Compared to things like violins, pianos, paintings, vintage cars or yaghts, fountain pens make for a relatively cheap hobby. The process of discovery is addictive, but if you define certain limits for yourself then there's a lot of fun to be had for relatively small amounts of money.
For me, the fun is in writing, in how a pen feels to me. A pen that makes me want to write, that screams "pick me up!" every time I walk by, that's what it's about for me. A secondary appeal is craftsmanship, how well a pen is designed and made. This is not to be confused with expense: I am just as pleased with the incredible amount of quality Pilot can deliver for 20 bucks in the form of the Metropolitan, then I am with the lasting durability of a Montblanc 146.
The danger with a hobby like this, is the ever-lurking thought that there's a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow somewhere, a new experience that's just around the corner, something special that's available to those-in-the-know and which is just waiting for you to discover it. This is the feeling that I had regarding Pilot pens in the 150 to 250 euro price range. This feeling was fueled by near-unanimous praise by fountain pen lovers, especially for the Custom 823. More than perhaps any other pen on the market, this pen seems to be able to make pen friends close ranks. This sparked my curiosity, but alas, they can't be found in stores in Europe, either brick & mortar or online. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
That gave me the itch. Deep-down I knew that pens are very very personal, that my own preferences do not necessarily reflect those of the majority, and that I really needed to stick to my modus operandi of going out to try pens before I buy. But there was this itch. This grail pen that everybody raves about and makes even Matt from the Pen Habit forget that it's basically a cigar. And I just couldn't get my hands on it.
What I *could* get, was a Metropolitan. I found a batch of those in a store and bought a M. Obviously at that price point Pilot hit it out of the park with that pen. It's very enjoyable to write with. So I thought: "if a 20 euro Pilot is already *this* good, just imagine what a Custom 823 must be like!". Plus, I wanted to add a vac filler to my little herd. So I ordered one from Japan.
I agonized over the nib choice. My fav pens are two Sailors with 14k H-M nibs and a MB 146 with a vintage EF nib (which is nothing like an EF on paper). After reading tons of posts on FPN, I decided to go for a F. The total price of the pen, including import duty, was around 250 euros, which I think is a significant amount of money to pay for a pen. My only pen which cost more is my old, used MB146 EF which I bought from a collector. So expectations were high.
The pen arrived this week and I've used it intensively over several days and compared it to my other pens. And, welllll.... I have doubts.
The tines were slightly misaligned and there were some skipping issues, which is not good, but thankfully I know how to fix that and it was solved within minutes. But these shortcomings surprised me. The vac mechanism only works if the pen is strictly straight-up; if you have a shallow ink bottle then you need to find another one that will allow you to fill this pen. The stopper only opens when the filial knob is completely unscrewed (sorry, two or three turns just doesn't do it). From an ergonomic point of view, I love it. Precisely the right format for my hand, fits like a glove, without the need to post the cap. Cosmetically, I like the design a lot. Very handsome pen.
Then, the nib. I'd learned from FPN that Pilot nibs are not as fine as those from Platinum and Sailor, meaning a Pilot M is more like a Western M whereas a Sailor M is more like a Western F. This is exactly my experience with my own Metropolitan M. I wanted something like a Western F so I ordered a F and kept my fingers crossed.
Well, this is nothing like a Western F. This is possibly even narrower than a Western EF. It's approaching needle-thin. I checked if it was indeed a and not an EF, but the pen is clearly labeled as a F.
The nib being this narrow offers me advantages as well as disadvantages and they sort of cancel out, leaving me feeling kind of flat about it.
On the plus side, I've discovered that it improves my handwriting, which I like a lot. Another plus is that ink lasts forever. It also rounds out my little collection, which ranges from a 1.1 mm stub via a Sheaffer that writes like a B and that MB146 nib (which is an architect nib offering B horizontal strokes and vertical F strokes) down to a typical M (the Metro) and a few Western F's. So it's not more of the same but really something new.
On the downside, I have three concerns.
First, the feel on paper. It's smooth and well made, but the fact remains that this nib has a very small contact area and obviously that's something you feel every time you write. It feels like a needle, for lack of a better comparison. It also feels stiff (a nail) even though it isn't: the tines move as I write, there is bounce, there is cusioning, but I cannot feel it (whereas I sure can feel it with my Sailors, the MB146 and the Sheaffer Targa).
Second, it's hard to write up-tempo with a needle-fine nib. Fast writing is tricky. The nib is unforgiving. Write rough, it'll feel and look rough. So when taking notes at work, I find myself using abbreviations etc. to keep up.
Third, and most important to me, is emotion. Writing with this pen lacks emotion. The exquisite feedback of my two Sailors offers me a sense of contentment and joy every time I pick one of them up. Both Sailors are very very different in how they feel and write, but both offer me that, each in its own sweet way. That little Metro also offers an emotion: fun. It's a fun little pen. Likewise, each of my pens offers me a certain emotion and for that I cherish them all. The Custom 823 is a high-quality writing machine but there's no emotion.
Perhaps it will grow on me. Perhaps if I had not already known Sailor, I would have loved the 823. Perhaps the emotion of the 823 will reveal itself over time and perhaps its value will be what I dislike about it now: it forces me to slow down, it tells me that writing should not be rushed.
Regarding ink: I'm a firm believer in starting a new pen with ink of the same brand. However.... regular Pilot ink bottles are literally unobtainable in Europe and their upscale Namiki Iroshizuku range is expensive. As an alternative, I chose Sailor Jentle Souten blue, another Japanese ink, and it's a very good match.
For those contemplating the purchase of this pen:
A-nib choice is crucial; do not order it unless you are very very sure which nib is right for you.
B-ditto regarding pen size; this is the largest pen in my little herd; small-handed people might find it too large.
C-do not expect pefection straight out of the box just because it is a Pilot Custom 823; as with most fountain pens these days, it might need some minor adjustment (mine did) and there might be minor shortcomings.
D-just because everybody else loves it doesn't mean that you will, too. Unless money is no object, when in doubt, wait until you can try one, even if that takes time. Use FPN to find someone near you that has one and do coffee together somewhere.
Edited by TheDutchGuy, 08 June 2018 - 11:03.