Monday, May 4, 2020

Fountain Pen Review: BENU Tessera Amber


When Moscow-based BENU launched their fountain pens in early 2016, I was mesmerized. I was so impressed by their pens' vibrant color combinations and material textures. I love their colorful, shiny, and pearlescent pen barrels, some of which have distinctive gold and silver inserts. BENU even have pens with golden and silver leaf inserts — sparkling, shining, blazing! When I reviewed a BENU Classic Ghost White Silver a year later, it was magical. 

BENU, whose name and brand logo comes from the ancient Egyptian deity Bennu, a self-created being linked with the sun, creation, and rebirth and who may have been the inspiration of Phoenix in Greek mythology, has come a long way in creating writing instruments with a unique character and instantly recognizable look. Five years have seen their excellent team create one magical pen after another. The Classics have been discontinued, but now they have more pens from the following collections: MinimaBrioletteChameleonSupremeHexagonTattooScepter, and the Tessera series, one of which is in this review.

BENU's fountain pens are now presented in elegant white boxes with gold imprint of their logo, replacing their previous gray pen boxes. The Tessera fountain pen was inside a white "penvelope" set on a bed of thin strips of paper. A sheet printed with fountain pen care instructions is also included in the box.

When I saw the Tessera Amber fountain pen on BENU's website last year, it was love at first sight. The pen's color combination captivated me — the mix of semi-translucent amber, dark brown swirls, and silver ribbons is beautiful and truly eye-catching. The body's design intrigued me, and BENU's Kate Dmitrieva educated me about the Tessera's design inspiration: mosaic art. 

The BENU Tessera Collection is inspired by mosaic art created from tesserae – cube-shaped tiles made from colored glass, or clear glass backed with metal foils. BENU has recreated the magic of the Byzantine era, St. Sophia Cathedral in Kievan Rus', Lomonosov’s masterpieces, and the art nouveau of renowned Russian artists V.M. Vasnetsov and M.A. Vrubel in this beautiful series. The play of light on the faceted stone-like surface of these pens creates an effect that is beautiful and radiant.


BENU launched the Tessera Collection in September 2019, inspired by mosaic art and with tessera as the key design element. The Collection offers both fountain pens and rollerball pens in four stone-like radiant finishes: Garnet, Blue Quartz, Amethyst, and Amber. All four are beautiful, shiny pens, but Amber will always be my favorite! BENU has also made a turquoise Tessera fountain pen, but it's exclusive to the US, and will only be made available to BENU dealers in the USA.

Alex Semanin, Co-Founder of BENU and the creator and chief designer of the Tessera Collection said, “We admire the tessera technique in all variants – in simple forms used for decorative purposes and in most complex forms used in art. Our newest collection of fountain pens celebrates mosaic art, the most complex and profound form of this technique that has a long history globally and in Russia.”


The Tessera's design features a structured pattern of tesserae in varied sizes, reflecting light differently and adding vividness, radiance, and depth to the faceted surface. Colored waves on a solid black surface seem to imitate the texture of marble, agate, and amber which are often used in creating a mosaic. The Tessera has exceptional gloss and shine, and this pen's cap, section, and barrel are spotless, shiny,  and simply flawless. 

Tessera pens are made from acrylic resin, an extraordinarily weatherproof and durable material. Capped, this pen weighs around 25 grams, and approximately 19 grams when uncapped, which is just right in the hand. The Tessera's screw-on cap can be easily posted, as the barrel end is slightly tapered for this. 

This standard full-sized fountain pen measures 5.5 inches long when capped, 5.25 inches without the cap, and 6.75 inches when posted. It's a well-built fountain pen and it's just right for daily use in note-taking, journaling, and even sketching.

BENU's Tessera fountain pens can be filled with ink using cartridges or converters. 
This pen's easy to take apart for cleaning.

The Tessera's size and length allow for inking with standard international long cartridges or converters. BENU is thoughtful to include an international non-proprietary converter in their fountain pens, so a Tessera purchase already includes a converter. One more thing that I love about the Tessera fountain pen is that it's so easy to fully take apart. I usually do that when I am cleaning my fountain pens before storage, or if I am reinking them, so I am happy that it's easy to take apart this pen's section and thoroughly clean the nib and feed holder, feed, and nib. I can even take apart the converter if needed.

