French guns of the 17th and 18th Centuries displayed a superlative elegance and style that gunmakers of other nations sought to emulate. French firearms were considered the finest and most beautifully decorated in Europe. Richly garnished pieces by Piraube or Boutet acquired a status that made them highly desirable gifts from one prince to another at a time when every monarch had his own cabinet d’armes.
With the Revolution, everyone was granted access to la chasse, and the guns of the citizen hunter became utilitarian, prosaic even. Now the pendulum has swung back. Verney-Carron, a manufacturer of mostly mass-market and “affordable” firearms, created a bespoke atelier in 2004 with its purchase of the Paul Demas workshop and is creating jeweled guns and rifles of a type not seen since Tiffany and Smith & Wesson collaborated during La Belle Époque.
First came a 20-gauge double with a diamond-studded, 18-carat gold wrap-around stock band and sideplates sporting bas-relief huntsmen from classical antiquity. Created by jeweler Philippe Tournaire, this side-by-side was more ornament than armament. Next came a double rifle with a jeweled diorama set into the stock for which Tournaire created a miniature Tyrolean winter scene replete with a yellow-gold ski chalet, a white-gold river, a red-gold deer and bears, plus a blue-sapphire Jacuzzi. The scene is lit with sparking diamonds representing alpine frost.
More recently a partnership with Parisian luxury brand S.T. Dupont produced a single-barreled hammer rifle engraved with Chinese lacquered crocodile scales, after which a falling block rifle was appliqued with asymmetric silver sakura (cherry blossoms) in the japonaiserie style. Intended as an expression of a certain Gallic joie de vivre, L’Atelier Verney-Carron guns, while not everyone’s cup of Veuve Clicquot, perfectly express the current mode for outlandish male jewelry. —Douglas Tate