I noticed this item and was curious, since I have 5 Laguiole items and have had some interest in French knives.
Recommend this product?
I await the arrival of other Laguiole products on epinions but for now I will attempt to sort out a means to evaluate this Laguiole item on epinions.
What is a Laguiole and why would anyone want one?
Laguiole is the name of the village in France where Laguiole knives were first developed in 1829 by Pierre-Jean Calmels. Laguiole is pronounced "lie-ole" or "ley-ole". In the old French it means church. The knife was a non locking version of locking Spanish Navaja knives brought back by workers who would go to Spain seasonally to work. Calmels developed several variations but was recognized for this model which had a angled notch in the blade where it met the handle which held the blade very firmly, closed with strong effort, but had no actual lock mechanism. This was called "cran force" [pronounced krann for-say], which might translate to forced notch. The blade was long and curved up slightly in the "Yatagan" style. Handles were wide side to side, but narrow top back to bottom and made of bone, stag, ivory, or wood. Calmels and others did elaborate carvings on the handles of some of them. Many stories and legends surround this style knife. Where the blade meets the back of the knife, there is a bee, which some say is a symbol of Napolean who passed through the area and praised local troops for their bravery. Some say the bee is actually a fly, which is always around bothering the special type cows of the region. The name for that part of the knife among cutlers is the "mouche" or fly. Early knives had only a plate at times, or sometimes another design where most now have a bee. On one side is a cross made of inlayed pins of metal of choice. Some say this is for shepards to use for prayer when they are out in fields. Some say it is the sign of Laguiole where an old church existed.
Millions of these knives have been produced since then by numerous companies. Laguiole is a type of knive and anyone can use the name Laguiole in their production. A good Laguiole knife does not have to be made in Laguiole but should be of French manufacture and be of decent or high quality to qualify to merit respect. Avoid any not made in France. It's not a real Laguiole if it's not made in France.
I will attempt to critique what I don't see about this particular brand in the referred website Laguiole.com.
I followed the lead given in epinions to the website of Laguiole.com where I noticed many laguiole products. The knives appeared to look good but I couldn't figure out who was the manufacturer. There was as usual a special mark on the blade which I with my limited knowledge did not recognize. Looked like a boar. Since there are numerous good cutlers in Thiers, France, and surroundings, there is a good possibility that this is a reputable brand. The brand name was not mentioned at all, nor was the name of the company, nor the location. There were also other higher priced knives with a bull as the mark and the mark appeared to be Laguiole En Aubrac, which is a name brand. Laguiole en Aubrac has its own website if you wish to see them better. Laguiole En Aubrac doesn't sell from its website. Still there was no mention of this brand name on the site I am reviewing. I simply recognized the brand from the photos.
I noted on the blades the mark 12C27 which signifies the highest grade of Swedish steel of which all the good cutlers in Thiers and Laguiole are fond of using for stainless blade pocket knives. (A second good choice is 440C). I also noted the seams where handle meets bolster looked close and clean. They were well polished and pretty. The knives with the boar mark were pricey around $150. The ones with the bull mark were higher priced than that at $190 to $250 plus.
I read "fully forged" as a part of the description of them. I couldn't determine what this meant for this brand. I wanted to know if this meant the blade and spring were fully forged or did it include the favored characteristic of the best laguiole knives which entails a fully forged bee and back spring, which means that the little bee design is a continuous part of the back spring of the knife and was not welded on to the knife but was one piece forged as part of the back spring. Does this make a difference? Well it does to master cutlers in France and to Laguiole nuts that admire the best Laguiole knives. So I could not tell from the photos if the bee was forged as part of the back spring. One can usually discern if the bee is fully forged as part of the back spring by looking at the back end of the bee. If the bee was welded on, there will be a distinct small gap between the rear of the bee and the back spring (the central spring steel spine along the length of the back of the handle). If the bee is fully forged as a part of the spring, there will be no gap there and the bee will be continuous with the central spring piece. This will be observable despite hand guillochage work on the spine. Most vendors or cutlers will state when the bee is forged, but I haven't noticed any mention when the bee is not forged. A Laguiole with a non-forged bee is still a Laguiole. It simply is a less elaborate Laguiole. $150 is much too much to pay for a non forged bee. So I need to know or get a nice photo of the spine of the knife so I can see the bee and spring.
I have from Coutellerie De Laguiole (also called Laguiole de L'Artisan) a laguiole with 10 cm. blade, olive wood handle, "forged bee", 12C27 blade, that I ordered direct from the company. $80 for the knife and $25 for the shipping. With this company there is a website in French or English at Layole.com. Very informative and descriptive. Everything is well disclosed. You can order direct from them and I found their product good. Nice finish, opens and closes well, good steel, good seams, good balance, no side to side play in the blade, hand made as much as possible. They offer many nice handles in many materials, with hand chased designs on the back of the spring and on the ridge of the blade if desired. This is "Laguiole de L'Artisan" of Laguiole, France. They are one of two cutlers in Laguiole who brought back some of the Laguiole knife production to Laguiole from Thiers around 1987. They are one of two who have true complete forges in Laguiole.
