A Best of France selection.
Laguiole, the humble shepherd’s folding knife that has become a coveted and trendy accoutrement, is at once the best known and most mysterious of French knives. How do you pronounce the name? Is Laguiole one company? Is the famous bee on the spring a guarantee of authenticity?
The answers: Laguiole is pronounced la-yole—the reasons are buried in the linguistic mist. Despite the popular idea that it is a single company, Laguiole is the name of a small town in the Aveyron region of central France, and by extension a generic name—unpatented and unprotected—for a folding knife made in the vicinity. The bee on the spring, considered the mark of authenticity, isn’t foolproof. The knife’s style is so popular and the name so unprotected that counterfeits are legion. But authentic handmade knives can still be found in Laguiole—Forge de Laguiole has brought artisanal workmanship back to its origins with knives hand-made from tip to hilt.
Legend has it that in 1829 Jacques Calmels, the son of a Laguiole innkeeper, designed the first folding knife in town. The first feature added to the traditional blade was the piercer, for making holes in harnesses. A later addition was a corkscrew, for the Aveyron farmers who emigrated to Paris to work as café waiters and owners. As for the famous bee, is it really a bee? Or a fly? Some say the insect may represent the ever-present field flies in the pastoral region. Others say the bee was a symbolic tribute to Napoleon. Whether the blade is stainless steel or high carbon, and the handle in horn, wood, ivory or the aluminum chosen by designer Philippe Starck for one luxury model, the knife made by Forges de Laguiole is a collector’s dream. Laguiole lovers should respect the adage “silent spring will live longer” by shutting their knives gently, to avoid ruining the edge of the blade.
Galeries Laguiole Paris 29 rue Boissy d’Anglas, 8th. Métro: Madeleine. 01.40.06.09.75
Originally published in the December 2008 issue of France Today.
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