There was a time when a “fancy” gun meant changing from walnut grips to ebony, mother of pearl or ivory, carved or otherwise embellished, and adding hand engraving to the frame and barrel, as well as cylinder if it was a revolver. Today, most of those options are still offered, though ivory is on the endangered-species list and mother of pearl is scarce. Fortunately, there are fine synthetic replacements for revolvers and autos, as well as modern G10 grips and select hardwoods to fit almost any firearm. Designer guns, however, are something altogether different. They come in different colors and textures, and almost all are aimed at an ever-expanding market of female consumers.
Like haute couture in the fashion world, designer styles create individuality or set a trend, and this has become true for one of the most personal of all possessions, a handgun. For women, the first efforts were were predictable and limited, primarily being guns with pink grips or pink frames. Pink is still popular, but it didn’t take long for women to enter into the design process. Colors are the essential element, and all that glitters today is not gold.
Kimber, one of America’s leading manufacturers of semi-autos, has been playing the designer gun game for a while, and it has developed an entire series of unique and eye-pleasing combinations in calibers across the board, from .380 ACP to .45 ACP. An excellent example of this is the new gem-themed Amethyst Ultra II pistol. This pint-sized 9mm features a highly polished slide with an amethyst purple PVD coating featuring cut scroll engraving and borders. This pairs with a satin-finished aluminum frame. The purple finish is also applied to the controls, including even the hex-head screws securing the purple ball-milled G10 grips.
Kimber has other colors as well. The most vibrant is the .380 ACP Kimber Bel Air with a striking, turquoise-finished alloy frame contrasted by a polished stainless steel slide and ivory-colored grips. There is also the Micro Diamond, a fully equipped .380 ACP pistol with an ambidextrous thumb safety, milled ivory G10 grips, Meprolight tritium three-dot night sights, a mirror-polished slide and fine engraving with delicate scroll accents on the slide. These upgraded Kimber pistols each offer a unique look that makes them not only ideal for concealed carry, but some of the best looking handguns around.
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Snub-nose revolvers are about as traditional as it gets for a small self-defense handgun, and Charter Arms offers several different snub-nose models with optional gold, turquoise, green, Tiffany blue, pink, red and lavender frames, along with other shades and textures like gator and a special Charter Arms version draped in Old Glory’s red, white and blue. Men can get into the color act, too. Remember Gibb’s tiger-stripe blade Zero Tolerance 301 folding knife on NCIS? Charter Arms has companion Undercover .38 Special and Bull Dog .44 Special models with tiger stripes over a green finish.
Plastics have been used to make frames for semi-auto handguns since Heckler & Koch developed the VP70 back in 1970, a dozen years before Glock perfected polymer frame design and manufacturing. Today it is standard procedure for most arms makers with polymer frames to offer color options (even Glock, from time to time).
SCCY has a virtual color wheel of frames for its 9mm CPX-1 and CPX-2 models, as well as the company’s new CPX-3 in .380 ACP. Pick a color, any color. Want a turquoise frame with a polished, stainless steel slide? You got it! Same slide on an orange frame? No problem. Want a crimson, white, purple, Flat Dark Earth, sniper gray or even a pink frame? Done. You can even get something as practical as a black stainless slide on a black frame.
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The very popular Ruger LCP .380 is also often available with special color frames, such as raspberry, purple, green, FDE and pink Muddy Girl camo. Meanwhile, Taurus offers the 738 TCP with traditional black or pink frames, and Beretta has optional polymer frames for the 9mm Nano and .380 ACP Pico in pink, violet, ranger green or Flat Dark Earth.
And then there is Cerakote, a ceramic coating for steel and alloy. Cerakote allows for any combination of colors (there are around 90) to be permanently bonded to the metal (frame or slide). This treatment not only enhances the gun’s finish, but protects against wear and scratching. Most major arms manufacturers offer Cerakote finish options on their guns.
Women had a significant role in creating European American Armory’s Witness Pavona line, handguns that have a distinctive polymer frame unlike any other on the market. The Pavona is a compact double-action/single-action semi-auto in .380 ACP or 9mm that’s built on the established CZ 75 platform and manufactured in Italy by Tanfoglio. EAA’s Sales and Marketing Manager Sharon Lacy conducted focus groups of potential female consumers, and through her research the specific features of the Pavona line were developed.
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Unique to the Pavona’s polymer frame is injected metal flake accents integral with the polymer material. With the black polymer frame, the embedded flakes look like metal shavings, the most subtle combination. Beyond that, Pavona frame colors ramp up from sapphire to imperial (a dark purple) and the very eye-catching fandango (violet) combination. The brighter the frame color, the more the metal flakes show. The point is that EAA isn’t patronizing its female audience with a man’s gun in a pink finish, but rather a gun that offers some unique style and color options.
Distinctive is another description for designer handguns, and Sig Sauer now offers every color under the rainbow, including rainbow. There are P238, P290 and P938 models in a variety of unique finish and grip combinations, including the Black Pearl with its engraved, Nitron-finished black slide and black pearl grips, the P938 Scorpion with its Flat Dark Earth slide and frame and matching Hogue Extreme G10 grips, the Lady with an engraved slide and red finish, and the ever-changing Rainbow, the most exclusive of all finishes with colors and hues that change as light plays along the surface.
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Even the unique Sig Sauer P238 Spartan, finished in an oil-rubbed bronze with black grips that feature an inlaid Spartan helmet and the Greek “Molon Labe” (“come and take them”) engraved on the slide, you are still looking at what are essentially production models. Add into this mix Cerakote’s own available finishes and customized models from companies such as The Glock Store and Agency Arms, along with manufacturer custom shops like S&W’s Performance Center, and the word “bespoke” can be added to the list of options.
It might just be that rather than going forward in time from the great hand-engraved guns of the 19th century, we are actually looking back at the 16th and 17th centuries when handguns and long arms were so lavishly embellished. Today’s designer handguns are becoming functional fine art that can both please the eye and protect the life of its owner.
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