Good evening folks, may I join you in a smoke? About six months back, I was looking at a photo of me taken about a dozen years prior and wistfully reflected that my former 54' chest and 30' waist had all but reversed (ok, not quite, but you get the idea). What were once rock hard pecs were now certifiable 'moobs', and the closest thing I possessed to a six-pack resided in my fridge. Not being delusional (well, not completely), I knew that a better diet, and an exercise program that didn't solely consist of '37 gram briar curls', could reverse a good deal of this decline. Having said, rather than introducing healthy new habits, I found myself taking a bit of perverse comfort in noting that a good deal of the South Carolina populace wasn't all that far behind me, started wearing all-black clothing (great, a 55 year old 'Goth') and, following the sage advice of the late Rodney Dangerfield; "If you want to look thinner, hang out with fat... ", renewed my vow to only smoke huge pipes, such as Ardor Giants and Ashton Magnums in public. Then I rejoined Smokingpipes.com and my well-seasoned sense of complacency began to crack at the foundation...
Back in 'the good ol' days' at SPC, with the exception of Sykes who was already starting to lose weight faster than the protagonist of Stephen King's "Thinner", I was just another member of the 'male chub club'. Today, (insert maniacal cackle), pretty much every guy in the place can boast either a body fat that could convince most male models to throw in the towel, well developed muscles, or (worse) a combination of both (nobody likes a curve buster, Brandon!). The final straw for me took place when I looked at the pictures from the SPC pipe club meeting; "Hey, there's John! Adam, Jonathan, Ted, Chris... but who's the oinker in the red t-shirt? Ohdeargodthatsme!!!"
Please don't get me wrong, I'm not slagging anyone who is heavy and happy, and my motivation isn't strictly a vanity issue (four heart operations might be nature's way of telling me to lay off lard & crackers for a while). Having fit co-workers is an inspiration, I can now set firm goals/timetables for my personal physical development. Within a month I will be able to climb to the top of my 6' Craftsman ladder. I will enter and complete a 50 meter 'fun run' (I think a local pre-school sponsors one). I will also rededicate myself to observing a healthy diet... just as soon as my OX-Fam relief-sized boxes of Fritos, pretzels, and Snickers bars run out. After all, they are paid for and why waste money? Now if you will please excuse me, a new life of vigor and vitality is calling. Time to do my 157 gram curls with my 'Ardor barbell' (feel the burn, YEAH BABY!).
Here at Smokingpipes, we have big updates, and then we have really big updates. And tonight's presentation (with a total of 236 fresh offerings) definitely qualifies as the latter (that made no sense whatsoever... maybe they won't notice). Last night the spotlights fell on the Luciano and Radice lines. Luciano just unveiled four breathtakingly innovative new series, all of which feature top-tier Mediterranean plateau briar which was hand selected and seasoned by Luca di Piazza himself, as well as elegantly elongated shapes, beautiful bamboo work and a shaping aesthetic which was heretofore unknown (en masse) from Italy. These beauties come with handsome zip-up bags, posh sleeves and the information about your specific pipe inscribed on a parchment. At prices that start at a pretty modest base-line, these Lucianos can't miss. Radice just unveiled their 2013 Christmas pipes with matching tampers. In addition, for a limited time, you will receive a very gnarly tamper with each Radice pipe that you purchase. Does that mean if you purchase their Christmas pipe you will get two tampers? Yes indeed.
Tonight we headline with nine superb pipes from the legendary Tom Eltang and, while all are tempting, you really must see the one of the most impressive Horns that you are likely to encounter in your lifetime. Michal Novak, Rattray's, Ser Jacopo, Mastro de Paja and Ardor are up tonight, and the latter includes a Urano Giant Apple of Herculean proportions. Neerup, Nording, Brigham, Savinelli and Peterson also came on board in a big way, and the Irish lads even include the highly popular 'Darwin' series. Toss in (well, not literally) seventy-two fresh estates and this is one massive update. We hope you will enjoy!
It's always a good day when we get a visit from our friend and Ardor/Brebbia representative Steve Monjure of Monjure International (and not just because he is a fellow ailurophile and brings us fancy chocolate truffles). Steve knows what he's doing, knows his product and is simply a pleasure to do business with. Today Steve brought us a plethora of Ardor pipes to choose from and we had a great time picking out some of Ardor's finest and talking about some of the new things Damiano and Dorielo are doing with their shaping, new adornment materials, etc. We always look forward to Steve's visits (and even if he didn't bring chocolate, we'd be delighted to see him). Look out for great Ardor updates over the coming weeks!
