When viewing historic firearms, it is often mused: “What if this gun could talk….” The inference is that the firearm would relay significant information about where it had been or what happened in its presence. This, of course, is not possible.
However, the Austrian firm Johann Fanzoj is famous the world over for going beyond traditional bounds, imagining what could be and then translating all of that into wood and steel in the highest form of functional art. Yes, Fanzoj has created rifles that literally tell incredible stories without uttering a single word. Latest in these epic efforts is the rifle called “The Great Migration.”
Superlatives lack when describing the totality of this rifle. By focusing on a single phenomenon in nature, it graphically and emphatically tells the age-old story of the circle of life, the inevitability of both life and death – each being a component of the other. In it, a material object is transformed into a spiritual expression.
The story of The Great Migration is the mass movement of millions of wildebeests each year from the Serengeti in Tanzania to Southern Kenya. Individual animals sacrifice themselves for the good of the species during this 1,500 km land odyssey.
With each of Fanzoj’s theme project rifles, the makers relay in words what the various features on the rifle mean, why and how they are done and the overall intent of the project that literally took numerous masters years to complete.
Following is Fanzoj’s description of one of the finest rifles ever made:
Sidelock Double Barrel Rifle
cal. .600/.600 Nitro Express – cal. .470/.470 Nitro Express (a set of spare barrels)
“THE GREAT MIGRATION”
When the land is drying out and food becoming scarce, millions of wildebeest move from the Serengeti in Tanzania over 1,500km to the Masai Mara in Southern Kenya in search of more fertile land, flanked by zebras and other gazelles.
A breathtaking, seemingly senseless natural spectacle, since the beginning of time, never fully explained.How millions of animals set off, to certain death, with fierce determination to save their own species by sacrificing hundreds of thousands of their own kind.
A dream of metal, wood, platinum, in a blend of colours and exquisite materials,
with deep relief engraving featuring over one hundred African animals, opulently framed in a luxurious gun case with finest accessories.
On the way hundreds of thousands lose their lives to lurking predators. Dramatic scenes ensue when wildebeest and zebra cross the Mara River on the border to Kenya where thousands of crocodiles lie in wait; or die of fatigue, disease, starvation; when young calves fail to keep up with the herd that does not stop for stragglers, and hungry cats and hyenas descend to take all but the fittest.
A magnificent spectacle – primal and profoundly moving – as each animal wages the brutal battle between life and death with all their might, thus protecting and ensuring the survival of their own species.
The heads of the Big Five – lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard – are inlaid in platinum, as is the symmetrical African ornamentation running over the top and bottom of the receivers, barrels and scope rings, creating a striking contrast.
Each little triangle was inlaid individually in a painstaking process: first the surface was cut at an angle and engraved, then the platinum inserted, and finally filed smooth and highly polished.
The black receivers are the result of a multiple-layer surface treatment where the gun parts were initially gas nitrided to protect them against corrosion, after that re-polished, and then in the next step underwent a chemical darkening process that left all the system parts deep black and meant all the animal decorations had to be reworked again completely.
Its aim was to depict the wildebeests’ migration vividly and evocatively over all the receiver parts with light and dark effects. The challenge primarily lay in the meticulous manual finishing work with various gravers and polishing tools, gradually achieving the desired result.
Wildebeest jump and slide down the steep banks into the river, water sprays in all directions, with eyes full of fear and nostrils flaring they frantically cross the river in large groups. They know that in the murky brown water their enemies, the Nile crocodiles, Africa´s largest, are lurking. And that they have not eaten for months.
The banks are steep and in the turmoil of thousands of animals trying to reach the other side of the Mara, the weak are wiped out mercilessly: cows become separated from their young, lost calves wear themselves out searching for their mothers, suffocate in the mud or are trampled to death, only the strongest survive.
The interplay between matt chased and shiny deep black surfaces in combination with the perfectly chiselled animal scenes and polished finishes constitutes a superb contrast. The use of platinum underscores the fine, understated, very masculine character of this gun.
Where rains have turned the vast plains into a green oasis for the exhausted animals. When the dry season reaches Kenya, then they will return. The short November rains will tell them to regroup and head southwards back to the Serengeti.
And the ruthless cycles of life and death will continue. All life immersed in the perpetual cycle of hunter and hunted, life and death. There is no beginning or end in this cycle. For each animal the only beginning is birth, and the only end is death.
A Johann Fanzoj double barrel rifle in calibre .600/.600 Nitro Express, with H&H sidelock mechanism, automatic ejectors, non-automatic safety. Made to the highest standards of workmanship, the weapon fascinates with its massive, very elegant design, perfect balance and the exquisite materials used.
The 600 N.E. cartridge has become a myth, as the muzzle energy is so strong it penetrates the bones of the biggest game on Earth, elephant, rhino and hippo.
