the market—a corporate edition made for the shareholders of Pilot Corporation in 2015. These "high-end" writing tools are presents offered to those owning more than 1000 shares of the company, which as of today, March 2018, is worth more than JPY 5,000,000 (over JPY 5000/share). For those owning between 100 and 1000 shares, the gift is a more boring "practical writing set" composed mostly of ball-pens, brushes and markers. These contents and their conditions can change every fiscal year. in fact, at the time of the release of this blue Elite 95, the requirement was lower--just 500 shares were needed for a "high-end writing tool".

An unusual Elite 95s--the corporate edition.

This secret pen shares the cap with the dark red version, but its body color is dark blue. The package included a 15 ml inkwell of Tsuki-yo ink of the Iroshizuku line of inks. By the way, the box containing pen and ink is that of the initial release of the Iroshizuku Mini inkwells.

The boxed set.

The whole collection of Pilot Elite 95s. The rarity and the regulars.

Needless to say, this private blue Elite 95s is nothing but an anecdote when compared to the black and red public releases. But collectors love rarities.

Conway-Stewart Dinkie 550 – Pelikan 4001 Royal Blue

Bruno Taut
Nakano, March 5th 2018
etiquetas: Pilot