I've been waiting for a couple of months now before publishing a review of what might be my favorite pen acquisition of the past year: the "Mauna Kea" by the Kanilea Pen Co. Kanilea is new to the scene, even if Hugh and Karol Scher, the proprietors, have been around the pen show circuit for years. Kanilea launched at last year's Washington D.C. Pen Show to much acclaim - certain models of their pens sold out immediately. Each piece in their lineup is inspired by a location or "element" in Hawaii, and is hand-turned from a custom acrylic reflecting the colors in pictures taken on family trips to the islands. Even though these pens aren't "custom" in the sense that they're designed to individual customer's specifications, every aspect of these pens has been custom-designed to the maker's specifications, and even the JoWo nib has been tuned to perfection. It's a unique product, and you're not going to find anything like it elsewhere. I don't give numbered "ratings" to reviews, but if I did I'd give the Kanilea Mauna Kea as close to a perfect score as any pen I've reviewed in the past two years.
Design and Build
Hugh Scher turns each pen by hand, using custom acrylics made by Jonathan Brooks of the Carolina Pen Company. I don't own any of Jonathan's pens, but I can vouch for his ability as a material maker. Hugh's workmanship on the pens themselves is exceptional. With any handmade pen you should expect some degree of imperfections and inconsistency in each finished product - to a degree, that's what makes a hand-crafted pen unique - but I honestly haven't been able to find any such "flaws" on my Mauna Kea. The cap is centered, the threads are smooth, the edges rounded perfectly, and as I'll talk about a bit more later, the nib writes exceptionally well.
The depth of color and contrasting swirls of brown and white/ivory drew me to this particular model. As the name suggests, the pen is inspired by Mauna Kea, the volcano on Hawaii's "Big Island." Because the acrylic blanks are hand-poured, each Kanilea pen is unique in both color and pattern, even among the same model. In other words, my Mauna Kea has a different mix of browns, whites, and pearlescent swirls than any other Mauna Kea pen out there. When you visit Kanilea at a pen show, you'll have the opportunity to see this in person, handle the individual pens, and choose which one you like best.
Kanilea pens come in several different shapes, or "design profiles," but not all are available in every model. From speaking with Hugh at this year's Atlanta Pen Show, I learned that Kanilea makes each model in those profiles that best showcase the material. For example, the Mauna Kea is only available in the "Classic Flush" profile, a streamlined clipless design. Other models, such as the Pahoehoe, Nui Nalu, or Kilauea, are available in different profiles and have the option of adding a clip, which I might choose for my second Kanilea pen just to mix things up. If fountain pens aren't your thing, certain models of Kanilea pens are also available as ballpoints.
Nibs and Writing Experience
Kanilea pens use No. 6 JoWo nibs, in either polished stainless steel, two-toned gold-plated stainless steel, or 18k gold. JoWo nibs are fairly standard in the custom pen world, and most pen makers use nibs manufactured by either JoWo or Schmidt due to their reliability. JoWo nibs are also about as close as you can get to having a "universal nib unit," since most pens featuring JoWo nibs use standard screw-in nib unit, and a Kanilea nib unit, for example, should be interchangeable with a nib unit sold by Franklin-Christoph, Scriptorium, or Edison Pens.
I must say that the medium nib on my Mauna Kea is, hands down, the best JoWo nib I've ever written with (and I'm not the only one to say so.) Hugh works on each nib individually before handing over your new pen, and if you visit Kanilea at the pen show, you'll have the opportunity to have Hugh adjust it to your preference, in terms of ink flow, smoothness, etc. Kanilea carries a range of JoWo nib sizes, from extra fine (EF) all the way up to a 1.1mm stub nib.
The shape of the pen makes the Mauna Kea an excellent writing instrument for longer sessions. The cylindrical profile, with the barrel tapering slightly towards the back, balances the pen nicely, and the lightweight acrylic ensures your hand won't tire. The concave section offers a comfortable grip, and the threads are both high enough on the section and smooth enough so as not to dig into your hand. You can't post the cap, but this is a larger pen so you probably wouldn't want to anyway.
Takeaways and Where to Buy
If you're in the market for a unique piece to add to your collection, I highly recommend a pen from the Kanilea Pen Company. Kanilea doesn't sell through retailers (at least not yet), so you will need to purchase directly from them, either via their website or at one of the pen shows they attend. I'd highly recommend visiting them at either the upcoming DC Fountain Pen Supershow (August 3-6), or the San Francisco Pen Show (August 25-27).
Kanilea pens are not inexpensive, starting at $395, with gold nibs costing an additional $120. The price initially might seem high for an acrylic pen with a steel nib, but once you consider (1) the unique nature and cost of these particular custom acrylics; (2) the quality; (3) the fact that all Kanilea pens are entirely turned by hand; and (4) that all Kanilea pens feature a custom designed medallion crafted from sterling silver or 14K gold-plated sterling silver, the pricing makes sense. Each pen also comes with a "keepsake box" handmade from polished black walnut, which I keep on my desk and use as a pencil box. It's a high quality add-on, featuring a hidden hinge and a magnetic closure. I certainly feel that I got my money's worth.
Disclaimer: I purchased this pen with my own funds, for my own collection. I was not compensated in any way for this review.