BENU's logo is imprinted on the Tessera's cap ring.
The Tessera's cap's clip and ring are made from stainless steel, adding more gloss and shine to the pen. BENU has made an excellent choice in using stainless steel for their pens' cap trims. Stainless steel is durable, and is corrosion–, scratch–, and tarnish–resistant. It also looks good against the brown–silver swirls of the Amber's cap.
The Tessera's tapered barrel is truly captivating. The varying sizes of tesserae with different colors and translucence reflect light beautifully. The acrylic resin also shows exceptional gloss and shine.
The Tessera sports a stainless steel #6 Schmidt nib available in Fine, Medium, or Broad. BENU remembered my nib preference and sent the Amber with a smooth, juicy Broad nib.
The stainless steel Schmidt nib unit in BENU Tessera fountain pen.

My first BENU fountain pen was the Classic Ghost White Silver, a shorter, clipless pocket pen. The Tessera, on the other hand, is a standard full-length fountain pen, sharing the same length as a Lamy 2000, Conklin Duragraph, or Lamy Safari/Al-star. Its middle part is as thick as an Edison Collier. It's well-balanced and comfortable to use despite its thick middle section.
The Tessera pen shares the same length as a Lamy 2000 or Conklin Duragraph, but it has a thick middle section. 

Uncapped, the Tessera becomes a longer pen than most full-sized pens. It's now longer than the Lamy 2000 and Lamy Safari/Al-star, and other fountain pens with a #6 nib such as Conklin Duragraph and Edison Collier. It's now at the same length with a Bexley Intrepid at 5.3 inches. Did you notice the Tessera's long section, though? This fountain pen has the longest section I have ever seen, measuring up to 2.6 inches.
The Tessera has the longest fountain pen section I have ever seen, measuring up to 2.6 inches.

To test how the Tessera fountain pen writes, I filled it with Pelikan Edelstein Smoky Quartz, a matching dark brown ink. I chose Smokey Quartz which is a dry ink to complement the Broad Schmidt nib. I did not experience any hard start and the pen wrote instantly. The Schmidt nib wrote very smoothly and wet. It wrote very well, no skips, no inky blobs, no trouble at all. The Tessera is an enjoyable pen, and its long section helps in writing comfortably.

The Broad Schmidt nib in this Tessera Amber fountain pen writes and smooth and wet. 

I am happy with BENU Tessera Amber and will recommend it to anyone who wants to explore and know the brand. It's a lovely pen and I'm glad to have one in my collection. BENU is an excellent pen maker who uses only the best materials and takes great care in manufacturing their pens. Get one for your collection.

In the last five years, BENU has created pens for different series depicting bold, unique, and eye-catching designs. Aside from the Tessera Collection, BENU currently has seven other pen collections, and I'm including their descriptions below: 
  • Minima, portable pens with compact, streamlined faceted bodies. Their small size conveniently fits into pockets and bags. The Minima Collection has almost 20 color combinations. 
  • Briolette, pens with long facets that highlight the visual appeal of the material. The Briolette Collection has 22 color combinations.
  • Chameleon, pens with features never seen before. These pens have incredible chameleon-like material that allows colors to change depending on the angle from which you are looking at the pens. The Collection has nine color combinations.
  • Supreme, standard-sized pens with innovative design. There are six color combinations in the Supreme Collection.
  • Hexagon, features the pattern of nature’s most perfect six-sided polygon shapes. This collection has six color combinations.
  • Tattoo, pens that give tribute to the most unconventional form of modern art – the tattoo. BENU's Tattoo pens have bold designs and showcase beautiful imagery of stars, skulls, roses, and more. There are six combinations in this series.
  • Scepter, pens crafted for an exquisite and luxurious experience similar to scepters. This collection has six color combinations.

