Of the many grail pens I have yearned for a long time, the least I have swooned over is Pilot Custom 823. Not just me, but probably the pen community in general, didn’t realize the steady ascent of Pilot’s vacuum filler. Pilot Custom 823 is easily the most underrated workhorse of a pen that performs like a champion when it costs about a half or third of the pens it competes against. This pen is everything that you might have hoped for. In this post, I discuss why.
Built and construction
The built quality is a notch above Pilot’s second-best Custom line-up, right above the 912s. Right from the overall aesthetic of the pen, which is well-balanced, to the threads, everything is as precise as it should be. The pen unscrews in less than one-and-half turns, and the threads never get in the way of writing.
The pen has an air of sophistication about it. I got the amber finish, which intensifies the beauty of gold accents. The body is made of premium acrylic, which is semi-transparent. Of all the three color combinations, amber happens to be the most eye-catching. But, in terms of quality construction, you cannot go wrong with either of the other two color options.
The pen contains a safety valve that regulates the flow of ink from the barrel to the nib. Once the valve is shut, you can safely carry it upside down, of course, on a flight with you. It is precisely this function that, when shut, negates the ink flow. Of the few reviews I read before I bought the pen, some raised a bothersome complaint about the way the pen works. But, more than an impediment, I find it to be rather a feature. That’s the least you can expect from a well-made, (rather) expensive fountain pen in the 2020s.
Nib and nibbling
The highlight of the pen is the 14K gold nib. It is a standard international number 6 size nib (number 15 is Pilot’s company-specific nib size equivalent for international number 6 size). The nib is juicy and wet and the nib performs outstanding right out of the box. I didn’t need to get it tuned to my preferences.
The ink just oozes out as you put the nib on the paper. The experience is exhilarating for the nib truly writes like a Medium yet glides like a Broad. You can use shading inks to enjoy moderate-to-extreme shading without any hiccups. The nib never skipped once, and the sweet spot is also quite widespread for a Medium nib.
The nib has a bit of bounce to it, which comes to it more as a nature than a design. You can naturally get some line variation if you are into a habit of pressing down slightly as you write. However, the pen is designed beautifully to write perfectly under its own weight.
Observations and opinions
Since it is a vacuum filler, the refill cap must be unscrewed by about 2mm before you begin to write. However, this is applicable only when you are investing yourself in a long writing session. For a signature or quick note-taking, you can just unscrew the cap and start writing.
The high-capacity vacuum filler has sufficient capacity for the pen to last a good couple of weeks before I refill it. I have paired it with Krishna Bronze Leaf and Daytone Chocolate inks. Both inks have paired and performed superbly with the pen.
The feed is channeled sufficiently for the pen to not starve even during high-speed note-taking. I found that the section is comfortable to hold during longer writing sessions and the length of the pen is such that it will suit all palm sizes, whether posted or not.
Of the numerous reasons I’d consider when I’d title any pen as the ‘grail pen’ are:
- Construction: specifically, the look and feel, color choices, dimensions, and feel of the material
- Ink’s behavior
- Nib’s performance
- Pen’s behavior during a long writing session
The pen hits the sweet spot between classy and sassy, office-style and personal-styled, and lively yet not-over-the-top color combinations. If you are new to the hobby of using fountain pens and are keen on not hoarding pens, I’d boldly say that the Pilot Custom 823 is a worthy representative of your one-pen collection. It is my everyday carry (EDC) fountain pen, which I’d love to carry and brag about whether I am at my office or at a party.
The only gripe(?), so far
The only negative aspect of this pen is the time it takes to clean. I have used four different colors of inks in about two months of owning it: blue, blue-black, and two shades of brown inks.
Each time, I’ve had to clean the pen several times and let it sit to dry before refilling it with new ink. That is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. But, as it is with any vacuum filler—why, I’d say fountain pens, in general—it requires a certain level of commitment. So, before you make up your mind about buying this pen, keep in mind the extra time you might have to invest in taking care of it.
Where to buy
I bought my pen from Makoba India. I got it on Fountain Pen Day, at a discount. The pen arrived, as it should, in multiple layers of a sealed, well-secured package. The package contained a warranty card, the pen (neatly tucked in a sleeve), and a 70 ml Pilot Black ink bottle. I have paired Pilot Black with my Beena Lincoln and Guider Medium Ebonite—both are black colored pens.
Makoba owners were kind enough to send me writing samples and patient enough for me to choose between Fine, Medium, and Broad nib choices. Over multiple interactions that then followed, I chose for myself the Medium nib. Although looking at the nib’s performance, I wouldn’t have faltered had I gone with Fine, either.
If you are in India, I’d highly recommend Makoba.
That’s my experience with Pilot Custom 823, so far. I’d be curious to know what you think.