We're all familiar with Savinelli's convention of having "standard" sized shapes, and then progressing upwards into larger "KS" designs, and then outright massive "EX" renditions. And of course, a good deal of Savinelli's best-known shapes, whether Billiards or Apples or Dublins, are distinctive for having a great combination of proportions leaning more (albeit not entirely) towards the classical English balance, yet a definite Italian flare in their lines. It's a style that has long made Savinelli distinctive when compared to other Italian marques, after all.
And that brings us to the introduction of one of their newest lines, one which brings us something of the old Savinelli tradition, yet rendered, in one particular but important aspect, with a very different approach. What they've done is go in the opposite direction, sizing-wise, and instead of producing Italian flourish in pipes that speak of classic English underpinnings, they've introduced to us a line of new and old designs scaled-down to classical French fineness and elegance. They are, aptly, known as the "Petites". And as we just so happen to have a batch hitting our site today, we've decided to give them special attention.
They're an unusual departure not just for Savinelli, but for an Italian marque, and yet, we have to say, Savinelli has really nailed it with these lightweight little numbers. A few of the shapes briefly made an appearance before as the "Elegance" designs, though they have since been further refined for the new Petite line, while the remainder are iconic Savinelli standards, redesigned to suit the markedly more gracile proportions that define and distinguish the new Petite series. And, frankly, several of us around here think they're simply some of the best shapes Savinelli's ever produced; handy and light, easy to pocket or to keep clenched, yet still for all their trimmed-down, old French style, retaining just the right touch of that special Savinelli flavor in their lines and balance, too.
Is it possible the old French style, long ago eclipsed by the English, is making a comeback? I don't know. But recent years have seen the introduction of Sebastien Beo, whose marque is dedicated almost entirely to light, fine pipes of classic French style, and the limited-run brand of Ropp, made up entirely of long-forgotten French pipes that had been stored in dusty corners of the old Chapuis-Comoy factory (and rescued from obscurity by Sykes) has certainly been selling well since their introduction. And now the biggest Italian marque around has seen fit to bring us a whole series made up of a well-balanced marriage of Italian and French flavor; classic Savinelli gesture and lines, combined with the old French style's knack for designs that were equal parts graceful and convenient in scale and proportions.
A lot of us have no doubt heard talk of pipe smoking seeing signs of something of a resurgence -- more younger men (and sometimes younger women, too) showing up around local brick & mortar shops, more young pipe smokers active in social media websites, showing off and discussing their latest acquisitions or the latest blends they've tried, and so forth. Should this trend hold, I expect it will only be a matter of time before more pipe smokers, whether new or experienced, young or old, will begin to feel comfortable enjoying their pipes outside the confines of their own homes, or those of their fellow pipe-aficionado friends. And the way I see it, what better way to encourage pipe smokers to come out into the sunlight (or street lights, if you're a night owl like myself), than to provide them with handier, slimmer, lighter briars, easy to enjoy on the go, with a smart and tasteful style?
And if that's what you're in the market for, Savinelli's hit the nail on the head. Take it from me -- I definitely have a thing for the old French style of pipe, and the ones I own are the ones that come with me everywhere I go. Having seen Savinelli's latest little lovelies, though, I'm thinking my rotation is now desperately in need of a touch (or two or three) of Italian flourish as well.
Of course, today's update includes quite bit beyond Savinelli's latest offerings alone. Joining the new Petites you'll find many fine examples of the very same marque's long-established favorites, not to mention three-dozen fresh briars by Peterson, and a great variety pipes from Vauen, Chacom, Butz-Choquin, Sebastien Beo, and Tsuge alike. There's plenty on offer from artisans and artisanal marques as well, as we have at hand batches of the latest works from the colorful Chris Askwith, the artful Gian Gamboni, and for traditional Italian briar, both Castello and Luigi Radice and sons. Last but not least come the estates, amongst which you'll find everything from thoroughly vintage Dunhill patents to wild young Pesaro beauties.
And with "what's new" out of the way, all that's left is a little reminder of "what's goin' on", that is to say, our currently-running specials. Any purchase of a Rossi pipe still nabs you a pretty flashy t-shirt free of charge, purchasing five tins of Orlik or Escudo gets you 20% off their combined press -- i.e. the last tin is essentially on us, ordering select boxes of CAO cigars gets you a free cigar cutter, and, finally, while supplies still last, order a pound of any Stokkebye bulk tobacco and we'll ship it out with a free tobacco jar (feel free to mix and match blends). And that, at last, is all, folks.
I spent two full days visiting Savinelli for the first time this past Monday and Tuesday. I've decided that one blog post simply can't do the whole experience justice, so I've opted to split it into two (or even three; we shall see). Almost the entire first day was spent poking around the factory. I love pipe factories. And I've been in bunches of pipe factories and workshops all over the world. I can't make a pipe to save my life (I've tried; it was a disaster), but I'm about as familiar with methods, machines, materials and the like as someone who doesn't actually make pipes can be. Giacomo Carlesi, Savinelli's export manager and my factory guide, suggested that the factory tour took much, much longer with me than it does with most folks because, well, I actually knew what I was looking at. I had tons of questions. As I said to Giacomo, it's not the things that are the same at each factory that are interesting, it's the differences from operation to operation.
