The ancient Egyptian god, Horus, had the head of a falcon and we see falcons depicted in religious and cultural imagery throughout the region.
The falcon as a hunting companion has long played an important role in middle eastern countries, because it can be trained to bring prey to ground alive and permit it to be dispatched according to the religious (halal) requirement.
Bedouins in the Emirates have hunted with falcons for so long that the origins of the practice cannot reliably be dated. Falconry has become an ingrained part of the culture.
It is, therefore, fitting that this revered bird was the focal point and inspiration for one of the most lavish and elaborate sets of guns yet produced by a British gun maker.
Westley Richards delivered this magnificent set of falcon-themed guns in late 2020. They were built, to order, for His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Thani as a set of three; not identical, but complimentary of one another, in .410, 28-bore and 20-bore.
Engraving, by Bradley Tallet, took over eighteen months to complete and is a tasteful blend of carving and inlay. The background motifs are predominantly carved flowers, scrolls and foliage, with star bursts of gold-inlay to add drama and sparkle to the dark hatching and relief forms.
Detail is crucial in our quest for perfection. Elements of the gun once considered out of sight and, therefore, not requiring embellishment, are now given the same attention as the most visible parts. Every pin and screw, regardless of its position, inside or outside the mechanism is fully and carefully engraved and blued. Inside, surfaces like the detachable locks and the inner floor-plate are jewelled. Even the concealed trigger-plate pin is gold-inlaid to the centre of its engraved flower motif.
Remove the locks, mounted on Taylor 1897-patent plates and the attention to detail reaches levels unseen on most 'best' guns to date. Each lock is a thing of functional beauty. Tumbler pivot and sear pin are both fashioned into flowers with gold centres. The tumbler spur is polished to a mirror finish and grooved to promote purchase, should it be necessary to manually cock it when separated from the gun. The entire lock is jewelled and on top of each is inlaid, in gold, inside a shield, 'L' or 'R' according the the side of the gun which it serves.
Mechanically, the guns are classic Westley Richards, with our own, patent of 1901, selective single-trigger, the bolted doll's head and top-lever, which originated here in 1863 and the previously mentioned, Taylor patent, hand-detachable locks. As with all or special builds, we have employed a 'fancy back' action detail, with wood and metal meeting in a bow-shaped re-curve, which requires precise and skilled fitting to achieve the desired effect of two materials appearing to blend into one another.
Each gun is built on a delicately-scaled action to suit the cartridge size exactly. The challenge of achieving proportion and elegance from the fence shape, as it grows into the action body, then keeping the flow of line towards the hand, encompassing the trigger guard and trigger, through the hand and into the comb, requires great artistry, as the hand size remains the same for the shooter, regardless of the bore size, and, therefore, action width.
The top lever of each gun is carved into the head of a falcon, looking back towards the shooter. Each floor plate is caved with a scene of a mounted hunter approaching his falcon, successfully guarding its prey at the end of a hunt. The quarry is different in each case.
The sides of the action body of each gun depict falcons in pursuit of quarry: either birds or hares. The engraver has done a beautiful job of blending the engraving of the top-strap into the rib and breech section of the barrels; the final flourish being the gold flecks within flame-shaped leaves, guiding the eye down the rib, towards the muzzle. The doll's-head of each gun is inlaid with its gauge.
The wood selected for the trio had to provide a perfect level of continuity from one to the next. It displays pleasing depth of figure and blends rich amber notes with strong black lines and streaks. The butt of each gun is carefully finished with an in-laid block of buffalo horn, tipped at heel and toe with engraved steel plates and chequered in the centre panel. This almost imperceptible refinement is very time-consuming to create and subtle in its effect but creates exactly the finish we wanted to achieve.
A trio as exquisite as this needed a case as spectacular as the guns themselves. Clad in exotic hide and made from oak, the edges are carefully inlaid in contrasting woods and the fittings are of hand-polished, custom-produced brass.
Instead of lining the case with fabric, we have used dark green goat skin, with all the hand-made turns-crews, brushes, snap-caps and oil bottles form-fitted into their own compartments. The barrels sit in a lift-out tray and the lettering on the lid is gold-embossed.
Unfortunately, few of us can ever hope to own or commission a set of guns of this magnificence but, we hope, readers will appreciate the fact that, here in Birmingham, we are always striving to make better guns than we made yesterday, last year or a hundred years ago. Commissions like this enable us to do so. They stretch us artistically, which eventually benefits all our customers and enthusiasts.