Episode 21 – Beretta Diamond Pigeon

PART 1 {Virginia and Roger sitting behind table}

VIRGINIA: My name is Virginia Hall and I’m here today to introduce you to Roger Rule, author of The Rifleman’s Rifle, and host of this series of episodes, Special Guns with Roger Rule.

ROGER: Thank you, Virginia, and welcome, …and welcome viewers to my 21st Episode of Special Guns with Roger Rule.

VIRGINIA: What do we have today?

ROGER: In the last episode, we covered two custom-made rifles. Today, I want to return to the world of shotguns. While most of the ones we’ve looked at in the evolution of the over and under, have been expensive doubles, today we have one that is much more modestly priced. Yet, it still stands tall in the evolution of the best over and unders ever made.
It is another from the Beretta Co. and from their model line of the 680 series, the Model S687 marketed as the “Diamond Pigeon.”
Just to recap a bit, in a few of our videos we covered several guns in the evolution of the over and under. The first successful one manufactured on a volume scale, was the great Browning Superposed. It was covered in Episode 14.

PART 2 {Audio only – show photos 21-B687-1 thru -10}

Then in Episode 15, we learned that in March 1926, Pietro Beretta of the Beretta Co., after seeing the patents granted to John Moses Browning for his Superposed, recognized that Browning was on to something, the potential of a new market sector for a popular over and under double gun. Pietro Beretta did not want to be left behind. He decided it was something that his large manufacturing company in Gardone, Italy, should explore as well. I covered a synopsis of the history of Beretta in that video.
When the Browning Superposed came out in 1935, this was during Pietro Beretta’s management. While Pietro was actively seeking the production of small arms for the military and law enforcement, he had not ignored the sporting arms that had been the company’s strength. Like Browning, he was very much aware of the English over and under guns, particularly those made by Boss and Woodward. Although they were technically brilliant, they involved too much handwork causing them to be expensive and low volume. He could see that Browning’s Superposed, on the other hand, could be manufactured in a much higher volume with a price that created a different market sector than the small market of the English guns made by hand. Like the Browning gun, Beretta needed a design that his company could produce in numbers for his large factory.
From Episode 15, we learned that Beretta turned to his brilliant in-house designer, Tullio Marengoni, to begin the development work for an over and under to compete with the Superposed. Marengoni had worked at Beretta all his life. He did not like Browning’s design and was very vocal about it, saying he found its under-lug system clumsy and unrefined. In a Beretta catalog later, the Browning Superposed would be described as “very high, heavy, and ugly” an insult that the Italian trade would continue to use against the Superposed for the next 70 years.
To reduce the height in his design, Marengoni rejected the underlug system and instead turned to a locking system that mounted the barrels low in the action body on stub pins and locked them by means of a top cross bolt that emerged from the upper left of the receiver similar to the German Kersten crossbolt. Additional locking was provided by angled shoulders on the barrel that engage angled cut outs in the receiver walls. This last feature has become a key element of the Beretta signature locking system.
Another big difference from the Browning was that Beretta used their own “Monobloc” barrels that they pioneered in 1913, and still use on most shotguns today except for the very expensive handmade guns. In the Monobloc system, the barrels are made separately from the breech block, then soldered in place reducing distortion and allowing for very precise alignment.
Pietro Beretta recognized early on that Marengoni’s solution still would be expensive to build, so he opted to add a premium specification, planning it from the onset to be a true sidelock to give the gun additional value. We covered that also in Episode 15.

