I agonised about this purchase more than any I can remember.
So it was with some trepidation that I collected the box containing my Sailor Pro Gear from my local Parcelforce depot (I chalked the painful customs import fee up to experience — most of the time I get away with it when I order from Japan).
What was it that made me hesitate over the “buy” button for so long?
Two things, essentially.
1: Mixed reviews of Sailor nibs.
Spend enough time on pen forums and you’ll read about how Sailor nibs are silky smooth, or how they’ve got a pencil-like feedback and are distinctly not smooth.
You’ll read how they’re flexible or hard as a nail, or that the 14k versions are great, or that no, the 21k versions are better. And good luck trying to get consensus about line widths.
Some people become Sailor addicts and won’t use anything else; others simply can’t get on with the nibs and sell them in short order.
Given how much I love my Pilot and Platinum nibs, would I be pushing my luck? Would I find that I was Sailor-incompatible too?
2: Price to get the version I wanted.
You can pick up Sailor Pro Gear Slims for about 70 quid; a little more than the equivalent Pilot or Platinum 14k pens, but still reasonable. But I’ve fallen in love with large nibs and was worried that the narrower sections of the Slims would leave me wanting more. So I set my sights on the full size Pro Gear (and let me tell you, navigating the Sailor portfolio on Japlish websites is quite the challenge, between the 1911s and the Realos, Pro Gears and Pro Gear II / Sigmas, Slims and Sapporos, not to mention all the shop special editions).
The Pro Gear ticked a lot of my boxes: #6-sized 21k nib (I’ve owned plenty of 14k and one 18k, but never a 21k). Flat ends instead of old-style cigar. Fat section. Rhodium trim. And I specifically decided that I liked the “original” Pro Gear rather than the II / Sigma, with its oafish bloated clip.
Unfortunately, the Pro Gear is not nearly so common on sites like J-Subculture and Rakuten as the various Pilot and Platinum models. And where it is available, it’s often in gold trim or priced at 150 pounds or even higher.
Then I found one that with shipping included came at 115 quid. And I put myself out of my misery and ordered. Medium nib in the hope of getting something smooth, with personality, yet still fine enough for my Hobonichi.
So what’s it like?
Well, it’s a black-and-rhodium Japanese pen. It looks pretty boring.
But… I was struck by how much smaller the Pro Gear is than I was expecting. It’s very short, so when you see photos you mentally scale it up and expect it to be fat. Actually the section is much like that on my Pilot 912. So the Pro Gear is actually just compact, and the nib seems like a normal size. Maybe I need to spring for a King of Pen eventually to get that big hand-feel.
The nib is gorgeous, though. It’s two-tone, well decorated, and has incredibly graceful lines. Nib creep shows off the decoration beautifully.
There was no converter in the huge box (WTF, Sailor?!), so I loaded one of the included black cartridges and held my breath before putting the controversial nib to the paper.
And let out a sigh of relief.
The medium nib is nice and wet. Good flow. Smooth in all directions. No scratchy, toothy feeling that I was fearing. A little audible feedback that, indeed, sounds a little like a pencil on the page.
There’s significant line variation with pressure — although I’m aware that 21k nibs are easy to spring so I stopped experimenting pretty quickly. More interestingly, there’s significant line variation with angle. Sailor’s known for its Zoom nib and Naginata Togi, which are designed for just this effect, but I didn’t expect it on a standard medium nib. Laying the pen down to a lower angle from the page produces a noticeably thicker line.
The Pro Gear is a light pen, particularly unposted and with a cartridge installed instead of a converter. Because it’s so short, and smooth and wet, it can feel a little skittish and my writing does not look at its best. Maybe I need to get used to it.
I’d say that fit and finish is roughly equal to my Pilot pens.
For the good, there’s an O-ring where the barrel screws on to the section. The cap threads and barrel step are very rounded and comfortable. There are no casting lines anywhere (looking at you, Platinum 3776).
For the slightly less good, the engraving on the cap band is exactly like the Platinum 3776… it’s shallow and characterless compared to the filled-in text on the Pilot 912. The clip is uninspiring, with visible fold gaps at the tip.
The Pro Gear turned out not to be as grand in the hand as I hoped. But it also turned out not to be as painful to write with as I feared. As with most Japanese pens, the nib is the star of the show, with the rest of the pen basically an afterthought.
This nib is beautiful, wet, and writes an interesting line. It’s amazing — and addicting, let’s be honest — that something so tiny as a dot of metal conveying a line of liquid to a surface can feel so different, and inspire such emotional reactions in us.
The emotions I’m feeling from the Sailor are overwhelmingly positive. I can’t wait until my converter arrives so I can try out some different inks!
Note: photos to come!