Giving your pen a $400 urushi makeover - is it worth it?

Just like watches, mechanical keyboards, and handbags, collecting fountain pens can get quite elegant...and expensive. If you thoroughly enjoy the fun and excitement of entry-level pens, all the power to you. You, and your bank account, are fortunate. Once a pen addict is bitten by the bug, the hobby can quickly escalate. Some pens, like a Namiki Yukari with Maki-e, cost as much as a down payment for a car.

For the longest time, I couldn't imagine how people justify spending $100 on a fountain pen, let alone $1,000. Over a decade of collecting changes that perspective, especially when one encounters hand-decorated urushi and maki-e pens. Although I've routinely seen such maki-e pens in my experience working for a luxury pen retailer, it was seeing a post on Instagram that finally convinced me to put an urushi pen on my bucket list.

In the midst of putting my ear to the ground of the online pen community, I noticed pen peeps posting beautiful pens decorated in urushi and raden. These were unlike any of the pens I had seen in the stockroom. People were sharing pics of Pilot Custom 823's, Montblanc 149's, Pilot Custom Heritage 912's, Sailor Pro Gears, and Pilot Vanishing Points that were elevated beyond their original design to become functional works of art. But, how did they do this? What kind of magical spell did they cast on these pens? The answer is simple, yet no less mystical: these were pens that visited Studio Bokumondoh in Japan.

The advertising experts say that the average consumer needs to see an ad 50 times before they are convinced that they need to purchase the item on offer. For me, it took like 5 seconds be sold on Bokumondoh's services.

Bokumondoh's work speaks for itself. It's visible in every finished pen posted on social media. Reading the compliments of the happy patrons sealed the deal. My friend Scott @pensinkandpaper is always on the waitlist (which is currently a year long) for a batch of pens to send. So, I decided to jump on as well.

Scott gifted me Sailor 1911 Realo with a 21kt gold music nib six Christmases ago. While I love how the pen writes and value the sentimentality of the gift, the pen's style was a plain black resin with rhodium silver trim. When compared with the other swirly, colorful acrylic pens in my collection, the Sailor pen was so conservative and lacking in personality.

So, instead of purchasing a different, more expensive pen that already has urushi lacquer, maki-e, and raden, I opted to give my plain Sailor 1911 fountain pen a makeover.

I reached out to Studio Bokumondoh in early October 2021. Following the instructions on their website, I filled out the form with the pen I wished to send and indicated the particular style of urushi design by sending a link to one of Bokumondoh's numerous instagram posts. It's like visiting the salon for the first time and picking your haircut from a group of pictures on the wall. Or, stumbling into a diner at 2am and pointing to the photo of disco fries.

Toru from Studio Bokumondoh replied back quickly and confirmed a quote for the price of my desired design - 52,000 JPY (about $378 USD). Prices do vary based on the chosen design and the pen. Once the quote was confirmed, the waiting began.

At the time I entered the back of the queue, the waitlist was 10-12 months. So, I took the time to save up for the cost of the urushi work and the shipping it would take to send my pen to Japan.

On July 7th, 2022, I received an e-mail from Bokumondoh, stating my "turn has come." I was overjoyed. In the age of Amazon Prime shipping, there's not much you have to wait for these days. I took the opportunity to make a fun video to express my excitement. I had no idea it would be reciprocated once my pen arrived in Japan.

Although I could have chosen a less costly method through the US post office, I paid about $50 for DHL service to Japan to ensure my pen would arrive safely and quickly.

Hiroko shared a video of her receiving the pen and another video when she was working on my pen. I was truly honored to see she took the time to respond and connect with her customer in such a fun and endearing way. While the finished pen is well worth the price, the rapport with Hiroko brought my satisfaction to a whole new level.

I was invoiced for the completed urushi work less than a month from when I shipped the pen. I was told by my friend, Scott, that it was an unusually fast turnaround. I was expecting it to take a few months before I would see the pen again. Yet, there it was on my doorstep on August 19th, 10 months after making my initial request.

Included with the pen was a notebook with lovely, fountain pen-friendly paper and a handwritten note from Hiroko. The pen itself - is phenomenal. The Sailor 1911 Realo is no longer ordinary. It has transcended into a stunning, handmade, one-of-a-kind piece of art. The stair-step raden pattern wraps around the pen in iridescent bands of green, turquoise, pink, and violet. Hiroko dusted the space between the raden bands with coppery red sparkle. The grip section is still black with her artist's chop (signature) in red.

At the time of this writing, I've had the pen for a couple of weeks and written it dry 3 times already. I'm in the honeymoon phase when I can't put down the pen. What was once old became new.

Would I do it again? Of course! I've already jumped on the back of the waitlist (still about a year wait) with a friend of mine that is sending his first pen to Bokumondoh.

I'm glad to share this experience with pen enthusiasts who have never explored this opportunity so that you might feel more comfortable with the idea of sending your pen away for this artistic customization. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me through the InkJournal website.