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A tribute to a craft

Audrey Simon
Audrey Simon • 3 min read
A tribute to a craft
The art of making a fountain pen using ancient techniques are found in the Emperor collection
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The art of making a fountain pen using ancient techniques are found in the Emperor collection

Japanese folklore tells of a romantic tale of a mythical bird the Rakucho that lives in paradise, spending their time serenading their female counterpart. The birds mate for life and live a long and happy union.

This tale of true love is interpreted in the Emperor Collection: The Rakucho Birds and the Weeping Cherry Blossom. This beautifully handcrafted pen depicts, in amazing detail, two birds living among the cherry blossoms in paradise.

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To do this, craftsmen at Namiki by Pilot Pen use a variety of traditional techniques. The background design uses Oh-hi-nuri to paint the bark of the cherry blossoms; mother-of-pearl of Raden is used for the petals and Taka Maki-e is used for the cherry blooms and for the Rakucho birds.

Oh-hi-nuri is a new technique that is a form of the Kawari-nuri method which is a type of lacquer that uses layers to create textures of contrasting colours. The layers are then sanded down to give it a smooth yet textured pattern.

Raden or mother-of-pearl is a more commonly used method in luxury items such as timepieces and jewelry. For this pen, the iridescent lining of the Yaku shell of the pearl oyster or abalone. The method used to pre- pare the shell is by punching the shell with a special tool to seep acid into the shell. After which the shell is broken into pieces and assembled on the pen via a method known as burying the shell onto the surface of the lacquer. The surface area is then polished down to give it a smooth polished finish.

Finally, Taka Maki-e can be described as an embossed design. The technique features a raised relief using lacquer and charcoal powder combined in a complicated Japanese ancient method to create a beautiful decorative lacquer design. Do note that there are numerous types of Maki-e such as hira-maki-e, togidashi-maki-e, taka-maki-e, shisai-togidashi-maki-e and ji-maki.

Lacquer is an important part of the design for the Emperor collection. History has it that in the early days, a material known as ebonite — a mixture of rubber

Taka Maki-e features a raised relief using lacquer and charcoal powder and sulphur — was used for the cap and barrel of the fountain pen. Ebonite, while durable, was lacking in aesthetics as it was deemed not shiny enough. Hence, lacquer was used to replace ebonite.

While the techniques used are mind-boggling, so are the instruments needed to achieve the final results. As these are done by hand, specially made chisels are used so that the master craftsman can carry out his work with ease to navigate the curves as the design requires it. Other carving tools are also specially designed to meet all types of intricate designs.

It is not easy to be a master craftsman as it takes years to master the art. As an apprentice, you will first learn about the tools — how to use, sharpen and store them. The apprentice also had to do chores such as sweeping and tidying up the work areas.

After mastering this, the apprentice is given an art piece to copy and is then corrected by the master. The apprentice will go through many rigorous rounds of learning from senior apprentices and will only be taught by the master after he has produced good work consistently. It takes three years of apprenticeship before he moves to senior apprentice.

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