Weight: 7.3kg (16 lbs)
To increase the potential range, an additional set of barrels in cal. .470 NE was fitted into the same action and regulated over open sights (50m) and also features a Swarovski 1-6×24 Z6i scope on a Fanzoj quick detachable swivel mount (75m)
The gun stock in a rich, dark colour is crafted from top-notch Circassian walnut burr, the strongest and most beautiful wood in the world, stored for ten years to bring the natural humidity down to below 10 percent. Its mirror-like surface is the result of time-consuming sanding and oiling techniques laboriously performed over many months.
Elaborate deep relief engraving with platinum inlays and black surface finish, themed to the “Great Migration of the Wildebeest,” a magnificent natural spectacle taking place every year in Eastern Africa. Engraved by Austrian master engraver Franz Mack.
Exclusively handcrafted oak gun case covered in dark-brown alligator leather, with savannah-coloured leather inside, complete with handcrafted tools and accessories made of nickel silver/black horn. A beautifully balanced ensemble in both style and colour.
Nitro Express cartridges
The Nitro Express series of cartridges was developed as Europeans made inroads into Africa in the early 19th century to handle the very large game encountered, for protection, food, and later, hunting as a sport.
Named after the propellant used, smokeless “cordite nitro powder,” they replaced the black powder that proved ineffective on the large, thick-skinned, dangerous game such as rhino, hippo, Cape buffalo and elephant. “Express” comes from express train, due the vastly improved trajectory and penetration available with cordite compared to their black powder precursors.
Introduced in 1903, the .600 Nitro remains a legend – as the largest dangerous game calibre to have been used during the heyday of African ivory hunting (exceeded today only by the recently developed .700 NE). It carries a 900-grain (58 g) projectile and generates a muzzle energy of almost 12,000 joules at 620m/s.
Two lions in platinum on the breech balls follow the goings-on intently. They are on the lookout for a weakling.
To accomplish these exceptional theme projects, Fanzoj leverages a wealth of talent and craftsmanship of a very high level. The effort included world-best artisans, Fanzoj’s gunsmiths and stockmaker, saddler, tool and case maker – and the creative crew, designers, engraver, goldsmith. All individualists, but with a striving for the best as common ground, the wish to push the envelope into dimensions beyond the comparable. An inner drive to surpass oneself with every new piece. The combined creativity and energy inherent in such an item is truly tangible.
Handmade by England’s renowned Vincent Rickards using tools by Mike Marsh, the gun case is an artwork in itself. From the leather chosen and workmanship to the removable compartments and other details, it is like a musical box: the longer you look at it, the more you see. The colour harmony is simply superb.
The case has a wooden frame covered in alligator tail skin on the bottom (not even visible!) to prevent it touching the surface when put down. Designed to make “a feature of the frame”, as Vincent contentedly states, “it brings the tail and rest of the alligator skin together.” Also worth noting are the tiny black ebony tips specially made to prevent the sharp points of the screwdrivers from scratching the fine interior leather. Incredible!
A number of such projects have been created in the past – amazing works of technical engineering, objects of beauty and cultural value – that have propelled Fanzoj into the worldwide elite of specialty and boutique firms. Driven by a sense of perfection and an open mind to explore, the firm takes great pleasure in pushing the boundaries of gunmaking a step further with each extraordinary project.
In a modern world where speed has become a decisive factor in any business activity, the gradual, laborious process of building such a masterpiece transcends all common concepts of time. It is about doing everything as well instead of as fast as possible, appreciating a world governed by manual skills, where certain steps cannot be rushed. Years were to pass from the decision to start making the monumental large-calibre rifle, coordinating the craftsmen, stockmaking, fitting a set of spare barrels, regulating, engraving – and the finishing job, including testing and proofing.
All things considered, completing the project, any project of this scope and quality, is a reason to celebrate. The result is a visual delight. It is a privilege to bring an object of such exquisiteness to the world.
Fanzoj had for some time been seeking a central theme worthy of the project’s standards of engineering, which was finally found in migration. A magnificent, primal and profoundly moving story, reflecting Nature in all its beauty, brutality and above all fragility, confronting us with our own involvement in this perpetual cycle of life and death, hunting and being hunted. A great theme on a marvelous mechanical piece of art.
Artistically decorated weapons as an expression of people’s material and spiritual lives have been in existence for many centuries. They have a highly symbolic meaning and served not only as everyday objects, but also as diplomatic gifts or even a demonstration of local craftsmen’s skills. Today, exclusive gunmaking has a fixed place among customised luxury goods worldwide.
Collectors’ items of such quality take an incredibly long time to complete and require great personal commitment on the part of the firm. This is why they are rare, sought after and have and always will endure as desirable objects of lasting value.–Steve Comus
In wilderness is the preservation of the world – H. D. Thoreau, American writer (1817-1862)