Interview: Dr Franco Beretta

Dr Franco Beretta is an intriguing-looking boss of a 500-year-old Italian family firearms business. There’s an easy informality about his cropped hair, mirthful eyes, chino trousers held up by a Western belt, and bracelet of white gold skulls visible beneath the cuff of his open-necked shirt. It’s without any pomp that he announces casually ‘We’re the third oldest family business in the world’, yet he’s anything but smug. ‘The oldest company is Japanese, in its 50th generation—we’re only in our 15th.’

Dr Beretta has recently opened one of what he calls Beretta’s ‘galleries’ in London, a sort of temple to fieldsports and rural life. Although the arrival of Beretta—the preferred gun of James Bond—as a retail presence in the capital is something new, he states that ‘the English countryside has always been a reference for us. I heard how my great uncle decided to build a Beretta over and under, and went into collaboration with an English manufacturer’.

What’s engaging about Dr Beretta is his deeply rooted respect for the British way of life. ‘The English countryside gives us the opportunity to challenge ourselves. It’s where the most sophisticated shoots are held and where high-grade guns are used. In other parts of the world, such guns are put in collections, but in England, the people who purchase this sort of gun want to go out there and have something nice and reliable to use. They’re strong shooters and they want to shoot a lot of ammunition.’

Although perhaps not on the epic lines of those of the early 20th century, British shoots do appear impressive, especially when contrasted with the Italian understanding of shooting, which, according to Dr Beretta, tends to be a more solitary, ad hoc, ad hominem activity. ‘Average people shoot with their dogs. They have that passion to go out and establish a fantastic relationship with their dog, and walk for hours, the two of them. It’s far less social and well organised.’

Indeed, it’s the sense of order and formality, which the British bring to fieldsports, that has prompted Dr Beretta to think of educating his son in England. ‘For a young boy like my son, England is a very interesting country; to understand that there’s the Crown and tradition, but also to know that, from a business point of view, it’s one of the most advanced countries in the world, and that it can combine tradition with the future. I’ve been to see some boarding schools and I had the same impression; these schools have a fantastic tradition and they’re still very formal, with amazing buildings, so to the Italian eye, it could be a little bit old-fashioned. But on the contrary—if you go inside, there’s innovation. I visited the art departments and the manufacturing departments, and they let the young students really understand their talent.

I understand manufacturing, and I was very impressed that they can learn how to make a product out of a piece of steel or wood using very sophisticated computers.’ As far as Dr Beretta is concerned, the opposite is true of his home country. ‘In Italy, some people might think we’re more modern, but I haven’t come across a school that has this modern equipment to challenge the young guys, to really see what they will do in a working environment.’

British country life has even enhanced domestic harmony in the Beretta household. It’s the British shooting party that’s taught Mrs Beretta, a rather glamorous and cosmopolitan woman, who didn’t grow up in the world of guns and country pursuits, to view rural life more positively. ‘My wife studied in London—she really loves it, and, at the beginning, she was mainly going there because she had a lot of friends, and she liked shopping and visiting art galleries. But then, because we were invited out to the country, she began to understand the tradition of the shoot, and that it’s possible to enjoy a well-organised, comfortable but outdoor activity, and my wife loves this combination!’

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