Beretta, more precisely Fabbrica d'Armi Pietro Beretta S.p.A is an Italian weapon maker.
There is a record dating back to 1526 of Mastro Bartolomeo Beretta da Gardone Val Trompia having
delivered 185 arquebuse barrel to the Venice Arsenale (at that time the territory of Brescia where
Gardone lies was part of the Republic of Venice).
The same family line kept making guns and armor. In an example of early globalization, Beretta was already
selling gun locks all over Europe; they just produced the lock assembly, then manufacturers elsewhere added the
barrel and the stock.
One great force in the evolution of the Beretta company was Pietro Beretta (1870 - 1957), a dynamic
entrepreneur that kept pace with industrial evolution and two world wars. The following Beretta scions,
Giuseppe and Carlo expanded the company towards the international market.
In 1990 Beretta used its brand to start a new product line: sportswear.
Another major moment was 1992, when the US Army army adopted the Beretta 92 (in 9mm) as its standard
sidearm. This means major money for many years, and it was possible only because Beretta had opened
years before a factory (and a controlling company) in the USA.
Currently Beretta is still owned and managed by the Beretta family, in the person of Ugo Gussali Beretta. Beretta
also bought other gun makers like Franchi.
The Beretta family still lives in Brescia.
Having nearly 500 years of recorded history in the same business, the Beretta company claims to be the
oldest in the world.
Beretta makes only small arms; handguns, shotguns, rifles, submachine guns and assault rifles.
In their handguns line the Beretta 92 line is probably the most visible in the US, available in various
calibers, finishing and operating styles. One variant is the Beretta 96 frame. The product line is a bit
confused, at least to me, featuring names such as Centurion and Brigadier.
All these have the signature Beretta scalloped slide: the slide does not cover completly the barrel,
because it has a large window on the right side of the gun.
Other handguns in their product line are the Beretta Combat Combo for IPSC shooting, the compact Beretta Cougar,
the Beretta 9000 (built around a plastic frame and designed by Giorgio Giugiaro), the Beretta Cheetah,
and the Tomcat, Bobcat and Jetfire, all of them in the
smaller calibers (7.65 mm, 6.35 mm and .22 LR).
The shotguns are available in many models, depending on the purpose (police, skeet, trap and the various
types of hunting) and on the degree of finish. A stock Beretta shotgun, already a rather beautiful weapon,
will cost between 1500 and 2000 USD. If you want to spend more, you can have it hand decorated to various
degrees of finish, the highest of which are truly beautiful.
In fact, an expensive Beretta shotgun is custom built and fitted to your measurements, and of course
engraved to your specifications. They make both over and unders and semiautomatic shotguns.
Rifles appear to be a rather minor part of their production; they have a bolt-action model called Mato
and some large bore rifles designed for big game hunting.
In submachine guns, they have been producing for many years the Beretta 12, a compact 9mm gun designed
around a telescoping bolt; it is a small and reliable weapon, used by the Italian Carabinieri and by
other military forces.
Visiting the Beretta factory, and some musings
I have recently visited the Beretta factory with a group of students. It is a large factory, with about one
thousand workers. Beretta makes the barrels starting from steel blanks that are drilled and then cold-hammered
by large and terrifying machines that form the complex inside shape of the barrel in one operation, chambers and
What I found very interesting is that on the shop floor you will find machines from the '50s, large, green and
requiring a lot of human intervention, and then everything up to last year's entirely robotized system. I have
witnessed a 10-feet robot arm watch the breech blocks being machined by a computer controlled mill,
grab the finished piece and then place it tidily in a rack.
Or a similar machine, penetrating with the greatest care the freshly welded barrels assembly for a shotgun,
and then swinging them through the air with a speed that made me recoil, only to start abrading them with
three different machines, in order to reach a perfect finish.
That was shocking. A very erotic act, followed by a demonstration of power and speed, and then by this
faintly obscene mimicry of human actions. The mandatory safety cage built around the robot arm did not make
me feel much safer.
There is a very disturbing and hypnotizing quality to robot movements. They are so linear. When they stop, they
stop completely. When they move fast, they accelerate suddenly, with very little exitation, immediately reaching
the correct speed. When they move slow, they move very slowly and delicately, taking you in with their precision.
I can imagine someone being mesmerized by the movements of the robot arm, the 6 axis working in smooth coordination
according to the requirements of inverse cinematics; and then being impaled on 3 feet of shotgun barrel.
Next to the caged robot, a human worker was finishing what the robot had done imperfectly. He smiled. He had what would
eat his work smoothly humming behind his back.
The nice PR boy mentioned that the robots never rest, the stations work at night and during the weekends. If there
is some problem, they can send an SMS to the operator.
On the other hand, watching all the workers performing entirely repetitive tasks I felt very grateful that the rebots
would replace them. I was also very happy that I do not work in a factory. Do not take me wrong; the Beretta factory
is clean and sanitary and the workers are unionized.
But is a factory. People repeating over and over the same action, the same movements, hour after hour, day
after day. The grind. And what is career in this context? And how many of them can hope for career improvements?
It is true that they make something that they probably consider beautiful, one of the best Italian products. And
in the factory some of the workers are masterful engravers of metal and workers of wood. But the basic reality
of Fordian, Taylor-inspired repetition is undeniable.
We were also shown some military arms; batches of handguns for the Turkish army. I have Kurdish friends. I was
looking at the pistols made for their oppressor. So much death... looking so quiet, carefully packed in wooden crates,
and being accurately assembled by specialized workers, many of them women.
And the problem is, that I like guns. I like the way they work, the intricate and yet simple mechanics, the way
the gun stays quiet for months and then suddenly is required to work under violent conditions of pressure and heat
for a cycle of some milliseconds.
I love the way a well-made gun sits in the hand (at Tanfoglio I held a race gun made for IPSC; man, it mated
so perfectly with my palm and fingers, I wanted to scream "Something that really FITS !"). I love the magic
of pulling a trigger and feeling the machine twist and jump in your hand. And the semi randomness of the bullet
holes in the target.
But these are things of death. These guns made by smiling workers and artisans and engineers from Brescia. I can
understand perfectly the makers, we speak the same language with the same regional accent, but these are the engines
of doom. Small scale doom, of course; a private doom, very different from the grand theatre of the nuclear
bomb and from the horrible churn of flesh and mud that the artillery makes.
The doom of execution squads. The doom of hidden killings. The doom that counted for the majority of war related
deaths in this century, according to the historian Gil Elliot.
By rights I should detest them. Nonetheless, I find myself wanting one. Because they are so damnably sexy.
Beretta tries to capitalize on its image with Beretta Gallerys, that's to say luxury stores selling everything Beretta with the exception of guns.
It is still not clear to me whether this weakens the image of Beretta as a gun maker, or if it is an attempt to escape from the not-so-sexy gun market into the luxury goods sector (like Luis Vuitton did, for example).
Anyway, there is a Beretta Gallery in New York, Dallas and Buenos Aires. Curiously enough, not in Italy.
Beretta U.S.A Corp. is at 17601 Beretta Drive, Accokeek, MD 20607. They have a web site up at www.berettausa.com and there is also www.beretta.com - ignore the annoying introduction and there is some actual content.