Visit to Swarovski Optik: Making the Finest Riflescopes in the United States for Twenty Years
For many years, the riflescope industry in the United States has largely been an import business, with little or no assembly being performed on American soil. Most folks have never seen a scope line or a riflescope manufacturing facility. No surprise, as there isn't one to to be found on most street corners. You might be surprised that one of the most prestigious names in hunting and shooting optics makes their product in Cranston, Rhode Island, USA. That company is Swarovski Optik North America.
Swarovski offers no low quality, entry level, or starter-level optics. The scopes they offer are all built to one standard: their own standard, the best. There are price differences throughout the line, but no based on quality: the price differences are based on technology, features, and the realities of business climates, but sacrificing quality of machining and quality of assembly is not a compromise Swarovski makes.
Gail Fisher, above, is one of the super-women of Swarovski Optik. She's involved in just about everything, from customer service to manufacturing to communications. It was Gail who took time out from her always-busy day to give us a tour of Swarovski Optik. Gail is one of several super-men and super-women at Swarovski. I half expected to find a cape in her office somewhere. I didn't see one, but that doesn't mean it wasn't there. Swarovski North America is now celebrating twenty years of North American operations.
One way to look at Swarovski product is based on zoom range. The Z3 riflescopes have a three-power range, the Z5 a 5x range, the Z6 a 6x range. Swarovski Z3 riflescopes have 1-inch tubes as is the most popular in the U.S., Z5 models have 1 inch tubes as well, and the Z6 is a 30mm riflescope series with the six-power zoom range.
The folks at Swarovski North America make Z3 riflescopes not just for the United States, but for the world. Not only are they offered in the U.S., but a goodly portion of the Swaro NA production is for export. According to Gail, Z5 and Z6 models are also produced in Rhode Island as production demands dictate.
Ralph Mathieu, Swarovski Repair tech who volunteered to help in assembly
during the day of our visit. Most all members of the Swarovski team started
as assemblers so if help is needed they can seamlessly step right in.
There is a very good reason for North American assembly and final testing of Swarovski product. What we pay for import duty and fees cannot go into a riflescope. Taxes, duties, and fees are just that. Our current government's adventures in that area are most charitably described as puzzling, uneven, and not understandable. Regardless, there is a substantial difference in the duties and fees imposed on finished goods from Europe as opposed to loose components. By assembling finished goods at Swarovski North America, not only are invasive duties not imposed, but American jobs are created and sustained as well. All very good things. It is also good for the American consumer, as a level of product that might be considered unaffordable due to import fees is now within reach, while losing nothing in engineering, quality of components, and quality of assembly.
Many of the Swarovski North America's employees are trained and certified in Austria, and Swaro N.A. Employees are extensively cross-trained as well. I do have a crystal ball, personally, the only problem being that it doesn't always work. So it goes with constantly changing consumer demands around the world. To be able to adapt to these continuously changing variables, a company has to be well-equipped to be flexible in production with no problems maintaining quality and standards. That is what Swarovski has worked hard over the last twenty years in North American to achieve and it shows.
Kenny Santana: Quality Control Coordinator. Kenny is QC'ing a finished
batch of scopes.
You've likely heard terms like Austrian engineering? Let me try to explain what that means, at least according to me. A properly engineered scope is not just a tube. It is a precision instrument where every component including things like lubricant and O rings are vital to durability and reliable function. Aesthetically, a scope like the Swarovski Z3 in designed to be slim and pleasing to the eye, complimenting the rifle not detracting. The lighter and slimmer the scope, the better, as long as ruggedness is not compromised. For example, the Swarovski Z3 3-10 x 42mm weighs about three quarters of a pound. The more a scope is engineered to be slim and trim, the closer it can be mounted to the centerline of a rifle's bore as many shooters prefer.
tolerances are rigidly adhered to thhroughout the Swarovski Optik system
world-wide. The identical components are assembled with identical care
whether it is Cranston, Rhode Island or Absam, Austria: there is no deviation
in procedure or close tolerances. This is the Swarovski Z6 parallax machine.
In the background is Ana Relvinha (Lead Assembly Tech) and Eric Zacharski
While a lot of attention is paid to light transmission, that hardly defines the full usefulness of a riflescope. Swarovski pays attention to things like internal ribbing, and the microstructure surface inside the scope to attenuate the effects of bright light that can add reflections and quickly destroy image quality. Reticle selection is both personal preference and contingent on hunting conditions. It is important though, and the reticle that is ideal for you can hardly be obtained if it isn't offered in the first place. For that reason, you'll find that Swarovski offers over fourteen different reticles, many of their own design.
sub-assembly area, featuring Yorm Pitch and Ravy Sang. They are finishing
up ocular assemblies.
Going through the plant with Gail, what became obvious to me was the camaraderie and esprit de corp of the Swarovski team, ground with great pride in their work. Visiting with one fellow who was doing a scope evaluation, the great appeal of what he was doing was the precision and close tolerances involved. It was as close as he could get to being a Swiss watchmaker and he was obviously delighted by his work and took great satisfaction in what he was doing. When you talk to someone at Swarovski, you're not just talking to folks who know how scopes work or know how scopes are put together. You're talking to people that actually do put them together and people that actually do make them work: it is all the difference in the world.
The good news for consumers is that due Swarovski's continued focus on total production cost without compromising quality and their own standards, the $2000 price bracket that is easily exceeded by European optics need no longer be a barrier. For those that seek the best and would rather have one or two high quality scopes they can trust a hunt to rather than a bucket of dubious scopes, you can now get into a new Swarovski Z3 for less than half of what you thought they would have to cost. Z3 3-9 x 36 riflescopes start around $750 or so, with Z3 3-10 x 42 models starting at about $75 more. "Seeing the unseen" just became a whole lot more obtainable.
For more info on the entire Swarovski line, be sure to check out http://www.swarovskioptik.us .
Copyright 2011 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.