Wednesday, February 21, 2018

ONE STAR LEATHER NOTEBOOK COVER & PEN SLEEVE REVIEW

ONE STAR LEATHER NOTEBOOK COVER & PEN SLEEVE REVIEW
I'm a fan of all things leather. No matter if it's shoes, belts or pen cases,... I love the organic and classy look and feel leather products have, and the fact that leather products get better with use. You just can't find the same character in fabric alternatives. That's not to diss on brands like Nock.Co or Rickshaw, who make really cool writing accessories in all sorts of materials except leather,... it's just a personal preference thing.

So when Keegan, founder of One Star Leather Goods, contacted me to see if I wanted to take a look at some of his handmade leather products, I didn't hesitate. Sure, there are a lot of 'artisanal' leather goods brands out there these days. But One Star is definitely up there with a solid reputation that they built over the years.

Keegan gave me the choice of picking whatever I wanted for review, in retrospect he probably wished he had chosen for me, because I remember being quite indecisive for a while: A plethora of choices between models, finishes and leather types... I'm never good at making choices, so I asked Keegan for help multiple times!
ONE STAR LEATHER NOTEBOOK COVER & PEN SLEEVE REVIEW
In the end, we agreed on an A5 size Leuchtturm notebook cover, and a couple pen sleeves in different leather types. Let's focus on the notebook cover first. 

One Star makes a couple different notebook covers. The most popular probably being the Park Sloper Wallet, a compact wallet cover that holds a Field Notes (or similar) notebook, some cards and a thin pen. I'm personally not much of a pocket notebook user, but I do tend to carry my Leuchtturm A5 hardcover with me for doodles, testing pens and writing nonsense, so it made sense to go for a cover that fits these notebooks instead.
ONE STAR LEATHER NOTEBOOK COVER & PEN SLEEVE REVIEW
I'm definitely a minimalist when it comes to my pens and accessories, so I mentioned that to Keegan and he delivered his most simple cover style: the 'Wrap style' Leuchtturm A5 cover. The cover is a single piece of leather wrapped around the edges on the long side, and stitched on top and bottom. If you prefer a bit more practicality and function, you can also opt for the 'Full stitched' option, which is stitched all around the edges. The full stitched version allows additional options, such as a pen loop and/or card slots on the inside of the cover. But as I said, I personally prefer the more minimalist aesthetic.
ONE STAR LEATHER NOTEBOOK COVER & PEN SLEEVE REVIEW
I have to give them credits to the design, because it's so simple yet elegant and very comfortable to use. The wrapped edges are smooth, pleasant to hold and carry around (burnished edges always feel a bit rough) The edges do bulge a little bit because it's actually a folded piece of leather so it won't want to completely flatten out (although it does take on the shape of the notebook more after prolonged use).
ONE STAR LEATHER NOTEBOOK COVER & PEN SLEEVE REVIEW
All branding is done on the inside flaps of the cover, so from the outside it retains its' clean look. I especially like the small star logo on the bottom left hand corner.

The leather I chose for the cover is called 'Tan'. It's an undyed leather that is lightly treated with leather balm to preserve and protect it. The leather has a very natural look and feel to it. You can see it's a high-quality skin, because there aren't any blemishes or scars in it. Build quality is excellent. The stitching is straight and even, and done with a sturdy waxed thread. The particular leather that was used here is thin but not flimsy, so it doesn't add too much bulk to your notebook.
ONE STAR LEATHER NOTEBOOK COVER & PEN SLEEVE REVIEW
In terms of build quality, Keegan and his team certainly didn't disappoint. Everything is handmade (even the stitching is done by hand!). It's clear that they know their craft: the cuts and stitches are straight and even. And the edges are rounded off and burnished lightly. 
ONE STAR LEATHER NOTEBOOK COVER & PEN SLEEVE REVIEW
The cover -as configured here- doesn't have a built-in elastic closure, instead it makes use of the elastic band of the Leuchtturm notebook. The cutout slit on the inside of the cover allows the elastic to fit through so it can still be used with the notebook fit inside the cover. Because of this, the color of the notebook you use, will affect the look of your setup with a touch of color!

