I do not expound on the source of my briar publicly because 95% of my customers don't care and the details would just confuse the other 5%.
That said, in my experience, the quality of the briar and curing process accounts for about half of the smoking properties of the pipe. Getting those two holes to line up accounts for the the other half.(Which apparently some people think can be accomplished by a trained monkey... If I had a dollar for every hour spent trying to figure out if a 5/32 draft hole will smoke better than 1/8 or 11/64, or determining the perfect chamber profile for the tobacco to burn down properly, the best airway taper going into the thin profile of the bit, or the optimum amount of flare to the slot at the button end of the stem... I wouldn't need to sell pipes!)
There are exceptions to every rule in this, a process with too many variables to imagine.
Those exceptions aside, a piece of poor quality briar which had been poorly engineered into a pipe will deliver an awful smoking experience. The same poor quality briar with proper engineering will deliver a mediocre to acceptable smoking experience.
A properly cured piece of briar with poor engineering will produce a poor, maybe sometimes mediocre, smoke. A properly cured piece of briar with proper engineering will be a fine smoking pipe.
A properly cured block of briar with average grain, engineered and drilled properly to provide this fine smoking experience is worth maybe $100 before being shaped, sanded, finished and stamped. That's what you're paying for a great tasting pipe. $100.
Want a beautiful straight grain pipe? That block costs $60 to $80 (at least that's what I paid to the cutter in person when hand selecting briar). Of course, in most cases, pipemakers need to eat too, so they have to run a business, not a charity. That $60 block becomes an asset valued at, let's say, just $90 on the extremely low end.
Now the maker, if he is quick and proficient, spends eight hours shaping, cutting a stem, sanding, staining, buffing and waxing to make this chunk of briar look good. Also, lets pay this highly skilled artisan a paltry $10 per hour. Assuming he was also quick and proficient at drilling the briar and stem stock correctly the first time, we'll add an hour for that. So nine hours making this pipe (I've never made one that quick), at $10 per hour is $90, plus the value of the briar at $90, is a $180 pipe. I'll be nice to the pipe buyer and not even consider the cost of shop rent, consumables, electricity, tools and equipment, web hosting, blah blah blah!
Now I have to actualy sell enough pipes to sustain this business, so I have to offer my pipes through retailers. Well, guess what? I need to make at least $180 on the pipe at this point, and the industry standard wholesale rate is 50%. That makes this a $360 pipe at retail now (no matter whose name is on it), plus shipping :roll:, and the maker is still struggling to buy dinner.
The pipe smoking world is full of folks who question the value of artisan pipes in general. In the mean time, pipemakers are living it up in their mansions and polishing the paint on their exotic sports cars... or not. It's not as easy as you think. Most of these guys who have been working hard for years, working slowly and meticulously, to earn a reputation for their work, and can command higher prices for their pipes. Well, you bet your ass that pipe is worth it.