Don't call it a "Swiss Army Knife" because those three words together are legally off-limits, but the world has a new Swiss pocket knife.
The Swiza knife is a modern interpretation of the globally popular designs made by a competitor, the venerable Swiss Army Knife fiefdom, Victorinox. Four models of the Swiza knives went on sale in October, and quickly exceeded sales projections. There is now about a two-month wait for delivery on new wholesale orders, said Swiza CEO Peter Hug, during a recent tour of the factory in Delémont.
Why so quickly popular? Hug – who was CEO at Victorinox brand, Wenger – believes it is thanks to their "360 Design." Swiza knives "have to be beautiful, functional, reliable and secure to use," he said.
The low cost doesn’t hurt either. Prices for the current models (more are on the way) range from 29 to 39 francs.
The design process began, said Hug, with "a famous meeting" where the Swiza team brainstormed their knife's concept. This led to a contract with Zürich based design agency, Estragon.
Estragon CEO André Luethy said during a phone interview that the challenge was weighted with the knowledge that the Swiss pocketknife "is one of the best-known designs in the world, so it was a huge responsibility." The design was inspired by the continuous curve of a traditional folding pruning saw. "These are tools that really need to work," said Luethy.
They aren’t ugly, either.
The four svelte Swiza knife models each come in a choice of four intriguingly soft colors: Red, black, blue and white, the color muted by a matte-finish, slightly soft plastic finish. Instead of the well-known red of the iconic Victorinox Swiss Army Knife, Swiza's red is a luminous, almost-pink hue, which is urban-eye-grabbing, but not likely to be found in the pockets of Swiss farmers.
The blue handle is popular with the ladies, said Hug.
The colors were chosen with the help of Estragon and a Swiza "trend scout." After about six months of chin rubbing there was a color vote among Swiza employees, then Hug made the final decision. "We want to be fresh. It starts with the red," he said.
The knives are made in several steps: The metal parts are machine stamped, hardened, ground, polished and sharpened, the thermo-plastic handles are molded, then all the parts are assembled. Some of these steps are performed by proprietary machines that Hug won't allow to be photographed. Other steps – assembly and quality control inspection – are performed by hand.
Swiza's product line also includes luggage, backpacks, day bags, small leather goods, clocks, and, inevitably, watches.
New models of Swiza knives will roll out soon, but Peter Hug is tight-lipped about what tools they will include. We hope he won’t get sharp with us if we reveal just this: look for a yellow handle.
For now Swiza can claim only a miniscule portion of the Swiss pocketknife market, but their army of customers is growing.
Asked if Victorinox has tried to buy Swiza, Hug chuckled. "Not yet."
(Story and photos by Bill Harby, feature photograph copyright by Swiza)