Today we are going to compare two similar pens: both are from Asia, demonstrators, piston fillers, large capacity and will not let even the most discerning users down.
I am referring to the Japanese Pilot Custom Heritage 92 and the TWSBI Diamond 580. But before we look at the pens, let’s review the companies making them first.
There’s not much to say about Pilot. One of the biggest companies producing writing instruments, offering disposable pens that cost a few Euros, to fountain pens that cost a small fortune (e.g. Namiki fountain pens). Pilot was formed in 1915, when Mr Namiki decided to build gold nibs for fountain pens. A few years later, he decided to expand to fountain pens and the rest is history: the company is now one of the largest manufacturers of fountain pens, pens and ink with annual revenues of €700 million for 2016 and 2500 employees around the world.
TWSBI on the other hand, is a much newer entrant: the company was founded in 2009 after 40 years of being an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) for other brands. The first name of the company was Tai Shin Precision and today’s name stems from the anagram of San Wen Ton and Bi: the first means “Hall of the 3 cultures” and the second “writing instruments” in Chinese. This is surely something only a fountain pen lover would choose! It is also noteworthy that San Wen Tong used to manufacture many products, ranging from toys to high end fountain pens and this shows even in today’s TWSBI pens.
So we are comparing a titan of tradition against a playful new entrant. Let’s see the pens in more detail.
Construction and mechanics
Both fountain pens are demonstrators and piston-fillers. This puts them in a category of their own, without many competitors (except the much cheaper Wing Sung pens that were presented in a previous article). Most fountain pen users either love or hate demonstrators. As you can tell from this article, I belong to the first category.
Both pens are cigar-shaped with flat ends. The TWSBI barrel is faceted giving it a more playful and geeky look but Pilot has a smooth, round barrel with a more classic design. The TWSBI pen is also a little bigger and heavier than the CH92 and this shows as soon you pick up the pens: TWSBI feels like a tool that will not let you down, but the Pilot pen feels more refined and sensitive (it is not). All of this is subjective of course and the two pens are fairly light: the TWSBI pen weighs 28gr while the Pilot weighs 21gr.
As we have already mentioned, both pens are piston-fillers. There is little to say about their mechanics, only that the Pilot pen is smoother and higher quality, but the TWSBI pen also operates as expected without any problems.
Something to note is that TWSBI materials have been prone to cracking and even breaking in the past, especially in pen parts that were under pressure (e.g. the joint between the cap plastic and the metal ring at the middle of the pen). This was particularly common in previous versions of TWSBI pens but the company has now improved its materials and manufacturing processes (e.g. there are no reported cracks on the newer TWSBI Eco pens). I myself have experienced two cracks in my TWSBI Vac700 pens, but not with the Diamond 580 of today’s test. Of course, these issues are really non-existent with Pilot pens.
For these reasons, winner of this category is the Pilot pen.
Winner of construction and mechanics: Pilot
Nib and writing experience
This is where the major differences start to appear: the TWSBI pen comes with a steel nib (this particular one has a 1.1mm stub) but the Pilot pen comes with a gold, 14K nib. The photos show the difference:
As you may expect, the Pilot pen is smoother and its nib is soft, with some line variation, but surely cannot be characterized as a flex nib. The TWSBI nib on the other hand, is as hard as a nail and is very unyielding.
Something else that I have come across on the Web is a statement that TWSBI uses the same feed on all pens and nibs. This mean that a thirsty nib (especially this 1.1mm stub), the writing experience can gradually get drier after a long writing session. I have experienced this, but the pen never ceased writing. On the other hand, the ink flow on the Pilot pen is certainly consistent, but then again, the nib is less demanding.
Once again, the Pilot pen is the undisputed winner of this category.
Winner of nib and writing quality: Pilot
Availability and price
This is TWSBI’s revenge, since it costs 3 times less than the Pilot pen. In Greece, the TWSBI pen costs approximately €65 while the Pilot pen costs about €200 and this difference in price is reflected in most categories, as presented above. We have to give credit to TWSBI though, since it opened up the market for cost-effective demonstrators, even for the cheaper Wing Sung pens that are of inferior quality.
Pilot pens have been available in the Greek (and global) market for many years now, but TWSBI were harder to find, until the bookstore of Mr Zafeiriou in Athens started to import them (Mr Zafeiriou also stocks several older TWSBI pens that are nowadays hard to find, e.g. the Diamond 540 pens).
Winner of availability and price: TWSBI
One thing is certain: neither pen will disappoint even the most discerning users. For me, TWSBI is a writing instrument but the Pilot pen is a more refined, but practical, ornament. Both have accompanied me in numerous overseas travels and have always been trustworthy companions, with a capacity to write for months. Even though the Pilot pen is superior in almost all categories, the TWSBI pen has an appeal I can’t put into words and in fact spends more time inked than the Pilot pen.
In short, this is my advice: buy both pens and they will surely hold a special place in your collection!