Sailor Pro Gear Classic

First, this isn’t my pen. It’s my wife’s pen. She adores it.

I’m not a huge fan of Sailor. I think my review of the Sailor 1911 Large was a bit harsh, but I stand by it. For the most part.

The Pro Gear Classic–henceforth Pro Gear–is, basically, a 1911 Large with flat ends. Sailor isn’t the only brand that does that–the Aurora Optima is essentially a flat-top 88, for example–but something magical happens when a manufacturer flattens those elegant, round ends. By taking 14mm off of the total length of the Pro Gear, Sailor created a pen that fits perfectly in a pocket but feels just as substantial in the hand. This pen is beautifully proportioned.

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It’s hard for me not to draw comparisons between the Pro Gear and the equally beautiful and perfectly proportioned Aurora Optima. They are quite similar in many ways, and while I generally find Sailor pens to be overpriced, the Pro Gear is still a lot cheaper than an Aurora Optima. Users that are not concerned about ebonite feeds, piston fillers, and such things may very well find the Sailor Pro Gear to be a suitable substitute for the Aurora Optima.

The pen fills via Sailor’s proprietary cartridge converter system, which is functional enough. For $80 more, one can purchase the Pro Gear Realo version, which fills via piston. My understanding is that the Realo version’s ink capacity isn’t that much more than the cartridge/converter pen–especially if one is using cartridges. In general, the major advantage of a piston filler is increased ink capacity at the cost of the pen being more expensive, more difficult to clean, and ultimately harder to service. Because of these deficiencies, I’m not sure I’d go with the Realo version of the Pro Gear, but I can see the appeal. Piston fillers are sweet.

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The nib on this pen is an extra fine, and extra fine it is. Like I said in my 1911L review, I don’t like the way Sailor nibs feel–it’s as if they’re not rigid enough–and that makes writing with this very fine nib somewhat tricky. It takes a very light, delicate touch. This is likely what separates die hard Sailor fans from those of us who don’t get them. Users willing to master the touch required for this nib are rewarded with a heavenly writing experience: high precision with a perfect level of feedback. I like Platinum’s and Aurora’s nibs more, but I can appreciate what Sailor’s doing.

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Simply forcing myself to write a single page with my wife’s Pro Gear has changed my mind a little bit. Sailor pens are well made and attractive, and they write beautifully. If I were going to give Sailor another chance, I’d probably go with a Pro Gear, and I’d take my time to learn how to write with the thing.

The Pro Gear is an immensely popular pen, so there really isn’t that much more I can add. I think I’m starting to understand the Sailor hype a little bit more.

Pros:

  • Lovely size.
  • Perfectly balanced.
  • Beautiful writer.

Cons:

  • I still think they cost too much. It’s still just a cartridge/converter pen. Sailor would have my interest if the Pro Gear were $200. They’d have my full attention at $150. But the street price is $272 and is approaching the price of custom pens, used/vintage Montblanc/Aurora/Pelikan/Montegrappa/OMAS/whatever. It’s good, just not $272 good.
  • The gray market price is much closer to what I think this pen’s worth.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Twist to remove. Push to post.
    • 1.5 turns to remove.
  • Nib:
    • Proprietary 21K Sailor nib. Either polished gold or rhodium plated to match the pen’s trim. Some models have a very pretty two tone nib.
    • Available in Extra Fine, Fine, Medium-Fine, Medium, Broad, Music, and Zoom.
    • Historically, specialty bespoke nibs were available. If one finds one for sale, it will likely be for a huge amount of money.
  • Body:
    • Ivory resin.
    • There’s a boat load of different colors of resin available for the Pro Gear.
  • Filling System:
    • Sailor’s proprietary cartridge/converter.
    • Capacity when filled with a converter is 0.7mL.
    • A piston filled-version called the Realo is available for more money.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 130mm
    • Uncapped: 127mm
    • Posted: 150mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 24g
    • Pen: 16g
    • Cap: 8g
  • Section diameter:
    • 11-12mm

Alternatives:

  • Obviously the Aurora Optima or Sailor 1911L
  • The Pro Gear Slim is widely available and much cheaper.
  • The Pilot Custom Heritage 92 and Custom 912 are similar, and less expensive.
  • Sailor literally makes nibs for Taccia, and their pens are cheaper than Sailor’s pens. Taccia’s two tone 14k nibs are gorgeous, too.
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Top to bottom: Aurora Optima, Sailor Pro Gear, Sailor 1911 Large
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Sailor 1911 Large

I wasn’t looking forward to writing this review because I don’t hate this pen. My 1911 Large is a pretty nice pen, but I do not understand the Sailor hype. It’s one of my most confusing pens because I want to like it and I want to hate it and I can do neither because it’s just decent.

First, here is what I think the 1911L has going for it:

The 1911 Large is a very light, well balanced pen that’s large enough to be used posted or unposted. It’s a full-size pen, basically comfortable to hold, and it writes well. It’s a classic design and it just works. It’s a practical pen in many ways–even the broad nib is fine enough to work for everyday writing. It is innocuous. It’s okay. I like these aspects of the pen–ultimately, a pen is made to write, and the 1911L  does that rather well–smooth, wet, and a little feed back.

