Namiki’s Capless Raden – sparkling like stars

The Namiki Capless Raden is a cartridge-converter fountain pen from the Japanese manufacturer. As its name suggests, the Capless is a fountain pen which does not require a cap. It is operated by a click mechanism similar to those found on ballpoint pens. The Capless is fitted with an 18K gold nib. The Namiki Capless Raden is distinguished by its glittering “raden” finish, made up of thin pearlescent shells applied onto Japanese lacquer.

The Capless is known as the “Vanishing Point” in Western countries. Its mechanism is simple – a push button deploys and withdraws a specially engineered nib through a trapdoor. It has an air-tight body, preventing the nib and filling unit from drying out. The slender, retractable nib is revolutionary in the industry and has brought never-before-seen convenience and practicality to fountain pens.Namiki Capless Raden Black (6)

I’ve always admired fountain pens decorated with maki-e, but they are well beyond my reach and will be for a long time. I therefore opted for the Namiki Capless Raden – the Namiki label implies higher quality finishing and exclusivity. For those of you with deep pockets, you may want to check out the Namiki Yukari Nightline Moonlight, the Pelikan M1000 Starlight, Sunlight and Moonlight Raden series. Platinum also offers a more affordable Galaxy and Aurora maki-e series.

The Namiki Capless Raden series comes in three different raden finishes – Minamo, Stripe and Black. The version I opted for is called the Raden Black, which is decorated by extremely delicate pieces of raden applied onto black lacquer. This is one of the traditional raden finishes seen on fountain pens like the Platinum Galaxy. The Minamo and Stripe versions have more squarish and rectangular raden pieces applied to them.Namiki Capless Raden Black (5)

On first examination, it may appear that pieces of raden were simply sprinkled onto the lacquer. I do not think this is true, because raden bits may not lay flat on the lacquer surface, ruining the effect. Running your fingers along the lacquer, you will not feel any texture on the surface, because layers of lacquer were applied above it. Furthermore, one would notice that there is spacing between each shell. This could mean that each individual piece was applied directly to the lacquer surface by hand.

If you do not already know, raden is a Japanese maki-e decoration technique which was introduced into Nara period Japan during Tang dynasty China. It was only during and after the Heian period that raden was frequently combined with maki-e lacquer techniques. Before that, raden shells were typically applied to wood surfaces as an inlay. You may have seen such techniques on dark coloured wooden chairs, boxes and even tables from the Far East.Namiki Capless Raden Black (4)

I would describe my experience with most Pilot nibs as strange – they have slight feedback to them and ink flow can sometimes be rather inconsistent especially in certain directions. Fortunately, I found that the Fine 18K gold nib on the Namiki Capless was really smooth and flow was consistent. It was however rather strange that the Capless came with a gold coloured nib given that the pen had rhodium plated accents. Most Pilot Capless fountain pens with rhodium accents come with rhodium plated gold nibs.

The nib unit is compatible with CON20 and CON50 converters which both have decent ink capacity. I am not a fan of the CON50 but I will have to live with it. Unfortunately, the high capacity CON70 converter is not compatible with the Capless fountain pen. The nib can be pulled out of the open barrel and inserted into an ink bottle. Owners must take note that the nib unit has a bump which fits into a metal slot in the barrel. This ensures that the nib unit is installed correctly and faces the right way.Namiki Capless Raden Black (8)

I feel that the Capless has a rather small nib which is not proportionate to its body. The Pilot Decimo is slimmer and therefore more suitable given the form factor. Namiki’s Capless does not however come in a slim Decimo version. That being said, a small nib is inevitable given that Pilot has to fit a sophisticated mechanism into a slender pen body, and has therefore streamlined the features of a typical fountain pen.

I used to own the matte black Pilot Capless but only for a short while because brassing was a common issue. I have been told by a friend that his Namiki Capless Raden started to wear down after prolonged use, and that raden bits could be felt on the maki-e lacquer surface. Thankfully, the raden did not start to flake off or deteriorate. I certainly hope that I will not encounter the issue on my Capless Raden, but I also have confidence that Pilot would rectify it if it were a manufacturing defect.Namiki Capless Raden Black (10)

One common criticism of the Capless design is the fact that the clip sits where the fingers hold the pen. The clip is sleek and does not get in the way of writing when the pen is held in the “proper” way. It may however unsettle some users. I dare suggest that Pilot create a Capless model without the clip. Few people clip pens to their shirt pockets today anyway – I certainly don’t!

The Namiki Capless Raden is beautiful pen. As with most beautiful pens, you are paying for better decoration and luxury. This is why I would not recommend it to most people, especially when you can get a standard Pilot Capless for way less and enjoy the same convenience of the Capless mechanism. However, if you are like me and appreciate maki-e lacquerwork or sparkling raden, this is definitely the pen for you.

PROS
– Glittering raden maki-e decoration
– Convenient capless mechanism
– Smooth nib with good ink flow
– Labelled Namiki rather than Pilot

CONS
– Maki-e finish is rather expensive
– Lacquer may possibly wear down
– Clip may get in way of fingers
– Average capacity filling system

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