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"Quality" of Urushi Lacquer



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CityPop

Hello FPN,


I am wondering if someone can provide some information regarding the various qualities of urushi lacquer available? I am primarily wondering how the same tamenuri finishes can command various different prices in the market. For example, Nakaya or Wancher's tamenuri finishes can be had for ~600/300 USD respectively, while the same(to my ignorant self) finish can be found on Sailor's KOP or Danitrio pens for 2000 USD (or more). Danitrio's explanation often involves "true Japanese lacquer" as a justification for the price, as compared to synthetic or Chinese lacquer. I understand that the urushi lacquer comes from the same species of tree across Asia. Is there a drastic difference between the quality of the tamenuri/urushi finishes between these brands, or is this have to do more with clever marketing?

 

No offense is meant to any of these brands, this is simply a question intended to increase my knowledge of the Urushi lacquer process.

 

Cheers!

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Karmachanic

 

Chateau Margaux or Mouton Cadet

Maseratti or Mazda.

Rolex or Timex

MB146 or Pilot 74

 

Like that.

"Simplicate and add Lightness."

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liubrian

Sample size of one, so don't take this as gospel, but I did have the chance to compare a Wancher Dream Pen side by side against my Nakaya Decapod a while back.  I recall the differences were something like:

 

- Viewed from a distance, there is essentially no difference

- Viewed up close, particularly under a loupe, the Wancher finish is a little rough on corners, and has noticeable tiny bubbles where the Nakaya has none.

- The Nakaya feels a bit smoother in the hand.

- The Nakaya has urushi on the threads while the Wancher doesn't, though Nakaya also does cheaper versions without urushi threads.

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Nurmister

Here's a recent thread kind of related to what you're asking:

 

 

In summary, yes, it seems to be about the "purity" of the lacquer.

 

The topside of a nib is its face, the underside its soul (user readytotalk)

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MartinPauli

URUSHI

Over 90% of all Urushi processes in Japan is of Chinese origin, a portion processed and refined in Japan. Chinese Urushi is 10 times cheaper than Japanese. Both lacquers, Chinese as well as Japanese are almost the same quality.

 

Chinese urushi smells sourish while Japanese urushi smells sweet. The reason is the different way of harvesting. In Japan the tree is cut on only sunny days and the sap is collected immediately. In China the sap is collected at any weather condition. The tree is cut and a shell is positioned under the cut to hold the sap. The shells are collected in the evening or a day later. The sap while remaining in the shell for longer time is contaminated by dust and insects and a sort of fermentation has taken place. As a result, Japanese urushi is much more transparent than Chinese.

 

TENBIKUROME

The collected sap or raw lacquer is called "Ki-Urushi". In a next step it is cleaned and refined by a process called "Tenbikurome"

 

Here, the raw lacquer is poured into a wooden tub. The wooden tub is placed at an angle and turned towards the sun. The raw lacquer is moved rhythmically for hours with a squeegee. This removes water from the raw lacquer and the sunlight causes a chemical change in the lacquer structure. The result is the best quality of lacquer called Sugurome Urushi, ready to be used in natural state for Tamenuri or mixed with pigments

 

Some of my extremely traditional and picky Japanese urushi lacquer friends further on keep the processed "Sukurome Urushi" in a container for many years. Over the years, segments are formed, at the top the most liquid, finest and most transparent quality with the highest content of urushiol. In the middle we find a good quality of lacquer, which is used for the middle layers. the sediment contains little urushiol and is used for the foundations. Thee sediment cures within shortest time, the top segment is fragile and difficult to cure but once cured the layer becomes extremely hard, close to glass.

The Urushi I am currently using was collected in 1997.

 

PROCESSING

Small lacquer studios use brushes to apply the lacquer. in the larger industry Urushi is sprayed on the objects. For simple and cheap Urushi products, the common and official term "Urushi" is 10% Urushi to 90% chemicals. For better quality, double Urushi means 20% urushi to 80% chemicals.

 

PRICE STRUCTURE

Regarding the price structures we have to taken into consideration the distribution stages and other aspects like Marketing.

 

The big brands invest in Public Relation, Name Calling activities and advertising and sell their brand and Products to distributors in the various countries, the distributors promote and sell to retailers and retailers advertise and sell to end consumer. I am not familiar with the margin structure ion the pen industry but I can tell you how prices are formed in the watch industry. The common calculation is: Production Cost x 15 = retail price. In Jewelry business (for example Cartier) the calculation is up to PC x 25-RP

Companies like Hakase or Wancher for example sell directly to customers. So there are differences

 

We know the effect of good marketing. As we know from social science, 90% of consumers buy brand-oriented. Only a few people with strong self-confidence also see other purchase options.

 

So it is nothing but fair that those who consume brand-oriented also pay the marketing costs for their beloved brand product.

 

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Nurmister
28 minutes ago, MartinPauli said:

URUSHI

 

Over 90% of all Urushi processes in Japan is of Chinese origin, a portion processed and refined in Japan. Chinese Urushi is 10 times cheaper than Japanese. Both lacquers, Chinese as well as Japanese are almost the same quality.

