Origin of Laguiole knives
Most people may not know much about the Laguiole knife. Laguiole is a tiny mountain village in southern France, the Aubrac region to be precise. The first known use of cutlery in Laguiole was in the 18th century, and it gained popularity during the 1860s.
Pocket knives and table knives were made for shepherds and knives in the Aubrac region. After the end of the second world war, all knife-making units shut down in Laguiole and relocated to Thiers. For nearly 50 years, Thiers met the knife requirements for people all over France.
In 1985, Aveyron opened a factory in Laguiole, and since then, knife makers in both towns manufacture their versions of the Laguiole knives.
History of the Laguiole knives in detail
1829 - Entry of the Laguiole folding knives
The first blacksmith or cutter to set up his workshop in Laguiole was Casimir-Antoine Moulin, leading to the creation of the first folding knife - the Laguiole Droit, aka the straight Laguiole. This knife did not bear the decorated bee and the forced notch with the handle resembling a bird's beak, made out of bone or ivory.
The blade looked like a Bourbonnaise (a French chicken breed), and it went on to be produced till 1900.
Knifemakers fabricated the Laguiole knife's blade and springs manually, with the steel coming from Pyrenees and Tarn. Back in the day, knives were forged in the shop's rear section. A dog pulled the grindstone and the knives sharpened on it. Post the sharpening process, cold volcanic water from the La Violette (spring) was used to temper the blades.
The knives were assembled in broad daylight in front of the shop, wherein each shop employed 5-7 workers. Laguiole knives made in that era were the full handle models. The less expensive models had handles made out of bone or horn, while the lavish ones were made out of ivory.
1840 - Age of the owl
Over time, Mr. Pierre-Jean Calmels made a few modifications, sharpened his skills, and created a folding knife in 1840. The modified Laguiole knife comes with an awl or a trocar.
Shepherds and livestock farmers stressed the need for an awl because they required it to puncture the cattle's stomach if they experienced bloating due to gas produced in the rumen.
With the integration of the awl to the Laguiole knives, it became easy for the farmers to make a clean hole into cattle's stomach without injuring them. Around 1850 and 1860, the Laguiole began to take its current shape. The blade starts to curve up a bit, and the handle bears a stylish look.
1880 - Transition to a sommelier
The year 1880 welcomed a new addition to the Laguiole knife - a corkscrew. There were two reasons for this modification. First - wine bottles were being sold like hot cakes in the upper ranks of society. Another reason was that people of Aveyron had to find employment in Paris's cafes.
Cafe owners and employees in those cafes took pride in following age-old traditions. They used the three-piece knives to assist customers in Paris.
1900 - Age of Refinement
For the first time in history, Laguiole knives are decorated. The bee is engraved with a flower motif, and the spring's rear end is adorned with triangular designs. The entire process of decorating and shaping is done manually with the help of a file.
The 1900s were the golden age for Laguiole knife manufacturing, and 30 craftsmen were permanently employed in Laguiole's workshops. Knifemakers named Pagès and Calmels were bestowed with gold medals at the prestigious Universal Exhibition in Paris.
Over the next decade, knifemakers from Laguiole became proud recipients of 20 more gold medals. They received these medals for their outstanding craftsmanship plus the exquisite quality of knives produced by them.
1909 - Entry of the bee
For the first time in 1909, the bee replaced the floral motif. Even the handle design underwent significant changes. The craftsmen sculpted ivory handles to resemble horse hooves, rattlesnake tails, clovers, rams, butterflies, etc.
Further innovation came about during the Edwardian and Art Nouveau era, where handles made from ivory were sculpted to bear a strong resemblance to faces of eminent personalities like Joan of Arc, Napoleon, Venus, and others. Some models displayed intricate floral designs, which required hours of work.
At the onset of the First World War (1914-1918), cutlery started to disappear from Laguiole. After the end of the war, Thiers started to dominate knife production. Agriculture was on the decline during the 1960s, the demand for handmade knives dropped drastically.
By the early 1980s, the knife production industry in Laguiole had perished. Aubrac became the new knife production leader in 1987. Simultaneously, passionate knife makers in the Aubrac region were making solid and persistent efforts to revive knife making in Laguiole - the knife making's birthplace.
They finally succeeded in 1987.
How do you recognize a fake Laguiole knife?
Laguiole pocket knives and table knives are one of a kind; they are renowned for their craftsmanship. Laguiole is not a brand; it's the name of the knives that are manufactured in the village named Laguiole. There are a few ways to find out if a Laguiole knife is fake or authentic.
1. Serration - An authentic Laguiole knife has no cartels. If you come across a Laguiole knife with serration, rest assured it is not the original one.
2. Price - All Laguiole knives are handmade, sculpted, and finished; the entire process occurs in France. The steel used to produce the blade and the handle is unique, meaning such a fine specimen cannot be sold for 10 euros.
Often, you may come across so-called sets of Laguiole knives for 10 euros which is nothing but a pure scam. Every Laguiole knife is produced individually; real Laguiole knife makers detest mass production.
3. Handle material - The original Laguiole knife's handle material is a good indicator of its genuineness. The most favored materials for Laguiole knife handles are bull horn, ivory, buffalo horn, juniper wood, or olive wood. The cheap Laguiole knife replicas have handles made from stamina food, plastic, etc.
4. Brand. There are only a few brands that manufacture in the town of Laguiole; genuine items should come with certificates from the brand; there will be engraves on the blade, sometimes the steel, other times the logo; it’ll depend on the production
- Laguiole Advocate