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Battle of the Big Reds

 

http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5480/11931434345_5ea0b7cbff_b.jpg

From top to bottom: Sailor King of Pen in Crimson Urushi, Namiki Emperor in Vermilion Urushi, Namiki Yukari Royale in Vermilion Urushi. They are resting on a Nakaya three-pen pillow in Kuro-Tamenuri Urushi.

 

Introduction

In his excellent comparative review of four black urushi pens, rhk had shared with us his opinion of the Namiki Yukari Royale versus the Sailor King of Pen. In yet another great review, rubyeyespenlover had waxed lyrical about the beauty of the Namiki Emperor. Yours truly has reviewed the Sailor King of Pen here. Other great reviews of the King of Pen and the Yukari Royale can be found on FPN as well. But since these three pens have never been considered together in a single review, I thought it would be fun to write this comparative review (as well as give myself an excuse to snap more pictures of these gorgeous pens).

 

Some history behind these three pens, paraphrased from Fountain Pens of Japan by Andreas Lambrou and Masamichi Sunami (2012) - the reference text for fans of Japanese fountain pens:-

 

The Namiki Emperor (also known as Pilot #50 FFK fountain pen or Pilot #50 Jumbo) was first introduced in the 1930s but later discontinued. When Pilot decided to reintroduce its Namiki #50 Jumbo model in 1985, it commissioned the famed Japanese pen craftsman Eisuke Sakai (also known as "Ban-Ei", meaning "Eisuke the sawman") to make a prototype with the balance, shape and size of its vintage jumbo pen, and the result was outstanding. A variation of this jumbo pen design exists ("vest-type #50 fountain pen") and was first introduced in 2005 in the form of the celebrated Dunhill-Namiki Sakura-Rose pen (and you can see pictures of it here and here and read a short discussion on FPN about the pen here). I was fortunate enough to handle another vest-type Dunhill-Namiki pen, the Turtle pen, and it is truly a magnificent work of art. Current Emperor models using the vest-type pen design include the Goldfish and the Crane, as well as Chinkin models and other limited edition pens.

 

The Yukari Royale design derives from a Balance model first used for the principal pen series (out of four) made to commemorate Pilot's 80th anniversary in 1998. It was smaller than the Namiki Emperor but larger than the Yukari, and you can see a review of the original Pilot 80th anniversary pen by RLD here. Perusing old Pilot catalogues from the 1930s gives the impression that the Yukari Royale design ultimately derives from vintage balanced-form maki-e pens that Pilot used to produce.

 

The Sailor King of Pen [sic] (often abbreviated as KOP) has the shortest history of these three pens, having only been introduced in 2003. It was Sailor's first truly oversized pen targeted at the export market. In the first year, the KOP was made of lacquered black hard rubber with gold trimming and wide cap lip band a la Montblanc 149. In subsequent years, the pen was produced in PMMA resin, as well as a variety of materials and finishes including mosaic acrylic, plain and mottled wood grain ebonite, as well as urushi-lacquered ebonite and maki-e models. A rare piston-filler version of the KOP ("Realo") was produced to commemorate Sailor's 95th anniversary, and you can read Rokurinpapa's review of the KOP Realo here. Notable is the lack of trim on all KOP models (when capped) except for the PMMA versions.

 

http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7363/11931711953_5d75962d4a_b.jpg

The pens uncapped.

 

Pen construction, urushi finish and ownership experience

 

Namiki Emperor

The Namiki Emperor is huge by any standard. It dwarves all other pens placed next to it, except maybe the Danitrio Yokuzuna, Genkai or Mikado models. Capped, this pen is about 46 g and 30 g uncapped (all measurements taken with the pen uninked). Dimensions of this pen: 173 mm capped, with a barrel diameter of 17 mm and cap diameter of 20 mm. Section diameter is about 14 mm. Despite its enormous size, it is comparatively light and well-balanced because of its all-ebonite body. Personally I find it quite comfortable to use, although at times I feel that I am painting rather than writing words on paper with this pen. Because very few pen cases can accommodate this size of fountain pen, I bought a custom pen case from Maison Takuya for this pen. In case you were wondering about a pen chest with slots wide enough to fit this pen, I have found that the 24-pen chest from Vox Luxury works. Quality of construction on this pen is very high - it looks machine-made. The urushi lacquer is flawless and very durable. I have had no problems with the lacquer finish throughout these five years of ownership. Its enormous size does not lend itself to portability, and hence this pen remains as a desk pen to be used at home.

