Laguiole is probably the most famous brand for cutlery in France. But why is that? What makes it special we ask here at PumpjackPiddlewick

I came across Laguiole fairly early on living in France. It’s sort of hard not to as it is a very common, yet sought after brand. It is synonymous with quality and durability. And it’s little bee symbol is just so darn cute.

But What Is It?

Laguiole is not actually a brand made by a specific company. Rather it is a place where they made cutlery and thus adopted the name of the place as the brand name. A bit like AOC with wine and cheese, the location ends up dictating the name of the product. Think Chablis for wine or Brie for cheese. Both of which are places in France where the wine and cheese respectively are made.

Located south of the centre of France, on the Massif Central, knives have been made there since the early 19th century. The name of the village actually had its beginnings further back, when it was called “La Gleisola”, which was the name in the Occitan language for the small church. Over time this morphed into La Guiole and thus Laguiole.

Yesterday and Today

The original Occitan knife was invented by Jean-Pierre Calmels in 1829 and started as a pocket knife, one that folded in half. Over time the design changed and more features were added, including a corkscrew as well as unusually an awl or trocar (a medical instrument used to puncture the body of humans and animals), amongst others. In the 1850s the brass ‘bolsters’ were added at either end of the handle to reinforce it, giving it is signature look that it still bears today.

Today many do not fold, and are made of stainless steel or high carbon steel. Various other cutlery have been added beyond the basic knife, from forks and spoons to butter, bread and cheese knives. After World War One the knife making moved to nearby Thiers, which is still famous for its blade making, including razors.

The Real Deal

In the 1980s Forge de Laguiole opened its doors in the original village, bringing back knife making once more to Laguiole itself. The traditional production method can still also be found today in Thiers, made by Laguiole en Aubrac and Fontenille Pautaud. So it is no longer about the village location itself, but the method. (Though purists might argue this.)

Because the brand is not protected it lends itself to variations. The serrated knife is just such a variation. As are the forks, spoons, etc. There are many makers now of Laguiole in and around Laguiole and Thiers. Some are little more than assembly lines, whilst the other end of the spectrum are hand made from start to finish by the same person. This also explains the great variation in price.

Made in France

Because it is not a singular brand and has variations it also lends itself to counterfeiting. At the higher end, you can be ascertained the real deal by the sheer quality as well as a certificate of craftsmanship. Honestly, counterfeiters are not going to go to the lengths to produce this level of quality.

As for the lower range, one can still look to the quality of crafting. Even a good cheaper Laguiole will have a decent weight to it, and it will be solid and sturdy. The steel will run the length of the piece, whether knife or spoon, and be sandwiched within the handle and bolsters. (I have seen cheap counterfeits where the blade ends at the handle junction, a very real tell.)

To Bee or To Fly

But what’s with that insect on the handle? The original folding Laguiole knife had a unique spring mechanism. In 1909 Jules Calmel, grandson to Jean-Pierre, came up with the idea of adding a bee above the spring.

In French the term La Mouche or Fly refers to the flat end of the spring. So there is some confusion whether the symbol represents a fly, and thus the spring, or a bee. And before World War Two this could just as easily have been a flower or other animal. After, the Bee (or Fly) becomes almost ubiquitous. And is still argued about which one it is to this day.

More Laguiole

Want more? Check out My Shop for vintage Laguiole specific items I sell. Or enjoy a taste of kitchen items, cutlery and of course Laguiole below.

And anything I sell in my shop has to be researched, so I know what I am offering my customers, which includes the history behind this famous brand and what makes it special. You can find more of my researching here: Shop from France

As someone who loves, loves, loves finding and selling vintage and antiques, I am always on the search for vintage Laguiole. It really stands the test of time with its quality.

Simply click on an image to see more.

If you wish to join in, do check out my Nourish Pumpjack & Piddlewick page to see how.

2024-07-01

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