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Now the things I personally don’t care for:

The nib: I don’t get it. It’s too soft. It’s mushy. I think a fairly close comparison would be my Pelikan m1000’s nib. The Pelikan’s tines open up easily to allow for neat line variation and expression, which is sort-of true of the Sailor except it feels like it’s too fragile and the tines will be sprung with any amount of pressure. It’s very hard to explain and a lot of users like this feeling, but I feel like I’m going to destroy it. I don’t like it. It feels like tinfoil.

There’s a reason why 14 carat gold was the defacto metal choice for nibs for forever–it can be made rigid while staying soft enough to be a little flexy but also spring back to its original shape. I’m neither a metallurgist nor a nibmeister so maybe I’m way off. Now I’m not talking about the flexing the nib–I personally don’t like Sailor 21K nibs because they don’t feel rigid enough and don’t feel like they will return to their original shape on the down strokes of standard writing. To be fair, these are made with Japanese writing in mind, so maybe that doesn’t matter when writing in that script, and plenty of people writing in western styles seem to like Sailor nibs just fine. Maybe it’s just me.DSC_0168

The converter: Wobbly, cheap (not inexpensive), rattly, and low capacity. I measured the capacity of my 1911L as 0.7mL, which is enough to barely get the broad, wet nib through a day of heavy note taking, so it works but it feels like one of those cheap 99 cent converters except it costs nine dollars. I’ve read that Sailor’s philosophy is that pens should be practical and their cartridges are practical so the converters are somewhat of an afterthought. I wonder if that same thinking about us bottled ink users lead to the decision to make Sailor ink bottles 50% smaller (while charging the same for them). I digress.

Which leads me to what I find most objectionable about Sailor pens: the cost.

The street price for this pen in the United States is $270-$300.

That’s 300 USD for a lightweight, injection molded plastic pen with a tiny, crumby converter and a pretty nice nib. The fit and finish are good, so I cannot fault them there, and while I don’t like the nib personally it is good, both functionally and aesthetically. I just don’t think it’s $300 good. No way.

The Pilot Custom 823 is also injection molded but has a cool filling system and a large 18k nib. Cost in the US: $280.

The Platinum 3776 is about the same size and same concept as the Sailor and it’s converter isn’t trash. US cost: $176. The Platinum President is probably a closer comparison to the 1911 Large, and it retails for $220.

The criminally underrated Waterman Carène has a lovely lacquered metal body and fills with the ever-reliable standard international cartridge system. Those can be had for less than $200.

On the other hand, the Aurora Talentum is a little more than a Sailor, but it is equipped with a superior converter, a larger 14k nib with an ebonite feed and the body is machined from a solid rod–not injection molded.

The cost of the Sailor 1911L is a little more tolerable in the Japanese market. I think I paid $150 for mine when I bought it, including shipping and a converter. A cursory check reveals that they are still right around $160-180 as of this writing. That price makes this pen competitive, not $270. This point is why this review was so hard to write. This is a solid pen at the Japanese price point, but the North American price point is insultingly high. At $300, one is starting to get into custom fountain pen territory or even the used luxury market a la Montblanc, Aurora, Pelikan, and Montegrappa. At this price point, I’d save-up the extra $80 and grab the piston-filled Realo version of the 1911 if I had to have one and I was buying it at the full North American MSRP.

Cost is a weird thing in the fountain pen world. Realistically, one doesn’t have to spend more than a few dollars to get a fantastic writing experience. On the other hand, I’m not one of those types that pooh-poohs expensive pens, either. To me, if you charge more money for a pen, then there better be a good reason–artistry, precision, exotic or precious materials, relative rarity, or some other unique attributes–otherwise the manufacturer (or more likely in Sailor’s North American case, the distributor) is charging more for their name only. Some may consider Sailors “worth” that kind of money and that’s fine–it is a small company that seems to take pride in what they are doing–but my opinion is that Sailor has done nothing innovative with their product line-up and simply continues mass producing the same entry-level pens and charging inflated prices for them. The community would collectively balk at Pilot selling the Custom 74 for $300, or Platinum selling the #3776 for $300–although Platinum’s U.S. pricing approaches exorbitant as well–but Sailor seems to get a pass.

Pros:

  • Light weight and well-balanced.
  • House-made nibs are renowned and available in a wide array of grades.
  • Classy aesthetics. They are beautiful pens.
  • A practical pen that’s a decent choice for everyday writing.

Cons:

  • I don’t like the nibs.
  • I don’t like the converter.
  • Feels cheap relative to direct competitors–soft injection molded plastic and a filling system that doesn’t inspire.
  • The pen is relatively expensive in North America.
  • I don’t think this pen brings enough to the table to justify its cost.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Twist type.
    • 1.75 turns to remove.
  • Nib:
    • Proprietary 21K Sailor nib.
    • Available in Extra Fine, Fine, Medium-Fine, Medium, Broad, Music, and Zoom.
    • Historically, specialty bespoke nibs were available. If one finds one for sale, it will likely be for a huge amount of money.
  • Filling System:
    • Sailor’s proprietary Cartridge Converter.
    • Capacity when filled with a converter is 0.7mL.
    • A piston filled-version called the Realo is available for more money.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 144mm
    • Uncapped: 127mm
    • Posted: 157mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 24g
    • Cap: 8g
    • Pen: 16g
  • Section diameter:
    • 11-12mm
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