In 1981, the fabled American firearms concern Smith & Wesson brought about their SW Model 868 six- or seven-shot revolver. The revolver was designed with a stainless steel body and chambered for the .357 Magnum and .38 Special cartridges utilizing a double-action firing action. The double-action system allowed the hammer to be cocked with a pull of the trigger (as opposed to single-action systems which required an extra manual step). The Model 686 soon proved a marketing success and variations brought about more specialized forms for the discerning specialist operators such as security personnel and competition shooters.
Like other revolvers before her, the Model 686 operated form a revolving multi-shot cylinder in which each cartridge was individually set in its firing chamber. With each pull of the trigger, the cylinder was cycled to introduce a fresh cartridge ready-to-fire. The grips variable in finish and seen in either rubber or wooden forms. Wooden grips was popularized in the series up until 1994 when the Model 686 began completion with a rubber Hogue grip instead. Overall, however, the handgun displays a nice clean steel exterior. The cylinder was set within a bridged frame with the hammer at the rear and the trigger under underneath. An integrated extractor managed reloading of the cylinder. The barrel - of varying lengths - was conventionally fitted ahead. Standard weight was approximately 2lbs, 12oz. Barrel lengths included a 2.5, 3, 4, and 6-inch sizes. The rear sight was adjustable by the operator and some forms also featured an adjustable front sight.
The Model 686 eventually appeared in a slew of variants. There was the base 686 of 1988 followed by the 686 Classic Hunter with its unfluted cylinder, all in 1988. The 686 Midnight Black appeared in all its black finish glory come 1989. 1992 brought about the 686 National Security models in black finish as well as the 686 Target Champion with its full lugs. In 1994, the 686 Power Port appeared with its 6" ported barrel assembly. 1996 produced the 686P series with its key-lockable nature. In 2004, the 686P was released followed by the 686PP and its compensator. The 686 Performance Center was unveiled in 2007 and included improvements such as a weighted barrel, Picatinny Rail support, forged hammer and trigger units among other changes.
Militarily, the Model 686 was utilized by the United States Customs Service (the 686 CS-1) as well as US Navy SEAL elements. Security-wise, the Model 686 proved popular with some law enforcement arms as well. Beyond the United States, the Model 686 found popularity in France and Norway - the former being utilized by the National Gendarmerie Intervention Group special force and the latter operated by immigration police.