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


Saltire Turquoise said...

Interesting idea. Ugly pens.

George Kovalenko said...

Bruno, here's the US patent number, 9,815,316.


And here's almost exactly the same patent from 1880 by Duncan MacKinnon, but made of metal. Yes, that MacKinnon, the one who invented the world's first successful stylograph.


In fact, I would say it's an exact rip-off of the MacKinnon patent, except for the material from which it's made.

Feel free to pass this along to the manufacturer.


Michael E said...

Sorry, George, it doesn't look like a rip-off.

"Claim 1. A fountain pen nib, the whole of which including a tip of the nib is constituted by a polished natural or synthetic gemstone which is one of corundum, topaz, emerald, and garnet as a main material, wherein the pen nib has no slit or breather hole and a linear groove is formed longitudinally in a center of an inner side of the nib."

They claim a nib made from gemstone! If the old patent claims gemstones as nib material (which it doesn't), then the old patent is prior art. If it doesn't, then the chance that it is new, inventitive and patent-worthy is there.
But, either the claim is not well-written because it reduces the broadness from gemstones in general to a nib made of ... and having the characteristics of ... or gemstones are already claimed as material for fountain pens.

"exact rip-off of the MacKinnon patent, except for the material from which it's made"
I don't think so. To say so, you must prove that gemstones are already claimed as nibs for fountain pens. Then - eventually - both patents (MacKinnon and gemstones patent) could show that their patent is not new. Until then, you are not correct.

I talked with their CEO about the technology of making the groves, e.g. asking if it is possible to get nibs which write fine lines. He said such a technology is under development but not yet established.
In my opinion, they need more time until this nib performs well enough to make customers happy. The pen I tried was very unreliable. Quickly, it stopped and you had to shake to make it work again. I felt as if the salespeople also thought it was not ready. Of course, they didn't say this.

Bruno Taut said...

Thanks to all of you for your insights.

My reflections on these pens are as follows.

1. This technology is not yet mature and as of now it is difficult to market. Only time will tell if it is worth to pursue it given the current state of the pen industry.

2. There are obvious similarities between the MacKinnon's and the Abe's ideas, but the claims are different enough --the base material, in essence-- as to allow for a new patent more than 100 years after the first one. Patent writing is in itself a delicate art, and the final result of two conflicting interest: the inventor wants a description as generic as possible whereas the patent office wants a very defined and specific one.

Thanks for your comments.


Post a Comment

Your comments are welcome and appreciated.