The annual Safari Club International show in Las Vegas is set in the convention halls of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. The floor setup is a scene of barely organized chaos—booths featuring stuffed African game animals and photos depicting the African veldt—and surveying it all from a lofty balconied platform is a good-looking, middle-aged man wearing jeans and an open-necked shirt. He sports a large Western belt buckle by Clint Orms and a wrist of silver bracelets depicting tiny skulls, which glint in the harsh electric light. Under a wavy thatch of ash-colored hair, his features are creased into a smile and his eyes sparkle with pleasure. Although he may be Italian from his head to the tips of his polished, pointed shoes, Dr. Franco Beretta is a great Americanophile and he clearly finds the sense of opportunity and possibility at the show intoxicating.
As he looks out from the top floor of his company’s booth, easily the largest and certainly the only multistory structure in the hall, it’s not too much of an imaginative leap to envisage a Renaissance prince surveying his territory from the battlements of one of the fortifi_ed city-states that populated the land we now know as Italy. After all, for all his modernity and approachability, Franco is the 15th generation of a family who have supplied fi_rearms to everyone from the princes of the Renaissance to Cold Warriors (James Bond is a big brand ambassador) to the U.S. Army.
Beretta is not just any old business—it is one of the very oldest there is. When you call the Beretta USA headquarters in Maryland just outside Washington, D.C.—relocating soon to Tennessee, due to company concerns about potential legislative restrictions on firearm manufacturing in Maryland—a computerized voice states the catechistic mantra: “Beretta, _five centuries, one passion.” It is too easy to miss the signifi_cance of this statement; so let us rewind a little—or rather, a lot—to the world as it was in the 1520s.
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