The Tessera Amber fountain pen in this review has been sent by BENU where it retails for US$120. To learn more about BENU, where to buy their pens, and for other details on purchasing BENU pens, visit their website at https://www.benupen.com/.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Review: Shibui 5-Pen Case in Saddle Brown Leather


When I started using and collecting fountain pens, I didn't realize that the hobby would include a lot of other products. A few months into the hobby, I learned that aside from adding more fountain pens to my collection, using these pens involves a lot of other fascinating products -- paper, ink, and carrying cases such as pen wraps -- or rolls -- and pen cases. For so many years, I enjoyed using a blue 12-pen flannel pen roll as my daily pen carry. The cloth was safe for my pens, it was easy to wash/clean, and it carried a lot of pens. But I realized I needed a smaller carrying case for only a few pens, too. I needed one that's sturdier and more secure.

During the 2018 Manila Fountain Pen Show, I came upon Shibui PH and their leather pen cases. It was love at first sight! Shibui's leather pen cases became one of my must-haves as a fountain pen user/collector. They are well crafted and looked like the perfect pen case that I needed! Two months later, I received Shibui's 5-pen case in lovely saddle brown leather. The pen case is beautiful, well built, and ready for the rough and tumble of being an everyday carry, or what we call our EDC. I was ready to use it and write a review, but my health held down everything for a while. For most of 2019, blogging, calligraphy, and my other hobbies were grounded as my body needed time to heal from surgery. I am now fully recovered and back to blogging and reviewing with Shibui's leather pen case as my comeback review before 2019 ends.

Shibui's white boxes — neat, simple, elegant. 

Shibui's products are packaged in large white boxes printed only with the Shibui logo. This careful, efficient, and elegant product presentation is very classy and truly impressive. Inside the box are the pen case, a small flyer with leather care instructions, and a postcard. The inside bottom of the box contains the Shibui brand philosophy, contact details, and their social media accounts.

The pen case inside Shibui's iconic white box.
Inside the box: flyer for leather care, postcard, Shibui brand philosophy, and their contact details.

Shibui pen cases are handcrafted by artisans in Bulacan, a province in the Philippines' Central Luzon region where leather crafting is a major industry. The leather used in their beautiful pen cases is locally sourced from either Bulacan or Marikina City in Metro Manila where specific cowhide colors are made for them. Unlike other companies that outsource their production, Shibui PH makes their pen cases in their leather making factory. Awesome!


Shibui pen cases have their own characteristics — no two pieces are alike and each carries its own look and personality.

The Shibui leather pen case looks beautiful out of the box. The full-grain leather is smooth to touch and has a rich earthy scent. The pen case has excellent stitching and a good quality zipper that is easy to reach. Shibui pen cases are all handcrafted from real leather, and each piece is unique — no two pieces are alike — in appearance and characteristics. I'm excited to see how this pen case will look after several months of use. The leather will surely develop a patina, a character marked by occasional scratches and darkened by the oils from my hand.

The full pen case fits inside my backpack comfortably. It's not too thick because the leather is not padded at all.

During their design process, the creators of Shibui wanted their pen cases to be strong enough to withstand the wear and tear of daily use. They thought of making the insides of their pen cases as sturdy and durable as its leather, but still flexible to accommodate different fountain pen sizes without the use of elastic bands. This led to the creation of the most unique feature of Shibui's pen cases — the Pull-Tag™ — an adjustable soft leather band holding the pens securely in their slots inside the pen case. Most pen cases use elastic bands for pen slots, but those become loose and are easily worn out through continued use. Shibui's Pull-Tag™ allows pens in any size and thickness to fit securely in their slots without any risk of pen damage due to tight elastic bands. Anyone who has a Shibui pen case can add and mix different pens safely in their EDCs!


Shibui pen cases are the only pen cases in the market with the Pull-Tag adjustable leather band.
The Pull-Tag replaces elastic bands that turn loose and are easily worn out due to daily use.
The zippers on Shibui's pen cases bear their logo. Love this!
This Shibui pen case accommodates pens in any size and thickness...
...without the risk of pen damage (scratches, cracks) that usually happens due to tight elastic bands. Each pen — thin or thick — fits comfortably in their slots. The leather band looks nice on the pens, too! 
This pen case has compartments, too! There's one which fits a pocket notebook or a small notepad, and two smaller ones for business cards, receipts, or tickets.