The pen sleeves follow the same minimalist look as the cover. The elegance lies in its' simplicity here. Pen sleeves like these are a simple means of protecting your pen, but an effective one at that! 

The sleeves are made out of two pieces of leather, stitched all the way around. I've seen pen sleeves from One Star that were made out of a single folded piece, but I suppose this was either the old style, or something they change up randomly to keep things interesting? I think both look good, but I'm pretty sure if you prefer one or the other, you can just ask them when you order. There's definitely a sense of customizability possible if you get in touch with them, which is nice. 
ONE STAR LEATHER NOTEBOOK COVER & PEN SLEEVE REVIEW
The pen sleeves are available in three sizes: one made specifically to fit Kaweco Sport pens, Medium (fits pens up to 14cm/ 5.5" long and diameter up to 12mm) and Large (fits pens up to 15cm/ 5.9" and diameter of 17.5mm). A double pen sleeve is also available, and the slot size is intermediate between the Medium and Large.

I received two Large sleeves made from Horween leather, one black and one 'Rough tan'. The leather is untreated on the inside so it doesn't harm your pens. The sleeve is rather tight at first, especially for larger pens, but it does stretch with time (although it still remains a relatively snug fit). 
ONE STAR LEATHER NOTEBOOK COVER & PEN SLEEVE REVIEW
It's safe to say that One Star lived up to my high expectations! The quality is top notch, you get the choice of various leather styles, and there's a certain degree of customization possible. On top of that, prices are quite reasonable -especially given these are fully handmade in the USA. The A5 notebook cover starts at 70$ for the simple 'Wrap style', and goes up from there depending on the options. The pen sleeves cost between 25$ for the Kaweco-sized and 40$ for the large double sleeve (35$ for the medium and large single sleeves as seen here). 

Note: These products were provided by One Star Leather Goods, free of charge, so I could write this review.  I was in no way influenced in the making of this review, the opinions shared in this review are completely my own! This post does not contain affilate links.
ONE STAR LEATHER NOTEBOOK COVER & PEN SLEEVE REVIEW

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

QUICK LOOK: BARON FIG LOCK & KEY SPECIAL EDITION SET

Quick Look: Baron Fig Lock & Key Squire rollerball and Confidant notebook special edition set review
Being shamefully behind on reviews, I wanted to share a quick post about the Baron Fig Lock & Key set. The special edition Squire rollerball is unfortunately sold out already, but you can still grab the matching Confidant notebook.

After my failure to get a hold of a Baron Fig Squire Experiment (what more could a chemistry student ask for??), I decided to act fast. And boy did I act fast this time! I don't think I ever impulse-bought anything as fast as this. Which -in itself- should give you a good idea of how excited I am with this release.
Quick Look: Baron Fig Lock & Key Squire rollerball and Confidant notebook special edition set review
How excited? VERY excited! For the simple reason that this is the first time Baron Fig went with a different metal for the Squire rollerball. It's as simple as that. Give me something brass, and I jump through the roof.

