Pilot M90 – a modern icon

INTRODUCTION: The Pilot M90 is one of today’s most iconic fountain pens – a sleek vintage reissue from 2008 which commemorates 90 years of Pilot’s unrelenting technical mastery.

Five years on, as Pilot celebrates its 95th Anniversary with the release of the Justus 95 and Elite 95, the utilitarian M90 has cemented it’s place as a modern classic highly sought after by collectors.Pilot M90 (3)

The M90 was released in a seemingly large edition of 9000. That sounds like a pretty adequate number, but most pieces have been snapped up and the few that can be found on sale today list at multiples of the recommended retail price.

The Pilot M90 comes in a simple black box that bears the words “M90” and “LIMITED EDITION”. Opening the box, the Pilot logo is revealed on the bottom right corner of the lid. The pen itself sits gracefully in a black foam holder.

Below the pen lies an instruction booklet, a cartridge, as well as a translucent piece of paper with Japanese words printed on it.

Appearance & Design (10/10) – The Pilot M90 epitomises cutting edge. Made of an industrial grade stainless steel body and decorated with a brushed finish, the diminutive M90 is decorated with an attractive blue gem that adorns the top of its cap.Pilot M90 (14)

One reviewer called the M90 “A stylised, modern quill.” while another said “Every time I use this pen, even for the most mundane of purposes, my heart is lifted.” – with this, you can understand just how dear the pen is to so many people.

The Pilot M90 is a minimalist masterpiece that draws on the success of its predecessor, the MYU. The MYU 701 was first produced in 1971 and the larger Murex was released in the late 70’s to cater to users who preferred a larger pen.

The words “MYU” refer to the stainless steel pocket pens manufactured by Pilot in the 70’s and early 80’s according to Tokyo based Russ Stutler on his site chronicling the Tokyo Pen Scene. The M90 in my review is engraved with the date code 209″ meaning it was manufactured in February 2009.Pilot M90 (12)

The concept of the M90 is like no other – by utilising an integrated nib and grip, the pen does away with the need for a separate section – resulting in an unmistakable, seamless form from top to bottom that is uninterrupted by screw threads.

The only thing that detracts from the harmonious curves of the Pilot M90 is a metal ring with tabs that fasten onto the cap with a click. The ring does not affect writing performance when the pen is in use.

The cap of the M90 – like most pocket pens – is brilliantly constructed such that when posted, the short body of the pen becomes full length. This innovative design means that the pen fits perfectly in one’s pocket and becomes full length for comfortable writing.

Construction & Quality (9/10) – Less is more when it comes to the Pilot M90. The simple beauty of the M90 conceals the fact that it is a difficult pen to manufacture – as evidenced by Pilot’s reluctance to release the pen as a regular model. This is quite unsurprising given the extra attention required to construct a nib as one with the section.

The sturdy barrel of the M90 feels great in the hand and the lightly brushed texture helps with grip. The brushed texture also helps to conceal the scuff marks that will inevitably be left on the pen barrel by the constant posting and un-posting of the cap.

The cap is the most crucial part of the M90 because the pen is otherwise too short for comfortable writing. Fortunately, it posts really securely with a satisfying click and there is absolutely no movement.Pilot M90 (11)

The flawlessly manufactured Pilot M90 will definitely pass the test of time, just as it’s predecessor has shown. The MYU701 specimen I have in my drawer looks as good as it could ever have been back in the 70’s.

Weight & Dimensions (9/10) – The Pilot M90 is made of durable stainless steel. It is perfectly balanced in the hand when the cap is posted – just as it was designed to be. The pen does not feel top or bottom heavy and unlike plastic, it doesn’t feel cheap. That being said, the M90 is not a heavy pen at 26 grams.

The length of the pen when fully extended is just right for most people and here are some technical specifications for those who’d like to know:

Weight : 26 grams with converter

Length with cap closed : 11.8 cm

Length without cap: 10.4 cm

Length with cap posted: 13.8 cm

Diameter : 1.2 cm

Nib & Performance (8/10) – The Pilot M90 has a steel nib integrated together with the grip of the pen. This unique design makes holding the M90 really comfortable.

I have a number of M90s and this one has a M nib. Examined under a loupe, the nib looks free from imperfections – well aligned, slit in the middle. It is a rather thick nib because it was created as a part of the pen body. The nib on the M90 is absolutely hard and offers no flexibility at all. The M90’s steel nib may seem like a compromise, but that is arguable because many steel nibs can deliver great writing performance.Pilot M90 (10)

It writes like a European F nib and there is slight feedback. I’m not amazed by the nib performance but rather by its design. I somehow find that with many Pilot nibs you can feel the paper when writing, something like a felt tip pen touching paper. This is consistent with my experiences using other Pilot fountain pens.

The Pilot M90 nib is not decorated and shouldn’t be, because the austere brushed stainless steel finish goes perfect with its minimalist appearance.

Filling System & Maintenance (9/10) – The Pilot M90 comes with a cartridge-converter filling system and fits a Pilot CON20 squeeze-type converter. It is good that Pilot accommodated the converter when designing the M90. Quite a number of pocket pens can only take cartridges, and I consider that a major weakness. In spite of the rather small capacity, I prefer the Pilot CON20 over the CON50 and CON70 for its simple design.

In all honesty, I have never liked Pilot converters because they cannot be taken apart. It is something I find useful whenever maintenance is required – one instance, for example, is if ink gets behind the mechanism. That being said, disassembling a converter is usually unnecessary but it is still good to be able to do so.

I am certain that for most people, the ink capacity of the Pilot CON20 will be sufficient for a lengthy writing session before it requires another fill. The fine lines of the Japanese nib also mean that the M90 is unlikely to consume too much ink when writing.

Cost & Value (9/10) – The Pilot M90 fountain pen is a Limited Edition release. Only 9000 pieces were manufactured for the worldwide market. The M90 may have cost as much as some other Pilot pens with gold nibs. However, those who decided not to buy one back then will be kicking themselves today as the value of this pen rises due to limited supply and ever increasing demand.Pilot M90 (8)

The M90 is both great to use and even better to collect. I am lucky I saw the potential of this pen and managed to obtain a number of pieces back in 2008. Many people have offered to buy my M90s for multiples of the original retail price. Unfortunately, I am reluctant to part with my pens for sentimental reasons and also because of my respect for their brilliant design.

Perhaps the new Pilot Elite 95 will satiate their need for a pocket pen – after all, it has a 14K gold nib, which is all the better for writing.

Conclusion (Final score, 9/10) – The Pilot M90 is not a new concept – to be precise, it is a re-issue of an old idea. Yet, the pen has captivated many just as the MYU and Murex did in the past. This makes it all the more fascinating. To think that Pilot could have envisioned this amazing writing system and engineered it back in 1971 is simply astounding.

The fact that Pilot chose to celebrate its 90th anniversary with the release of the M90 is even more telling – it serves as a reminder of the company’s unquestionable heritage and unparalleled innovation. Words are not enough to describe this pen, so I leave you pictures to admire.