During the 2019 Manila Pen Show in November, Shibui PH introduced exclusive and limited edition leather 2-pen cases. The pen cases are made from 100% veg-tanned genuine cowhide leather. The pen cases are available in two variants and color combinations to represent the second pen show in the Philippines. The color scheme, on the other hand, is inspired by the new wave of the milk tea craze that took over the Philippines in 2019. The color combinations are The Classic, which has white leather on the outside, and brown leather on the inside; and The Brown Sugar, with brown leather on the outside, and white leather on the inside. These pen cases are still available from Shibui PH.

Exclusive and limited edition Shibui 2-pen cases for the 2nd Manila Pen Show.
(These 100% veg-tanned pen cases are still available at the Shibui PH website.) Photo from Shibui PH

Shibui PH products are designed and crafted by Filipinos whose vision has always been to create a brand that will promote Filipino leather craftsmanship to the world. Shibui's creators are firm believers of local craftsmanship and their goal is to enrich local industries and compete with other brands on a global stage. They envisioned a brand that will have a strong local and international following because they believe that providing jobs to Filipino leatherworkers means that more families can stay together and will no longer need to look for work overseas. This way, fathers can stay with their children, train them, and pass on the legacy of leather crafting to the next generation, a skill that is slowly fading as next-generation leather workers become interested in other endeavors.

My Shibui pen case's saddle brown leather is a perfect match for my brown Traveler's Notebook!

Aside from this pen case, Shibui offers 3-pen cases, an 8-vial case, Hobo Weeks Cover, A5 or A6 Notebook/Journal Covers, A5 or A6 Life Organizers, Travel Wallet, and Travel Organizer. To see (and buy) these amazing Filipino products, visit the Shibui PH website (https://www.shibuiph.com/).

In the Philippines, Shibui pen cases and other leather products are also available in the following stores: Scribe.ph (SM Aura, Glorietta 4, and Eastwood branches), Analog, Noteworthy (Podium, Rockwell, BGC, and Alabang Town Center branches) and Everything Calligraphy.

And did you know? Shibui PH has now reached the global stage! Overseas, Shibui leather pen cases are available in Malaysia (Pen Gallery), Singapore (Cityluxe), and the United States (Endless Pens). Shibui products will also be in Hong Kong and Korea very, very soon!

The Shibui 5-Pen Case in this review is provided by Shibui PH where it retails for PhP2,650 (~US$65). For more details on purchasing from Shibui PH, visit their website at https://www.shibuiph.com/.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

5 Questions with Jillian Joyce Tan, The Visionary Behind Everything Calligraphy and Vinta Inks

I have been using fountain pens for more than 10 years now, having done the shift to full fountain pen use in early 2008. Back then, most of us Pinoy fountain pen users had very limited local sellers of pen products to choose from. We considered ourselves lucky if we find fountain pen inks other than Quink, fountain pen friendly paper, or if we come across student pens in Recto.

Luckily for us, Jillian Joyce Tan, a fellow fountain pen user and member of our local group Fountain Pen Network Philippines started Everything Calligraphy, an online one-stop shop "happy place" for our local fountain pen community. Everything Calligraphy created their own products and brought in international brands such as Colorverse Inks, Field Notes, Franklin-Christoph, IWI Pens, Jinhao, Nemosine, Opus 88, and Robert Oster, among others. Today, EC, as we fondly call it, carries more than 50 local and international brands offering fountain pens, ink, paper, and accessories. Fountain pen enthusiasts await their annual anniversary sale where they offer products at discounted prices, and free demo lessons and ink buffet.

Last March, Jillian launched Vinta Inks, a brand of ink proudly produced in the Philippines using locally sourced pigments meant for fountain pens and calligraphy. Though I did not make it to the launch party, I chatted with Jillian a few weeks later and asked her a few questions, five of which are published here.

Jillian at the successful launch of Vinta Inks in March.

How did Everything Calligraphy start?

Jillian: Actually, the first brand I started was Elias Notebooks. Sometime around 2015, I was frustrated by the lack of good quality paper that would be compatible with fountain pens. So I searched for a good local source for fountain pen-friendly paper and that’s how Elias was created. Four years later, the brand expanded to carry notebooks, leather pen cases, pad papers, and so much more.

