Explore the evolution of the Laguiole knife from the Middle Ages to the present day. Cutlery-making is more than history, it is a living reality in Laguiole!
The manufacture of cutting tools and blades is vouched for in the seigneury of Laguiole. Two spinning wheels paid dues to the lord in the 14th century. These spinning wheels were mills built on the river that drove stone millstones used by blacksmiths to hone the blades. Under the Ancien Régime, toolmakers and blacksmiths produced very simple knives and the cutting and sharp tools required for peasant life.
The local symbolic knife carried by the Aubrac peasants was the capuchadou. It was made in Lagouile up to the 1920s.
The capuchadou is a fixed-blade knife with a round handle in ash or box (later on, horn or ebony). The capuchadou was used for everything: cutting foliage for conversion into sticks to control the herds, making baskets, defence against wolves, slicing bread, piercing the gut of cows to prevent swelling through over-eating of undesired grass. The knife was worn at the belt in a wooden sheath. Its blade was thick and pointed with a sharp edge.
The first cutlers set up in Laguiole in the early 19th century. They gradually replaced the toolmakers.
Three cutlers set up shop within two years of each other. The first cutlery-maker was the Coutellerie Moulin, quickly followed by the Coutellerie Glaize. Then a young cutler of 16 started his cutlery-making in 1829. He set up his forge and his workshop on Rue du Valat in 1836. Pierre Jean Calmes was the first Laguiole cutler to receive a Silver medal for the quality of his Laguiole knives in 1868. Coutellerie Mas opened in 1850 followed by Coutellerie Pagès in 1860.
In 1870, cutlery-making was booming in Laguiole and the profession now employed twelve cutlers. Folding knives were first produced in 1829 but were different from the Laguiole model known today. The blade was bourbonnais-shaped with a centred tip and the knife's handle ended in a crow's beak. This knife had a fly and a smooth, undecorated spring.
These "straight laguioles" were fitted with a punch. It was only in the 1850s that the first laguioles were manufactured with a yatagan blade (as they are today) by the cutler blacksmiths of Laguiole. This new knife was probably invented by Pierre Jean Calmels. The period 1850-1860 saw refinements made to the knife. It was still not decorated.
The first laguioles embellished with a decorated fly were produced by the Laguiole cutlers. The word "fly" is a cutlery term dating from the 18th century.
The fly was decorated from 1880 with a flower, each cutler finding his inspired in the nature around him. The 1880s also saw the appearance of the first laguioles with corkscrew.
The Laguiole cutlers entered competitions at major exhibitions. In the space of twenty or so years, the Laguiole cutlers harvested some twenty medals that established the reputation of the Laguiole knife. In 1897, the cutlers Calmels, Pagès and Salettes together produced a large knife - one forged the blade, the second sculpted the ivory and the third decorated the spring. This masterpiece was awarded a silver medal. The Laguiole cutlers Mas, Pagès and Calmels joined forces to exhibit together at the Paris World Exhibition in 1900. Pagès and Calmels won a Gold Medal that boosted their reputation. The Laguiole knife had established its pedigree.
New decorations on the knives blossomed during these years. The "art nouveau" period influenced our cutlers who offered ivory handles sculpted in a variety of shapes: ankle-boot, horse's foot, clover, pigeon wing, butterfly, scorpion tail, bird's head. This was the golden age of Laguiole cutlery-making, when thirty people were employed. All the knives were hand made, the blades and springs were forged by hand by the cutler blacksmiths. In 1890, Dr Salettes, Mayor of Laguiole, wrote to Camille Pagé: "... in 1850, our cutlery-making has acquired a certain reputation thanks to the excellence of its blades ... our water is extremely cold, it also has certain special properties that it draws from our volcanic and basaltic lands; these properties give the steel hardness and excellence".
This marked a major event - the first bees came to decorate the fly at the head of the spring.
The bee was henceforth the emblem of the Laguiole knife. The First World War sounded the death knell of the Laguiole cutlery-making. The work force had virtually disappeared by the end of the conflict. And when in 1950, Léon Glaize shut down his business, the sound of the hammer forging the knife blades no longer resounded in the Rue du Valat that was the birthplace of the Laguiole cutlery-making. Only two cutlery-makers would keep the memory and reputation of the Laguiole knife going after that date.
A team of enthusiasts and elected representatives from the Aubrac plateau facilitated the return of a manufacture of the Laguiole knife to its birthplace. And a miracle occurred. The wonderful adventure of the Laguiole knife was perpetuated successfully. The manufacture of the Laguiole knife on site generated more than a hundred jobs. The Laguiole inspired contemporary designers that combined tradition and modernity.
Cutlery-making is a lively and buoyant reality in Laguiole, as proved by the numerous workshops and boutiques in the village. Love of work well done, tradition, forward-looking and modernity are the keywords of manufacturing cutlers who welcome you and show you their expertise. All the manufacturing stages in creating a knife using best practices are presented in Laguiole: preparing metal parts, forge, sawing, fitting, assembling, polishing, engraving, sharpening, etc. Some can be visited throughout the year. Go and meet cutlers, some of whom are "best workers in France" and discover these multi-skill crafts.
The cutlers of Laguiole and its surrounding areas formed a union in 2013 to defend the village's knife and promote its recognition.
Laguiole claims authenticity and expertise around this work of art.
Text inspired by the research by the ethnographer, Christian Lemasson.