Friday, May 26, 2017


Pilot Custom 823 fountain pen review
The Pilot Custom 823 is close to what I'd call a grail pen. Or maybe something more like a 'long-term wishlist' pen. A lot of people think that a grail pen should only be something extraordinarily expensive, something you probably won't ever be able to afford. I disagree. 

Case in point: the Custom 823. People outside of Europe probably won't understand me when I'm talking about how much of a pain it is to get one of these pens. Frankly, because Europe is apparently the only part of the world where Pilot decided to not sell any of their interesting pens (such as the Custom 912, 823,etc.), don't ask me why... 
Pilot Custom 823 fountain pen review
Anyway, the Custom 823 has been on my wishlist for over three years, and despite having asked pretty much every pen store in Europe (more than once), not a single one of them could help me. Perhaps you're wondering why I didn't just buy one from Japan or the US directly, which is a completely valid thought, apart from the fact that Belgian Customs charge ridiculous amounts of money for imported goods (think approx. 50% of the retail value!).

Luckily there's one shop that dares to take the lead, and work around the limitations of Pilot's import by importing directly from Japan: Casa della Stilografica, based in Italy. 
Pilot Custom 823 fountain pen review
The downside to importing directly from Japan, means that they also have to pay import duties. The benefit is that they can also get a hold of the Japan-exclusive smoke grey demonstrator version of the 823 (and perhaps also the clear demonstrator, but I'm not entirely sure about that). 

But enough about Pilot's stupid retail strategies! It's an issue that needs to be adressed for sure, but we're all really here to talk about the star of the show: The notorious Pilot Custom 823! 

Where to start? The Custom 823 might not look like a pen that's worth all that trouble to get it. It's a pretty plain pen, designwise. I don't mean anything wrong with that, it's just a very typical, classic cigar-shaped design with tapered ends and gold trims. Something you can also find with brands like Montblanc, Sailor, Platinum,...
Pilot Custom 823 fountain pen review
Original or not, the Pilot does a really splendid job with the small details. The material is a slightly translucent acrylic, in this case grey, but more commonly they are seen in a translucent brown material. The amount of translucency is fairly minimal, but just enough to catch a glimpse of the inner workings of the pen (the nib is covered by a solid black inner cap, so unfortunately you can't see the nib when the pen is closed). The 823 has gold-plated trims, and the typical triangular clip with ball end that can be seen on many Pilot/Namiki pens. One really small detail I particularly enjoy is the enamel-filled engraving on the center band. It's a small detail, but it's tastefully done and it makes the text stand out.
Pilot Custom 823 fountain pen review
L to R: Sailor Pro Gear, Pilot Custom 92, Pilot Custom 823, Pelikan Souverän M805, Lamy Safari, Lamy 2000
The Custom 823 is among the largest pens in Pilot's luxury product lineup. It measures 14,9 cm (5.86") when closed, and 13,1 cm (5,16") without the cap. However it doesn't feel overly large, both because of the comfortable weight (29g total), and the relatively average diameter (1.05cm/0.41" at the grip, 1.25cm/0.49" at the barrel). 
Pilot Custom 823 fountain pen review
The lack of an annoying step or transition from section to barrel, and the shallow threads, combined with the comfortable dimensions and weight, make this an excellent pen to write with. And because of the decent size, it's easily usable without the cap posted. Though if preferred, the cap does post, and while it adds a good bit of length, it doesn't weigh down the back of the pen too much. 
Pilot Custom 823 fountain pen review
Filling a vac-filler is easy: just dip the nib into the ink, and push the plunger down completely!
The Custom 823 is unique from other Pilot pens because of the vacuum filling mechanism. This is the same mechanism as with the TWSBI Vac 700, or Visconti's Powerfiller, and it provides a massive amount of ink in one fill. The entire barrel can be filled with ink, to give a maximum ink capacity of well over 2 ml, which is at least three or four times as much as a regular cartridge or converter! 

On top of that, vacuum fillers are also ideal for travelling, when you want to take your pen with you on a plane, because the piston plunger doubles up as a shut-off valve towards the feed when the mechanism is fully closed. To write, the piston knob has to be turned a couple times to allow ink to flow towards the nib. 
Pilot Custom 823 fountain pen review
But then we come to the most important part: the writing experience. Pilot makes great nibs, that's generally known. But I never had a Pilot before that really amazed me... This one does. The large monotone 14k gold #15 (Pilot's equivalent to a western #6) nib is not only pretty to look at, it writes beautifully out of the box. I chose a medium nib on this one, expecting it to be on the finer side, but it's actually almost the same as a Western medium. It's very smooth, yet responsive at all times. It writes at all times without stuttering, skipping or hard starts, and it has a consistent, wet flow.
It's not at all hard to see why the Pilot Custom 823 has grown to become one of the absolute favourite pens of so many people around the world. It's a crowd pleaser, a design that will suit many, a comfortable shape and size, and a nib that is absolutely fantastic! At a price that is roughly half that of some top-of-the-line pens from other Brands, such as Pelikan, Montblanc, Sailor,... the Custom 823 offers incredible value for money, even though it's still a 300$ pen.

Current retail prices outside the EU vary between 288 and 300 USD. Within the EU, because of the import duties, that price goes up to 388 EUR when you buy it from While that may sound like much, it's still cheaper than if you'd import it directly (import duties may vary by country), and you can buy directly from a 'local' pen store instead of having to buy overseas. 
Note: Casa Della Stilografica is a sponsor of this blog. This product was sent on loan, 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.
Pilot Custom 823 fountain pen review

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