I thought I’d seen them all: Constantinople Ks, Istanbul Ks, American As, Constantinople As, Canadian Ks, American Ks. Then I get a call from a vintage drum dealer who asked if I wanted to own a Romanian A? Romanian A? Those Zildjians sure get around.
To follow the Zildjian family tree requires a Ph.D. in genealogy. Apparently, the Zildjian secret process that began with Avedis Zildjian, Sr. did not pass smoothly from generation to generation. Not much is really known about the Zildjian family after the first Avedis performed his spang-a-lang alchemy in 1623. In fact, there is no record of Avedis’s descendants until Haroutian Zildjian, who took over the Zildjian factory in Constantinople, (now Istanbul) Turkey, back in the early 19th century.
As the Zildjian family tradition dictated, Haroutian passed the secret process to his eldest son Avedis II. When Avedis II died in 1865, his two sons Haroutian II and Aram were too young to take over the business, so Kerope II, Avedis II’s younger brother, stepped in. When Kerope II died in 1909, the formula passed back to the two sons of his brother, Avedis II.
Haroutian II by this time was a successful district attorney, so he encouraged his younger brother Aram to assume the leadership responsibilities of the factory. Aram was a political activist (he tried to blow up the Sultan) and fled Constantinople to live in Romania. Politics aside, the rent had to be paid, so Aram opened a factory in Bucharest, Romania, manufacturing cymbals using the secret Zildjian formula.
Failing health and no descendants to pass the formula onto prompted Aram to send a letter to his nephew, Avedis III, son of Haroutian II, who had immigrated to the United States. In the 1927 letter he writes: “It now becomes your responsibility to take over the secret that is your heritage.” As such, the Avedis Zildjian factory in Boston, Massachusetts, was founded. Meanwhile, the K. Zildjian factory in Turkey was taken over by Akabi Zildjian (yes, a woman) and her husband, Gabriel Dulgaryian.
For further explanation about the cymbal, I wrote to Robert Zildjian (son of Avedis Zildjian III) who left the Avedis Zildjian factory back in 1982 to found Sabian Cymbals. Here is his response:
Dear Mr. Falzerano,
You have found a very interesting cymbal. This cymbal was made in Bucharest, Romania, by my great uncle, somewhere between 1918 and 1926. His name was Aram Zildjian, and the factory was located there temporarily due to the fact that during the First World War he was a refugee from Turkey (read “exiled”). The factory was closed somewhere around 1926, he emigrated to the United States in 1928 and passed the secret process to my father (Avedis III) at that time.
The A. Zildjian et Cie. Cymbals were distributed in the United States by Fred Gretsch Company who also handled K. Zildjian cymbals until 1979 or so.
The Bucharest factory produced a limited amount of cymbals, and the primary participants were my Uncle Aram and my third or fourth cousin Mikhail Dulgaryian (Zilcan), now deceased. In 1975 we moved the K. Zildjian factory here to Canada with its manager, Kerope Zilcan, the younger brother of Mikael, who ran the K. Zildjian factory after Mikael retired. Kerope is still here in Meductic, and the hand-hammered Turkish cymbal is still being made here under the name of Sabian HH.
If you think the present day Zildjian/Sabian relationship is confusing, imagine how drummers felt between 1928 and 1979 when K. Zildjian Company, Istanbul (run by Mikhail Dulgaryian, grandson of Kerope II,) and Avedis Zildjian Company, Boston (run by Avedis III), both claimed to manufacture the only official Zildjian cymbal. Their advertising was just short of libelous: K. Zildjian’s “Why accept imitations when you can have the genuine?” and Avedis Zildjian’s “This famous trademark is protection again inferior imitations.”
This trademark battle became so heated it was placed before the courts in 1955, only to remain divided. Later, the Avedis Zildjian Company won back all Zildjian trademarks. When Bob Zildjian left the company to start his own cymbal factory, he was forbidden to use the Zildjian name. Instead he coined the name Sabian, taking the first three letters from his three children Sally, Andy and Billy.
By the way, if you’re looking for the ultimate rare Zildjian cymbal, set your sights on a Karekin Zildjian cymbal from Mexico. According to Hugo Pinksterboer’s book, aptly named The Cymbal Book, “Outside the direct line of inheritance, this Zildjian stole away to Mexico City in 1907 to set up his own cymbal foundry. His experiments ended abruptly in an explosion that tore his head off and ’encased his body in molten bronze.’” Can’t you hear his advertising slogan now? ... Yo quiero Karekin Zildjians.