Savinelli's production is really split into two distinct pieces. There's the factory piece, which accounts for the overwhelming majority (98%?) of Savinelli's production, and the artisan piece. The Autographs, Briar Lines, Linea Artisans and Milanos are all the result of the second set of processes. Both are fascinating, but they're so different, that I've decided to split off the factory discussion for a second article to follow in, hopefully, a couple of days. So, today, we're going to discuss Autographs and we'll follow one through a number of the processes in the photos on the left.
Briar for the Autographs and other freehands is sourced specifically for those pieces. Extra grade ebauchon blocks are used for most of Savinelli's production, but Savinelli keeps a separate supply of Extra Extra plateaux blocks for the freehands. Savinelli has about one million blocks of briar on hand (yes, that's a whole lot), which amounts to a ten year supply. This ensures that they're only using top-quality thoroughly dry briar, and it also gives them the ability to weather supply shocks if they were to find themselves unable to secure as much briar as they need for a few years.
Though the shapes are unmistakably Savinelli's, the blocks are shaped first and drilled afterwards, using the same method the Danes use to maximize flexibility when shaping. It requires greater skill on the part of the maker, but generally yields better results as the carver is able to work around problems in the wood and cut to maximize the quality of the grain. Three artisans in the factory are responsible for all of the Autograph and other freehand pipes. Ignazio Guarino, who has been with Savinelli for fifty years, worked on the piece that we're following through some of the steps to the left, but every piece is touched by each of the three senior artisans in the factory.
First the pipe was shaped almost completely. Ignazio works on the sander (which is structured with the sanding area on the outside of a spinning disk, perhaps an inch wide, quite different from the disks I've seen elsewhere) faster than anyone I've ever seen: decades of practice making variations on the various iconic Savinelli Autograph shapes means that he can do it almost without looking. Then it's taken to be drilled on three different machines (this being an artisanal process in a factory, most everything is set up for exactly one process) and the plateaux top lightly is blasted to remove the bark. Then a stem is fitted, shaped to match the bowl, and bent over an alcohol lamp. Then the pipe is stained, polished, stamped and it's done. (I've omitted a number of steps from the photos to the left since some of them aren't terribly photogenic and I'm not a terribly good photographer).
All Savinelli pipes, including the Autographs of course, are stained with natural dyes mixed in the factory, primarily by the factory manager, Luisa Bozzetti. Savinelli has bags and boxes of various components to create the various stains. The area used for this has a sort of medieval herbalist or apothecary character to it. The recipes are loosely interpreted, executed through trial and error with tests on scraps of briar since there's considerable natural variance in the dye components. I don't think I've ever encountered anything like this. It gives Savinelli considerable flexibility to create new stains, which is perhaps one reason that there's such color variance from series to series, instead of just a few stock colors employed over and over again.
Of course, only a fraction of the free hand pipes that come from Savinelli bear the Autograph stamp. And such was not the happy destiny of this pipe. The grain was stunning, but a small fissure emerged while the bowl was being shaped. It would have ended up a Milano Handmade, but as I learned while all of this was being discussed, it was to be very kindly given to me, so it just bears the Savinelli stamp, my name and the year, and I'm smoking it (in a smoking hotel room, no less) as I write this.
Wednesday of last week, I made something of a pipe pilgrimage up to the US HQ for Savinelli. I'd been chatting with Giacomo Carlesi, Savinelli's Italy-based export manager and Ruben Ysdiron, CEO of Savinelli USA, by email and phone a bit during the preceding couple of weeks and they convinced me to take the trip up to Raleigh to look at a shipment of higher end Savinelli pipes that they'd just received in the US.
This was, by far, the finest selection of Autographs, Linea Artisan, Briar Line and Milano Handmades that I've ever seen in one place. Beautifully grained briars abounded, laid out in tray after tray on their shipping tables, in anticipation of my arrival. I met Giacomo at noon and having completed the standard salutations, he asked "pipes or lunch?" Alright, anyone who knows me would know that, for me, that's a tough question. I take both pipes and lunch very seriously. But, I figured, we'd look at pipes for an hour and then head off for a bite to eat together with Ruben.
Four and a half hours later, we had moved on from pipes to lighters and Savinelli pipe pouches. Lunch had long since been forgotten amid the great bounty of briar. By the time we finally wrapped up looking through pipes, Ruben had to beg off of 'lunch' and Giacomo and I grabbed a quick bite among early dinner goers rather than the lunch crowd.
What's important, though, is that I had my single best opportunity ever to pick out pipes from the handmade, artisan end of the Savinelli range. Mostly for supply and selection reasons, we've never been terribly focused on these at Smokingpipes.com, though Savinelli is a very important brand to us. Being able to see all of these together reinforced that there's some impressive work coming from the storied Italian manufacturer. And, almost needless to say, I picked out dozens and dozens of pipes. Added to that, I picked up an order that Pam had already forwarded. My little VW Jetta has never, ever been so full. I narrowly escaped having to have pipe boxes on my lap on the way home...
While it was all a little much for us to get up all at one time, we have a huge update from Savinelli on Thursday, totalling seventy-two pipes in all, of which many Autographs, Linea Artisans, Milanos etc are featured. I think my trip up there was definitely worth it; I've never been more pleased with the selection of Savinellis we're able to offer. Check back on Thursday afternoon and have a look!
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