It was when I was working on Elias Notebooks that I decided to come up with an online store that would become a one-stop shop for all pen aficionados like myself, where they can purchase everything they would need from pen, paper, ink, to cleaning materials. I wanted to curate the products to feature quality materials from all over the world to be accessible to Filipinos whatever his or her budget is. And they don’t need to leave the house to find these items.

Elias pad papers are locally manufactured. Each pad has 80 sheets of acid-free 90 GSM paper and well-loved for the paper's tolerance to bleeding and feathering and ability to show the shading properties of fountain pen inks. These pad papers are available as blank, dot grid, or lined in small and large sizes at EverythingCalligraphy.Com

EC also offers Elias Notebook Inserts for Traveler's Notebook. Available in two sizes (regular and passport), the inserts have 40 pages of 90gsm acid-free paper that is suitable for fountain pens, calligraphy, and sketching. These inserts can be bought as one or as a set of three at EverythingCalligraphy.Com.

How big is Everything Calligraphy?

Jillian: Contrary to what some might think, the EC team is very small and we’re hoping to expand. In fact, we are looking for an operations manager, marketing manager, and custom relations officer. If anyone is interested in applying, they can email their CV to jillian@everythingcalligraphy.com. Currently, our team of six is very shorthanded and we’d love for more people to join us.

Everything Calligraphy joins craft festivals and shows. This was the EC table during the Craft Mania at Shangri-La Plaza in 2016.
Everything Calligraphy's Ink Buffet during their Anniversary Sale in September 2018. The famous Ink Buffet is on a long table covered with Elias Paper with sample vials of around 50 ink brands that EC offers from J. Herbin to Robert Oster. EC offers uninked Pilot Parallel pens so attendees can try the different inks on the table. They are also allowed to dip their uninked pens in the sample vials.


























How do you select brands/products to include in Everything Calligraphy’s product line up?

Jillian: This is a great question! The primary selection of products stems mostly from the customers. Sometimes they introduce us to different brands as requests or specific ink colors they want to see more of. I also always read posts on social media and listen to what people look for. And personally, I love trying various products when I travel and if it passes quality control, then we decide to carry them.

Opus 88 Demonstrator pens were first offered in the Philippines by Everything Calligraphy. Get them from EverythingCalligraphy.Com.
IWI Pens Essential (top) and Handscript (bottom). Another brand that was introduced by EC to local fountain pen enthusiasts is IWI Pens from Taiwan. Get them from EverythingCalligraphy.Com.

You've been selling fountain pen inks from various brands at Everything Calligraphy for a while now. Why did you come up with the idea of creating your own fountain pen inks?

Jillian: Because people see the same team behind both Everything Calligraphy and Vinta, they tend to assume that they’re one and the same. I cannot emphasize enough how the two are separate brands. On one hand, EC’s goal is to curate the world’s best selection of writing materials into one store where Filipinos can purchase them. On the other hand, Vinta’s goal is to reach an international audience. Simply put, their trajectories are completely opposite each other. With Vinta Inks, I want to show the world that we can make world-class quality inks right here in the Philippines. And at the same time, I want to share a little bit of our history to the world and tell them more about this great, if sometimes, vexing country.

"Take a dip and write away." Proudly made in the Philippines, Vinta Inks are available in 10 beautiful and exciting colors. Get yours at VintaInks.Com.
Jillian with Dr. Jose Dalisay, Jr., founder of Fountain Pen Network Phillipines during the launch of 
Vinta Inks in the Philippines in March 2019.

How do you envision Everything Calligraphy in the next 10 years?

Jillian: Within the next ten years, I want Everything Calligraphy to have a bigger team. I hope to include more brands into the store, especially start-up brands both local and international. Hopefully, we can transfer to a bigger office as we’re pretty cramped right now. Our customers might even want to see us open a retail or pop-up store. 
Everything Calligraphy's ink table during their Anniversary Sale in September. 

Through the years, Everything Calligraphy has been true to its promise of building the most comprehensive writing paraphernalia store in the Philippines and continues to add new brands to their offering to make fountain pen use and collecting more interesting to Pinoy aficionados. To see their brand offerings, visit EverythingCalligraphy.Com.
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