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 Andy (a nickname for Armand), 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.