“All successful design must appeal to the eye and mind by meeting some natural, instinctive set of standards. All objects, whether simple tools or fine art, can be a thing of beauty or somehow disturbing, either unified wholes or an assembly of details in conflict with itself. Design is the art of unifying contrasts and making a whole of diversity.” ~ Barry C. Bohnet. Journal of Historical Arms Making Technology*, June 1987 Volume 2.
I first read Mr. Bohnet’s article around 1985 when I started shooting black powder rifles. What kept this article in memory is the excellent explanation of the Golden Mean as it applies to firearm design.
The Golden Mean is an ancient description of proportion in shapes and forms that mimic naturally occurring forms. The most common example is probably the spiral of a snail shell or a chambered nautilus.
That spiral just “looks right” in a pleasing way.
When applied to artifacts, this proportion produces a shape pleasing to the eye, and turning something utilitarian into something beautiful. The same principle can be applied to ornamentation with equally pleasing results. In mathematical terms, the Golden Mean is a ratio of 1.628:1, but the classic craftsman just did it by eye and intuition.
All of this came to mind recently while browsing my local gun store. I happened to notice the guns I was spending the most time admiring, were the older models. Revolvers of course, but also the semi-automatics. The impulse to handle and perhaps purchase was significantly stronger when I was looking at a 1911 regardless of manufacturer, and I was pretty much ignoring the offerings from Glock and Springfield Armory EXCEPT for the Springfield Armory 1911s.
Most people would dismiss this as me buying into the mystique and romance of the 1911, but I felt like this was something else, and I realized it was the lack of curves and flowing lines on the modern pistols that I find unattractive.
Compare these pictures:
The 1911 (top) sure is fancy. Lots of nice engraving and pretty doodads on the stocks.
The Pistols from Glock (middle) and HK (bottom) have a few curves. Just enough to make them fit the human hand, but the 1911 has curves all over it. Why? The purpose of all three objects is identical, and all three guns have excellent reputations for their effectiveness, but the curves makes the 1911 much more aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
Even this old warrior from 1918 still has elegance and charm because of those few extra curves.
The same thing has happened to revolvers.
We started with the beautiful fluidity of Colt’s 1860 Army, and the curves continued all of the way to the present day. Then Chiappa released the Rhino, and functional but ugly had arrived.
From everything I have read, the Chiappa Rhino is an excellent firearm that fires the cartridge in the bottom chamber of the cylinder instead on the one at the top. The net effect is the shooter experiences less muzzle flip. One day I hope to get the chance to try one out, but as long as Smith & Wesson are producing beauties like this Performance Center 627, I don’t think I’ll be adding “modern art” to my safe.