Everyone remembers their very first Swiss Army knife.
But did you know that knives for the Swiss Army used to be produced in Germany until the late 19th century? That is, after the original Roman multi-tool from 200 AD had been improved...
Back then, inventor Karl Elsener coined the original Swiss Army knife by bringing the production to Switzerland.
In the beginnings, the Swiss Army knife was still very heavy – quite the opposite of today's handy pocket knives. But thanks to Elsener's wit, a much lighter pocket knife with a clever fold-out mechanism was subsequently patented in 1897. This mechanism is still in use today.
The name Victorinox was inspired by Elsener's mother Victoria and the French term for stainless steel, les inox.
Assembling a Victorinox Swiss Army Knife
We stumbled across an interactive Victorinox booth at the 2014 European Athletics Championships. For a small fee, Mamiko was able to get up close and personal with the intricate and complicated nature of the Swiss Army knives: She was able to assemble our very own Newly Swissed knife!
At the Victorinox museum in the Swiss Knife Valley, the plastic case can be engraved with one's name. But here, we were able to have the blade engraved instead:
It is a little known fact that not all parts of a Victorinox Swiss Army knife are 100 percent made in Switzerland. The small corkscrew is actually made in Japan and shipped to Ibach, Switzerland, for assembly.
The process of assembling a single Victorinox pocket knife involves some 35 individual steps, from attaching the blade and inserting tiny screws to finally clicking on the cover.
We learned that the blade alone is made of stainless steel, with additions of chromium, carbon, manganese, silicon and molybdenum. The fact that Victorinox knives contain that many high-tech materials proves how the technology has evolved over the decades. We were also surprised to find out that Victorinox will repair any knife should they ever have a defect.
When Mamiko's "Spartan" knife appeared done, one more step remained: Quality control. It was during this check that the head of assembly tested the "clicking" of the blade when it is folded out. Anyone who has ever used a Victorinox knife knows what it should feel like...
And that's it! Mamiko has assembled our very own Swiss Army knife!
The Victorinox Flagship Store in Zürich, Switzerland
For any engineers or puzzle solvers out there, the new Victorinox flagship store in Zürich has a free interactive "make-your-own-knife" station: Each knife component has been enlarged and replicated out of wood. And a step-by-step guide allows for anyone to assemble a Swiss Army knife.
It took me quite some time to assemble all the pieces in the right manner...
Inside the store at Zürich's Bahnhofstrasse, there is a giant work of art hanging from the ceiling. It is made up of - you guessed it - Swiss Army knives!
The Victorinox Store in SoHo, New York City
Victorinox has expanded quite rapidly during the past decade. Among their five stores Stateside, their SoHo flagship store is nested into a historic brick building which used to be a firehouse. We had a chance to visit the store this spring as part of Zürich meets New York.
The entrance at 99 Wooster Street blends right in. The facade has retained a historic feel, but the red door hints at the former fire station. We spotted the iconic Victorinox logo inside the store from across the street.
The brand is paying homage to FDNY's Engine Company 13 Manhattan, the fire company which used to be stationed there. We were instantly drawn to the old artifacts which are displayed in the front of the store. Included is the original record keeping book with diary entries from the period of October to December of 1912.
There is a showcase containing the elegant Micarta steak knife our favorite Gault Millau chef Daniel Humm has designed. Being Swiss, Humm's first knife was a Victorinox. In this video, he is quoted as saying that for a chef, "a knife is a companion and is there to enhance the food."
According to Ilissa Goldenberg of Victorinox Swiss Army North America, the most popular knives at the Wooster Street store are the 125th Anniversary Heritage Pocket Knife and the Swiss Champ Pocket Knife.
130 years since the founding of Karl Elsener's company in 1884, Victorinox produces six million pocket knives in some 100 variations. Today's CEO, Carl Elsener Jr., is a grandson of the company's founder. Victorinox is still run as an independent family company.
I believe that Victorinox knives embody those typical values that are often referred to as typically Swiss: Precision, quality and reliability.
At least I have never heard of anyone complain about their Swiss Army knife being kaputt - have you?
- Victorinox Factory Tour and Museum in Ibach
- Beautiful, interactive page for 130 Years of Victorinox
- An Unabridged History of the Swiss Army Knife (Newly Swissed)
- 5 Unique Swiss Army Knives (Newly Swissed)