Indeed, the most expensive Victorian guns often had the finest scrolls; barely visible unless inspected closely. Restraint was the epitome of taste. However, a certain class of customer to the British gun trade bucked the trend, even then.
That customer was typically the ruler of an Indian princely state, whose culture had a very different history of decoration and whose tastes were more exotic than those of the average Englishman. Westley Richards' archives are littered with elaborately engraved and gold-inlaid special orders for maharajahs. Though the customer base has changed today, the demand from overseas for sporting arms equalling, or even surpassing, these magnificent showpieces of oriental ostentation continues. Now, however, the orders generally come from the Middle East.
Here, we can see the latest masterpiece to emerge from the Westley Richards factory in Birmingham, illustrating the very highest attainment of the gunmaker's art, illuminating the heights of decoration that can be achieved with a generous budget and an artistic brief. It is commonly thought that in British gunmaking 'best' is the highest level of attainment. However, gunmakers have long created 'Exhibition Grade' pieces in which embellishment far exceeds the standards for quality necessary to produce a 'best' gun or rifle.
The .577 Nitro Express pictured below is a modern expression of that tradition. It is rifle that shows-off the full range of our gunmaking and engraving talents, unrestrained by budgetary or practical considerations.
The tradition of producing truly spectacular, museum quality, guns and rifles is embodied in 'The Qatar Hunting Rifle'. The engraving and embellishment of this masterpiece was executed by Paul Lantuch who, in the last decade, has been responsible for some of the finest examples of the engravers art to grace the pages of The Explora. Such creativity is a rare commodity and the discipline and practical ability to turn concepts into reality even more so. This particular rifle demonstrates Paul's mastery of multi-colour gold inlays, coupled with jewellery-inlay techniques that makes possible the setting of precious stones, in this instance rubies and emeralds into the steel of the action and barrels.
The hunting themed decoration is inspired by the traditional pursuit of big game in Qatar, with riders on horseback engaging oryx and gazelle, using bows, with their sleek hunting dogs in attendance. It was completed in August 2020 for H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Thani, of Qatar, and it is of museum quality. The engraving took over twenty months of the dedicated application of Paul's unique vision and skill set and the results are exquisite. At Westley Richards, we seek perfection in executing this grade of project, right down to the last detail.
The case alone is a work of art, intended in every way to reflect the quality of the rifle. It is built from oak, then clad in the belly skins from two alligators. Hand made brass hinges sit in ebony inlay. The lid slides off so the case can be displayed open, if desired. Compartments are leather lined and a full complement of accessories each sit in their dedicated, perfectly fitted recess. They include horn handled turn screws, snap caps, striker pot, oil bottle and striker key, all gold embellished and custom made.
Applying so many visual features to the surface of a sporting rifle creates a challenge for the engraver not to compromise the visual flow of the rifle. Paul Lantuch balances the figures and scrolls perfectly: from the larger figure on the butt-end of the stock, through the grip-cap and guard strap to the action. Then, the gold inlay guides the eye to the stars, which decrease in size as they get further down the barrel, creating an illusion of distance. It flows seamlessly and creates harmony.
All Westley Richards rifles, regardless of their intended destination; be it the Okavango Delta or a museum in Doha, are made, first and foremost to the highest quality possible for a sporting arm. This .577 Nitro Express conforms to every quality control check and could, if desired, be loaded into a Land Cruiser and expected to dispatch a charging elephant every bit as confidently as any of our rifles. We suspect this fate is unlikely to to become manifest but we make no compromises in the build. Even the most elaborate piece is, at heart, a perfect embodiment of the rifle-builder's craft.
The devil is in the detail. Note the inlaid rose gold providing grip to the top lever and how the tiny carved scrolls form a damascene effect as a background to the hunting scenes. The use of contour gives an illusion of strained muscle and sinew, creating life in the bodies of the men and animals.
The Qatar Hunting Rifle is very much a Westley Richards. It incorporates a pin-less sidelock action, to create a cleaner canvas for the engraver; only the tumbler pivot, with its gold line cocking indicator, hinting at the mechanics inside. The mechanism is a Westley Richards No.3 doll's-head with top lever, arrangement, with the addition of a Purdey double under-bolt. The forend is removed by way of a Deeley & Edge patent release catch. It has Southgate ejectors, which are preferred by most makers today, being both reliable and simple. It was proof tested in the Birmingham Proof House for the 3" .577 nitro Express cartridge.
While the basic structure and mechanical nature of this rifle is flawless, what really sets it apart is the detail and scope of the engraving. Nearly 300 individually inlaid platinum stars grace the contours of the barrels. The muzzles are gold inlaid with bands and scrolls over their final four inches, while the quarter-rib is inlaid with the cartridge and the maker's name. One standing and two leaf sights are gold inlaid indicating the set ranges of 50, 100 and 150 yards.
A rifle has to look 'right' from many angles. Here, the eye moves effortlessly from extended top strap to the leaf-sight cluster. Engraving shapes and direction mirrors the contours of the rifle, as metal flows through wood and action blends into barrels.
To create the background for the hunting scenes, Paul has engraved what appears, from short distance, to be a damascene pattern, onto that he has over-laid precious metals to create dynamic scenes of the pursuit, with what appear to be three dimensional figures in motion. The hunting scenes are extended to the stock, where mounted riders, accompanied by hunting dogs, close on fleeing gazelles.
The detail and coverage extends to the peripheral edges of the metal work, with beasts adorning the top lever, gold inlay tracks down the strap and extends to grip cap and trigger-guard. At their edges, the fences sport a row of rubies, while emerald beading tracks from the bar, following the shoulders and framing the underside of the bar, with its own scene of dogs baying a pair of oryx. The breech ends of the barrels are heavily inlaid with ornate, stylised Arabic scrolls, which in turn give way to a night sky of platinum stars stretching half way down the barrels.
The 2020 Qatar Hunting Rifle should be considered a modern manifestation of a style of exhibition rifle that can trace its history back to the 1870s. As long as visionary patrons seek the bold and the unique, we at Westley Richards will push the boundaries of best gun making to enable their dreams to be moulded into reality.