Pros: Rare opportunity to see the pride involved in a true artisan-apprentice industry.
Cons: Bit of a drive from most attractions. Frustrating to drool over things you can't afford.
One day, on a whim, three of us invited an Italian friend to come with us and grabbed a rental car (an Alfa - imagine four 5'10" to 6'2" guys squeezed into a car the size of a Ford Escort for a day). After lunch in Milan, we headed North and East to a unique destination - the Perazzi shotgun factory in Botticino Mattina.
Perazzi is one of the last truly hand-made fine shotgun manufacturers. Their product is renown, not only for their balance and function, but for their beauty. Perazzis are highly sought after in competitive trap, skeet, and sporting clay circles.
If you wish to tour the factory, you should call ahead to arrange a personal tour. Marcello at the Hotel Ristorante Pino was kind enough to make a call for us that morning before our departure. Though the Italians make many of the world's firearms, their personal ownership restrictions are repressive. Because of this, they have strict rules of security even if you are arriving to gawk, not buy. You will need your passport or other identification.
Arriving in the parking lot, we walked to the steel gate and hit the buzzer. Our Italian friend announced us (though we later discovered that the greeter spoke perfect English), and the door buzzed open.
Perazzi's color is RED - the outside of the building with its screaming red exterior and block white lettering looks as if perhaps they build Ferraris inside. Walking into the lobby, you are greeted with red carpet and furnishings, with lots of Perazzi clothing/hats/equipment/bags/etc. on display and for sale - all red with white trim and lettering. The furniture is beautiful dark wood (upholstery, of course, is red).
The greeter apologized profusely that our guide was not there to meet us immediately, and ushered us into the display room. Time to drool. Shotguns in (red-backed) display cases line the walls, accented with superb taxidermy specimens of birds and pictures of customers and teams with their shotguns.
Cases do not have glass fronts, so you can fondle as well as drool. Perazzi offers about 7 "grades" of shotgun, although each grade can be customized extensively. The examples show the different grades and options that are available, from "basic" (no such thing in a Perazzi) with limited engraving and relatively plain (but incredibly crafted) stocks, to shotguns with sideplates engraved in intricate designs and inlaid in gold and silver, gold triggers and highlights, exotic burly wood stocks, and other "premium" features. Guages from .410 to 12 are available.
Within a few minutes (not nearly enough time to gawk), our guide arrived, again speaking perfectly fluent English. He started us "at the beginning" - at the fitting desk where a new customer would begin. Perazzi shotguns are custom made from the start. In the states, you can go to a certified Perazzi fitter, but the true experience is to fly to Italy and be fitted at the factory. No customers were here for initial fitting, but one had returned to do the final fitting before the stock was finished. A craftsman explained through our guide's interpretation the importance of getting "just the right fit," and asked us to follow them to the test room to watch. Under the serious eye of the fitter, the customer mounted the shotgun and fired at a the center of a huge oil-covered steel target with the first barrel. The target rotated after which the customer fired the second barrel. The fitter looked at the patterns left on the target ("slightly high," the guide said), pulled some tools out of his belt, and shaved a few micrometers off the comb of the stock. The next test rounds were to his liking, and the fitter left with the shotgun to finish the work.
The factory itself
The most striking difference between this factory and most others you might tour is the lack of machinery. The biggest machines are devoted to barrels - a large set of lathes and a one that bores and coarse-polishes the barrels. Other than those, and some hand-operated presses and drills, most work is done with hand tools.
The masters and apprentices
Most intriguing for me were the engravers and stock finishers. With nothing but hand tools, micrometers, and rulers - no guides, stencils, etc. - craftsmen were shaping and hand-checkering stocks, and performing incredibly exquisite inlay and engraving work. Many of these craftsman had been doing the same "artwork" their entire adult lives, and some were in the process of teaching their craft to younger apprentices. It was wonderful to watch. True to the Italian culture, nothing was rushed, and each craftsman was more than willing to stop his work and chat (or make his way to the espresso room).
The finished product
Each shotgun, after finishing, is put into a hand-crafted and fitted case (most with a red exterior, and all with a red interior, of course). Customers (and employees) can then take their finished product (or demos) to the huge outdoor skeet, trap, and sporting clays range to try the product out.
The price. A "sport" grade Perazzi goes for upwards of $5,000 (not including airfare/lodging for fitting!). Not rich enough for your blood? You can spend upwards of $32K for the top-of-the line. So, though we thoroughly enjoyed watching the entire process, neither we nor our guide were under any belief that we could be potential customers! But after the tour and a short chat afterwards, we were still able to spend a bit longer drooling and dreaming!