Humble Origins of Laguiole Cutlery
The history of Laguiole Cutlery
Celebrated throughout the world for many years are the timeless Laguiole Cutlery. Gracing the tables of homes, restaurants and cafes, whilst also being gifted to family and friends or handed down through generations. But where did these magnificent pieces of steel come from and why are they so beloved?
Where it all began
Originating in the Aveyron region of southern France in the small village of Laguiole, experienced craftsmen have created Genuine Laguiole Cutlery sets for almost 200 years. The earliest of Laguiole blacksmiths created the ‘Capuchadou’, similar to a pocket knife with a multitude of uses, that peasants would use in the Aubruc plateau area - In it’s simplest form, a wooden handle with a small blade.
Did you know? Many of the forges that produced Laguiole blades in the 1800’s were sharpened on small grindstones pulled by a dog.
From a single knife to a 3-piece knife
A folding knife was produced during the 1820’s with a handle of bone or ivory but was yet to feature the bee insignia we have all come to know as the typical markings of a genuine Laguiole knife. This folding knife was known as the Laguiole Droit (Straight Laguiole) and would later come to have an awl (used to pierce holes in leather) attached due to the needs of livestock farmers and shepherds, then a corkscrew later in 1880 because of the rise in sales of wine.
Francais: Pieces de collection du Musee du Couteau Laguiole, Julien Hasselmann, CC
What came first, the flower or the bee?
Being at it’s highest rate of manufacturing of knives, in 1900 the springs of the Laguiole knife is decorated with a flower motif – entirely by hand. Dependent on which forge you produced Laguiole cutlery and taking into account that every motif is designed by hand, each craftsmen's knife would differ in design. In 1909 the Laguiole cutlery sets start to use a bee insignia where the floral motifs begin to lessen as the flowers require such fine detailing.
Close-up of the distinctive Laguiole Bee, Tim Chambers, CC
After winning awards for the period splendour of their craft in national competitions, the pride the French took in their creations was strengthened – but it would also become a slight hindrance to manufacturing to increasing demand. By 1930, power hammers began to appear as the age of modernism bloomed. Yet to keep with tradition the craftsmen of Laguiole refused to move with the modern world of machinery to satisfy customer needs, gradually seizing the manufacturing of Laguiole cutlery.
For almost 50 years the Laguiole factories did not produce their famous knives, however, the nearby village of Thiers took on the majority of their production and manufacturing. In 1987 Laguiole began again to produce knives and cutlery again but on a much smaller and exclusive scale, so as to keep with the tradition of handcrafting.
Traditions and Legends
Did you know? To gift a friend or family member with a Laguiole Knife (or any cutting utensil) it is said to be a bad omen – suggesting that you are cutting ties with that relationship – however, to give a knife and receive a coin (of the lowest value on the person) in return, is to ward off bad luck.
It is suggested that the bee featured in the Laguiole knife design was rewarded by Napolean I to the inhabitants of Laguiole, the symbol of the bee for their bravery throughout the war. But, this has never been confirmed. Another was of Napolean III having gifted this bee to them, and this is still refuted.
In 19th century everyday family life would see the oldest male in the household at dinner time unfold his knife and eating would commence. Once closed, the meal was over, the table could be cleared, post dinner activities would be taken up and the children could speak and play freely.
The Shepherds Cross was inlaid as an embellishment on the original knives as a way for Catholic shepherds to use in prayer whilst on seasonal migrations. When a child was old enough to look after the farm and the herds of animals, a Laguiole knife would be gifted to them.
Typical handcrafted French Laguiole Knife, Dr Max Lennertz, CC, Cropped original
From then ‘til Now
The Laguiole knives have come so far from their most original form. The needs that arose throughout the 19th century was supported by the craftsmen that worked tirelessly to create the practical and effective knives we now know today. With gentle modifications over the years, what we use in our homes, restaurants and cafes are still as close to what was intended by the earliest of artisans and a timeless traditional piece to be used forever more.