Years on, has the Pilot 823 lost its relevance?

It all started on the now-defunct Stylophiles Online magazine, which featured a polished review accompanied by mouth-watering photographs. Following that, the 823 became the most sought after and discussed demonstrator pen on the market.

The Pilot Custom 823 is a vacuum-filled plunger filler fountain pen manufactured by the Pilot Pen Corporation in Japan and fitted with a #15 sized 14K gold nib. It comes in three colours – namely Clear, Smoke and Amber.

Sitting just below the flagship 845 in Pilot’s lineup, the 823 boasts one of the most efficient filling systems to have been invented. At the expense of being large (longer than a Pelikan M800) the torpedo shaped 823 has incredible filling capacity. That makes it suitable for heavy users who spend many hours writing before each fill.

On paper, there are few pens that can beat the Pilot Custom 823. Even the Namiki lineup utilises the push-button CON70 converter which pales in terms of capacity. Of course, the Pilot 845 series and Namiki brand pens are different in that they are finished with premium materials.

The moment I saw the Custom 823, I simply knew I had to have one. And then there were four. Each of the three colours and an extra Smoke coloured one for my daily use. I filled it, but it never really got much use.

The TWSBI Vac 700 is one competitor. At just over US$60, the TWSBI Vac 700 doesn’t seem like a threat. But it delivers great writing in an affordable package, has a modern appearance and encourages users to even disassemble the pen for their own maintenance.

The Vac 700 may not be made in Japan and is not fitted with a gold nib. However, TWSBI offers a wider selection of nibs ranging from from EF to B. There is even a 1.1mm and 1.5mm stub nib available. The Vac 700 also comes in Clear, Smoke, Blue and Orange.

The Pilot 823 is more conservative with its gold accents and plain-looking colours. The traditional Pilot clip tapers to a round ball and this is certainly one of the things I like least about the pen. It’s also the reason I chose The Pilot Custom Heritage 912 over the Custom 742 and 743.

I also own the more affordable Custom Heritage 92, which offers a wider selection of nibs and more modern design. I would have liked if it was sized like the larger 912 though!

Ironically, it should have been the Custom 823 that were fitted with the legendary Pilot FA nib or the Soft nib. We all know specialty nibs are ink-guzzlers and a fast car definitely needs a matching fuel tank! In fact I heard that a friend transplanted his FA nib from the 743 to the 823. I am not ready to sacrifice a 743 just like that.

Another reason why I didn’t quite enjoy using the 823 was the fact that the nib somehow wasn’t as enjoyable compared to my Sailor Professional Gear. There was quite a bit of feedback when writing, though I hesitate to describe it as scratchy.

I somehow think that I would have enjoyed a Soft FM nib much more on this pen. The M nib was too broad and The F nib too fine for my liking.

The Pilot Custom 823 is not a bad pen and right now there are few models that hold a candle to it as a daily writer. I can’t help but feel it would have been much better for Pilot if the company offered more interesting nibs. Perhaps they will someday, or the 823 will slowly and surely fade into oblivion.

Here is a quick rundown of the Custom 823’s strengths and weaknesses:

– Large filling capacity
– Safety shut-off valve mechanism
– Impressively large 14K gold nib
– Made in Japan

– Expensively priced
– Average nib smoothness
– Uninteresting nib selection
– Uninspired design
– Large and unwieldy

Does the Pilot 823 still have a place in pen-dom today or has it lost its charm? Share your thoughts!