Some small cutlers still exist to this day in Laguiole. Two of these are the old original shop of "Calmels" from the early 1800's, and "Glandieres" since 1938 but actually from the 1880's, which used to be "Pages" but the name changed when the nephew and niece took over. It is speculative how much of the production in later times actually occurred in Laguiole or was farmed out to cutlers elsewhere in France, still usually of good quality, or if parts were being assembled in Laguiole from parts made in Thiers. This does not note especially an inferior product. Thiers France is one of a few great cutlery centers of the world along with Solingen, Germany, Sheffield, England, Japan, Scandinavia, and perhaps a few others. Cutlery has been made in Thiers for centuries and later on in the 1800's most production of Laguioles occurred there because of mechanization that occurred in Thiers while in laguiole production remained without bigger machines until 1987. Knives made in Thiers can be some of the best in the world. There are a few cutlers also in other locations in France. I read that there is a descendant of Pierre Jean Calmels named Calmels who is a cutler in Rodez, but I will have to verify this. Guy Vialis, a master cutler, works in the small town of Sauveterre de Rouergue. There are more examples.
The other actual cutler with a true forge in Laguiole is Forge de Laguiole which is another reputable producer. They are at forge-de-laguiole.com but the site is in French only still. Their products can be found at premiumknives.com ( not so clear of descriptions or enough photos), cutlery to go.com (good descriptions, better photos, limited selection of Forge de Laguiole), worldknives.com (good photos, good descriptions), and a few others.
I have also a Laguiole knife from Glandieres of Laguiole (since 1938, but actually since the 1880's previously under the name of Pages, their great uncle). It is beautiful with pistachio wood handles, polished 12C27 steel blade, nice guillochage hand chasing on the springback, nickel silver bolsters, brass pin inlayed cross on one side, and the forged bee. I can't be sure how much of the work is done in Laguiole or in Thiers, but it is French made. The only thing I found fault with was when closing it the first stop of the blade as it was pushed back by force of the spring was past the halfway mark = a little too close to the fingers for me. With Laguioles, which are stiff to open and stiff to close, you are supposed to hold the blade firmly at all times when opening and closing them so that is not normally an issue. But I like to hold my laguiole with one hand and close it at times by pressing the back of the point of the blade on some suitable surface and let it spring back to a midpoint then close it manually the rest of the way. This requires a Laguiole with good stopping point which relates to the shape of the blade where it passes under the bee. So, I actually took a mini hand file and adjusted it to stop at 1/3 way from open. Although it is one of my favorite knives, I wouldn't choose this brand for someone without skill in handling a knife because of that blade stopping issue. For anyone careful with a knife it's no problem. Cost: about $80 plus postage from France.
If you get a Laguiole it is said that the length of the blade should be greater than the width of your palm. This enables safe closing and ensures the right feel in the hand. I recommend a forged bee but some non forged bee knives are still acceptable and very nice looking. The best knives which cost more of course, have hand filing (called guillochage) on the back spring and can also have hand filing on the spine of the blade. Unless you go in person to buy, you will usually be sent any design they choose. You could try to describe a pattern you saw and they would probably try to satisfy your needs. It would just take time to clarify. Bolsters, the pieces at the end of the knife should fit nicely to the handle material. Bolsters could be made of brass , nickel silver, or stainless steel. The spine spring should not be high or low but flush. The balance of the knife in the hand is a big deal with the good cutlers.
Laguioles can come with a blade, a blade and corkscrew, or a blade, a corkscrew and a poincon ("pwon-sone"). A poincon is a punch used to pierce a cow or sheeps stomach in emergencies when large amount of gas from bad grass etc. endangers the animal. It is a shepard's tool and was added to the Laguiole around 1840. The corkscrews were added around 1880.
One can also get a Laguiole sommelier or waiters corkscrew, which is of a different style design. I've seen some of these in epinions. One can find cheap junk ones for 10 bucks but a good one will be $80 to $250. Chateau Laguiole Sommelier is a good brand. Many of the good cutlers of Laguiole also make good sommeliers. I have one of these from Coutellerie Destannes (since 1908), but they get theirs from Thiers. Destannes makes no Laguioles. He makes only the Couteau de Aurillac (Aurillac knife), of which are sort of like a Barlow and are one of my all time favorite pocket knives. No bee, no cross, no hand chasing, but a nice folding knife. Makes a great parer, table knife or work knife. See them at destannes.planet-artisans.com. We use my juniper handled steel bolstered 3 1/4" blade folder Couteau de Aurillac daily at the table. Cost: $60 plus the post but he doesn't normally sell out of Europe. You'll need special arrangements. I mention this to show how each region in France can have its own knife styles, which is true of knives around the world.
