Cutlery Made in France: ambiguity surrounding the Laguiole knife brand

Cutlery Made in France: ambiguity surrounding the Laguiole knife brand

A never-ending quarrel concerning French-made cutlery

An overview of past events

The story began in 1993 when a certain Gilbert Szajner, from Saint-Maur-des-Fossés (Val-de-Marne – a French department near Paris), decided to copyright the famous Laguiole brand. Laguiole has been a world-renowned brand since the 19th century and is synonymous with high-end French-made cutlery.

His idea was to gain the rights to use the name “Laguiole,” in turn attaining its prestige in order to use it for marketing not only knives but also linens, clothing, lighters and even barbeques!

This would give Szajner the right to gain royalties through selling licences to French and foreign companies that wish to market their products under the Laguiole label.

Szajner vs. Laguiole knives

Despite being accused of counterfeit in 1999, Szajner did not abandon his project and continued full-force in the copyright battle. In 2010 he began filing several appeals. The case was resolved in his favor in April 2014 when the magistrates at the Court of Appeal of Paris decided that the term “Laguiole knives,” the majority of which are created in Thiers located in the Auvergne region, has become a generic term that distinguishes a pocketknife with a specific shape.

Meanwhile, the knife manufacturers from the city of Laguiole decided to take action. They were backed by worried individuals that were unhappy about the situation, including local public authorities and the EUIPO (European Union Intellectual Property Office).

These individuals, supported by the association Forge de Laguiole, claimed their natural right to use the Laguiole label based on a former court decision, which had been ruled in their favor. However, a few months later, this decision was overruled when Szajner was granted the copyright in April 2014.

2016: The latest development

The recent decision made by the Court of Cassation must have warmed the hearts of Laguiole’s activists, who have been demanding the right to use their town’s name.

The Court of Cassation is France’s court of last resort, which has jurisdiction over all matters, has recently made changes to the decision that the court made in April 2014.

The Court of Cassation’s recent decision (partially in favor of French-made cutlery) broke Szajner’s copyright as his “marketing strategies were [judged] as deceptive” in nature. However, the court’s ruling did not remove Szajner’s right to use the Laguiole label.

What are the final consequences of these rulings? Szajner’s future marketing activities will be closely monitored even though he is free to use the Laguiole label to market his imported knives. In fact, for the past several years, countless artisans and cutlers have been using the name Laguiole to market their goods by adding different names, often their own last name or their collection’s name, to the Laguiole label!

Knives from Thiers, knives from Laguiole: are the knife manufacturers from Aveyron isolating themselves?

The disagreement between Gilbert Szajner and Forge de Laguiole reminds us of the debate between Laguiole and Thiers, located in Auvergne the capital of French-made cutlery, concerning whether or not the famous Laguiole knives should have an IGP (Protected Geographical Indication).

This debate’s main question is the following: Should the manufacturers and those in charge of the Laguiole label be afraid of the fact that other brands or companies wish to use their town’s name?

Who owns the Laguiole knife?

Presently those manufacturing Laguiole knives in the Aveyron region have an IGP Laguiole that excludes Thiers and the Auvergne region. However, nothing stops professional knife manufacturers from Thiers and Auvergne from creating Laguiole knives! According to the latest statistics, more that 60% of Laguiole knives are created in Thiers.

This city located in the Auvergne region has approximately 80 knife manufacturing companies, produces 70% of France’s knives and in the beginning of the 19th century approximately 25,000 artisans worked along the Durolle River as cutlers, making Thiers the capital of French cutlery. Over the past few centuries Thiers has been recognized around the world for its excellent craftsmanship and high-quality production.

Thiers can even be proud of the part it has played in creating the Laguiole knife’s success. The Laguiole may have been created in 1830 by Pierre-Jean Calmels in the Aveyron region but Thiers and its talented artisans, modern manufacturing techniques and industrial power allowed the Laguiole knife to be manufactured in great quantities during the mid-19th century.

In fact, the city of Laguiole stopped large-scale production of its eponymous knife for a long period and only re-launched its production in the mid-1980s.

Made in France cutlery: strength in numbers

Nevertheless, Laguiole remains a major bastion of French-made cutlery whose notoriety has been well established. These knives embellished with a bee engraving and a thin blade are known around the world yet counterfeits continue to proliferate the market, even though from a legal standpoint, neither real nor false Laguioles exist because this renowned brand belongs to the public domain!

The future of French-made cutlery

French cutlers are presently facing an enormous challenge. They need to join forces in order to offer their clients true high-end French-made knives, including Laguiole knives and other knives of irreproachable quality.

Those individuals that are passionate about artistic cutlery and cooking can tell the difference between a quality knife and a low-end knife. The appeal against Szajner’s marked-down imported knives will most likely become superfluous.

Presently the French cutlery industry is struggling in a battle with rivalling companies (notably Asian). It seems that this debate should center itself around producing quality cutlery rather than concentrating on a quarrel between French villages. The cutlers from Thiers and Laguiole share the same passion. They use their talents to preserve a tradition and to create new objects, for example the Thiers pocketknife, which was created approximately fifteen years ago. Today it seems essential to unite all of France’s artisans and cutlery companies in order to preserve the country’s traditional craft (which is envied by many but never equalled) and its image as a producer of high-end cutlery. We would like to conclude this article with a few words: vive the Laguiole knife, the city of Laguiole, Thiers and French-made cutlery!