 

As may not be apparent from my photos, this pen is an eyedropper, specifically a Japanese eyedropper. Ron Dutcher wrote an authoritative article about Japanese eyedropper pens a while ago. Briefly, a Japanese eyedropper includes a plunger rod linked to a blind cap at the end of the barrel, and the whole point of the plunger is to plug the section so that no ink can leak out of the barrel once the blind cap is screwed all the way in. To use the pen, one simply unscrews the blind cap a couple of turns (roughly 1/4") to allow ink from the barrel to flow through the section to the nib. The Pilot Custom 823 pen also uses this plunger system to seal the pen against leaks, except that it's a plunger-filler rather than an eyedropper. The eyedropper system works well in use, but requires periodic maintenance. Vintage Japanese eyedroppers usually have stiff plunger rods as well as leaky seals at the barrel end that require repair. In fact, the blind cap on my own Emperor actually came off the plunger rod while I was washing it out one day, necessitating two lengthy trips to Pilot USA to get the pen repaired. Ink capacity of the pen is ginormous - I routinely fill it with 4 to 5 ml of my favourite ink blend (~1:1 ratio of Iroshizuku Kon-Peki to Yama-Budo). Needless to say, I have never run out of ink during a writing session.

 

As far as I know, the Emperor nib (size #50) has been produced in three variations. From kmpn's blog, the oldest is the 14K version with text, followed by an 18K version with text (also pictured below). The current variation is the "Mount Fuji" nib, similar to but larger than the one in the Yukari Royale pictured below. On maki-e Emperor pens, the "Mount Fuji" motif is rhodium-plated to give the nib a two-tone finish. Currently, three nib sizes are offered, FM, M and B. My Emperor pen first came to me with a "Mount Fuji" nib in medium size. This nib never wrote well (skipping and hard-starting), however, so early last year I sent it to Pilot USA for a nib exchange to broad size. The pen came back with an 18K text version nib, which to me is the most desirable version of the Emperor nib. This broad nib writes well and is a little springy.

 

Namiki Yukari Royale

I own two versions of this pen, one in Black urushi and the other in Vermilion urushi. Also see my review where I compared the Yukari Royale to the Pilot Custom 845 for detailed photos and impressions of the Yukari Royale. When completely filled, this pen weighs 46 g capped/29 g uncapped. Dimensions of the pen are 150 mm capped/ 134 mm uncapped/ 179 mm posted, with a cap diameter of about 15 mm and a barrel diameter of approximately 14 mm. This pen is made of brass and has very good balance in the hand. Most people would probably find it a comfortable pen to use. As would be expected from Namiki, the urushi lacquer is shiny and perfect. The pen uses the CON-70 converter which has a capacity of about 1.9 ml - sufficient for most people. Regular Pilot ink tends to stain the urushi section but can be cleaned off with some rubbing. Iroshizuku ink, on the other hand, does not cause any staining.

 

The Yukari Royale uses the Namiki #20 size nib. My Black urushi version of this pen is perfect with its medium nib. This nib is extremely wet, springy and responsive, and is my favourite pen out of my thirty-odd pen collection. In fact, I liked this pen so much that I decided to get another Yukari Royale in Vermilion urushi with a broad nib last year. In comparison to the medium nib, I find that the broad nib is rigid and not as responsive. My Vermilion Yukari Royale came with several problems as well. First, it wrote very dryly with Pilot Iroshizuku but did much better with regular Pilot ink. In addition, the pen tended to stop writing in the middle of sentences, sometimes even stopping just after being uncapped. These interruptions in ink flow were rare, but extremely frustrating when they occurred. A hard-starting issue has lessened after I had the nib professionally adjusted. Finally, one of the starts for the internal (female) thread inside the cap does not engage perfectly with the external (male) thread on the barrel, causing occasional thread seizure when I try to cap the pen. Over time this might cause premature wear of the urushi on the threads. For the price and pedigree of this pen, I feel that these problems are unacceptable. Currently, I am in contact with Pilot to try to get my pen replaced with a fine-nibbed version.

