Shotgun Life in Gardone Val Trompia: Part 4, Beretta

In late March and early April of 2017, Shotgun Life visited the legendary Gardone Val Trompia in the province of Brescia, which is the heart of Italy’s shotgun manufacturing. We spent time with shotgun makers Perazzi, Beretta, FAIR and F. illi Poli as well as master engravers Stephano Pedretti, Creative Art, Francesca Fracassi and Cesare Giovanelli. Here is Part 4 of our eight-part series called Shotgun Life in Gardone Val Trompia.

Enter a business meeting and after the customary handshakes the next courtesy is usually an exchange of cards. Here in Gardone Val Trompia we leave our appointments with gunmakers and engravers taking one or two cards from the people we met. At Beretta, after an entire day of briefings, we walked out with nine.

If you’re a cynic it’s easy to assume that Gardone Val Trompia’s largest gunmaker is a bloated bureaucracy. But instead we discovered that Beretta’s integrated, high-tech vision for firearms, accessories and apparel is the future of our shotgun sports and, yes, that ambitious agenda demands plenty of smart men and women.

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The Beretta Villa that serves as the company headquarters.

Through its sheer enormity, Beretta has applied its resources to emerge as the leading technology innovator for wing and clays shooting. The R&D efforts from Beretta Defense Technologies’ law enforcement and military business units often serve as change agents for the assembly and design of the company’s sporting shotguns and accessories.

Here in Brescia, Beretta is a time-travel experience beginning with the fabled Beretta museum in the 90-year-old villa headquarters, which enlivens the company’s history from its founding in 1526, to the cutting-edge factory, to Beretta’s futuristic apparel and accessories business units, and then the intimate Beretta Due building that houses the Premium Division’s artisans.

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Inside the Beretta museum.

In the factory it’s easy to become jaded that the rows of gun-making robots are an inevitability of manufacturing progress. Later, though, with the help of our interpreter Giulia Zera, as we speak with executives in Beretta’s clothing and accessories groups, the full impact of the company’s digital future becomes more expansive and impressive beyond automated gun assembly.

Beretta’s technology vision has unintentionally caused some fans of the company’s sporting and hunting shotguns to hurl invectives such as “Beretta has become a lifestyle company” − as though an act of personal betrayal has been committed by their beloved fabricator.

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A few of the robots in the Beretta factory that assemble shotguns.

Of course the same complaint can be lodged against Purdey, Holland & Holland, Westley Richards and others in the luxe stratosphere where Beretta’s Premium Division exerts considerable influence. The difference, however, is that Beretta’s development and manufacturing of advanced technologies for armed conflict worldwide feed an interconnected, digital product portfolio far more advanced than the tweedy superlatives that define our sporting life in the age of apps.

Specifically, a PowerPoint presentation to us starts with the mission statement:

“Beretta is committed to make the outdoor mindset evolve through a wise use of digital technologies, to enable the outdoor passionate to do more.”

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Beretta receivers for over/under shotguns waiting the next step in the manufacturing process.

The technological foresight we see today started in the early 1970s with Beretta’s inaugural data center that supported core management and manufacturing processes. By 1978 Beretta had installed its first CNC machine (an Olivetti Auctor CNZ that used punched tape instead of software) to manufacture guns. Come 1986 Beretta implemented a computer aided design (CAD) system – one of the earliest in manufacturing. By 1996 Beretta initiated laser engraving on its shotguns (the same year as the company registers its Internet domain name). By 2011 Beretta strategically decides to move from a product-driven business model to a holistic one that leverages data collection for market analysis. In 2013 Beretta introduced tomography (akin to x-raying) to improve material quality control. Today, technology is fully integrated into the fabric of Beretta’s product development.

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Shotgun barrels and receivers are parked prior to assembly of a Beretta over/under.