This was a little while in coming because I wanted to clear it with the Roveras first. Watching Dorelio was amazing; he works so effortlessly. The disk he's shaping on (at about 1:40 in the video) isn't sandpaper; it's a specialized metal disk that his grandfather made, which they've never been able to get a machinist to replicate. I've only ever seen one other workshop where the primary shaping disk was metal rather than sandpaper, and that was Lars Ivarsson's. The actual style of the two disks couldn't be more different, the idea is the same: in the hands of a really experienced pipe maker, a rougher, more durable surface allows for more accurate, faster work. Of course, one misstep and one destroys what one is working on, and perhaps loses a finger.
My apologies for my protracted absence from my blogging duties. We have been very much on the move and time and solid internet connectivity have not coincided until today. We've now completed the first leg of the trip, visiting five pipe makers and a briar cutter so far. I'll write an entry about each over the next couple of days. I had hoped for something a little closer to real time, but, as is so frequently the case, my plans were just a tiny bit too ambitious. So, we are now in Florence, and amidst the visiting of churches and museums and great restaurants, I hope to spend a little time writing here and there.
Three days ago, on our third day on the Italian and German (and a bit French) pipe maker tour, we visited Ardor. We were running a little late, having decided to take the mountain pass out of Switzerland instead of doing what sane people do, take the tunnel. It was raining; we found ourselves in the clouds. It was breathtakingly beautiful, but rather slow as we inched our way up and then down the Simplon pass. Nonetheless, we arrived late in the afternoon, to be warmly greeted by Dorelio and Damiano Rovera, the father and son team that make Ardor pipes. Ardor has been a special brand for us for many years. Smokingpipes.com has carried it without interruption for nearly a decade now. We've watched the aesthetic evolve, the engineering improve, and the finishing and detail work get better with each passing year. That is not to say that it wasn't excellent ten years ago; it was. But, all good pipe makers make refinements over the years, slowly improving technique, engineering and, perhaps, shaping. I just think that Ardor has done a better job of that incremental improvement than most.
Damiano Rovera, having lived for a few months as a child with a family friend in
London, speaks very good English. His father speaks none at all. And while I was able to navigate a little in France and Switzerland using my
horrifyingly bad French, my Italian extends exactly far enough to make out about half of what's on a menu. We started out by poking around their little
shop above the workshop, looking at the displays of Ardor pipes, some of which constitute the family collection of sorts. Angelo, Dorelio's father, was a
remarkable carver of briar, not just for pipes, but for other little items and objet d'art. Dorelio is also remarkably skilled at this, though his passion runs more towards pipe shaping and less towards this sort of figural work (which one does see in the Ardor tampers and, from time to time, on a rare Ardor figural).
From there, we descended to the workshop. According to Damiano, this is a rare privilege. Unlike our previous pipe visit, Ardor does not accept visitors into the workshop. Damiano said that I was the fourth man to enter the workshop to visit that he could recall. It's very much that Dorelio just considers the workshop a private domain. The shop is for the customers; the workshop is his (and Damiano's) alone. We were very flattered. And we were much impressed by the large, well equipped, sophisticated workshop. Yes, like almost every workshop that I've ever entered, it was messy. It's awfully difficult to keep a workshop where flecks of wood and sawdust fly every which way clean, but there was a certain order and precision, a contained chaos, that I've only seen a couple of other places. I was surprised that it reminded me a little of Tom Eltang's workshop. They're so different in so many ways that I couldn't put my finger on it. I think now that it is simply that both are thoughtfully structured, organized, and efficient.
Perhaps what I find so curious about Ardor is that the company will celebrate its one hundredth anniversary next year. Yet, they have all of the youthful energy of a young partnership. Damiano especially draws heavily on Danish and German stylistic influences. Close collaboration with customers also leads them in new and interesting directions. This is a company with both an extraordinary tradition and a constant thirst to evolve, improve, and explore, both artistically and from a craft perspective. Having intuited this from the pipes for years, it was a particularly special experience for me to be able to see it, meet the men behind the brand, and to understand what it is that makes Ardor
There is also a special Ardor project that is upcoming, something that has been in the works for perhaps a month or two now. I've been involved in discussions about shape and adornments with Ardor and Steve Monjure, Ardor's representative in the United States. I shan't divulge too many details now, but I will share a picture of some drawings and two prototypes that were worked on while we visited. All photos accompanying this blog entry revolve around those prototypes and that project. Hopefully it won't be too long before we can also share the finished project with you.
Following a couple of hours in the workshop as we looked at the machines, watched Dorelio shape a pipe, and generally talked pipes, we went out to dinner with Damiano and his wife and two young boys. Meals are central to everything in life in Italy and it was a particularly special experience for us to be able to join this Italian family for the evening at a restaurant owned by Damiano's wife's cousin. If you ever find yourself in the neighborhood of Varese, Ristorante La Casa del Ghiottone Errante is definitely worth a visit! The food was superb, especially the risotto with Barolo sauce. However, having the opportunity to chat for two hours with Damiano was wonderful. Damiano is as passionate about pipe making as he is gifted a pipe maker. And it is this passion that makes each Ardor pipe a treasure.
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