Recently SRCC had a chance to talk to Pierre St Marie, the founder of Swiss Products USA. Swiss Products is world renouned for it's innovative, high quality accessories for Swiss rifles.
SRCC: Good morning Pierre, thank you for chatting with us about yourself and your company. Maybe you could give us a little background on yourself, where you grew up, and how you were introduced to shooting sports. Do you have a Swiss connection?
I bought my first Swiss Rifle in 1959. It was a G11 long rifle with one box of ammunition for $12.95 from a local hardware store, and that began my relationship with the rifles that I would eventually dedicate 45 years to. I joined the service in 1962 at 17, and after the service I went to work for MSTS, American President Lines, Lykes Brothers Lines and Standard Oil Company. I'd been all over the world by that time and was tired of being at sea so I signed off and went ashore to find a job to occupy my time. I was 29 years old.
Having been a budding illustrator since childhood, I decided to apply to graphics school. I was familiar with the "Bauhaus" series of schools and was determined to find one. Since there were none in the US, I applied to one in Germany. But there was a catch. The school was in Offenbach am Main and only German was spoken there. I set about educating myself in the German language. Seven months later, after a few illustrative submissions, I was accepted and moved to Germany. Switzerland intrigued me, so I traveled by car to visit that country twice a month for the time I was in school.
After my schooling, I returned to the US and made a motorcycle tour beginning in Nashville, up the eastern seaboard, across the northern Highline and into Montana. I was captivated by Kalispell and the Flathead Valley. I decided that should I ever marry, this is where I would come, and.......... one year later I was married and left the west coast for Montana, buying land and building a home in Lost Prairie, 45 miles west of Kalispell. Now, after 32 years of travel, and having a permanent residence, I began almost immediately working with my Swiss rifle.
After setting up a range, I brought in a number of Swiss rifles directly from Switzerland through an old friend still living there. 45 years ago it was not nearly as difficult to import those rifles as it is now or even 15 years ago. I began with load data development for the 7.5x55 cartridge. My first ammunition was Norma in that caliber brought in from Mandall's in Arizona. I had read all of the reloading manuals dealing with the caliber and noticed a definite error in all of them. The published information warned shooters that the 1911 long rifle was dangerous to reload for and had printed warnings about the GP11 cartridge. That began my own research into extant data. A very long story short, every single one of those manuals had simply repeated what Hogdon said in their manual, and ....... they were wrong! They had listed the G1911 rifle when the real "culprit" was the 1889!
Having established that my own chronographed load data was indeed correct, I sent letters and my own data charts to Hogdon, Sierra and Lyman. I received no responses but noted that two editions later, all of them had corrected their statements about the G11 and turned the warnings to the 1889 which was correct for dangerous chamber pressures using the GP11 cartridge.
All of that was the beginning of 45 years of load data gathering and keeping archives of the same. In 2000, I met Frank Van Binnendijk, the acknowledged well of information concerning all thing Swiss Militaria and firearms. First by telephone and then by Skype, we spoke virtually once and most often twice every day until his untimely demise in 2015. Frank was better known by the Swiss rifle community worldwide as "Guisan". My time with Frank greatly increased both my knowledge and devotion to the Swiss rifles. During this time, he introduced me to Andrew Zink of AFA Waffen who eventually became my distributor in Switzerland. Back in those days I brought in a large number of Swiss rifles.
One day in 2005, I met a gent who was interested in bringing in Swiss brass. Coincidentally, RUAG in Bern was in a position to ship that beautiful national Match Swiss brass to the US. I did a quick search and determined that Graf & Sons sold a lot of brass from various Mfg's, so I called them. "What caliber??.... for what rifles??..... never heard of them. We'll pass." We brought in some 10 or 12,000 of them from RUAG, posted about this Swiss Boxer match brass on the net and in three weeks of so it was all gone. I called Graf's again. "What?!!? You sold it all that quickly?" Yep....... and I'm going to make the order for 100,000 this time. "Wait! I think maybe we can handle this after all!” ....... and they did. That was the beginning and after RUAG slammed the door on the export of that brass to the US, Graf's contacted Prvi Partisan who began making the brass and later sold loaded cartridges to Graf's and eventually... to you. RUAG in Bern had begin the Mfg of Boxer brass for it's commercial sales in Europe, so....... no more virgin boxer brass to the US.