And like a true pioneer, Beretta never shies from experimentation that touches us daily including the retail breakout Beretta Galleries; the triple-alloy Steelium shotgun barrels; the use of carbon fiber components such as shotgun ribs and trigger guards; the Gun Pod 2 that resides in the shotgun pistol grip and connects with your smartphone via Bluetooth to collect statistics, photos and videos of your wing and clays experience; and Beretta’s early adoption of online sales for clothes, accessories and parts. 

When you consider that the 491 year-old company is now in its 15th generation of family management and still rooted in Gardone Val Trompia, Beretta has accomplished the remarkable feat of both embracing and disrupting the traditions we’ve come to admire in the sporting gun trade.

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Beretta’s “486 by Marc Newson.”

One expression of Beretta’s time-jumping aspirations is their side-by-side “486 by Marc Newson” introduced in November 2014 along with the short film, “Human Technology” by the Ancarani Studio. While touring the factory, the “486 by Marc Newson” and companion movie served as my muses of sorts.

Starting with a basic 486 Parallelo, the avant-garde industrial designer Marc Newson applied the know-how he executed on products from Apple, Riva Yachts, Louis Vuitton, Quantas Airways and Nike. The “486 by Marc Newson” became more than an extravagant design exercise; the shotgun signified a $25,000 proof of capability for the manufacturing muscle and dexterity around me here in the factory. Mr. Newson’s side by side raised customer expectations of traditional bird guns through a modern lens as only Beretta believed possible.

The round body shotgun, which arrived on the scene in the late 1800s, streamlined the side by side with gracious curves. The forward-thinking Mr. Newson pushed Beretta’s state-of-the-art manufacturing to refashion the round body into an exotic jungle cat. Behold the edgeless receiver free flowing without sharp edges or breaks, the screwless trigger guard, seamless barrels with no welding lines and an anthology of subtleties that collectively mesmerized.

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In conjunction with robotics, Beretta relies on factory technicians to hand assemble shotguns and participate in quality control.

The shotgun’s engraving is a comprehensive texture wrap of entwined Asian dragons in fields of florets. The images are a far cry from the classical dog and game-bird engravings emblematic of our European sporting heritage. In detail, though, the intricate engraving on Mr. Newson’s 486 Parallelo is a mind-blowing mashup of Asian, Buddhist, Renaissance, European, British and American cultures that reflect the Zen soul of Beretta’s factory.

“During the manufacture of my design in the Beretta workshops I got to observe the fascinating mix of traditional skills employed by Beretta's craftsmen in conjunction with the most impressive state-of-the-art engineering processes including the use of intricate X-ray equipment, sophisticated laser technology and robotics,” Mr. Newsom said in a press release about the “486 by Marc Newson.”

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The Beretta factory floor, replete with Zen gardens.

And now our English-speaking guide (a third-generation, 40-year veteran of Beretta) explains everything about the immaculate, 118,400-square foot plant physically divided by the Mella River. Adorning generous aisles, small Zen gardens with benches offered employees nature breaks amid the 21st century hum and brilliance. It’s a new world. The old days of union turmoil gone. The open chemical vats gone. The astringent pungency of machine oil gone. The deafening clamor and banging gone. A serene mindfulness prevails as about 1,500 firearms are manufactured 24/7 fed by materials delivered through the so-called just-in-time synchronization system with vendors.

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The Mella River divides the Beretta factory.

Still, we see plenty of Beretta’s 800 Italian employees hand-fit shotgun components at their benches, push trolleys of parts, monitor machines, walk to meetings and occupy cubicles busy at their computers. Make no mistake, though, there are multiple generations of families working here; Beretta will always be in their ancestral blood.

From the factory it’s a short drive to Beretta Due (two in Italian), home of the Premium Division’s high-level competition shotguns as well as the luxurious, hand-crafted SO Series, 687 EELL, gullwing Sparviere, Giubileo and 486 by Marc Newson.

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Master craftsman Ferdinando Belleri manages the production of Beretta’s premium guns.

The three-story contemporary building originates from the late 1990s. It’s situated against a steep hillside of the narrow valley. The façade sports the blue trim that distinguishes Beretta’s competition shotguns. Ribbons of glass welcome the natural light that engravers want.

