Hunting has supplanted golf as a means of cultivating social and business contacts, claims Richard Purdey. His perspective on the merits of one sport versus another might not be completely objective; until his recent retirement, Purdey was the chairman of James Purdey & Sons, the London purveyor of bespoke, handcrafted guns and rifles collected by royalty and American presidents. Nevertheless, until recently the Purdey company stood to benefit only slightly from an increase in the popularity of sport shooting, because the collectible firearms that it makes have a very limited audience. One rifle can cost as much as a golf club membership, and you could wait longer for a Purdey gun’s completion than you would for a tee time at Augusta.
However, earlier this year the company—which James Purdey founded in 1814, and the luxury conglomerate Richemont acquired in 1994—introduced the Purdey Sporter. It is priced at about $49,000, which is a fraction of the cost of some bespoke Purdeys. The first Sporters are 12-bore, single-trigger models with 30-inch barrels. Purdey eventually will offer 28-inch and 32-inch barrels.
The Sporter represents a joint venture between Purdey and Perugini & Visini (P&V), a boutique gun maker in Brescia, Italy (which is also the home of Beretta, the world’s oldest gun maker). The rifle is based on a P&V design that Purdey has reengineered to suit its manufacturing processes. The company makes the parts by machine in London and ships them to Brescia, where P&V assembles them and adds the barrel tubes and high-grade walnut stocks that it produces. P&V then returns the Sporters to Purdey’s Hammersmith factory in London for proofing, regulating, and finishing.
Over the years, Russian czars, Middle Eastern sheikhs and sultans, and Indian rajas have acquired the handcrafted Purdey shotgun models, which today have prices that begin at $96,000. The big-game, double-barreled .600 Express—a name that James Purdey (son of the founder) coined in the 1870s, when he compared the high velocity and flat trajectory of its bullet to those of an express train—is priced at more than $192,000. Delivery of these guns can take from 12 to 36 months, depending on their specifications and engraving. The Sporter, however, is designed to attract a broader, and perhaps less patient, clientele.
“We call this an entry-level Purdey,” says Richard Purdey, whose replacement as chairman is Nigel Beaumont, a relative of the Seely family, who bought the company in 1946 and eventually sold it to Richemont. “There is perhaps an assumption that for anyone newly interested in hunting and shooting a Purdey is somehow off-limits, usually for reasons of price or long delivery [time]. But with the Sporter we are out to change that.”
The company is cautious about sudden changes, though it was often at the forefront of innovation in the past. The Purdey double bolt, patented in 1863, was one of the most noteworthy improvements to shotgun design, and virtually all other gun makers have adopted it. This device ensured a much tighter fit and closure of the barrels to the action, and it allowed the use of heavier load cartridges without increasing recoil.
The most significant 20th-century development in sporting guns was the over-under design, in which one barrel is placed above the other, instead of side by side. This configuration ensured that a shooter would not lose sight of a moving target in overhead and approaching shots. It proved essential in clay target shooting. Purdey was a late convert to the over-under design; it did not produce one until 1923, because Athol Purdey, who was in charge of the company at the time, feared the design might fail and thus damage Purdey & Sons’ reputation.
The company does not hold similar concerns about the Sporter. “You change with the times, but you must maintain your heritage,” says Beaumont. “That is what the Sporter is about.”
James Purdey & Sons, +44.20.7499.1801, www.purdey.com