The first thing I should tell you about this three-pen fountain pen case from Orange Leatherworks is that it costs 649 CAD, or about £390. That’s before shipping and import duties.
This is unashamedly a luxury item, but a luxury item by the purest and least vulgar definition: an item that’s made with no expense spared, to be the best it can be. Nabil, the one man band behind Orange, has done an amazing job building the company’s new website, and it’s worth a read, because it explains better than I can (with better photography, too) the insane attention to detail behind the choice of leather and thread, the placement of every stitch, the processes for burnishing every edge. You get what you pay for.
And really, I can’t fault a single thing about this case’s execution. True to his word, Nabil has placed every stitch perfectly. The edges are glassy smooth. All the pieces of leather are cut perfectly to size. This is a heavy, solid case that is undoubtedly made to heirloom standards — and styled with a timeless traditional aesthetic that’s at home on a mahogany desk or in a well-worn briefcase.
But if you’re buying it as a product to use, rather than a piece of art to examine, you’ll want to know what it’s like to put pens in and, you know, actually carry about. And here there are some considerations and challenges you should be aware of, depending on which pens you want to carry and how you like to carry them.
First things first: unless you like Danitrios and Emperors, you won’t have to worry about size.
Montblanc 149s and Sailor King of Pens fit in the three slots just fine, and when you close the case, the tongue of the flap follows the outline of the shell perfectly, sealing the contents away.
But if you do happen to like very chunky or long pens, there’s no give in this case’s construction at all; the leather is as rigid as it gets, both in terms of the outer walls and the divided tray insert that defines the slots.
You’ll also note that, while the outside panels of the shell feel cushioned, there is no padding whatsoever on the inside of this case.
It’s the exact opposite of Rickshaw’s plush Coozy. The protection in the Orange case is provided by fixing each pen in position using its clip, which you must slide over a channel cut into the leather fronting each slot. When in place, the pens are firmly held.
I had some issues with this design, however. First and foremost, it’s useless for clipless pens like my Otto Hutt designC or Lamy dialog CC. Clipless pens drop to the bottom of the cavernous slots and rattle around against the unpadded sides. And even clipped pens caused me issue: I struggled to get them out. Take a design like the King of Pen, for example. Its tight flat clip almost perfectly fills the recessed channel, so you have to dig in a fingertip to push it out from the bottom. If that doesn’t work, you’ll find that this case’s high, rigid shoulders leave little room to get your fingers in and grap the end of the cap, especially when a pen has a glossy domed end and when there are other pens either side. It’s quite a struggle to get any purchase to remove the pen from its secure slot. Even a smaller pen with a skinnier clip and squarer end, like the Onoto Scholar, fares the same, as these pictures illustrate.
Even pulling out the insert tray doesn’t help much, because said tray has no bottom. It just comes out, leaving the three pens in place.
Lastly, while the leather for these three channels is thin, it’s certainly not as thin as a shirt pocket material, for example. I worry about loosening tight clips over time, although I’m sure this is unfounded anxiety talking. Conversely, I also worry about sharp or tight clips deforming the leather of the channels; already after just light use there’s some discolouration and compression visible — although I should say that’s the only noticeable wear on the case.
The final thing to be aware of is that this case has presence. It is heavy, it is rigid, the flap and its retaining loop protrude. It has very square corners.
It’s not the kind of case that you can squeeze into a pocket of a fully loaded bag next to your notebook.
In case you hadn’t guessed already, this Orange Leatherworks design is not a fit for how I personally use a pen case. I have several clipless pens and even where my pens have clips, I don’t have a habit of using them. I like to feel that my pens are cossetted in soft, padded fabric, and to be able to squeeze or tip them out when I need them fast. In short, take a look at my default three-pen case, the Nock Sinclair; it’s the antithesis of this case.
And believe me, I’m deeply disappointed that I can’t make this case work for me. It’s gorgeous. It’s impossible not to be impressed by what Nabil has done here. This case is a pinnacle of craftsmanship, one that I’m sure will look barely broken in by the time other cases are threadbare. And if you are used to clipping your pens on pen loops, suit pockets, and the pen slots in your bag (as many people are) getting used to this case design will be no bother.
Lastly, on the price. I’ll stand up for Nabil here, knowing how much time, effort and love goes in to every step of his work. Quality shines through, and quality costs money. There’s no shortcut when you’re using the best sustainable leather, and handstitching hundreds of threads to this level.
Orange Leatherworks approached me and sent me this case for free to review. You can get yours made to your exact specifications — colour, number of slots, size — right here.