Briar or "bruyere" is the name given to the wood found at the base of the heath tree (erica aboria) found around the Mediterranean Sea. Where the trunk and the root system meet, a knot is formed called the "burl". These burls are harvested, cut, boiled, and cured slowly for many years before they are ready to become pipes. I use only the outer portions of the burl, called the "plateaux" (the last forty years of its growth). The plateaux contains the most beautiful and consistent grain. The best briar comes from areas with the harshest climate and where the growth seasons are very short, causing the grain and the growth rings to be very tight. The better the grain, the better the chances are of hitting a flaw in the wood. That is why the smooth and more perfectly grained "Saints" are so rare and expensive. My favorite briar comes from Corsica (an island province of France), Greece, and same parts of Italy, but there is good briar also coming out of Algeria, Morocco, and Sardinia as well.

I use only the highest grade ebonite and Cumberland from Germany. These come in rods and are carved by hand like the rest of the pipe. They are hard, yet slightly flexible so the stems are comfortable between your teeth, not glassy feeling like other materials. It also polishes to a very high luster, making it very lovely.

Many of my pipes have decorative inserts on the stems and shanks. I have searched the globe for the most exotic, rare and beautiful materials for this purpose. The idea is to accentuate the beauty of the pipe, not over shadow it. Here are the materials I use.


I like to use many hardwoods from south America such Cocobolo, Mexican Bocote, and local desert Ironwood, for their beautiful colors and density.


My work here is done with the best 925 sterling silver.


This material is actually called "wangi" and is the root of the bamboo plant. Cheap wangi grows like weeds and are a dime a dozen. Good clean wangi with knuckles that are very close together, is very expensive and hard to obtain. I have to wade through a lot, to get the best pieces. The finest wangi imported from China is the only bamboo that is acceptable for my pipes.


The mammoth ivory that I use is from 10,000 to 40,000 years old. It comes from Alaska or Siberia were it has been captured in suspended animation, frozen in the ice for all this time. After excavation, it is cured for at least seven years to stabilize it, and and make it ready to work. Every piece is unique. The inner sections are very white, much like elephant Ivory. The outer sections have absorbed many minerals over the years and can have dramatic and beautiful coloring, with shades of brown, orange, and even blue being present.

Steller's Sea Cow was "discovered" in 1741 in the Bering Sea. Sailors killed the slow-moving animals for food, and by 1768 they were extinct. The rib bone is very dense, has no hollow or marrow and is colored with various shades of tan and brown.


Almost every time I tell someone that I use Elephant Ivory on some of my pipes, the response is "Is that legal?". The thought that all elephant ivory is illegal, is a frequently encountered misconception. The Ivory that I use is from the African Elephant that was legally imported before the ban on importation in the early 1970's. It is a beautiful creamy white with very subtle growth ring patterns in tiny diamond shapes. I prefer to use the outer area of the tusk because (like briar) the grain is tighter and more uniform.

The following is a summary of the international and US Fish & Wildlife laws which regulate the commerce of the ivory that I use: The international trade in wildlife and plants is regulated by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (C.I.T.E.S.) [a multinational protégé of the United Nations]. Formed in 1973, the aim is to establish worldwide controls over plants & wildlife that require protecting due to declining populations. Headquartered in Switzerland, C.I.T.E.S., delegates meet every two years to review data & set new quotas to increase, decrease or maintain the level of protection on individual species. C.I.T.E.S. regulations do not control a country's internal commerce, only the international trade between member nations.
African Elephant: On the C.I.T.E.S. Endangered Species List. Importing, buying, and selling of African elephant ivory is not allowed internationally. It cannot be imported into or exported out of the US or practically any other country of the world. It is legal to own, buy, sell or ship within the United States and there are no permits or registration requirements (those were required for importation into the US). The raw elephant ivory I am using now is all old "estate" ivory which was legally imported years ago.

Mammoth Ivory: Commerce in this 10,000-40,000 year old ivory is completely unrestricted. A great deal of this ivory, in cut form, looks practically identical to elephant ivory (except for the outer layer where all the color and weathering is). Our friends at US Fish & Wildlife Forensics Laboratory have discovered a reliable indicator for differentiating between prehistoric mammoth and modern elephant ivory. Color is no indication; it is the angle that the cross grain lines bisect themselves. Angles of less than 90% indicate that it's mammoth/mastodon, angles greater than 120% show that it's elephant. This information is now being shared with customs and wildlife agents around the world so that mammoth ivory will clear customs inspections and not be subject to seizures or delays.


Photos by Ben Pearson