PART 3 {Roger and Virginia sitting at the table} {read quote}

Today, we pick up where Beretta eventually adapted Marengoni famous locking system designed with side stub pins and the angled barrel shoulders, but did away with the top cross bolt which was expensive to make. The new locking improvement kept the angled barrel shoulders, but allows for two small conical locking bolts, one on each side of the action, to replace the top cross bolt allowing for lower manufacturing cost. And, to bring the costs down even further, it was to be made in a more reasonably priced box lock action instead of a sidelock.
When Garcia was the sole distributor for Beretta in the USA, this very successful boxlock shotgun was brought into this country as the BL series, BL standing for boxlock. The lowest grade was BL-1 and continued up through BL-6, the top version with full hand engraving. In the 28th Edition of the Blue Book of Gun Values by S. P. Fjestad, on page 93, the caption under a photo of a BL-6 reads:
And I quote:
“While the Browning Superposed Grades 1 to Midas were a lot more well-known and popular with American shooters than Beretta’s competitive O/U models during the 1960s-1970s, the Beretta O/U shotguns were every bit as good in quality. In the case of the BL-6, Beretta’s top-of-the-line standard production gun ,it retailed during 1973 for approximately the same price as a Browing Superposed Lightning.”
{close quote}
The BL line would go on to emerge into the Model 55 with improvements, and eventually evolve into the 680 series: the 680, 682, 685, 686 and 687. The 680 series are improved guns that still have Marengoni’s hinging system with bifurcated lumps and stud-pins at the knuckle, but has replaced the more expensive Kersten-style crossbolt or third lock of the original Marengoni design. This has been replaced with the twin conical bolts at mid-height that emerge from the breech face and engage two small round sockets at either side of the top barrel’s chamber mouth when the gun is closed. This is a great design feature because it is less costly to produce, and even less when produced in a boxlock rather than a sidelock action. The design also has the added feature that the conical bolts may be replaced by over-size parts allowing for wear, as can the hinge-pins.
So that’s what we have here today, the top of the line in this series, the Model S687 Diamond Pigeon.

VIRGINIA: When was this gun manufactured?

ROGER: 1998, according to Beretta’s serial number ledger, ten years after it was first introduced. And this is one of the early ones with hand-chased engraving by the very famous engraver, Botega C. Giortonelli. Giortonelli is known to many gun collectors as the artist who engraved the famed Grand Slam Bobby Jones and Arnold Palmer commemoratives built by Renato Gamba with selling prices of $20,000 each.
While we can see the placeholder that this shotgun holds in the evolution of shotgun design capturing the low profile design by Marengoni, advancing forward to the new design that is less costly, there is yet another reason I chose this particular gun.
A few years ago, in October 15, 2014 issue of The Field, a respected British magazine, an article was published entitled, “The World’s Twenty Best Shotguns.” It listed them in order with number one being the best shotgun in the world. The article created much controversy as you might imagine, either omitting someone’s favorite gun or giving their favorite gun a different place in the hierarchy. The article included the great guns by Purdey, Holland & Holland, Boss, Dickson, Browning’s Superposed, Perazzi, and Fabbri among others referred to as being in the top Twenty Shotguns in the world. Then, at the end of the article, the author summed up: (and I quote)
“What is the best shotgun in the world? One gun on a desert island for the next 20 years? To use the vernacular, that’s a no-brainer: the plain Jane Beretta Silver Pigeon (Model 686) simply could not be bettered. It offers the most reliable bang for the least buck.” (close quote)

VIRGINIA: That gun, Silver Pigeon, is similar to the one we have today?

ROGER: To use The Field writer’s description, the Silver Pigeon is simply a “plain jane” grade of the one we have here. This Diamond Pigeon Model S687EELL is an upgraded version.  Virginia, do you remember what the EELL stands for?

VIRGINIA: I think the EE part is extra extra.

