After a couple of missed turns and driving around in search of the correct address (you're probably beginning to discern a pattern), we pulled up into a small grouping of plaster clad homes, finding Claudio Cavicchi, and his good friend (and our translator for the day) Gianfranco Musoni chatting in Claudio's immaculately maintained garden. We were immediately whisked inside, plied with espresso, and shown Claudio's well-equipped, organized workshop.
It's not that Claudio's workshop is particularly tidy, but it is definitely the work home of a disciplined craftsman: everything has its place, the main table in the room serving as a place for stummels and paper templates rather than a repository for general workshop detritus (unlike my office, where all the horizontal surfaces are repositories for general office detritus, plus pipes that I've smoked and not put away). And the centrality of that table is interesting. Machines--a bandsaw, lathe, buffers, sanding disks-- surround the room, but in the center is that long table with nothing but pipe stummels and paper shape templates. Claudio doesn't use the templates to help him shape, but he finds it an important part of the creative process, helping him to find the shapes in the blocks before he starts cutting. Clearly, having all of those paper templates littering (seemingly) the central area of his workspace is somehow essential to his creative process.
Just like an office, or a living room or kitchen in a home, says a lot about its occupant's personality, a workshop speaks volumes about a pipe maker. Hardly an entire picture can be discerned from a workshop, but much about the pipes begins to make sense. Something that we've remarked upon time and again here at the office is that Claudio has a failure rate of zero. We have never, ever had to return a pipe for a construction error or other problem that we think would pose a problem for the pipe's future smoker. Given that we have (as of this writing) sold about 600 Cavicchi pipes, this is a truly amazing feat. Pipes are handmade and mistakes happen every great once in awhile. Most top pipe makers have a mistake rate (as we define it) of 1-2%. When you sit back and think about it, that's pretty amazing in itself, but not nearly as impressive as Claudio's unsullied record. Alyson took over as brand manager (which just means that she's primary contact for business pieces associated with the brand) for Cavicchi a few months ago. One of her first questions, which is something we always ask, is how we should handle any returns for problems with the pipes. Claudio, rather matter of factly, replied that it wasn't an issue; they never have problems. At first, we thought this rather presumptuous, until we gave it a little thought and realized that we'd had, oh, about 450 so far without rejecting a single one. This wasn't cavalier haughtiness; Claudio's was a statement of fact. He doesn't make mistakes.
And this is certainly visible in his workspace. He is methodical and diligent; his workshop reflects those characteristics. It is obviously carefully organized; everything has it's own place. Machines are placed relative to each other for ease of use. Tools are carefully and efficiently organized. The entire workspace exudes a quiet, professional efficiency. The only area of controlled chaos (most pipe making workshops are either in a state of controlled chaos or outright chaos) was that center table, so central to both the workshop and his creative process.
Later in the morning, this came up in conversation. We chuckled about it and Claudio indicated that he would continue to make sure that we never had cause or need to return a pipe. Gianfranco, Claudio's close friend and our translator for the day, of course quickly added that if there is ever a problem, that Claudio would want to know immediately, but, then grinning, added that it probably wouldn't ever be necessary.
Claudio speaks as little English as I speak Italian, so the conversation was mostly with Gianfranco. He could answer a lot of our questions directly, not always translating for Claudio; his family has been close to Claudio for years, and while he doesn't make pipes (though he did once just to see, of course), he's intimately familiar with Claudio's process and Claudio obviously trusts him as if he's family. From our perspective, while it's difficult sometimes to not be able to speak to the pipe maker directly, it was something of a boon in this case to hear about the pipe maker from someone who sees him almost every day, cares deeply for him, but can offer a third-person perspective, of course overlaid with statements from Claudio translated directly. In some ways, I felt as if I had a better sense of Claudio because of this, in spite of the impossibility of direct communication.
Listening to Gianfranco talk about Claudio's foibles was a treat. In some ways, Claudio's perfect record fits in that mold, as does his perfect engineering. Even with the care to detail he takes, Claudio makes about 700 pipes each year (of which, about 300 end up here with us). He doesn't understand why other pipe makers make fewer. He thinks it just takes a lot of self discipline, careful routine, and hard work to achieve this. According to Gianfranco, Claudio also feels uncomfortable whenever he has fewer than 200 pipes on hand. To any other pipe maker (discounting large workshops or factories), that would sound insane. I can't think of another individual pipe maker who wants to carry inventory in case someone orders. Claudio is always worried he'll run out of pipes. I remember once that, per his instructions, we ordered a few weeks in advance of when we thought we'd need the pipes. He came back three days later with an emailed invoice. This is a pipe maker that has the precision of an extremely well run large corporation, not a flighty craftsman or business-challenged creative type.
Gianfranco Musoni and Claudio Cavicchi