Know Your Knives

Today I Learned: The Knife-Capital of France

one of more than 100 boutique knifemaker’s shops in Thier, France. (Image via Benjamin Arms)

While Savoie, home of Opinel might disagree, the Town of Thiers is frequently referred to as “The Cutlery Capital of France”. More than 2/3 of all domestic French knives are produced here. There is a knifemaking tradition here that dates back 500 years or more. The main street is dotted with boutique knife shops, featuring works by local members of the local guild –  Confrerie du Couteau Le Thiers (Brotherhood of the Thiers Knife).

Ironically, the design for an iconic knife representative of a town with so much history only dates back a couple of decades – to 1993.

From BBC.com travel writer Bill Harby:

I’d been drawn to this small Auvergne town (population 11,600) by its long history of craftsmanship. Knives were being made here at least as far back as the 15th Century, and probably as early as the 13th, according to the ancient grindstones found just below town by the Durolle River, which powered the mill paddlewheels.

And knives have been made here ever since. In fact, the man showing me the knife in his shop, his fingertips cracked and blackened, had made many of them himself.

Dominique Chambriard, wearing a traditional blue workman’s tunic, proudly led me to a version of the area’s iconic knife, ‘Le Thiers’, which was designed in 1993, when the Confrerie du Couteau Le Thiers (Brotherhood of the Thiers Knife) was set up to make a knife distinctive to their town. Fifteen local master knife-makers (including Chambriard), over a period of months, designed a simple, subtle, organic design for ‘Le Thiers’, based on ideas from their 16th-Century guild forefathers.

The iconic Le Thiers folding knife has a graceful, serpentine quality to it. (image credit)

 

“We had two priorities: beautiful, simple design, and excellent function,” Chambriard told me in French.

Today, the proof of those priorities is evident in the many subtle variations – perhaps a proportionally longer blade or embellished handle ­– upon the approved graceful design. These fine modern folding knives are assembled usually by one artisan, mostly by hand, using a hammer, metal snips and electric belt grinders and polishers.

If you are casually interested in reading more, click over to the Beeb for the complete article. If you really want to Geek-out on Le Thiers, visit BenjaminArms.com, where there are many more posts and photos on the subject.

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