 

Sailor King of Pen

This pen has an ebonite base covered with twelve layers of the most exquisite crimson urushi lacquer. Hard-rubber KOPs are hand-lathed and then polished, or sent to Ms. Kato Seishou, a famous maki-e artist in Japan, for hand-application of urushi lacquer. Nine different colours of urushi lacquer are offered on the KOP: black, ivory, crimson red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple and lilac. Maki-e models are occasionally offered as well. A non-exhaustive listing of KOP models can be seen here. The urushi finish and unusual shape of this pen were the two main reasons why I purchased this pen in the first place. In fact, the shape of this pen has inspired homages, most notably the Herald and Herald Grande models from the Edison Pen Company.

 

The KOP is large but very comfortable in the hand. It is 153 mm capped/ 134 mm uncapped and has a cap diameter of 17 mm and a section diameter of 12 mm. My pen weighs 35 g capped and 22 g uncapped. Unlike the ebonite barrel and cap, the pen section is made of urushi-lacquered PMMA resin with a enormous brass converter/cartridge holder, which helps direct the pen weight toward the nib. Hence I find that this pen is more comfortable to use than, say, the Montblanc 149 and Pelikan M800 pens which are weighted more towards the end of the pen barrel. As can be seen from the pictures below, the nib on this pen is big and beautiful. My pen originally came with a medium nib, which wrote lusciously with Aurora Black after being adjusted. Last year I managed to get the medium nib exchanged to a Crosspoint nib, one of the specialty Nagahara nibs that Sailor is known for. Most people here probably know how these Nagahara nibs work: the line they put down gets broader the more acute the angle is against paper. The versatility of the Crosspoint nib in making different line widths has made this one of the best writing pens in my collection. I have occasionally toyed with the idea of getting another KOP in Black urushi, but my experience above with the Yukari Royale suggests that perfection might be hard to beat. For my detailed review and more photos of the KOP, go here.

 

Some thoughts and concluding remarks

All three pens reviewed here are definitely "grail" pens for most people. I have owned these pens long enough (four to five years) so that any post-purchase rationalization has long been overcome, hence this comparative review tends to be more logical rather than emotional. In terms of practicality, I find that the Yukari Royale and KOP pens are always inked and in my pen holder. The Emperor, however, has not been inked for a while and will likely remain that way for the near future. The final verdict? Expensive pens are not always better, but do offer one a greater chance of obtaining the ultimate writing experience. My Yukari Royale in Black urushi will remain my favourite pen until the next "grail" comes along. Hakase, anyone??? Anyway, I hope you had fun reading this review!

 

http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2861/11932284706_41976b55b3_b.jpg

The nibs exposed.

 

http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7352/11931712733_b9990d28d1_b.jpg

Side-profiles of the nibs.

 

http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3727/11931887804_28f55fdbbb_b.jpg

 

Comparison of the feeds and nib tippings. I believe the Emperor's feed is made of urushi-lacquered ebonite while the Yukari Royale's and KOP's feeds are made of plastic.

Edited by shuuemura
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Another impressive review, thank you very much.

 

A difficult question for you:

 

I would like to buy one of these pens: the Namiki Yukari Royale or the Sailor KOP, in the same colours as yours. I would choose a M or B nib for both pens, I don't know yet. I usually buy B nibs in japanese pens but an M could be also very useful.

 

Which of the two would you recommend? I like a bit more the Namiki aesthetically (from pictures only): the metal edge of the cap, the red feed, and I like the color a bit more. Moreover, I don't like the golden ring in the Sailor near the section. But from your review you seen impressed with the urushi lacquer on the Sailor.

