Hello, penfolks! This review will be of limited use, as a. the pen in question is brand-new to me at the time of this writing and therefore still suffused with new-purchase glow; b. I’m writing with it as regularly as I can, but I’m still only a couple of fills in, which means I haven’t had too much opportunity to get to know it; and c. my cellphone photography skills leave something to be desired, but I nonetheless took lots of pictures that are eating up your bandwidth as you read this. All caveats aside, I was itching for more reviews to read while I waited for my Pilot Custom Ichii to arrive, so I’m paying this forward for the next obsessive (bleep) who needs something to read and reassure them that the pen they just spent lots of money for is going to be lovely.
(TLDR: I think this pen is lovely.)
Box and Packaging:
My Pilot Custom Ichii came in a large, leatherish black box, which is massive compared with all of the boxes my previous pens came in. It contained, in addition to the pen itself, Pilot’s generic Use and Care Guide (a folded sheet with basic information about operating their pens’ cartridges and converters), an insert in Japanese and English “About the ‘Ichii Tree,’” an English-language insert describing the Inden lacquered-deerskin pen pouch, some Japanese-Language pamphlets advertising said lacquered-deerskin pen pouch, and a black, lacquered-deerskin pen pouch, carefully rolled up and tied with an attached leather strip. A sealed black cartridge of Pilot ink was also included.
The inside of the box is lined with black satinesque fabric, and a raised cardboard mold takes up the front half of the available space, with more satinesque fabric loosely attached to present a crushed, squishy (casually luxurious?) look. The Pilot Custom Ichii sits in a tailored indentation within this structure, held by two fabric-covered prongs so as to rest at a jaunty angle. A rectangle of black foam is placed between the pen and the inside of the lid to prevent jostling, but all of this was thoroughly deranged by customs inspectors by the time I received it. The entire box was contained in a white outer cardboard box with some sort of (bespoke artisanal) texture and an opening front flap that further foiled the customs inspectors and drove them to feats of rage and crumplement, alas. (No lasting harm was done.)
The included pouch is made of soft, matte, black leather taken directly from the still-weeping Bambi’s sainted mother; it uses another strip of black leather to wrap it. The inside of the pouch is a soft, black, felty material that might also be leather with a different finish. The outside features a tidy crosshatch of glossy black lacquer which is gorgeous to look at and completely scares me from using it for its intended purpose by taking it out of the house. It fits the Ichii snugly and securely, and will live safely in my desk for the foreseeable future.
Appearance and Finish:
The Custom Ichii’s design is based very closely on Pilot’s flagship Custom 845, which I’ve lusted after for years. I’m not a huge fan of black pens, though (and because I’m an uncultured rustic, etc., the appeal of urushi-lacquered ebonite has not sufficiently gripped me to justify the premium it commands), so when I discovered the Custom Ichii, and it transpired that I had some money saved away for an extravagant pen, the decision got made.
I’m not a wood expert, and sources seem to vary, but I think the ichii is made from Japanese yew praised for its fine grain (so sayeth Pilot’s Japanese-language product page, despite the included insert which says it’s oak; “ichii” on its own seems to translate to “first rate”). So, whatever: it grew in the ground once and evidently takes an amazing polish, as even on the knots, the wooden surface of my pen feels almost flawlessly smooth (though rubbing it produces a subtly different whisper than do my lacquered and resin pens). The wood feels cooler in my hand than does the plastic grip section, and displays subtle chatoyancy as I turn it in my hand.
Grooved, gold-plated rings mark the finials, which more or less continue the grain pattern on the barrel and cap. Both ends of the pen are flat with the slightest hint of convexity, and the edges created are flawlessly crisp and smooth in a way that makes me never want to risk taking the pen away from the safety of my desk.
The mouth of the cap has a broader band than the Custom 845 and extends all the way to the lip, probably to preserve the thin, tapered wood against shock and stress. (It’s hard to tell if the cap has any exposed wood on the inside, or if it’s all plastic; the barrel absolutely does.) The clip on the cap appears to be Pilot’s standard Custom-series stepped triangle and ball affair, and is very stiff. The band reads, “*** PILOT JAPAN *** CUSTOM ART CRAFT” in engraved all-caps, over and over and over again until you get bored.
The section appears identical to the black, injection-molded plastic used on the Custom 845, with a chiseled hourglass profile bulging at the nib and a 1mm flush gold ring separating it from the cap threads. The section unscrews to reveal metal threads (with an o-ring) and a metal housing for the included CON70 converter; the inside of the barrel is wood except for the counterparts of the threads and something shiny at the end, in the finial.
The barrel tapers very subtly toward the finial ring and then continues afterward, a bit narrower. Where the barrel screws onto the section, perhaps to accommodate the substantial cap band, the wood takes a subtle, smooth step inward and looks awfully sexy to me.