... Ok maybe not literally, but I do nevertheless really like this take on the minimalist Baron Fig Squire rollerball. As usual it's a relatively small, yet comfortable-in-hand clipless pen. The machined brass almost doubles the weight of this Squire, compared to the aluminium ones. That's a lot, but given the relatively compact size, it still only weighs in at around 50 grams. Which -to me- is a sweet spot in terms of heft (YMMV of course).
Quick Look: Baron Fig Lock & Key Squire rollerball and Confidant notebook special edition set review
The Squire received a faint brushed finish, and the 'Key' theme is visualised by the antique key logo on the top of the pen right underneath the twist knob. On the opposite side of the barrel you can find the clean Baron Fig logo laser-etched, and that's all the branding you'll find on this pen. Even though the logo is large (in relation to the size of the pen), it still feels subtle because the laser etching isn't very obtrusive, and the font is simple and modern. 
Quick Look: Baron Fig Lock & Key Squire rollerball and Confidant notebook special edition set review
Of course the most exciting part about using brass in a pen is the fact that it will create a beautiful patina. I haven't had the pen long enough to see that happen, although it has already become a bit darker with the first use! I definitely hope this will be the first in a series of new Squire designs to use different metals such as brass, copper and titanium. I may have said this before, but I love the differences in look and feel between different metals, and I think they give each pen a distinct character.

If you want to read more about the Baron Fig Squire rollerball, you can read my full review of the original (aluminium) version HERE.
Quick Look: Baron Fig Lock & Key Squire rollerball and Confidant notebook special edition set review
Quick Look: Baron Fig Lock & Key Squire rollerball and Confidant notebook special edition set review
Then for the matching Confidant: the 'Lock'. The packaging of this notebook is absolutely beautiful -albeit perhaps a bit excessive. The dark green paired with a gold foil embossed maze pattern on the outside box invokes a very obvious vintage look and feel, while still keeping the modern and minimal aesthetic that we know from Baron Fig. 
Quick Look: Baron Fig Lock & Key Squire rollerball and Confidant notebook special edition set review
Inside the box is a large fold-out maze in gold foil on white paper. The maze contains hidden messages in a secret sign alphabet, which can be solved with the code on the packaging of the Squire. At least that's what I think it is, I honestly haven't taken the proper time to find out what it says! 
Quick Look: Baron Fig Lock & Key Squire rollerball and Confidant notebook special edition set review
The notebook itself  is an A5-sized hardcover Confidant, cloth-covered in the same dark green color as the packaging, and with the 'Lock' and maze design embossed over the entire cover (but not filled with gold foil). It counts 192 pages of dot grid paper.

I won't be doing a full detailed review of the notebook and the paper quality in this post. But I have o of course tried it with a bunch of (fountain) pens, and my first impression is actually much better than expected. The paper seems to handle most kinds of ink -even in wider nibs- flawlessly. I couldn't find any bleedthrough or feathering in my test, very impressive! Anway, I'll leave it at that, and keep a full review for a different time! 
Quick Look: Baron Fig Lock & Key Squire rollerball and Confidant notebook special edition set review
Even though the Squire is already sold out, you can still go for the Confidant notebook (and I fear those won't last much longer either). I think Baron Fig has really outdone themselves on this special release.

The Baron Fig Confidant Lock notebook retails for 20 USD, which I think is fair for the quality and the fantastic design you get. If you want one, act fast because the stock won't last much longer I'm afraid. It's a shame that the Squire sold out already, but I'm hoping we'll see Baron Fig experiment with more exotic metals like brass, copper, titanium,... in the future!

Note: I received a discount on the purchase of this product from Baron Fig. I was in no way influenced in the making of this review, the opinions shared in this review are completely my own! This post does not contain affilate links. 
Quick Look: Baron Fig Lock & Key Squire rollerball and Confidant notebook special edition set review

Monday, February 12, 2018

WANCHER 'THE DREAM PEN' URUSHI FOUNTAIN PEN REVIEW

Wancher 'The Dream Pen' Urushi fountain pen review
Wancher. Chances are, you've seen this Japanese brand pass by on several blogs or social media in the past few weeks. And that's all due to the Kickstarter campaign for their latest product: 'The Dream Pen'

I don't know about you, but before their announcement of the Kickstarter, I had never really heard of the brand. They cleverly used a strong social media campaign to advertise the Kickstarter. And they also reached out to me, and about half a dozen other bloggers, to take a look at the early production prototypes of The Dream Pen. 

