Saluting the Missing Gold Point: Wing Sung 103 Review

I know, there has been lots of changes in the fountain pen market during the past months after my graduation, and the sheer numbers of new products and brand stories overwhelmed me.

It is a good trend. Nevertheless, I believe more and more people are into the hobby of writing with ink and collecting pens around the world. The visitors’ number I glimpsed from my WordPress dashboard when I barely got the energy to write something, and the constant popularity of Chris’ YouTube channel also confirmed my observation.

However, I have to concede that I was having one big problem: the proper scenario for me to use and review a fountain pen during my days. Yes, the Satin Black Aurora 88 is just the right answer for formal occasions and meetings, but when I was faced with lousy quality printer paper or called upon suddenly to jot down some important numbers, or simply tasked with lots of digital word and data processing, the fancy Aurora just can keep up with my pace. The same problem for my Chinese pens, the Shiyou from Live in You, the newest PenBBS pens, and many wooden pens—they are either too flashy for the task or unsuitable to withstand the torture of work environment. For at least ten times my coworkers tried to pull off and back the cap of my fountain pens (sometimes they did success). In one occasion, a Delike wooden pen cracked after one single dropping. In another incident, one PenBBS 309 leaked during my commute, spreading ink all over my pen case (there is no inner cap for the PenBBS 308 or 309!) which embarrassed me later during work.

Only one pen solved my problem: a 90s Wing Sung 103.

I purchased this Wing Sung 103 from Shanghai Jingdian, and it is a traditional hooded gold nib Wing Sung pen from the original factory back to the best days of the brand. It is also a special edition since it is an original Wing Sung 103’s body and filling system fitted with a modern hooded gold nib coined by Shanghai Jingdian in collaboration with DELIKE.

While the original Wing Sung 103 was sharing the same 12k nib and filling system as other Wing Sung 1-series (a series of gold hooded nib offerings from the late Wing Sung with code numbers ranging from 101 to 108 with a vacant for the 107), the one I am using here is actually using a 10k nib.

Earlier this year in the FPN, there was a little mention about this pen and question was also raised about the background story of the missing nibs and the new alternative. Where is the NOS 12k nib? Why replace it with a 10k option?

According to several Taobao resellers, the reason is just that the Wing Sung 103, like most of the Wing Sung 1-Series pen produced in the 90s, was forced to give up its gold nib, the most valuable part of it, during the downtime of the original Wing Sung (1997 to 1998). On the landing page of Jingdian, it says after the bankruptcy of the original Wing Sung, many gold nibs on the 1-Series were pulled out and forged back to the form of bullion. Specifically, the affected Wing Sung models were 102, 103, 104, 106 and 108, most of them were later given a standard Wing Sung standard gold-plated steel nib similar to the ones used in 612. While at the same time, the other two well-accepted models, the 101 and 105 survived and even managed to gain more acclamation from the pen users as time goes by. Note that Wing Sung 101 was favored note only due to its apparent similarity to the HERO-100 but also the popularity is given by some master calligraphers’ writing tutorial aired on TV nationwide, roughly the same time the Wing Sung 105 was famous for being a model tailored for the PLA NAVY with a warship-anchor badge embedded on the hood. Even today inside China, you still have to pay a premium to get the 101 in comparison with only a fractional of the cost for a steel nib model from other 1-series, a phenomenon which, in my understanding, looks awfully like an on-going textbook example of bad marketing.

The Screen shot of Mr. Tian’s Chinese Calligraphy Tutorial 
Later it turned out he was using a modified version of Win Sung 101

Next question: why Jingdian opted to curate a brand new 10k? On paper, it seems to be a compromise of material. Although I am not an insider of the nibs industry in China, I did use the vintage Wing Sung a lot during my college and even keep some of them till now, which gives me an excellent reference for this new 10k nib. After weeks of writing with it, all I can tell is that it is doing a much better job than the original 12k nib of the Wing Sung 1-series in my workdays, which might give a clue to why this nib turned out to be the chosen one.

Let me start with a short recap of my experience with my vintage Wing Sung hooded gold nib pens. I have had two Wing Sung 1-series gold nib pens in my college; the first one is the Wing Sung 101 made in 1994, the other is a Wing Sung 102 from 1996. Note that the original Wing Sung made them, and that was a time before it was merged under the turf of HERO. The bad news is that I gave up both of them after the first week of writing due to their crude metal works. Good news is that I later refitted these two gold nibs into my beloved HERO 616 and Wing Sung 612 and kept on using it along the years—-one of them was gifted to Chris last year.

It may seem to you that I love the writing experience of the Wing Sung 12k hooded nibs. However, the truth is somehow ironic. If you asked me what makes these gold nibs stand out, my answer has nothing to do with the flexibility or the feedback, but only the stiffness and sturdiness of them.

The 12k Wing Sung nibs are the hardiest gold nibs I have ever encountered. I can still remember the days when I was preparing for the GRE, and my graduation essay with a HERO 616 or a Wing Sung 612 fitted with the still Wing Sung gold nib, filled up with Noodler’s Ink’s eternal black. The 12k gold nib feels harder than the original HERO steel nib. Such a rigid nib makes the HERO 616 writes as fast as a gel ink pen when I was note taking relentlessly every day in the library.

On PenBBS, pen pals describe each of the Wing Sung 1-series “could be used as a dart, and if you throw it to a wooden desk the 12k nib would penetrate the wood but remain a good shape and usable”. Chris revealed the similar result in his review video. “This is nib is as stiff as a steel one,” said Chris when he swaps the 12k nib into a Green Wing Sung 698.