 

 

 

Chinese urushi smells sourish while Japanese urushi smells sweet. The reason is the different way of harvesting. In Japan the tree is cut on only sunny days and the sap is collected immediately. In China the sap is collected at any weather condition. The tree is cut and a shell is positioned under the cut to hold the sap. The shells are collected in the evening or a day later. The sap while remaining in the shell for longer time is contaminated by dust and insects and a sort of fermentation has taken place. As a result, Japanese urushi is much more transparent than Chinese.

 

 

 

TENBIKUROME

 

The collected sap or raw lacquer is called "Ki-Urushi". In a next step it is cleaned and refined by a process called "Tenbikurome"

 

 

 

Here, the raw lacquer is poured into a wooden tub. The wooden tub is placed at an angle and turned towards the sun. The raw lacquer is moved rhythmically for hours with a squeegee. This removes water from the raw lacquer and the sunlight causes a chemical change in the lacquer structure. The result is the best quality of lacquer called Sugurome Urushi, ready to be used in natural state for Tamenuri or mixed with pigments

 

 

 

Some of my extremely traditional and picky Japanese urushi lacquer friends further on keep the processed "Sukurome Urushi" in a container for many years. Over the years, segments are formed, at the top the most liquid, finest and most transparent quality with the highest content of urushiol. In the middle we find a good quality of lacquer, which is used for the middle layers. the sediment contains little urushiol and is used for the foundations. Thee sediment cures within shortest time, the top segment is fragile and difficult to cure but once cured the layer becomes extremely hard, close to glass.

 

The Urushi I am currently using was collected in 1997.

 

 

 

PROCESSING

 

Small lacquer studios use brushes to apply the lacquer. in the larger industry Urushi is sprayed on the objects. For simple and cheap Urushi products, the common and official term "Urushi" is 10% Urushi to 90% chemicals. For better quality, double Urushi means 20% urushi to 80% chemicals.

 

 

 

PRICE STRUCTURE

 

Regarding the price structures we have to taken into consideration the distribution stages and other aspects like Marketing.

 

 

 

The big brands invest in Public Relation, Name Calling activities and advertising and sell their brand and Products to distributors in the various countries, the distributors promote and sell to retailers and retailers advertise and sell to end consumer. I am not familiar with the margin structure ion the pen industry but I can tell you how prices are formed in the watch industry. The common calculation is: Production Cost x 15 = retail price. In Jewelry business (for example Cartier) the calculation is up to PC x 25-RP

 

 

Companies like Hakase or Wancher for example sell directly to customers. So there are differences

 

 

 

We know the effect of good marketing. As we know from social science, 90% of consumers buy brand-oriented. Only a few people with strong self-confidence also see other purchase options.

 

 

 

So it is nothing but fair that those who consume brand-oriented also pay the marketing costs for their beloved brand product.

 

 

 

 

This is great information. Is there somewhere I can read more?

 

The topside of a nib is its face, the underside its soul (user readytotalk)

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Drawing61

Thank you for the information.

Love all, trust a few, do harm to none. Shakespeare

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CityPop

Thank you everyone for your detailed replies. I found all of these resources very interesting, especially the thread re: urushi retrieval in Japan, as well as Mr. Pauli's website. I really appreciate it!

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GoofyGame
On 4/24/2021 at 6:24 PM, MartinPauli said:

URUSHI

 

Over 90% of all Urushi processes in Japan is of Chinese origin, a portion processed and refined in Japan. Chinese Urushi is 10 times cheaper than Japanese. Both lacquers, Chinese as well as Japanese are almost the same quality.

 

 

 

Chinese urushi smells sourish while Japanese urushi smells sweet. The reason is the different way of harvesting. In Japan the tree is cut on only sunny days and the sap is collected immediately. In China the sap is collected at any weather condition. The tree is cut and a shell is positioned under the cut to hold the sap. The shells are collected in the evening or a day later. The sap while remaining in the shell for longer time is contaminated by dust and insects and a sort of fermentation has taken place. As a result, Japanese urushi is much more transparent than Chinese.

 

 

 

TENBIKUROME

 

The collected sap or raw lacquer is called "Ki-Urushi". In a next step it is cleaned and refined by a process called "Tenbikurome"

 

 

 

Here, the raw lacquer is poured into a wooden tub. The wooden tub is placed at an angle and turned towards the sun. The raw lacquer is moved rhythmically for hours with a squeegee. This removes water from the raw lacquer and the sunlight causes a chemical change in the lacquer structure. The result is the best quality of lacquer called Sugurome Urushi, ready to be used in natural state for Tamenuri or mixed with pigments

 

 

 

Some of my extremely traditional and picky Japanese urushi lacquer friends further on keep the processed "Sukurome Urushi" in a container for many years. Over the years, segments are formed, at the top the most liquid, finest and most transparent quality with the highest content of urushiol. In the middle we find a good quality of lacquer, which is used for the middle layers. the sediment contains little urushiol and is used for the foundations. Thee sediment cures within shortest time, the top segment is fragile and difficult to cure but once cured the layer becomes extremely hard, close to glass.