Customcurling.com has a good selection with what appear to be good laguioles at fair prices which are from Laguiole De L'Artisan of Laguiole. At Layole.com (which is Laguiole De L'Artisan) they are the makers of those nice laguioles and also sell sommeliers at their own site.
These days Laguiole variation spin off products abound with table settings, pipe cleaning tools, kitchen tools, steak knife sets, carving sets, and more.
If you want to look at Laguioles I suggest you take a look at the following sites and then go back to the website directed to by epinions and compare.
Layole.com, which is Laguiole De L'Artisan in Laguiole France. One of my favorites. I have two of their knives. Well made, beautiful, reputable. The high end models are called prestige line. The low end models are called courant or standard line. Can buy direct online. I use one of them in the kitchen often and even as a table knife, even though it is a folder. Can buy from Layole.com (direct from the cutler), customcurling.com, (a nice site, well disclosed), there are a few at worldknives.com.
Fontenille-Patuad.com (beautiful top of the line, well made in Thiers and pricey-I have one of theirs and it cost $150 and is a beauty, olivewood handle, 12C27 matt blade, all seams fit perfectly, hand filed and fully forged bee, inlaid cross, no loose play side to side). Their website has a lot of information on it and is in English as well as in French. Can buy direct or through the mentioned sites.
Forge de Laguiole of Laguiole France. One of the two guaranteed to do their own work in Laguiole France. It is hard to discern on some sites carrying the Forge de Laguiole brand if you are getting the high end forged bee with hand chased back or the lower end welded bee with machined stamped back. It should always say in clear terms. I wasn't able to find a way to buy direct from them online. A lot of import knife companies on line carry some of their knives.
In the two companies Laguiole de L'artisan and Forge de Laguiole if you want a Laguiole and can't afford a lot, the lower price models knives will be acceptable and work well, but just won't have the fine finish that some people want, but they will be Laguioles of Laguiole.
Laguiole en Aubrac. I don't have one of these but they look pretty good, and are pricey. Available from some of the distributors mentioned.
Coutellerie Benoit L'Artisan at benoit-artisan.com is a reputable cutler with descriptions, brand name, forged bee disclosures. They are in Aveyron France.
G. Arbalete David. Their higher end forged bee stuff looks good. G. Arbalete David is also the present owner of the old original Calmels shop in Laguiole. Some of the product coming from the old Glandieres shop in Lagiuole also looks identical in design to that of G. Arbalete David (with respect to the design style of the bee, the style of the guillochage designs on the back spring, and other small details). One can only assume that Glandieres is having some or all of their knives made for them, and some by G. Arbalete David. This has been speculated for almost a hundred years, that both shops ran out of family cutlers some time in the 1900's and then had their production made in Thiers. This does not denote a fall in quality or genuineness. Sometimes all the good cutlers in a family retire or die. The family may find good cutlers to work in their shop or find a good cutler to produce for them. Laguiole, Thiers, and the surrounding area continues to produce skilled knifemakers. A Laguiole is genuine if it is made in France and is made accurately in the style of a Laguiole.
There is a similar name of a cutler Robert David who also makes Laguioles, which are usually lower end and less costly but still decent and made in France. Robert David does make a high end product which is nice also but for me it was hard to locate where to get them except if in France.
A lot of these brands can be found at premiumknives.com, cutlerytogo.com, worldknives.com, customcurling.com, laguiole-southwest.com, couteau-laguiole.net, layole.com, or at the cutlers' own sites just searching under Laguiole knives. There are some sites with ads on epinions that are more interesting and clear than the Laguiole.com site.
There are more marks of Laguiole that exist that I am not familiar with (Le Fidele, Au Sabot, etc). I'll leave it to others to comment on those marks for now.
I e-mailed laguiole.com twice and asked what company name made these Laguioles, what was their brand name, and where were they located. I didn't receive a reply. I saw some photos on their website of cutlers working at a forge but there is absolutely no actual address or even the name of their brand on this site. I wouldn't want to buy from them even though the products in the photos look good. It's just too fuzzy for me.
Cutlers in France with a reputation like to tell you "since 1829," or "fully forged bee," or "the boxwood in our handles is dried for 4 years before being used-(coutellerie Nontron)", or where they are located.
I feel I went way off track on this review but when looking at this unreviewed item I felt it was such a blank spot I thought I'd shed some light.
The other sites I mentioned have some nice Laguioles and sommeliers, with their brand names and locations, disclosed, and with good product descriptions. The sites I listed are by no means the only ones. Avoid any not made in France, or not willing to disclose who they are and where they are located. In old France many people have had families living in the same town for 600 years or more and reputation is a big deal in France for established makers of good products.
Update Mar. 2, 2012: Laguiole.com has updated their site and it is very clear now even with the propietor's photo. Though I have never personally used them or visited them it now appears very legitimate.
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