The company was founded in 1981 in Meductic, New Brunswick, Canada by Robert Zildjian, son of Avedis Zildjian III, the head of the Avedis Zildjian Company. Family tradition had it that the head of the company would pass the company down to the oldest son (Armand). After Avedis Zildjian III died in 1979, Armand (who was President of Zildjian at the time) became Chairman of the Board. This eventually led to a family feud and a legal dispute between Robert and Armand that resulted in Robert leaving Zildjian to form the rival Sabian company. The companies continue to be rivals, and are both among the world's most popular cymbal brands.
The settlement gave Robert Zildjian the Canadian factory that had been producing the K. Zildjian line (all manufacturing in Turkey having ceased by this time). Armand and Robert had a major dispute over where the K. Zildjian line should be manufactured. As President of the Zildjian Company, Armand had insisted that the K's be made in the United States with input from famed drummers Elvin Jones and Tony Williams.
In the settlement, Robert agreed not to use the Zildjian name or to claim that his cymbals were the same. Some say that the most notable difference between Zildjian and Sabian cymbals is that Zildjian uses a softer, mellower sounding alloy while Sabian uses a more tin-based alloy, although this is untrue; the professional-grade cymbals manufactured by both companies use the same bronze alloy consisting of 80% copper, 20% tin and traces of silver. Others state that the cymbals of the two companies can be distinguished by sound somehow fairly easily, stating that Sabians are relatively thicker for their advertised weight, having longer sustain (with some exceptions) than their Zildjian counterparts, and Zildjian having a faster response (or attack) tending to be mellower in sound overall. All those opinions state that the differences depend on the individual cymbal models.
Robert Zildjian formed the word "Sabian" from the two first letters of the names of his three children Sally, Bill and Andrew, and initially released two lines of cymbals, HH and AA both of them of the traditional bell bronze alloy. Today, Sabian Cymbals' president is Andy Zildjian, the youngest in the family.Around 1928, Avedis III and Aram Zildjian began manufacturing cymbals in Quincy, Massachusetts, and the Avedis Zildjian Co. was formed in 1929, the year the Great Depression began, in competition with the K. Zildjian company in Turkey. Avedis made many innovations in cymbals that are still around today; he was the first to develop drum-set cymbals and gave cymbals names such as ride, crash, splash, and hi-hat. Jazz drummers such as Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, Shelly Manne, Cozy Cole, and Papa Jo Jones all used Avedis Zildjian cymbals.
Avedis III's son Armand Zildjian, also known as the "Father of Artist Relations," also began hand-selecting cymbals for all the top drummers. It was his close personal relationships with the top drummers and percussionists of the day that Zildjian still bases its Artist Relations department on. In 1968, the K. Zildjian Co. and all European trademarks were bought back on behalf of the Avedis Zildjian Co. Also in 1968, Avedis split production into two separate operations, opening the Azco factory in Meductic, New Brunswick, Canada.
From 1968 to 1970, the Azco factory produced Zilco cymbals. There were two types of Zilco: one was a thin rolling produced without any hammering, which cut costs. At about this time in the Azco factory, the modern process for pressing cymbals into shape came about. Before this it was done by bumping with the Quincy drop hammer.
In 1970, Zildjian needed all their production capabilities at Azco for their regular Zildjian line, so the factory in Quincy (the then location of Zildjian) would send up castings to be finished into cymbals at Azco.
In 1975, Zildjian began making K. Zildjian cymbals at the Azco plant. This was an interesting time for the Zildjian clan because it was the first time that K. Zildjian Istanbul and the Avedis Zildjian Company had worked together to make the same Zildjian cymbals after years of competing with each other. These were made until 1979.
In early 1977, Armand Zildjian was appointed President of the Avedis Zildjian Company by his father. Soon after, Robert Zildjian split from the company amidst conflict with his brother, Armand. Shortly thereafter, in 1981, Robert started making Sabian cymbals in the Meductic Azco factory.