Upstairs the tapping of flat-faced chase hammers against chisels rang in the bright, loft-like interior from the line of engravers standing at a long counter. Across the room from them, Beretta’s Master Engraver Luca Casari worked at his own bench in the light of a small window. The ambiance is Buddhist-like but instead of tingsha cymbals we hear the engravers. Mr. Casari shows us a large binder of sketches that depict engravings destined for Beretta Premium shotguns.

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Beretta’s Master Engraver Luca Casari at work.

Afterwards, we visit the climate-controlled, glass-walled booth where different grades of walnut are cured for the Beretta Premium shotguns. Then we go to the Premium Gun Room where the ethos of combining traditional and modern gunmaking into an expression of high art is explained to us. We shoulder some of Beretta’s most famous shotguns and experience the epiphany of balance and poise that defines a Beretta best gun.

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The climate-controlled booth where Turkish walnut blanks are cured for Beretta Premium shotguns.

The black Mercedes Benz SUV returns us to the factory for our final meeting of the day with four executives from Beretta’s Clothing and Accessories Division. The studio is artfully lit to emphasize the inventive styles of clothes, boots and accessories for hunting, clays, leisure and military. It’s the culmination of Beretta’s commitment that started in the early 1990s to raise the stakes in apparel and gear. Currently, around 900 products contribute about 16 percent of global revenues to the parent Beretta Holding Group.

Beretta’s clothing and gear are specifically engineered to enhance the gun’s performance. Although Beretta’s layering system as an apparel concept is nothing new, the top-down application from military gear enables Beretta to trail-blaze further than branded shooting vests or English Plus Fours. Through high-tech clothing you can optimize the gun itself, goes the thinking at Beretta.

The company has a digital body-mapping system that coordinates the garment with parts of the body for compression and muscular support. The ideal is that well-designed clothes should enhance your ability to swing for that skeet target, easily react to that flushing pheasant and feel unencumbered hunting sea ducks.

Beretta weaves carbon and silver fibers into the fabric, for example, to create an ultra-light, waterproof, breathable jacket with four-way stretch and special inserts for durability and movement during combat − that’s also a model for clays and hunting clothes. Dig deeper into Beretta’s clothing strategy and you’ll discover it’s a military-inspired method that crosses the line from simple layering into precision modularity.

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The Beretta MOLLE vest.

Offsprings of clothing designed for one-shot/one-kill hang on the racks of your local Beretta dealer. One of my favorites was a new clays vest with adjustable pocket heights that lets you quickly grab a shell without disturbing the balance of your body. It inherited the M.O.L.L.E (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) system from Beretta’s military group. Applied for the first time to a shooting vest, it allows you to decide which position to fasten your front pockets and determine the best resting angle for your arms – ultimately to find a relaxed configuration that frees you to focus exclusively on the target.

The incredible cross-pollination of Beretta’s divisions reaches us under the banner of “The World of Beretta.” We saw the range of Beretta’s worldwide endeavors on TV, in books and through marketing literature.

And while we may wax poetic about “The World of Beretta,” internally the company now goes by Beretta 4.0. That means, like software nomenclature, Beretta is in constant upgrade mode. With Beretta 4.0 comes more robotics, 3D printing, adaptive machines, big-data analytics, system integration, ongoing R&D and lots more technology to make you a better wing and clays shooter.

Irwin Greenstein is the publisher of Shotgun Life. You can reach him at contact@shotgunlife.com.

 

Read Shotgun Life in Gardone Val Trompia: Part 1, Fabbrica Armi Isidoro Rizzini (F.A.I.R.)

Read Shotgun Life in Gardone Val Trompia: Part 2, Perazzi

Read Shotgun Life in Gardone Val Trompia: Part 3, Fratelli Poli Armi

 

Helpful resources:

The Beretta web site 

Irwin Greenstein

Irwin Greenstein is Publisher of Shotgun Life. Please send your comments to letters@shotgunlife.com.

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