I have to give it to them, they did a very solid job with publicity and marketing for their Kickstarter campaign, which showed in the ridiculous pace at which their project got funded (and blew past their goal)!
Wancher 'The Dream Pen' Urushi fountain pen review
Anyway, I kind of missed the start of the Kickstarter with my review due to exams taking the upper hand. As it's a completely new brand to me, I had no clue what to expect so I didn't want to rush it either. It quickly became clear that Wancher is onto something impressive though. 'The Dream Pen' might be a slightly strange name, but after spending some time with it... there might be some truth in it.

Let's start at the beginning. With The Dream Pen project, Wancher set out to make a true ebonite and urushi fountain pen at a competitive price (and even a Maki-e version, albeit at a serious premium). At the same time, they want to honor the Japanese craftsmen who specialise in Urushi and Maki-e, by including them in the manufacturing process instead of turning to large scale industrialized production methods.

At first, those two things don't seem to go together, low price but labor-intensive manual production? Wancher says they achieve this by diverging from the traditional marketing and retail scenario. Instead of investing in advertisement, and selling through distributors and retailers (who of course each want a profit margin), they sell directly through the public, and do their own advertisement.
Wancher 'The Dream Pen' Urushi fountain pen review
I'm not an economist, so I don't know how viable this plan is in the long run, but so far it seems as if they have everything exactly figured out. Their successful advertisement campaign says enough in that regard.

As a Japanese manufacturer, they have been in the pen industry for over 25 years. But despite having one or two urushi and maki-e products in their assortment, their focus seems to be mainly on more affordable pens. The Dream Pen is an 'affordable' Urushi pen, but affordable is relative of course. Other urushi pens like Nakaya or Danitrio, go for at least twice as much easily. Even with a price many times higher than most of their usual products, they still managed to stay far below the usual retail price for urushi products. 
Wancher 'The Dream Pen' Urushi fountain pen review
In the Kickstarter campaign, you have a wide variety of finishes to choose from. 'The True Ebonite',  made out of solid ebonite (without urushi finish). 'The True Urushi', solid urushi colors (red, blue, black, green, purple,...) and red Tamenuri. And finally 'The True Maki-e', urushi with a cherry blossom Maki-e finish. 

I received a production prototype of the black urushi finish. Even though it's not so much a photogenic pen (almost impossible to properly capture the lustre of this perfectly polished laquer), it's a sight to behold. The Dream Pen is a large, cigar-shaped pen. The cap is slightly wider than the barrel, so the cap doesn't sit flush against the barrel. It's very remniscent of a Danitrio Mikado round-top (but smaller) or Namiki Yukari. There are no markings or artist signatures on the barrel or cap, which gives the pen a clean and minimalist appeal.
Wancher 'The Dream Pen' Urushi fountain pen review
Underneath the cap, there's still a surprisingly large step towards the section. Considering the design with the wider cap diameter, they probably could've made this a little less pronounced. But on the upside, the walls of the cap are thick and the entire pen has a solid and robust feel in the hand. The step and threads are noticeable when you run your finger over them, but the transition from section to barrel is gradual. I found my grip to be more towards the front of the long and nicely tapered section, so I didn't personally encounter any discomfort during writing.

The urushi laquer is applied evenly and sanded and polished to perfection. I couldn't find any flaws in the finish on this review unit. I even let Catherine of Sakura Fountain Pen Gallery check it out. She's an expert on Japanese handmade pens, and she was very impressed with the quality of the craftsmanship. If Wancher can keep up this level of detail and finesse at their current pricing, they will have created something remarkable. I'd almost dare call it revolutionary, but in the grand scheme of things it's not yet on the level of a cure for cancer or world peace...sorry Wancher!
Wancher 'The Dream Pen' Urushi fountain pen review
L to R: Pelikan Souverän M805, M1000, Montblanc 149, Visconti Homo Sapiens Oversize, Wancher The Dream Pen, Lamy Lx, Lamy 2000.
Wancher 'The Dream Pen' Urushi fountain pen review
Measuring 15.6cm (6.14") closed, and 13.2cm (5.20") uncapped, The Dream Pen is a serious pen. The cap cannot be posted, but since the pen is more than long enough as-is, I never felt like this was needed anyway. The widest part of the cap has a diameter of 1.7cm (0.67"), but the width drops down to a relatively average and comfortable 1.1cm (0.43"). A lot of urushi pens tend to be on the larger side, which makes it easier for intricate Maki-e patterns to be applied. But due to the lightweight ebonite construction (total of just 22 grams!), they remain comfortable and lightweight in use. 

