Pen enthusiasts familiar with Namiki fountain pens appreciate the aesthetic beauty of these spectacular writing instruments identified by their smooth, lacquered exteriors and beautifully detailed imagery.
A mark of Japanese traditional culture and craftsmanship, artisans meticulously crafted each pen using the art of Japanese maki-e — meaning “sprinkled picture” — the same age-old technique developed around 1,500 years ago to create traditional lacquerware. Typically, it involves using a fine brush to paint a picture with lacquer on a vessel's surface, then sprinkling gold powder on the surface before it dries, creating a design.
Every Namiki is designed to last through the generations. The nibs — produced by Japanese pen manufacturer Pilot Corporation — are tipped with iridium, notable for their hardness, corrosion resistance, and rarity. On paper, the nib allows for a constant flow of ink without bleeding and gives us a smooth writing experience without scratchiness. The more you use it, the softer the glide and richer the ink flow.
Every Namiki holds an intrinsic value that appreciates over time. Introduced to the world as a brand on its own in 1994 by the Pilot Corporation, the first limited edition was The Namiki White Tiger, then sold for US$1,500. In 2012, it was resold in the open market for S$18,000. In 2000, an Emperor Double Dragon limited edition pen was sold for US$20,000 to mark the Year of the Dragon. You will find bids for this starting from US$50,000 ($71,016) on eBay today.
Because of their rarity, quality and value, Namiki limited editions can often be priced into the tens of thousands, depending on the maki-e techniques used. Despite the price, these pens are coveted by avid collectors, many of whom are from Singapore, says Pilot Pen Singapore’s general manager Benjamin Teh.
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Namiki offers seven essential collections of fountain pens. The crème de la crème is the Emperor collection which features a size number 50 (Jumbo) pen nib — the same size as the large maki-e fountain pen created about 100 years ago.
The trademark Togidashi Taka Maki-e (Burnished raised maki-e) design is crafted on smooth ebonite, made through a process of vulcanising rubber using specific chemicals to make the rubber permanently hard and plastic-like. The result is a comfortable material with smooth finishing that is super lightweight, strong and easy to maintain.
Like a car or watch, Teh strongly recommends collectors use their pens regularly to maintain their premium quality. “Namiki pens are made to be used and enjoyed. If you use it frequently, the exterior will be more lustrous and antique-looking.”
Homage to the African elephant
Namiki introduced its brightest and boldest limited edition Emperor pen this month, with only 99 pieces available worldwide. Swathed in burnish sunset tones, the Namiki Elephant is an ode to the South African elephant, an emperor in its own right, and the plains in which it lives.
Priced at $16,000, this work of art features a more complex form of lacquering called Shishiai Togidashi-Taka Maki-e (combined raised and burnished maki-e), which gives the elephant a rough real-feel texture. If you look closely, micro bits of mother-of-pearl are expertly sprinkled on specific areas, like the trees and elephant skin, to give the pen an iridescent quality.
Unlike most other maki-e creations — which predominantly use gold powders set against a black backdrop — this full-colour creation presents a gradation of burnishing tones to depict a sunset scene on the African Savannah.
At the bottom of the pen’s vest, you will also find an image of an egret, a bird with a symbiotic relationship with elephants. The birds eat the parasites that live on the elephants’ skin, and in return, the elephants reciprocate by protecting the egrets from predators.
All Namiki maki-e pens are individually handcrafted by master Japanese artists who form the Kokkokai (meaning National Light Society), an elite group led by artisan Gonroku Matsuda (1896–1986) alongside Pilot’s founder Ryosuke Namiki.
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The Namiki Elephant is the brainchild of maki-e artisan Mamoru Wakabayashi, who is one of only 19 Kokkokai craftsmen under the Pilot group. It was designed not just as a highly-prized collector’s item but to spread the message of environmental and animal conservation.
“Recently, elephants on the African Savannah have been threatened with extinction due to poaching and habitat loss. It is heartbreaking that humans have influenced the ecology of elephants in this manner,” says Teh.
“For the future, it is imperative to think of ways to protect these noble animals and prevent environmental destruction. The artisan painted this elephant hoping that the situation would improve.”
The Namiki Elephant (launching Oct 15) comes packaged together with a bottle of ink in a dark wood gift box made with a waterproof coating to preserve the pen's integrity.