The Laguiole knife (, locally ) is originally a high-quality traditional Occitan pocket-knife, originally produced in the “knife-city” of Thiers where 70% of the French cutting tool production comes from, and in the small village of Laguiole, both located in the Massif central region of France. “Laguiole” is neither a trademark nor a company name. Rather, the name “laguiole” became associated with a specific shape of a traditional knife common to this area.
The major influence on the form of the classic laguiole is most likely the Arabo-Hispanic clasp knife of Andalusian Spain, the navaja. The laguiole was first designed in 1829 by Jean-Pierre Calmels. The earliest forms of laguiole knife were straight-bladed and handled, the so-called laguiole droit; the classic navaja-like laguiole seems to have been developed around 1860. The Calmels laguiole droit had a ‘half-lock’ on the blade where a small projection on the end of the backspring (mouche) exerts pressure on a corresponding indent in the heel of blade when the knife is open; this, and not the full locking system of the navaja, remained a fixed feature in subsequent laguiole knives. Seasonal migrations of shepherds and cattle herders between Catalan Spain and southern France in summer and winter introduced the navaja to France. The Arabo-Hispanic design of the navaja was merged with that of local folding knives represented by older patterns such as the laguiole droit and Capuchadou; the result became the classic laguiole. In 1840, the first awl or trocar (a surgical instrument used to puncture body cavities and relieve the suffering of cattle and other animals with bloat) was added to the some laguiole knife patterns. In 1880, some models of the laguiole began featuring a corkscrew, in response to demands from the owners of bars in the Auvergne, and restaurants in Paris.
Classic laguiole knives feature a slim, sinuous outline. They are about 12 cm long when closed, with a narrow, tapered blade of a semi-yataghan form, steel backspring (slipjoint) and a high quality of construction. Traditionally, the handle was made of cattle horn; however, nowadays other materials are sometimes used. These materials include French woods, exotic woods from all around the world, and fossilised mammoth ivory from Alaska or Siberia. The French designer Philippe Starck re-designed laguiole knives using aluminium for the grips, but it was only a revival of a 1910 model. The blade is often made of Stainless steel or High-carbon steel, with XC75 steels being 0.75% carbon and XC100 being 1% carbon. The traditional laguiole utilizes a single blade, but sometimes a corkscrew or some other implement is added. This necessitates an even slimmer cutaway handle, the shape of which is fancifully known as the “lady’s leg”, the bolster at the base resembling a foot. A ‘Shepherd’s Cross’ consisting of 6-8 inlaid metal pins forming a cross can be found on the handle of some laguioles from the end of the 19th century to the present day. This embellishment is a reference to a legend of Catholic shepherds in need of a cross for prayer during their seasonal migrations between the mountains and the plains. Far from any chapel or cathédrale, the shepherd would thrust his opened laguiole blade-down into the earth, exposing the visible cross on the handle for purposes of prayer.” There is much mythology about the insect depicted on the spring. A legend identifies the design as a bee granted by Emperor Napoleon I (the bee was adopted as a dynastic symbol by Napoleon) in recognition of the courage of local soldiers. However, the “bee” on the laguiole knives was only introduced after World War II, more than a century after the death of the emperor. Technically, “la mouche” (the fly) is the end of the backspring, which sits over the rotating part of the blade. The upper section was expanded to form a thumb rest. Older laguiole knives feature many kinds of decorated springs which don’t necessarily feature insects. There are about 109 production steps for a one-piece laguiole (single blade), about 166 for a two-piece one (blade and one other tool), and about 216 for a three-piece model (blade and two tools – corkscrew and awl). The name Laguiole has since been used as a trademark designation for various other implements, so that one can now buy, for example, a “Laguiole” corkscrew, spoon, or steak-knife set.
As laguiole designates a type of knife and is not a brand or trade name of cutlery, laguiole knives are manufactured globally. This has led to the widespread availability of inexpensive, and sometimes low-quality, knives manufactured in Asia. Quality laguiole knives are handcrafted in France by skilled workers. French production is shared between the cutlery hub town of Thiers, and the village of Laguiole: these places have worked together for more than 150 years. Quality French manufacturers stamp a trademark or signature into the steel of their knives. A description of the type of steel used and “Made in France”, will often be stamped as well. This is a guarantee of origin.