The seeds for Forge Direct were sown during my first trip to the Forges in the ancient, mountainous city of Longquan (the Dragons well) back in 2012..
At the time I was visiting several of the cities top forges and inspecting first hand the first production run of our elite Soshu Kitae Laminated Katana made under the banner of Project X with my friend and business associate, Chris Scoggin from Ronin Katana.
At the time, our biggest problem with these elite level Master Smith Forged Swords was the investment required to bring them in, with demand far exceeding our ability to supply them.
But that was not the only issue, for during our trip to the forges we saw a huge number of extremely unique sword styles and designs that we would have loved to have offered to the sword buying community, but as many were quite expensive and only a handful of people would be interested in them, it was a huge risk to import them, and so for 4 years many of the amazing and rare designs we saw during the trip were simply unavailable outside of China..
Over time, as our relationships with the owners and Master Smiths deepened, we tried many times to get them to agree to a new business model - swords made to order and shipped directly from the forges themselves..
Quite a few sellers on eBay claimed to already be doing this - but as you can see from our expose on eBay sellers, all of them turned out to be middlemen (or women as was often the case). And furthermore, they often sold the cheapest version of a given sword at huge markups and claimed that it was forged by the Master Smiths..
For the actual forges, it was not worth their time to ship direct.
But after 4 years of pushing them, one of the major forges finally agreed to a trial run - and with great excitement on the 1st of July 2016 - Forge Direct was officially launched with a series of rare high end Traditional Chinese and Japanese swords never before seen by anyone other than wealthy Chinese based collectors..
Unfortunately it was not all plain sailing for Forge Direct - after a few months, the first forge we worked with decided to pull the plug because they felt that we were offering the swords for too low a price point compared to what they were selling them for in China..
And while it looked like the project was dead in the water, the precedent had been set. And, seeing a major forge had given it a try - their biggest competitor and a few other highly talented Master Smiths began to show an interest.. And before too long, Forge Direct version 2 was launched..
All of the swords offered by Forge Direct are made by certified Master Smiths who have served at least a 7 year apprenticeship and own their own forges in Longquan city - but we never really made a big deal about who these smiths were.
There were several reasons for this.
One was because we did not want certain rather immoral competitors to try to copy what we were doing, but offer up a similar but inferior version. All the swords on offer in the Forge Direct line can be made at several different price points - but they only photograph the best top tier ones, so we were concerned that they would attempt to offer the same design showing the same pics, but selling the cheapest version made by the apprentices, not the Masters..
And the other was simply that the names of the Master Smiths really do not have much meaning to the average collector outside of China. But enough time has passed I think to at least share with you some of the master smiths who are behind these amazing swords.
One of them is Master Ye "Michael" Jie who is actually related to Chris Scoggins' Chinese wife Sara (he met her during his trip to Longquan!). Master Jie is a 1st rank smith (city level) who trained under Jianlin Zhu (who is a level 2 smith and only a few steps away from becoming a national treasure rank 3 smith).
Michael Forges all the top tier blades, some so easy for him to make he
bangs them out in a few hours on his power hammer and fine tunes them on his anvil.
In general, he tends to make our most affordable offerings such as the extremely popular Tiger Spear/Dagger set pictured below.
But the swords he likes making the most are the ones that are a real challenge. For example, at the other end of the spectrum there is his Spinsteel Jian - a truly beautiful blade made using a highly complex and little known forging technique to create an elaborate pattern, yet is still strong enough to actually be 'abused'..
While highly skilled and with several workers who assemble the blades and pack, ship, etc - the real game changer was when young Master Xiaolong Jiang, a rank two (province level) Master Smith and his brother joined the project. For they are the makers of our famous Forge Direct Elite Custom Katana series and the majority of the Chinese swords over the $1000 price point.
In addition to being a very talented sword maker, Master Xiaolong knows how to actually USE a sword - having trained in several traditional Chinese martial art systems. This makes a big difference to the end result, for each sword that bears his seal are subject to extremely stringent quality control few, if any, other forges do.
Forge Direct has quite a few imitators on eBay and Alibaba - and sometimes it can be hard to tell exactly what you are getting for your money, especially with high end Chinese swords..
Case in point, the Yong Lo Sword - a unique Ming Dynasty design that has been copied at many different levels and price points..
Below are three versions, one worth around $10,000, one $1,200 and one, $200..
Can you tell which one is which just looking at the pictures? I would suspect the answer to that is almost certainly 'no' - and that is what the unscrupulous sellers are counting on.. (FYI, The top one is our $1,200 Forge Direct version, the middle one a $10,000 Museum Quality replica and the bottom one, sub $200).
But the differences are huge - blades aside, the fittings alone are all radically different. The topmost sword has solid brass fittings. The sword in the middle - made by a level 3 (national treasure) smith has hand carved solid GOLD fittings - and the last one, decked out with cheap brass plated zinc-alloy fittings..
Almost every forge offers several versions of the same sword - and the eBay scammers almost always tend to pick the cheapest ones and pass them off as Master Smith Forged, with pricing based not on how much it actually costs to make like we do at Forge Direct, but rather a price that they think they can get away with charging or even better, getting a reject sword that looks okay but is essentially fatally flawed..
Our goal is to make buying Chinese Swords transparant so you can tell by the price and our description exactly what you will be getting.
As Forge Direct continues to gain momentum, the number and variety of swords we offer as part of the project also continues to expand - and the word is getting out about Master Xiaolong's elite custom Katana series that truly are in a league of their own.
But it is not just the quality that sets Forge Direct apart.
By following a 'made to order' business model, we can offer rare designs that may appeal only to a handful of people without the need to take huge risks investing in stock that may take years to sell. Not every project works out, and sometimes it takes several attempts to present a new project to the right people in the right way.
But from Wuxia (sword hero) fantasy swords based on myth, legend and Chinese movies to designs that will appeal to only a handful of people and would be impractical to stock - the options are almost limitless.
With currently over 40 sword styles on offer, all made to order and shipped out within 4-6 weeks, this project keeps going from strength to strength with a reputation for quality, customer service and rare blade types simply not seen anywhere else..
I hope this information on Forge Direct has been helpful. To return to SBG Special Projects from Forge Direct, click here