The large (Pilot #15, Bock #6+ish?), two-toned 18k nib fits the dimensions of the rest of the pen in a way that’s very attractive to me: I think it elongates and streamlines the overall appearance in tandem with the subtle taper, even though this is a large, broad-sectioned pen. The feed appears to be Pilot’s dark, slightly translucent plastic, and is perfectly centred on the nib slip when I look through it against the light. In the lower left corner of the nib is the date stamp: “616,” for June of last year, I’d assume. Still looks pretty fresh, though…
Design, Size, and Weight:
From what I’ve read, the design and size are identical to the Custom 845; some people think it weights slightly more, and some slightly less. (If anyone would like to donate an 845 to science, I’d be more than happy to update this section.) It feels lighter in my hand than any of my other pens (unposted Cross Townsend and Faber-Castell Pearwood Ambition being what I have the most experience with), and is plenty-long for writing unposted. The pen just borders on oversize, to my eye, but the graceful taper of the barrel and the elegant thrust of the nib prevent it from looking bulky (the way I found the Visconti Homo Sapiens did when I tried it in-store, for example). The length of the pen, the placement of the clip, and my preciousness with the finish of the wood discourage me from clipping the Ichii into my shirt pocket as I normally do with my pens. If this ever does leave my desk, I’ll probably carry it in the included leather pouch. Maybe.
Nib and Writing Experience:
Pretty darn great, I won’t lie. It’s worth pointing out, though, that this is my first nib anywhere close to this size, so some of my excitement with the sensation of writing with this pen may be explained that way. I’ve been writing with #5ish (Bock-reckoning) nibs exclusively since my first pen, a steel Sheaffer Prelude, about 16 years ago. I wrote my thesis with a juicy, but equally petite 18k Cross Townsend nib, and have put in some time with a broad, flexy 14k Falcon nib. I hold my pens fairly far back on the section, which I don’t do as much with the Custom Ichii because the section is shorter and the nib is (substantially) longer. The effect, with this background, has been the sensation that I’m flicking a wand or flourishing a rapier, more than directing a nib. This is an extremely satisfying sensation for me and has spurred me to feats of scrivened loquacity I haven’t enjoyed for years. Your mileage may vary, but I’d urge you at least not to wait as long as I did to try a properly honkin’ nib, based on this experience.
The Ichii has not been adjusted in any since it left the factory, to my knowledge, and is almost too smooth. My Falcon is too smooth and is exhausting to write with as a result, becoming quickly sloppy and uncontrolled on the page; the nib on my Custom Ichii has a whisper of feedback and feels (on my preferred Rhodia paper) like a fine, polished dowel being drawn across a sheet of taut, suspended silk (as opposed to a cool stick of butter across the surface of a mirror). The Japanese medium writes a hair broader than my American fines, which is what I was hoping for and told to expect, and it lays down a manageable, wet line that sits at about 6 out of 10 on my arbitrary wetness scale. It’s given me pleasing shading with each of the inks I’ve tried.
My first writing with this pen was Diamine Chocolate Brown, which has been my favourite ink colour for a few years. On Clairefontaine and Rhodia, even with a fresh, juicy fill, I had a bit of hard starting. More alarmingly, once the initial flood of the feed had been written out, I found the pen drying to a halt every paragraph or so; I haven’t washed anything out with soapy water yet, so it might be manufacturing oils or a disagreement with the ink, rather than catastrophic nib failure. Reassuringly, I tried Iroshizuku Asa-gao next and had a much more positive experience: no starvation, almost none of that initial skipping, and the pen felt more lubricated yet controlled on the page, somehow. It was a complete pleasure to use, and among other things, I wrote the first half of this review on that charge. The Ichii is now inked with Faber-Castell Moss Green, which flows about as well, though it doesn’t lubricate the same way. Still chuffed.
The nib has a bit of flex – really just a touch of firm cushioning compared with my steel nibs, and in contrast to the squashy plushness of the Falcon. I can get a bit of variation with pressure, but the nib doesn’t invite it, and it doesn’t give me much pleasure to try. What is neat is that I can pull the nib across the page without any downward force, and the line remains as broad and wet as it appears with my usual pressure. None of my other pens do this, and along with the broader section and lighter build, this encourages the development of a lighter hand (as I’ve been meaning to do for a while now anyway). I naturally grip near the threads, which are smooth and comfy. The balance, unposted, is flawless for me – exactly like my Townsend.
I don’t seem to mind the CON70 converter as much some people do, and I was happy for its inclusion. This one is not urushi-lacquered like the part that comes with the Custom 845 (a cosmos-sundering tragedy I’ll probably eventually learn to live with). The CON70 is a push-button converter, filling with about five or six firm pumps (though it foams up the ink a bit, making it hard to tell). The capacity is reported to be much larger than Pilot’s other twist and squeeze solutions, though probably smaller than most piston-filler pens. This is fine with me: I love switching inks and am fastidious about cleaning my pens between colours.
Value for Money:
I dunno. At the time of writing, the Custom Ichii only retails in Japan (50,000 JPY); eBay sellers are offering it for between $550 and $775 CAD plus substantial shipping for the large box, which would not have been a no-brainer for me, even though I’d been saving for a year for my first extravagant pen and could technically afford it. I saw this one on auction, picked a low ceiling, and (first time ever!) won it for around $400 CAD including shipping. That unexpected sweetness definitely makes the value proposition more palatable for me; I don’t know how useful it is to you, and as much as I’m loving it, I don’t know if I’d buy it again at full price. It would probably have more cache for a professional wood-fancier, but it may also turn me into one as I rotate it in my hands. I’m darn happy to have it, and most people I’ve read are positive about the value of the Custom 845, which goes for the same price. There’s also a version in the series called the Custom Enjyu, made from a coarser-grained, darker wood. So, pick your material and decide for yourself?
I’m very happy with my unexpected, lucky, perfect pen. Yay!
Edited by mrphyig, 22 May 2017 - 04:40.