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LordBeldingford

I'm impressed by how the red feed of the Namiki Emperor match with the color of the body - very nice detail!

Edited by LordBeldingford
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fantastic review; thank you very much! I've been plotting a purchase of the yukari royale but now I must say the KOP does shake my heart a little...

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Thanks so much for taking the time to pen and photograph these beautiful reviews. I love your tone of voice, as well as your great taste in pens.

 

I was in Asia at the end of last year, and was also considering the same pens. I ended up with the black ebonite KOP with gold trim.

 

I want to ask your opinion about these pens.

 

I have been considering the KOP on and off for over a year. The price has always been quite high for me, but still decided to bite the bullet this time and get it. It was one of the 4 pens I bought, and was the most expensive one. The other Sailors, amongst them a Concord 1911 and a music nibbed Professional grade demonstrator all write like a dream. However the KOP skips and writes dry.

 

For a pen that's so expensive, I would expect the nib to write beautifully. I am disappointed its performance is worse than many cheaper stainless steel nibbed pens I have. Being new to the pen collecting hobby, sending a pen off to get tuned is not something I am used to, so this for me is tantamount to buying a lemon. Has that been your experience as well? Is it advisable to send the pen to get tuned or should I send it back to the store I bought it from?

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gregamckinney

Fantastic review, thank you very much for it, and the GREAT photos.

I have the Emperor, and love writing with it. I have very large hands, and the pen (unposted of course) is very comfortable to write with.

Mine has a factory B nib that was stubbed by a top-notch nibmesiter. Stubs and CI's are my preferred nibs, so the Emperor is pretty much "the perfect pen."

 

Regards, greg

Don't feel bad. I'm old; I'm meh about most things.

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Another impressive review, thank you very much.

 

A difficult question for you:

 

I would like to buy one of these pens: the Namiki Yukari Royale or the Sailor KOP, in the same colours as yours. I would choose a M or B nib for both pens, I don't know yet. I usually buy B nibs in japanese pens but an M could be also very useful.

 

Which of the two would you recommend? I like a bit more the Namiki aesthetically (from pictures only): the metal edge of the cap, the red feed, and I like the color a bit more. Moreover, I don't like the golden ring in the Sailor near the section. But from your review you seen impressed with the urushi lacquer on the Sailor.

 

It's a difficult but good problem to have, I must say. The lacquer on both pens is top-notch. I just find that the vermilion lacquer finish on the Yukari Royale is a little too "perfect" right now. Of course, this perfection indicates craftsmanship of the highest level. My Sailor KOP has been with me for five years now and I am starting to appreciate the lacquer more as it ages. No scratches or dents, just a subtle dulling in the brilliance of the finish. Wabi-sabi? Maybe. The lacquer on my Emperor is also looking more graceful these days, I must say.

 

I'm impressed by how the red feed of the Namiki Emperor match with the color of the body - very nice detail!

 

Thanks for your comment, I find the colour coordination very fetching too!

 

fantastic review; thank you very much! I've been plotting a purchase of the yukari royale but now I must say the KOP does shake my heart a little...

 

You're welcome! I hope you make up your mind and pull the trigger soon!

 

Thanks so much for taking the time to pen and photograph these beautiful reviews. I love your tone of voice, as well as your great taste in pens.

 

I was in Asia at the end of last year, and was also considering the same pens. I ended up with the black ebonite KOP with gold trim.

 

I want to ask your opinion about these pens.

 

I have been considering the KOP on and off for over a year. The price has always been quite high for me, but still decided to bite the bullet this time and get it. It was one of the 4 pens I bought, and was the most expensive one. The other Sailors, amongst them a Concord 1911 and a music nibbed Professional grade demonstrator all write like a dream. However the KOP skips and writes dry.

 

For a pen that's so expensive, I would expect the nib to write beautifully. I am disappointed its performance is worse than many cheaper stainless steel nibbed pens I have. Being new to the pen collecting hobby, sending a pen off to get tuned is not something I am used to, so this for me is tantamount to buying a lemon. Has that been your experience as well? Is it advisable to send the pen to get tuned or should I send it back to the store I bought it from?

