In the rooms where the engravers work their drawings into the steel of a shotgun's receiver, the meditative strike of their hammers on the heads of their chisels makes a tick-tick-tick-Tick-TICK that you might first think was coming from a woodpecker's drilling on a tree. The tones are woodsy, with intensity and punctuation. An engraver sketches the line that he or she will then follow into the steel, so the sound of the hammer hitting the chisel rises in timbre and rhythm as the point of the chisel finds its line, travels it, and the hammer blows intensify toward the end of that phrase. Twelve engravers are at work as Beretta's master engraver, Luca Casari, and I stroll through the factory's second-floor engraving loft in the Italian Alps, so that this soft percussive sound track comes from all corners of the room, a staccato, lapping, ongoing chorus, like the fleet play of fingers on a piano during a fugue.
What's especially musical about all this is the process: It's the sound of a pair of hands—the sound of a human—infusing a two-inch-by-three-inch-by-three-inch piece of steel with literally thousands of little cuts and twirls that tell a story, be it in the feathering of a setter's leg, or in the heart-stopping leap that a pheasant makes as it takes flight. It's an old art, in an old family factory, in an even older place that is mainly a mining culture. It's as if everybody here is descended from Vulcan—molten ores and alloys are in their blood.
"In the mid-nineties we realized that a generation of our engravers was getting older," Casari explains. "We needed to do something to ensure that a following generation had the craft, so we began this school. It's a five-year course of study during which we pay them to come and learn. The thing is, if they are very talented, they may not even remain at Beretta. They are not obligated to stay."