Ultem and Urushi

Fountain pens, let’s be honest, are a headfuck. Even after all these years, I can order a pen I think will be incredible and find it mildly disappointing, or take a chance on a pen I don’t think I’ll much like, and fall unexpectedly in love. And, just as curiously, I can receive two utterly different pens within days of each other, and find myself appreciating them equally.

Such has been the story of the last two additions to my pen tray. They could not have more different stories.

If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that I am a fan of Nakaya, and the Dorsal Fin 2 is the closest I have to a grail pen nowadays. Well, several months ago I got the nod from Cat at Sakura Fountain Pen Gallery that one was coming, and finally last week it arrived and was mine. Ruthenium fine nib. Heki-tamenuri finish.

I had been waiting for this pen for so long that I almost didn’t know what to think or feel when it arrived. I’d built up such an expectation over literally years, and rather a lot of money… how can a pen, just a pen, live up to it? Peel back the wrapping paper. Gently lift the lid on the paulownia wood box. Reverently slide the pen from its ‘kimono’ sleeve. Fit it with its hand-decorated converter… it’s all too much to take in. This is a pen that makes you hold your breath.

But when I set my expectation aside, it’s rather nice. The katana-esque fins are tactile and unexpectedly sharp. The urushi has a mirror glow. The ruthenium nib… well, it needed a tweak for alignment to be honest, but now it’s nice and precise.

The heki finish is a mint-choc-chip combo, and in direct sunlight it suddenly glows.

The Dorsal is really very impressive. I haven’t fallen in love with it yet as I did my toki-tamenuri 17mm Cigar, but it may come in time. Until then, it’s the kind of pen you take a bit of care over. Treat it like a relic. Let it hold you to the standards of a more refined age. Pretend you’re a poet.

And then, the polar opposite. You may have spotted that I’ve left Instagram; well, I still check in periodically to see if anyone has DMd me. On one check, by lucky chance, I see that Ian Schon has announced a run of full-size fountain pens — in ultem, would you believe. Ultem is a wonder material that I remember fondly from the Kasama Una I used to own. It seemed like fate. So, I put the release date in my calendar and promptly bought one. It arrived via USPS in its unassuming box one day, and I inked it up with Montblanc Emerald (teal and amber, a perfect combo).

What a different pen. Small, bedecked with o-rings, impossibly light and surprisingly flimsy with thin-machined walls, minimal without clip or rollstop — yet a willing writer with a juicy M-grade JoWo steel nib.

It’s not a cheap pen like a Lamy Safari, but it’s distinctly cheap compared to a Nakaya Dorsal. This pen may be insubstantial, but Ultem is bomb-proof, and I am delighting in just using this pen, my forehead uncreased by worry.

I know it won’t leak, it’s miraculously comfortable like all Schons, and if anything awful happens, a quick rinse and a new nib screwed in and I’d be back in business. I love how, through the amber skin, the bones of the pen are visible. The threads, the machining marks, the converter: it’s all there on display.

This pen is modern, it’s simple, it’s a sigh of relief, an exhalation of the breath held for the Nakaya; a celebration of consistent machining instead of handcraft.

I often think that I’m done with new pens. I am well below 20 in my tray now, and I’m learning to appreciate more deeply the marvels I have here, from my first love of the Lamy 2000 to the shimmering Montblanc Martele, the arco bronze ASC, the mineral grey Leonardo Cuspide, the silver-ringed Sequoyah. As other more fleeting friendships have ended in a jiffy bag and a shipping label, these pens have endured; they are grown familiar to me, like family heirlooms. Picking them up for the nightly journalling session is like greeting an old friend.

But sometimes a new perspective helps open my eyes afresh. The rare urushi Dorsal 2 literally stands out in the pen tray, fighting back against cylindrical normality with its twin peaks, a high water mark of craft. The relentlessly functional Schon rejects aesthetics, yet literally glows amber in the afternoon sun angling through my window. Why do I do this? It’s all clear now.

15 thoughts on “Ultem and Urushi

  1. Great writing, as ever. These glorious new pens must have given inspiration and bought out the poet in you.
    I’d also suggest they have distracted you from your camera too, no picture? Ah well, I can imagine…

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  2. I really love your writing! The pens are nice, but I always enjoy the thought you put into structuring a piece. Describing the Schon as your exhale of the Nakaya made me smile!

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  3. Well-chosen words.

    One day I suppose I should be a permanent home for a Nakaya. Though perhaps not one with the cap threads I remember.

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  4. i have to admit that these are both not for me, but my goodness, do they tickle the senses. especially the dorsal fin 2’s shape (amazing in itself) with a lacquer treatment that exposes its depth like that.

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  5. HI Anthony, how are you finding the Ultem? I got on the wait-list for the 2nd batch and trying to decide if I’m going to go for it. Saw Aziza’s video and it looks pretty small and the posting looked awkward so not sure it’s going to work for my larger hands. Have you had any issues with the size?

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      • Yeah, that’s what I was thinking too. My current rotation is amusing, Santini Libra, Opus 88 Omar and Pelikan M800, not often that an M800 is the small pen in a group. Ultem is shorter than an uncapped M800 which is about as small as I can comfortably use so think I’ll pass on it.

        Thanks for the reply, hope you and the family are keeping well.

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