ROGER: Good enough, extra extra luso luso. That’s Beretta’s title for the highest grade of a model. As you can see, this gun is absolutely beautiful and one of the top of the line, not only for Beretta, but also for fine shotguns in general. This particular one has the famous master engraver’s touch. And, we can see this is a high grade, by the full coverage and quality of the engraving and the remarkable high-grade figure of the Turkish walnut stock.
Let’s examine the design a little closer. Since this is a boxlock, the sidelocks that you see here are actually side plates that allow the engraver more canvas for his artistry. And being an EELL, this one is lavishly engraved by Giortonelli.
For the finish, the side plates, the action’s receiver (top, bottom, sides, and top tang) are all coin finished. The blued parts include: the barrels with a low profile matted ventilated rib, the forearm iron, the Anson& Deeley forearm release, the trigger guard, the safety button, and the cross-hatched action lever.
The single selective trigger is nickel plated with a smooth face.
Mechanically, the safety is manual as preferred by competition shooters. The ejectors are automatic and the trigger is selective. To select the choice of barrels, the safety button is shifted right or left: when pushed to the left, one red dot shows which means the lower (under) barrel will fire first. When pushed to the right, two red dots show indicating the upper (over) barrel will fire first.

PART 4 {Audio only – show Photos 21-B687-13 thru -18 but matched to script}

For the visible inscriptions when the gun is assembled: On the underside of the receiver at the hinge, we see “Made in Italy.” Also on the bottom of the receiver, surrounded by heavy engraving, we find three lines of lettering: “P.Beretta” engraved in script, followed by “S687 EELL” in upper case font, followed by “Diamond Pigeon” again in script in very small letters (Photo -13). On the right side of the receiver’s lower tang is engraved, the word, “PATTENED” in upper case font, and on the left side, is the master engraver’s name in script, “Botega C Giortonelli.” (Photo -14)
On the right and left sides of the receiver at the chamber walls, it reads: “P. Beretta.” Forward from that, farther down the barrels, on the left side, we see “P.Beretta – Gardone V.T, Italy” with Beretta’s trademark logo which comprises the letters PB surrounded by an oval. Over the left chamber, it is inscribed “SKEET SB/SB 12 GA. 2 ¾” – 28.” On the right barrel, in very small print, there’s another inscription, “Warning read instruction book for safe operation” and under that “Free from Beretta USA Corp. ACKK, MD” and in very small font on the right side of the chamber, “Made in Italy.”
The inlaid gold oval on the stock has not been inscribed. (Photo -15)
Examining the engraving, first we see it is full coverage, masterfully executed with game scenes on the two side plates. On the right are three woodcocks in reeds surrounded by scroll engraving (Photo -16). On the left are two mallard ducks hovering over a lake, again accompanied with scrolls (Photo -17).
On the underside of the receiver, there is a snipe inflight with branches in the background engulfed with scrolls (Photo -18). All of the other engraved parts are surrounded with scroll engraving. These include: the remainder of the receiver sides, hinge pins, top, trigger guard, top action lever, forearm iron, and forearm release. And as a reminder, this is hand chased engraving by Giortonelli, and signed, not machine-made engraving as is the case on the current versions of this model.

PART 5 {Roger standing holding the gun and Virgina sitting at table}

ROGER: Virginia, do you like the wood on this one?

VIRGINIA: It seems like every gun you have for us has beautiful wood.

ROGER: Yes, looking at the stock and forearm, the Turkish walnut is near exhibition grade for the EELL version. It is exceptional wood with excellent color and contrast of warm browns with deep brown and black streaks; and in particular, marblecake figure on both sides of the butt making rich interesting patterns. The wood is finished with a high-gloss protective finish that emphasizes the figure’s character. The stock has a classic comb with deep flutes and a full rounded pistol grip. The butt is finished with a color-coordinated dark brown leather covered recoil pad, very nicely done (insert Photos -19 and -20)
The seim-beavertail forearm is thick and rounded, slimming down with finger grooves running along the barrels (insert Photo -21). The checkering on both the stock and the forearm are hand-checkered patterns, in fine 26 lines per inch, perfectly executed. For the stock, it has two panels of two-point patterns that are independent of each other. The forearm has one panel of wrap around checkering, making an interesting reverse point of uncheckered space above the forearm release on the underside. The forearm’s side checkering goes up half-way stopping at the finger channels and ending at the forearm nose in a nice parallel pattern (insert Photo -22). All the checkering has double borders with no run-overs.
For dimensions, the length of pull is 14 3/8”, the drop of comb is 1 ½” and the drop of heel is 2 ½”. The weight of the gun is 7 lb. 14 oz. and the stock has neutral cast for either the right or left hand. The point of balance is perfect at the knuckle, which makes the shotgun come up naturally to the shoulder while still having a good feel for the forward hand. Let’s now field disassemble the gun into its three major components.
{Disassemble the gun}
Now, we’ll move over to the side table set and look closer at these components.

