The art of maki-e as it applies to pens seems to be making a very strong showing for itself of late. In this issue alone we've gotten a look at not just one but two high end maki-e pieces, both of which are literally breathtaking in terms of artistry and workmanship. The Pelikan Dragon and Phoenix is an amazing pen, more than capable of standing alongside the finest of modern maki-e work. No surprise, considering the past efforts from Pelikan in maki-e work.
The dragon and Phoenix are considered to be two of the most important creatures in Chinese legend. The dragon is usually associated with the phoenix as a symbol of blissful relations between man and wife. The dragon, while not viewed in quite the same aggressive light as it's western counterpart, served as the representation of masculinity, as represented in Chinese culture as Yang. The Phoenix, as a counterpart, represents the concept of Yin, the female principle. Thus the pair together depict balance and harmony.
As shown on the Pelikan Dragon and Phoenix, the dragon wraps around the barrel, and is rendered in togadashi maki-e. This technique uses raised portions of urushi lacquer to create a three dimensional design. The same technique is used to create the phoenix on the cap.
Both cap and barrel also feature sections of inlaid mother of pearl, or raden, to accent the designs. The entire cap and barrel are covered with fine gold dust as a backdrop to the design. The end result is one of barely restrained elegance. It's a rich looking pen, but manages to keep from appearing too "flashy".
The level of workmanship is top notch, with detail rendered with exquisite precision. One of the most difficult forms of maki-e, togadashi maki-e requires that the design be built up from many layers of urushi lacquer, and then burnished at the same time as the flat portions of the design. It requires a great deal of skill and experience to ensure that both the raised and flat areas receive the proper amount of polish. The slightest mistake requires that the entire piece be started over.
Obviously, this makes for a slow process. Even the preparation work, creating a base layer of urushi lacquer on the cap and barrel can take over a week. The huge investment in time and effort by skilled craftsmen are what make maki-e pens so expensive, the Pelikan Dragon and Phoenix has a list price of around $15,200.
The Dragon and Phoenix is based on the M1000 series pen, their largest model. I suppose it's unlikely that many of these pens will be filled up and carried around in a pocket, but should the occasion arise...
The M1000 is well known for being one of Pelikan's best pens in terms of writing quality. The size is a bit daunting to some, and if you prefer a slim pen, you're not going to be happy with an M1000. That said, if you don't mind a large pen, the nib on the M1000 is great, smooth, and soft enough to give a bit of line width change as you write.
The nib is available in Pelikan's full range of ten nib widths, from extra fine through triple broad oblique. A little something for everyone in there!
Even if the Dragon and Phoenix never gets filled with ink, it's a worthwhile achievement considered strictly as a work of art. This quality of maki-e is never inexpensive, and really has to be seen in person to be fully appreciated. Production is set at only 88 pieces, which should place the Dragon and Phoenix squarely alongside Pelikan's other high end limited editions in the hearts of serious collectors worldwide.