SRCC: What is the history behind Swiss Products? How did you first get involved in selling accessories for Swiss rifles?
The following was written about us and is rather accurate:
“Swiss Products began in 1999 when Pierre St. Marie and Jack Sturgess formed a Montana Partnership. Pierre supplied the concepts for a number of Swiss K31 rifle accessories, Jack fabricated the prototypes, Pierre then took them to the SP Range for field testing and, if the accessory proved itself over a spectrum of rifles, it was put into production. A Montana Handshake is all they required to seal the deal and Swiss Products was born.”
That began a 20 year partnership with each of us performing their part of the agreement. The first year the accessories were to referred to as "St. Marie" rifle accessories. By the year 2000 we agreed to rename our "retirement business” Swiss Products. As it happened, the "retirement business" grew a bit bigger than anticipated. Jack passed away a number of years ago, leaving the St. Maries to continue on with their Swiss Products line.
SRCC: What is your approach to developing products?
Our premise is to design and produce accessories for Swiss rifles that facilitate pure enjoyment for shooters. Because these rifles are of the collectible bent, I was determined that these accessories did not require any physical change to the rifles themselves. However we did accommodate a growing number of 1911 rifles imported by Santa Fe and Golden State Arms in the 1960's and 70’s that had been converted to 308 and had been drilled and tapped for an inexpensive bent, sheet metal scope mount. The design for the SP replacement mount accommodated both the three hole and the five hole versions, but machined of steel, blued and finely finished. We also provided a simple but very effective Muzzle Threading Kit for a growing number of shooters using the Threaded Damper and Muzzle Brake.
The pinnacle of the Swiss Products line is the 1,000 yard P/S Diopter, developed for the K31 and recently, the 1911 series of rifles. Our products have been reviewed in a number of publications including the American Rifleman's review of our 1911 Clamp On Scope Mount. The P/S Diopter is our flagship sight system and this is the story of the first production P/S.
We developed our first diopter because the ones in production both in Switzerland and Germany had obvious shortcomings. Anyone who owns an “original” diopter knows this. The diopter was never a Bern manufacture and has nothing to do with Army issue items. They were originally all made by “cottage industries” in Switzerland and Germany, so there are no “originals". These diopters had a real flaw. If you traverse the windage to the maximum in both directions you’ll see a gap open up exposing the inside of the diopter to dirt, sand, or whatever. The Matrix also “cocks” itself off true horizontal. You’ll also notice that when you mount the diopter to achieve a true axis alignment to the front sight and the bore, you have to begin with a left windage setting. We completely redesigned the interior workings of the diopter to correct all of that. The Steel Type P/S only came about because of demands from the Swiss SSV. Without those changes they would not give us approval for Swiss Sanctioned Matches worldwide, so we developed the Type P/S and gave it a 1,000 yard capability to boot. Now with the advent of the new Adjustable Front Sight, even the old Type P’s and PIIs will achieve the 1,000 yard ability. The new P11 Diopter series will use the 1911 Clamp-On-Mount and work with the 1889, Kadett, 1896, 96/11, the G11 and the K11 rifles. The new P11 is also a 1,000 yard system.
SRCC: So what’s in the future for Swiss Products?
It's now been a very long road of my love of the Swiss rifles, and I've loved every minute of it. My son, Latigo has now taken the reins and will carry it through into the future with new additions to the line. My grandson, Julian Ricochet at age 11, is now working in the assembly part of our operation, so it seems that the future of Swiss Products is in good hands.
"Dogenes sass in Seinem Fass un sprach ...... Ja ja, dass kommt von dass.”
(Diogenes sat in his barrel and spoke "Yes yes ... That comes from that"
meaning "actions have results, good or bad.”)
for more information go to www.swissproductsusa.com