I read a book recently on algorithms, and it discussed a category of problems called “optimal stopping”. Optimal stopping is all about finding out when to, well, stop in a pursuit.
How many candidates do you interview for a job before making an offer? How many new restaurants in a city do you try before you start going back to old favourites? How many parking spaces do you pass on your way to a destination before grabbing one? How many people do you date before you settle down?
(It turns out that, given certain conditions, the answer is about 37% of the total pool).
So here’s one: how many fountain pens do you buy and sell before you decide you’ve found the best you’re gonna get?
I’m not sure of the number — I’ve bought and sold well over 100 pens — but I feel I may have found the highest peak yet in this journey with the Namiki Urushi 20.
I ran a little experiment just now, writing a paragraph with about a dozen different pens from my collection.
This one is good, but feels a bit light and plasticky, nib is a little dry.
This one is better, but I can feel the closure mechanism under the fingers because the section is too short.
This one takes too many turns to get the cap off.
This one is great, nice section, but it’s a bit long, I can feel the weight pulling at the end of the pen.
This one is a bit narrow, I can feel my fingers pinching around the section.
This one is comfortable to hold, but has just a bit too much feedback in the nib.
And then I pick up the Yukari Royale, and I genuinely wouldn’t change a thing about the way it writes, or the way it feels in the hand. The comfort is simply perfect.
That’s kind of a spoiler, but bear with me.
The nib is a #6, which isn’t huge, but it’s long enough to keep my fingers away from the page.
The section is just sublime: big enough, long enough, curved enough; threads soft and well out of the way. I feel relaxed and in control.
The pen sits with enough weight to be solid, but not so much to be noticed with every word. It’s long enough to be comfortable but nothing feels pendulous.
And when time comes to write, the nib has cushioning and flows without hesitation. It’s smooth but not overpolished, wet but not a gusher, springy but not mushy.
It’s not just the comfort and the writing. In nearly all other respects it’s perfect, too. Sure, it uses the abominable CON-70 (the hardest-to-clean converter in the world), but as long as I don’t change inks frequently that’s no bother.
The urushi is flawless, simply flawless. The shape is so minimalist as to be zen. The clip is architectural.
The threads are secure but easy to open. The brass beneath the urushi adds mass and coolness, which gradually warms to your hand.
It is exactly the right length, exactly the right diameter, exactly the right weight, exactly the right proportions (for me, at least).
To the point where I have started to look at most of the other pens I own in a new light.
I don’t love them any less — they all bring something different to the party and I enjoy the variety of using different pens — but suddenly they look less assured, less complete, more like a version 1.0 release, a sketch of a masterpiece from memory.
When you think about it, this is a staggering achievement for Namiki. I still hold my breath just a little when I uncap it and put pen to paper, afraid to break the spell.
I said nearly perfect. There’s a kind of soft flocked liner to the cap to stop it scratching the barrel, and who knows how long that will hold up.
The colour of the red plastic feed looks a bit half-arsed.
And yeah, the CON-70.
But where it counts, the Urushi 20 is just absolutely, totally, utterly sublime, and I’d have to be on the verge of losing my house to sell it.
How’s that for an endorsement?