The Opinel is a world-famous knife made in Savoie. Traditionally, its blade was made of carbon steel, its handle from pear wood or ash. It is made in many sizes, and in models with the famed Opinel blade-locking mechanism.
Every farmer in Savoie keeps an Opinel in his pocket. In rural life, the Opinel has become an essential tool, used in agricultural work or simply to cut slices of the flavorful local saucisson or tomme at lunch time....
Its use is so pervasive, its presence so universal, that the very name "Opinel" has come to mean "pocket knife" although the Opinel brand name is still protected by copyright.
First made under its brand name in 1890 by the Opinel family, the knife bears a distinctive mark, the "Main couronnée" or "Crowned Hand" which is an ancient heraldic symbol of the town of St-Jean de Maurienne. This mark is printed on the handle and stamped into the steel of the blade of every knife and cutting instrument manufactured by the Opinels.
It is in 1890 that Joseph Opinel, an ironsmith like his father, thought to expand the family's traditional trade which then consisted mainly of axes, hoes, and sickles. He decided to manufacture knives, and came up with a design so elegant and perfect that it has undergone no changes in over a century. The factory in Cognin now manufactures some 20,000 pieces a day and employs 140 people. The pocket knife is made in thirteen different sizes, although Nos. 7 and 8 are the most popular. The factory also produces kitchen knives, table knives, and various cutting instruments useful in agriculture and gardening. The rustic pocket knife has kept its simplicity in a century of manufacture, and has been recognized by New York's Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) as a masterpiece of design. Recent additions to the product line include stainless steel blades and stainless steel locking rings, though purists prefer the fine edge that can be honed onto a carbon steel blade.
Mr. Ohinel-Kazuya KAGAWA of Kawasaki, Japan, has made an elaborate set of web pages about blades, featuring Opinel knives of all sorts, as well as many Japanese knives. Click here for Ohinel's Opinel pages (in French and Japanese only).
Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, in Savoie.
tel: 04 79 64 04 78. Open daily 9h-12h, 14h-19h, closed Sundays.
Page and images © 1997, 1999 by Robert F. Jeantet