Over the past 102 years, the Model 1911 platform has hosted many calibers in addition to the .45 ACP, including 10mm, 7.65mm, .38 Super, .38 AMU, .38 Special Wadcutter, .380 ACP, .22 LR and, of course, 9mm. The latter was first offered by Colt in the 1950s as a variation of the Colt Commander. Available as an optional caliber for Colt 1911s such as the pre-Series 70, Series 70 and Series 80 models (and as a variation of the Gold Cup Mk IV Series National Match pistol), the 9mm is no stranger to the platform or to another famous American manufacturer of 1911 pistols, Kimber.
The Kimber name means handcrafted quality, and Kimber pistols are priced commensurately. What you get for the higher price is tangible value, which can be seen in the fit and finish and, above all, the accuracy. What you rarely get is glitz, but in the case of the limited edition Kimber Sapphire Ultra II, you certainly do—consider it the final touches on a very finely crafted machine.
Kimber 1911s chambered for 9mm have been offered since the late 1990s. The Sapphire Ultra II is based on the 3-inch-barreled, 9mm Ultra Aegis II. Like the compact Aegis, the Sapphire also has an aluminum frame with a satin silver KimPro II finish, though the Sapphire takes it a step further with an eye-catching, border-engraved slide that is finished in an iridescent blue similar in brilliance to nitrite blue. But unlike traditional nitrite blue finishes, which are easily worn, the Sapphire’s PVD finish is exceptionally durable and very easy to keep clean without fear of wear.
The same brilliant sapphire blue is also on the slide release, the generously sized ambidextrous thumb safety, the skeletonized hammer, the extended beavertail and grip safety, the magazine release and even the hex screws securing the matching blue G10 grips. To provide a subtle contrast, Kimber’s aluminum, match-grade trigger has a satin silver finish.
The Sapphire Ultra II exemplifies the custom-built, Officer’s Model-sized pistol for self-defense. It offers all of Kimber’s established performance-enhancing features, including a bushingless bull barrel and full-length guide rod (with 16 pounds of resistance). The Sapphire is ideally suited for concealed carry: Compared with a Commander-sized 1911, the Sapphire is 0.87 inches shorter in length, 0.5 inches shorter in height, and slightly over 1 inch wide. With its lightweight aluminum frame, the Sapphire tips the scale at just 25 ounces empty, putting it squarely into the pocket pistol category. Granted, you’d need a spacious pocket (can be done), but “pocket pistol” has really become a general term for any subcompact semi-auto or revolver suited for concealed carry.
While the Sapphire Ultra II looks like a show gun, it does not disappoint in the field. The Kimber has just enough grip to fit the average hand and a short trigger (the shoe does not extend as far as a normal 1911 trigger), which, when combined with the gun’s narrow G10 grips and a slightly rounded heel, makes it ideally suited for anyone with smaller hands. The solid-aluminum, match-grade trigger on my test gun dropped the hammer at a consistent 5.5 pounds.
The Sapphire’s matte black, wedge-shaped, tritium night sights also provide a clear sight picture, day or night. The low-profile sight design is also less likely to snag when being drawn from concealment. Despite its size, the Kimber is well balanced, and packing 7+1 rounds of 9mm, the subcompact Sapphire Ultra II is a real gem to shoot.
As for carry options, I like the Sapphire in the classic Galco Combat Master belt rig, which perfectly fits the contours of the gun. Another excellent alternative for the Sapphire is the Galco Yaqui Paddle holster, which places the Kimber high up and out of sight for concealed carry. The trim, contour pouch only surrounds the middle of the frame, so there isn’t a lot of retention (although there are adjustable tension screws), but the design does allow the gun to be easily moved around the waist as situations dictate. There is also a comparable Yaqui belt rig that fits the subcompact 1911 frame.
Range test protocols for a 3-inch-barreled pistol call for a target distance of 7 yards. To count as a best grouping, all hits had to land in the 10- or X-ring of a 7.75-inch-diameter Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C target. Shots were made via timed-fire at 1-second intervals using a Weaver stance and two-handed hold. My test ammunition was comprised of Hornady Critical Defense 115-grain FTX, which clocked in at 985 feet per second (fps), Hornady Critical Duty 135-grain FlexLock, running at 950 fps, and the super-hot CorBon +P 115-grain DPX, steaming downrange at 1,170 fps.
All three rounds represent the latest technology in defensive 9mm ammo and are engineered for high penetration and quick expansion—in other words, stopping power—exactly what you want from a subcompact 9mm defensive pistol. Recoil with all three loads was very manageable, allowing for fast follow-up shots.
As for accuracy, only the Hornady Critical Defense 115-grain FTX managed to place all five rounds inside the 10 and X, with a best grouping of 1.25 inches comprised of two overlapping pairs: one set in the 10-ring at 9 o’clock and the other in the bullseye, with one round hitting just below in the 10. The tight four shots measured only 0.87 inches. With more kick, the Critical Duty ammo had a spread of 1.75 inches up the center of the 9- and 10-rings in an almost straight line, and the hot CorBon had a 2.1-inch group in the 9-ring at 2 o’clock with two shots overlapping. Overlaid on a B-27 silhouette target, every shot would have been close to center-mass, all five-point hits.
As a self-defense sidearm, the Sapphire Ultra II is one of the best looking and easiest to handle 1911-platform guns that Kimber has ever built. That it is chambered in 9mm instead of .45 ACP makes it all the more manageable for quick action, an accurate second shot or, should the situation demand, the requisite double-tap. The Sapphire is also light and small enough for easy concealed carry on a daily basis.
Some may find the Sapphire geared toward female shooters, and few would argue that point, but even males like a little pizzazz in a concealed-carry pistol every now and then! This limited edition Kimber will only be available for a short time, built to satisfy market demand for about a year, and then it will be gone. For more information, visit kimberamerica.com or call 888-243-4522.
Over the past 102 years, the Model 1911 platform has hosted many calibers in addition…
by Massad Ayoob / Mar 19, 2013