What do the greatest rock bands, orchestras, jazz ensembles, and marching bands have in common? Zildjian… a percussion brand that is synonymous with the finest cymbals in the world. In Turkish or Armenian, the centuries old word means “son of a cymbal maker.” But today it has evolved to include the “daughters of a cymbal maker,” the Zildjian women who are now at the reigns, preserving their pioneering family’s 400 year old craft and legacy of making cymbals for some of the most legendary musicians.

While Zildjian is the oldest family-owned business in America, it was started in 1623 on the European side of Constantinople by an Armenian man named Avedis Zildjian I. Avedis discovered the formula for making an incredibly clear and brilliant sounding cymbal, and that’s how the Zildjian brand was born.

Over the last 400 years, generation after generation of Zildjian carried on what Avedis started, but it was Avedis Zildjian III, who first planted the company’s roots in American soil in 1929 in Quincy, Massachusetts. His vision led to the development of the drum kit as we know it today, by way of his crafting cymbals (crash, ride, high hats, splash, etc.) for some of the best drummers and percussionist across all genres of music. Since 1972, the brand’s offices and factory have been located in Norwell, Massachusetts with his granddaughters – Craigie and Debbie – now at the helm.

“…he continuously told me and my sister Debbie that there was no reason women couldn’t be just as successful in business as men.”

Craigie Zildjian was named the first female CEO of the family business in 1999, and Debbie Zildjian is the company’s Vice President of HR. Craigie says, “In so many respects, Avedis, my grandfather, was ahead of his time. For example, he continuously told me and my sister Debbie that there was no reason women couldn’t be just as successful in business as men.” As a result, both women have been involved with the family business their entire lives.

While Zildjian’s proprietary process of cymbal making has evolved in many ways, in some respects it’s the same as it was in 1623… mixing 80% copper with 20% tin and a little silver here and there. Craigie and Debbie are the first women in almost 4 centuries to know the exact mix of the family’s secret alloy and process, well kept information their father Armand shared with them, knowing they would go on to take over the business, like he did in 1977 from his father Avedis III.

Zildjian cymbalTogether these “daughters/granddaughters of a cymbal maker” have been carrying on the company’s tradition of blending 400 year old craftsmanship with modern technology. In Craigie’s time as CEO, Zildjian has experienced unprecedented growth.

Fortunately, women as the new driving force behind Zildjian’s continued success will not end with them. Craigie’s daughter Samantha, and Debbie’s daughters Cady and Emily are the next generation of women poised to preserve Zildjian’s status as the most innovative cymbal maker in the world. In fact, one of Debbie’s daughters entered Zildjian’s two year apprentice program and is now a master cymbal maker.

Brava to the women of Zildjian for honoring drumming with as much respect as the 13 generations of Zildjian men who came before them.

Editor’s Note: Our special thanks to WYSK Reader Megan for putting these pioneering women on our radar. She told us, “I find the story of the family remarkable, in particular how the women have embraced the family’s heritage, skill and love of music. It is now the women who take this company into the future.”

The Zildjian Story

This might be one of the most interesting company profiles we’ve seen. We encourage you to watch it… it’s a compelling glimspe of music history, it’s a fascinating “how it’s made” lesson, it’s packed with inspiration. Note: The video is only 18 minutes long… please disregard the erroneous YouTube time code.