Uncapping the pen, you can feel the spring-loaded insert in the cap. They used a similar system to the slip-and-seal mechanism Platinum uses in their 3776 pens, which prevents the nib from drying out. I found this feature to work excellent. The pen started each time, even after several days without use.
Wancher 'The Dream Pen' Urushi fountain pen review
For the writing end, Wancher decided on a pretty unique team-up with JoWo and Flexible Nib Factory. JoWo is of course well-known and widely used, and they produce excellent steel and gold nibs. But seeing Flexible Nib Factory involved was a pleasant surprise. This small startup company based in the US, specialises in custom feed and nib housings for existing nib/pen combinations. 

The resulting writing experience is honestly superb. The symbiosis of the 18k rhodium-plated gold nib (a broad nib in this case), and the precisely machined ebonite feed, make for a flawless setup. The nib is shockingly smooth but responsive with a wet ink flow due to the feed. A lot of superlatives, I know, but I honestly can't say a single bad thing about the business end of The Dream Pen. 
Wancher 'The Dream Pen' Urushi fountain pen review
Filling is done through a conventional standard international cartridge or converter. This is really my only hiccup I had with my review sample, as the converter that came included...wouldn't fit? A bit strange, but I suppose the custom nib unit has a slightly different diameter. I ended up using a Schmidt converter which fits snugly, but it works. 
Wancher 'The Dream Pen' Urushi fountain pen review
Of course you're probably curious to find out how 'affordable' they are exactly. The price obviously depends on the finish and choice of nibs. For a 'True Ebonite' pen with steel nib, the Kickstarter price is 155 EUR (185 USD), a gold nib adds 100 USD. The 'True Urushi' pens are available for 320 EUR (385 USD) and come with a 14k or 18k gold nib of choice. Finally the 'True Maki-e' will set you back 912 EUR (1100 USD). 
Wancher 'The Dream Pen' Urushi fountain pen review
Personally, I find the ebonite pens on the expensive side, given the retail price after the Kickstarter will go up even more. I think the true value is at the urushi pens, even the full retail price (450 USD) is still a lot lower than any other urushi pen currently on the market. The Maki-e I can't really judge on value for money, since the quality and technique of Maki-e has a great impact on its' value (literally the difference between a 1000 dollar pen, or a 40.000 dollar one!). 

Participating in a Kickstarter is of course always somewhat of a risk, especially with a brand that has never done this before. But since Wancher is not at all new to the business, I think they knew what they were getting into. If you want to get your feet wet into the world of urushi pens but don't feel like dropping big $$$ for it, The Dream Pen might very well be the way to go! I sincerely can't say enough positive things about it, if Wancher can make their promises true and deliver a product as good as the prototype I have in my hands right now, this can become a game changer for the Urushi fountain pen industry... especially if they can keep those prices low once the Kickstarter is over.

Want to join in on the Kickstarter? Better act fast: at the time of publishing this review, there's only a little over two weeks left on the clock... You can find the Kickstarter page HERE.

Note: This product was provided on loan by Wancher, free of charge, so I could write this review.  I was in no way influenced in the making of this review, the opinions shared in this review are completely my own! This post does not contain affilate links.
Wancher 'The Dream Pen' Urushi fountain pen review