The Laguiole knife (French pronunciation: [laɡjɔl], locally [lajɔl]) is a high-quality traditional Occitan pocket-knife, originally produced in the town of Laguiole in the Aveyron region of southern France.
The word laguiole is a generic term, not legally restricted to any one company or place of manufacture. Such knives are produced by a number of unrelated companies in southern France, with some 70% of production coming from Thiers, a long-established centre of the cutlery industry.
The ancestor of the laguiole is most likely the Arabo-Hispanic clasp knife of Andalusian Spain, the navaja. Migrations of men, particularly shepherds and cattle herders, between Catalan Spain and southern France in summer and winter introduced the navaja to Aveyron. The Arabo-Hispanic design of the navaja was merged with that of local folding knives represented by older patterns such as the Capuchadou; the result became the laguiole. The laguiole was first designed in 1829 by Jean-Pierre Calmels and his concept of the knife became the pattern for this style, with the forged "bee" symbol emerging as a distinctive trademark. In 1840 the first awl or "trocar" was added to the some laguiole knife patterns. A trocar is a surgical instrument that is used by cattlemen and shepherds to puncture body cavities and relieve the suffering of an animal with bloat caused by eating too much young grass. The trocar's shape and size are designed to ensure that the animal would not be injured by inserting the trocar too deeply, while the triangular angles create a "clean" hole. In 1880 some models of the laguiole began featuring a corkscrew, in response to demands from waiters in northern Aveyron.
All laguiole knives feature a slim, sinuous outline. They are about 10 cm long when closed, with a narrow, tapered blade, 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. The blade is often made of Stainless steel or High-carbon steel, with XC75 steels being 0.75% carbon made and XC100 being 1% carbon. More decorated Laguioles even use Damascus steel.
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 wires 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 catch. Some say it represents a fly or a horse-fly, something familiar to peasants in the rural Laguiole area, which is known for cattle breeding. The Laguiole catch is often referred to in French as "la mouche" ("the fly"), and one legend holds that the fly refers to the custom of cattle breeding in the Aveyron region. Another legend identifies the design as that of a bee, an imperial symbol, claiming that the design was granted by Napoleon in recognition of the courage of local soldiers.
There are about 109 production steps for a one-piece laguiole, about 166 for a two-piece one, and about 216 for a three-piece model.
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, Laguiole knives are manufactured globally. This has caused the market to be flooded with inexpensive knives made in Asia.
- Flock, Jean-Marie, Van Osselaer, Pierre, and McHoul, Alec, Visual Identities, New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, ISBN 0-8264-4739-2 (2005), p. 151
- Lecoutre, Fabien, Rubat, Baptiste, Engelen, Barth, and Engelen, Cécile, Le Petit Futé La France à moto!, Paris, FR: Les Nouvelles Editions l'Université (2008), p. 540
- Pacella, Gérard, Couteaux de nos Terroirs, Paris: Editions de Borée - Terres Blues, ISBN 2-84494-858-8 (2005), p. 17
- History, Legends and Traditions, La Coutellierie de Laguiole - Honoré Durand, retrieved 22 August 2011
- Abeille ou Mouche ? - Laguiole - laguiolefrance.com - Vente de couteaux laguiole haut de gamme
- History of the Laguiole knife
- The Laguiole knife museum's website
- Handcrafting pictures and videos for Laguiole knives
- Manufacturing a Laguiole knife