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If you happen to want a gun made with a sapphire studded handle, or out of beautiful patterned Damascus steel, or out of a meteorite, there is one gun company to call: Cabot Guns, in Western Pennsylvania.
Rob Bianchin’s firm just finished a commissioned gun, a 1911 pistol, with sapphire-studded handles. It will sell for $250,000. “It’s more art than tool for the most part,” he says fondly. “My heart beats faster when I come near it.”
He’s had offers of upwards of $1 million for his Big Bang Pistol set, which has been called the holy grail of collectible firearms. They’re made out of a meteorite. But his price tag is $4.5 million for the set, which took a year to make, in secret.
“We thought it would work,” he said. “But the last thing you want to do is tell people you’re going to make guns out of a meteorite.”
Building A Rare Beast: A Luxury American Firearms Company
Bianchin can date his feelings for guns to a visit to Philadelphia. A Canadian, he’d married an American woman in 2002, and moved to the States, continuing a career in economics and finance.
Then, on a vacation, he dropped into the U.S. Constitution Center. “We did all the historical sites … and I saw these remarkable documents related to the philosophy of the individual versus the collective.”
“When you go through it as an adult — it was a fantastic experience. I turned to my wife and said, ‘I’m going to become an American citizen.’”
The idea that an individual should own a gun and have the responsibility for protecting his or her family took root. At the same time, he was part of a social group of men who shot.
A tinkerer, he decided to build the classic American handgun, a 1911 pistol, for fun. Somewhat on a lark, he exhibited the gun at the NRA gun show in Pittsburgh, near where he lived (an area that also has deep tool and die talent). The price tag on his top-of-the-line handgun was $5,000, at a time, he says, when a good one was $2,000-$3,000.
The reception in the gun community was mixed — guns have a sort of religious quality to them among some in the gun community, who might consider it an affront to make one simply as a luxury item. But there was enough demand for Bianchin to take a leap.
“After six months, I said to myself, I’m going to give myself two years,” he says, still sounding surprised that the man who was not giant risk taker gave up a steady job to take a flyer on a luxury gun business. He invested his own money, and calculates that in terms of lost salary and the startup costs, he spent about $500,000 to get the company off the ground.
That was almost a decade ago. Since then, Cabot has become one of the top, if not the top, American manufacturers of collectible guns. Bianchin wouldn’t share exact revenue, but the company has its own factory, 13,000 square feet, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He has a partner now, Mark Hebor, who had been vice president at a national engineering firm.
In 2016, the company acquired Alchemy Custom Weaponry (ACW). “We purchased it to acquire the talent of an exceptional gunsmith who owned the small going concern,” Bianchin said by email. “These are more traditional handcrafted 1911’s in the $2500 to $3000 range. This side of the business is still quite small, but I expect growth as we raise visibility.”
Bianchin wouldn’t be specific about Cabot’s revenue, but said it is under $10 million annually.
The business relies on Bianchin’s ability to find and build relationships with the master craftspeople who produce the materials that go into his guns. Damascus steel, a modern day version of a famously strong ancient metal, is a new favorite. It’s created by layering stainless steel to create patterns. Two blacksmiths, Jason Morrissey and Robert Eggerling, create the steel, which Cabot then shapes into the guns.
The result are items like the Empire Damascus Pistol Set, which also sells for more than $100,000.
“The pistols also contain several elements made from meteorite (grips, triggers, sights). In the collector world, two guns are more valuable than one,” Bianchin says. “Normally guns are sequentially serialized but consist of two right-hand pistols. We are the only producer of a left-hand 1911 style pistol, so this allows us to make what is referred to as mirror image pistol sets.”
I’ve seen a set of pistols made from Damascus steel, which are strangely beautiful for a killing machine, with a mottled pattern that seems to reflect what I learned about the gun business: Though we lump it all together under the world “gun,” the hunters, the sports shooters and the collectors have very little in common with those who have a taste for acquiring the military-style weapons that make up the bulk of the profits for gun manufacturers.
I asked Bianchin if he considered himself part of that industry.
“Not, not really,” he said, and then amended his response. “Yes, we’e in the same industry, but I’m not tied to the mass market. We’re a small boutique. I feel like I’m almost like an ambassador for the idea that we can still make excellent products in the United States.”
May 31, 2019 at 06:29PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs