By Douglas Tate
I have an idea for you. Have you heard the old story of a gun taking so long to build because the maker is waiting for the tree to grow for the stock? Well I have a situation where something similar happened to me. In my case, I ordered a .600 double rifle in 1989 from Hartmann & Weiss. I got the gun a month ago. So it had been close to 29 years.
“In our case we had to wait for the gunmaker to grow and develop his skills. The gunmaker is 28 years old. So we weren’t waiting for the tree; we were waiting for the gunmaker to develop. His name is Florian Barthélémy.”
My friend who wrote this has long been a patron of fine guns, with an emphasis on the world’s best craftsmen; but this was the first time he had shown a penchant for a protégé—perhaps suggesting someone especially gifted. I was determined to learn more about the young gunmaker and the methods he had learned from Hartmann & Weiss, in Germany. Following is what I discovered.
When he was 21, after graduating from Saint-Étienne’s famed armory school, Florian Barthélémy traveled from his native France to Liège in search of a gunmaking vocation. He first worked with Lebeau-Courally, in Belgium, before joining Hartmann & Weiss, in Hamburg. Between 2013 and 2016—on weekends and after hours while at Hartmann & Weiss—he built the drop-dead-gorgeous 28-bore pictured here.
I asked Barthélémy if his working methods were similar to those that Otto Weiss had learned while working with James Purdey & Sons. “Not exactly,” he said. “This is how the British gunmaker works. I do it differently.” He then took me stage by stage through the process that he learned with Hartmann & Weiss.
First, the gun was created in virtual reality on a computer. The designs for the metal parts were then sent to one of two specialist machine shops near Hamburg where Hartmann & Weiss have had components milled. The work was done on CNC machines and the parts returned nearly finished. Since striking out on his own and establishing himself in a small French village, Barthélémy told me that in the future he intends to use a Deckel milling machine and an “old spark eroder” to create components.
Next French barrelmaker Raphael Rathier, who studied in both Liège and Ferlach, struck up the Italian-made forged tubes. These came from Lamec, which has supplied the world’s finest gunmakers since 1960. Rathier then assembled the struck-up tubes. (Rathier worked with Holland & Holland for eight years and Hartmann & Weiss for four. Since 2011 he has occupied his own atelier in France and currently builds barrels for Hartmann & Weiss, Johann Fanzoj and others.)
Then Barthélémy assembled the barrels with the action and forend and created the locks and ejectors, after which he began to regulate the gun’s functioning parts. Rathier laid the ribs, created the chambers and chokes, and then prepared the barrels for finishing. Otto Weiss then stocked the gun. Barthélémy completed the regulating and in-the-white finishing.
The gun was sent to Florian Güllert, in Austria, for engraving. On return, the walnut was finished and the gun sent to Richard St. Ledger, in Birmingham, for hardening.
The gun then had its final regulating before being sent to Kiel, Germany, to be proofed. Next came final fitting into the made-to-measure gun case before the gun was taken to the range for function testing. The barrels were then blacked in London.
Finally the gun was complete.
I asked Barthélémy about the methods he learned while being mentored by Gerhard Hartmann and Otto Weiss. “At the school in France we learned differently,” he said, “and in Liège at Lebeau-Courally it was again another story. But I really like the process at Hartmann &Weiss. It may take more time, but the result is a better control of the function of the gun.”
In February 2017, after completing his 28-bore, Barthélémy left Hartmann & Weiss to open his own shop in the French village of La Ferté Saint-Aubin. At press time he planned to sell the 28 to fund his budding business. If you are looking for a quail gun from an emerging talent, you could do a lot worse than contact master craftsman Florian Barthélémy.
For more information, contact Barthélémy & Co.