PART 6 {Gun disassembled on sideboard}

Here we have the Beretta S687EELL disassembled into its three major components displayed in its factory case.
The Beretta heavy duty styrene case is charcoal gray with one combination lock with three latches. The interior of the lid is printed with a Beretta logo and the name “Beretta” in large letters. Accessories include Beretta gun socks, a Beretta oil bottle, Beretta instructions manual for the gun, and a Beretta instructions manual for the combination lock. The choke pouch includes two Wright extended chokes, #6 Improved Modified and #7 Full, three Briley thinwall chokes, Skeet 720, Improved Modified, and Full, and a choke wrench.
Let’s look at each part:
{Pick up stock and frame}
First the stock and action frame or receiver:
As disassembled, the action lever is locked open to the right; this is called a hold-open top lever. The serial number shows on the upper receiver tang under the top lever, “L74965B.” Looking at the breech face, you can see the ends of the two conical locking bolts hidden in their recesses in the sides of the receiver. When I push the button in the receiver face to release the top lever, it brings the top lever in line with the top tang and you can see the two conical locking bolts emerge from their recesses. The other moving parts are of course the strikers, as well as the ejector rods at the base of the receiver.
Notice the walls of the action form an additional lock up with the complimentary parts on the barrel block with these Beretta signature angled, or some writers call, trapezoidal locking lugs. Looking inside the receiver, we see that the strikers are not bushed, a feature usually found only on hand made guns. In the inside bottom of the receiver which would be the water table on a side by side, there are four Gardone and Brescia proof marks. Also, there are two stampings “PSF” and “FND” both very faint and hard to see.
In the hinge area inside, we can see Marengoni’s idea of mounting the barrels low in the action body on stub pins instead of the traditional hinged pin and underlug locking system used on most guns and the Browning Superposed, which caused its action height to be much taller than the Beretta design.
{Set the stock/action down, pick up the barrels}
Now looking at the barrel assembly: For the locking system, looking at the chambers, we can see the two recesses on each side that mate up with the conical bolts from the receiver, when the action is fully closed, thus locking the action. Under them are the automatic ejectors, which can be disassembled and reassembled by hand for easy cleaning. At the top of the barrel block assembly, on both sides, we see two lugs that mate up with the receiver when the action is closed. The forward ones aligning in front of the action, the rear ones are the angled or trapezoidal ones that mate to their complimentary parts on the sides of the receiver when closed. On the back side of these rear trapezoidal lugs, notice the replaceable wear-takedown shoulders. These are special on this gun as they are not generally found on this model, only on the early EELL versions. These side locking lugs are precisely the same as I introduced with the Beretta SO5 in my Episode 15 which also had the replaceable wear-takedown shoulders.
Now looking at the front lower side of the barrel flat or barrel block in this case, we see the two “C” shaped cut-outs for the hinge stub pins, which by-pass the need for a full pin from side to side or axle, also allowing for a lower height of the action.
So, basically, these last details were Marengoni’s idea, his solution to avoid the hinge bolt or pin, setting the locking lugs on the sides of the frame rather than underneath it, to keep the profile low. While he then used the Kersten top bolt for additional strength, Beretta has over time in this design, replaced the top bolt with these conical bolts, also placed along the sidewalls which continue to keep the profile of the receiver low. This system has become the Beretta signature. While we are looking at this, notice the jeweled sides of the barrel block.
For markings, on the left side of the upper barrel, those inscriptions that are visible when the gun is assembled have already been described. But on the lower barrel, hidden from view when assembled, we see, “-Excelsior – High Strength Alloyed Steel-“
On the right barrel side, there are no inscriptions below the stock line.
On the underside of the barrel block, the serial number is stamped “L74965B.” Another number is on the underside of the barrel between the forearm locking stud and the barrel block “66425” followed by “BB 53C” and four proof marks on the underside of the lower barrel’s chamber.
The barrels are separated by a ventilated rib and the upper barrel wears a ventilated rib nicely cross hatched to dissipate glare and is fitted with a a single ivory front bead for the quick sighting. Beretta markets this as a Strata rib.
{Set the barrels down, pick up the forearm}
Looking at the one-piece forearm, the interior metal is jeweled, held by 2 screws or bolts that can be seen when the gun is assembled. The numerical part of the serial number is inscribed in the jeweling. We see the movable forearm iron levers. While the forearm release is an Anson & Deeley lever release, Beretta has designed it with a sleek style, different from most guns, with a user-friendly finger access making it much easier to use than is the traditional design (insert Photo -23). With the forearm off, notice the wood’s delicate shape and how fragile the forearm looks, being narrow and yet still serving its purpose. I can attest that it is a strong design despite its delicate look as I have fired thousands of rounds through this gun myself and there have been no breakage, chips or damage of any kind to the forearm.