 

Yes, it's strange to me as well (and this topic has been discussed before on FPN) that pen companies can get away with selling pens that don't write well out of the box. But then again for most people, fountain pens are not so much writing utensils than accessories, so unless enough people start complaining pen companies won't improve their game. Also, the writing experience is so personal that what works for one person may not work for another. Hence the need and demand for nibmeisters.

 

Unlike my other Sailors (Sailor 1911 Sterling Silver with Naginata-Togi Broad nib, Kanreki Pro-Gear with Fine nib), my KOP did not write well out of the box. I sent it back to the store, where they exchanged the nib and even tested it in store for me. The nib exchange didn't help, so I sent the pen off to get tuned. Nowadays I buy a pen from a nibmeister or factor in the cost of a nib tuning in a pen purchase. If you bought your KOP new, you could send it back to the store (to have it sent to Sailor Japan), Itoya USA (pay a service fee, I think), or simply send it to a nibmeister. Mike Masuyama used to work at Sailor and should be able to tune it for you (disclaimer: no affiliations etc.).

 

Fantastic comparative review! Thank you much.

 

You're welcome! I'm happy that you enjoyed reading it.

 

Fantastic review, thank you very much for it, and the GREAT photos.

I have the Emperor, and love writing with it. I have very large hands, and the pen (unposted of course) is very comfortable to write with.

Mine has a factory B nib that was stubbed by a top-notch nibmesiter. Stubs and CI's are my preferred nibs, so the Emperor is pretty much "the perfect pen."

 

Regards, greg

 

Glad you enjoyed the review and photos, and happy writing with your stubbed Emperor!

Edited by shuuemura
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  • 2 months later...

Just an addendum to my original review above:

 

I thought people might be interested to know the outcome of my endeavour to get my Yukari Royale in Vermilion (pictured above) replaced under warranty from Pilot USA because of several issues out of the box (i.e. hard-starting, ink starvation after half a page of writing with the original broad nib, and barrel/cap thread seizure.)

 

It took five months and many emails, but they finally gave in and replaced the entire pen without any cost to me. Because I specifically asked Pilot to colour-match the vermilion shade of the replacement Yukari Royale to my Emperor, these two pens look great together as a pair. The medium nib on the replacement pen writes beautifully as well, no ink starvation issues. Patience and persistence paid off in the end!

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  • 1 year later...

I returned to re-read this review after having, within the last year, acquired the Custom 845 in Vermilion with a Waverley nib, the Yukari Royale Vermilion with a medium nib, and the Emperor Vermilion No. 50 with a medium nib. I just took delivery of the Emperor from John Mottishaw and have not had an opportunity to ink it, but the other two are a joy to use. Thanks for such a great review and such wonderful photos.

Rationalizing pen and ink purchases since 1967.

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  • 3 years later...

What a great review!! Thanks for sharing all this info with us.

Edited by John-XXII

Namiki Yukari Maki-e Zodiac Horse 1st edition, by Masaru Hayashi 林胜 | Namiki Yukari Royale Vermillon Urushi No. 20 | Pelikan M1000 | Montblanc WE 2004 Franz Kafka LE | Montblanc POA 2018 Homage to Ludwig II LE 4810 | Montblanc POA Joseph II 2012 LE 4810 | Montblanc 146 75th Anniversary SE | Montblanc Meisterstück Great Masters James Purdey & Sons SE | Montblanc 118232 Heritage Collection Rouge et Noir Spider Metamorphosis SE Coral | Montblanc 10575 Meisterstück Gold 149 | Montblanc 114229 Meisterstück Platinum 149 | Montblanc 111043 John F. Kennedy LE 1917 Rollerball | Montblanc 116258 The Beatles SE Ballpoint | Montblanc 114723 Heritage Collection Rouge et Noir SE Rollerball | Montblanc Meisterstück Platinum-Coated Classique Ballpoint |

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