 

The Urushi I am currently using was collected in 1997.

 

 

 

PROCESSING

 

Small lacquer studios use brushes to apply the lacquer. in the larger industry Urushi is sprayed on the objects. For simple and cheap Urushi products, the common and official term "Urushi" is 10% Urushi to 90% chemicals. For better quality, double Urushi means 20% urushi to 80% chemicals.

 

 

 

PRICE STRUCTURE

 

Regarding the price structures we have to taken into consideration the distribution stages and other aspects like Marketing.

 

 

 

The big brands invest in Public Relation, Name Calling activities and advertising and sell their brand and Products to distributors in the various countries, the distributors promote and sell to retailers and retailers advertise and sell to end consumer. I am not familiar with the margin structure ion the pen industry but I can tell you how prices are formed in the watch industry. The common calculation is: Production Cost x 15 = retail price. In Jewelry business (for example Cartier) the calculation is up to PC x 25-RP

 

 

Companies like Hakase or Wancher for example sell directly to customers. So there are differences

 

 

 

We know the effect of good marketing. As we know from social science, 90% of consumers buy brand-oriented. Only a few people with strong self-confidence also see other purchase options.

 

 

 

So it is nothing but fair that those who consume brand-oriented also pay the marketing costs for their beloved brand product.

 

 

 

 

Hello again Martin!

 

I like lacquer, marketing and social sciences, but your explanation is very the position of a manager or a profitable person, not a consumer or an expert.

 

Your explanation is like...Selling a steel nib pen as a gold nib pen is taken for granted as a brand fee. However, for current lacquer products have main problems, it is similar to the analogy of selling the same pelican steel nib as the same pelican gold nib. In other words, the fundamental problem of lacquer products does not match the analogy of brand fees. Please understand that the general perception of lacquer mixed with artificial paints is an old perception of the Japanese economy in the 1980s and 1990s. It is a story of an era when mass production and high sales were carried out regardless of quality. I  mean , The problem of  lacquer and branding fees is quite different in nature.

 

Your opinion would have been accepted three years ago. However, the regulations regarding lacquer have become stricter now. As you say, until now, if even 1% of lacquer was included, it was unofficially recognized as lacquer notation. The problem of lacquer should be understood even more when considering the margin.

 

 I don`t believe why you who you know the basics of lacquer don`t have  a sense of crisis that , but I think it`s more problem that  you  affirm the high-priced sales of synthetic lacquer together with management and social science.

 

Best regards

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Another aspect to consider for prices is how many layers are done.  Each layer has to dry for a certain amount of time.  Some of the Namiki pens can take several months to be made because of this.  Other aspects probably would be who worked on the pen.  A top level master artist probably gets paid more than the lower levels ones.  And I'm sure there are various other variables.

But I also wonder about the pricing structures.  I have a pair of chopsticks that look like it has radan with gold dust under some lacquer.  But I'm no expert.  Could be plastic!  :)  Don't think the things were that expensive.  Hope not because I've been using them on a regular basis for about a decade without any thoughts of being careful with them.  :)  

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jandrese

Generally, in life you get what you pay for. Not always, but often. This is true in urushi pens. I collect many brands of urushi and maki-e pens. I also collect natsume and jubako, that is, tea caddies and food containers and I've got some amazing pieces. Oh, and koshirae or the clothing of Japanese swords. That is, I'm a bit of an urushi nut and in my opinion my opinion matters a bit.

 

Urushi comes in grades. Urushi comes from different countries. Urushi from different countries comes in different grades. Long story short, the "best" urushi comes from Japan and the best of the best is in short supply and costs more money. What does best mean? Purest? Superior color and consistency? Easiest to work with? Fastest cure? Could mean many things. Let's assume it means that the best of the best produces superior results in the hands of someone skilled enough to make full use of the material. 

 

That brings up another huge factor, the craftsman and/or the factory process. The most skilled, the best educated, the most creative, the most recognized, are worth more. Combine material and craftsman quality and you get a more expensive product. Of course, artists, and urushi makers, and shipping companies, and apprentices have bad days just like the rest of us... Speaking of Danitrio their explanation only partly describes the differences. Better material that is more costly, yes, but more valuable artists too. That can lead to superior results where the money lies in the subtle features, the artistic interpretation, and other fuzzy things. You have to train yourself to perceive the differences.

 

Regarding tamenuri, it took me a long time to see the differences. Now I'm pretty good at spotting quality stuff but I have room for improvement. Cutting to the chase, with tamenuri you get what you pay for. That means you can rank order the quality based on the price of the product. For example, and in general: Wancher, Nakaya, Taccia, Sailor, Danitrio. Cannot include Western urushi artists. They don't produce anything like Japanese work so they just are not comparable. This does not mean I don't enjoy my Wancher pens, or my silk screened Platinum urushi pens, but to suggest they are top quality ignores some basic economics.

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