Now back to the 103.

I bought it last year mainly due to the 10k nib with the DELIKE branding. With this nib, Jingdian resurrected models like 103, 104 and 106 back to its original identification—a premium pen. In the meantime, DELIKE just wheeled out a couple of good products, but none of them has a hooded nib. Curious about what is the real intention behind this nib replacement project, I ordered the 103 without overthinking.

When the package arrived, and I was prepared to see another poorly made trim from the 90s, the 103 surprised me. The waved texture on the cap is in perfect mint condition without a single spot or erosion, capable of shining elegantly either in artificial lights or sunlight. The pattern of such texture, when observing in a close distance, looks quite like a circuit board. I was anticipating a cap on par with my 1993 HERO-100 with gold waved pattern, but the delicacy of the 103 eclipses it. In hand, the textual feeling of the cap also exceeds what I got from a waved HERO-100. Thicker, warmer and more comfortable to grip, this texture brings a more luxurious sense in hand. This feeling reminds a lot of the cap of the Aurora 88 with Sterling Silver Cap.

This cap is also by no means a shallow shell, beneath the clip sits a Pilot/Namiki style metal ball as the clutch and inside a plastic sleeve can still seal the nib well and prevent ink from escaping the cap when an emergency did happen. 

The clutch spring inside the cap to hold the hood is snug and would provide a click sound when the pen is fully capped, unlike other Chinese pens with a similar closing mechanism. I know it is an old idea and doesn’t sound fancy at all, similar to the aeromatic filling system inside the barrel, but such structures work, and they need little or no caring at all. No need to worry about blunt colleagues who tried to appreciate your collection but pull all you pens with his or her full strength without noticing you or the curious coworkers that just want to screw the end finial of a piston filler to see what would happen in the end. Besides, the straightforwardness of a slip cap and an unbreakable filling system adds up to productivity during everyday use.

Uncapping the pen, on the top of the hood, you would see one of the best design tricks adopted by HERO and Wing Sung in the old days—an arrow in a modern computer mouse shape, made with bronze and gold alloy. Many pen resellers claimed that this is an 8k gold arrow, which I can’t verify with my resources, but it may probably be true since this piece of metal sometimes would show up with kind of tarnish only gold would have after years of stocking. I swipe it with a microfiber cloth several times, and it retained a rich bronze tone immediately.

The real game changer is the nib. It was well tuned and generals when I want to make some impressive stroke. Unlike the original Wing Sung 12k gold nib, this 10k DELIKE branded nib can give a necessary amount of flexibility when writing with Kanji. When writing in cursive English words, its modest springy character also enables one to write more casually. Without much effort, I can start and write a perfect line during any moment of the day, workdays included.

On one weekend leading up to the holiday, I pulled this pen out of my backpack and demonstrated to my friends what I good nib should be when we were in the Goods for the Study by McNally Jackson Store. One of my friends was trying to buy a steel soul-less steel nib for his sister as Christmas gift, and I handed this Wing Sung 103 to him “no, that pen is too stiff and scratchy, try this one.” He changed his mind after writing the first two words with the Wing Sung, and the staff behind the counter asked for my permission to try it only to become enamored by the lines it can easily layout.

I even decided to ink up one of my oldest collection, the original Wing Sung 102 Vacumatic to make a comparison with the 103. The 102 was almost a 1:1 replica of the Parker Vacumatic, featuring a Parker 51 size 14k nib with on paper is bigger and should be softer than the 103’s 10k nib. However, during the comparison, 103 produces a broader line under the same pressure and generally lays out more ink.

One must not forget the Wing Sung 601 Vacumatic, a groundbreaking move by the Green Stationery last year. The 601 line also offers the 12k nibs as the 618 Tusu line. Since the physical dimension of these 12k gold nibs is also traditional Wing Sung standards, it would be exciting how would the two stack up again each other. In comparison, the Green Wing Sung’s 12k nib writes drier, feels softer but not more flexible, and looks more yellowish. The Green Wing Sung’s 12k nib to me shares a striking similarity with this year’s HERO-100’s nib.

I asked Mr. Zhang the chief of the company yesterday about the origin of the 12k Wing Sung gold nib seen in his portfolio starting with the 618 Tusu, and he said that they are brand new nibs made by Green’s nib partners. He didn’t give out the specific name of the nib manufacturer, but my theory is that the 10k DELIKE Wing Sung nib is made by a factory different from Green Wing Sung’s and the later may probably share the same production line with the HERO-100’s nib.

I hope I can prove my assumption during my next trip back to China. However, before that, don’t forget to check out the remaining 103 and 104 10k fountain pens from Jingdian. Judging from the English comments popped up here and there among Jingdian’s Taobao listing, clearly, someone in the west has unlocked the expressway to order directly via Taobao, and I can’t wait to hear from you about your experience with the resurrected Wing Sung.

Related Readings:

  • Since my camera’s shuttle is gone, I can no longer took proper pictures of the stiff 12k original Wing Sung nib this weekend. But here is another brilliant shot from PENBBS memeber CDon

Updated on 12/25/2018: a writing sample of 103 along with the Green Wing Sung’s 601 and vintage 102 Vacumatic was added.

5 Replies to “Saluting the Missing Gold Point: Wing Sung 103 Review”

  1. I believe you can bay this on TaoBao . It’s a shame you can’t add visa cards on a TaoBao account . 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for referencing my YouTube. I always learn a lot from your insights into Chinese pens. You have a great insiders view. We all appeciate your excellent reporting.

    Liked by 1 person

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