PART 7 {Roger and Virginia at the table, Roger standing}

Now, reassembling the shotgun, first position the barrels at a 45 degree angle to the action, then keeping the top lever to the right side, insert the barrels. As it locks, the two conical bolts will engage the barrels and the top lever will return to near center. Then insert the forearm with the little ejector levers into the action, raise it in place until the forearm latch locks, and VIOLA! It has been reassembled and is cocked ready for action. The best way to leave it is to insert two snap caps, and snap the triggers to release the tension on the mainspring. You have to slide the trigger selective lever back and forth to manipulate the trigger for each barrel.
Then, place it on SAFE.

{Roger sits down while camera is on Virginia}

Referring to the article in The Field, I agree with the author that if I were on a desert island and had only one shotgun to take with me for the next twenty years, one of the Beretta 686 or 687 models would be my choice as well. And I agree for the same reasons that were given in the article in The Field for what makes a top gun. He listed design excellence, aesthetic quality, overall form, reliability, decorative detail, integrity of materials, shooting performance and value of money, Beretta’s Diamond Pigeon fulfills that bill very well indeed.

VIRGINIA: Value for money, how expensive is this gun?

ROGER: The Thirty-Seventh Edition of the Blue Book of Gun Values, shows the current MSRP for this gun is $7,825 with an add-on of 10%-20% for the earlier manufacture with hand-chased engraving. Since this engraver is one of the most famous, I would say this one is one that would be in the 20% add-on range, which would bring the total to $9,390.00, but that would be for a new gun. For a 98% condition, like this gun, it would drop to about $6,300.00. There might be a little premium for this one being an early one with the replaceable wear-takeup shoulders. And remember, this is a S687EELL Diamond Pigeon, the highest grade for this model. If you wanted to buy a lower grade for the desert island, the 686 Silver Pigeon I lists for about $2,400 new. If cost is a major concern, you can find nice used ones with even more savings.

VIRGINIA: I think that is the lowest price I’ve heard for any gun in these episodes.

ROGER: You may be right.
So, to sum up, the Model 687 action, improved with its twin conical locking lugs at mid-height which allow it to lock up positively without the extra bulk of the under lug lock, still minimizes the vertical distance between the eye and the supporting hand. When you bring the gun to your shoulder, the sighting plane meets your view instinctively. And independently from the beauty of this gun, a Model 687EELL, known for its durability and reliability, even without the higher cost of a top cross bolt and sidelocks of the SO series, still meets the criteria of being an heirloom to pass along to your next generation.
This winds up our video
today/ Thank you Virginia, and thank you viewers for watching, and if you enjoyed this episode, I invite you to subscribe to my YouTube channel and share with others. And, I hope you join us for our next episode of Special Guns with Roger Rule.