From a shepherds knife to a cult object
Everything began in 1829 in the little village of Laguiole ( pronounce “Layoll”) in Aveyron in the South Auvergne. A 16year old blacksmith called Pierre-Jean Calmels invented a slim and precious knife which up to our days is very popular - the LAGUIOLE.
Calmels was primarily inspired by the form of the blade of the Catalan “Navaja”which was brought back home by the travelling traders. Secondly the “Capouchadou” inspired him, a small dagger which the farmers and shepherds fastened to their belts.
His invention was epoch-making as it had a flapping or folding mechanism. With the help of a spring construction the blade is locked when being open as well as when being closed. Thus the pocket-knife as known today was born.
The first and original LAGUIOLE was a one-piece, “une pièce”. A knife with only one blade and handle-scales made from the horn of the native wild cattle or from the extremely hard wood of the domestic box-tree. Later Calmels added a thorn to the knife and the “deux-pièces” was born. At that time the carriers needed a thorn to repair the leatherwear or their horses and the cattle and sheepbreeders needed one for pricking the rumen of their animals when suffering from colic. The “trois-pièces”, the knife with three parts including a cork-screw and a thorn was fabricated much later.
A very beautiful detail showing the deep religiousness of the people living in this secluded area, is the typical cross on the handle. The long end shows towards the blade. When being alone during nighttime on the lonesome pastures the shepherds used to stab their knife into the ground thus creating a little altar in front of which they could say their prayers. The circle of small nails around the middle “clou” which is to be found on the handles of some LAGUIOLES is an old Christian sign symbolizing the rosary.
The most popular characteristic of a LAGUIOLE is obviously the bee or the fly on the bolster. Still today it is being discussed what it represents. Some people claim it is a fly as the cows grazing in the Aubrac are constantly surrounded by flies. The others are of the opinion that it is a bee being the old napoleon heraldic animal. However, neither side has any real proofs. It is certainly true that flies ( or bees ) did first get a place on the LAGUIOLE when the knife was already being produced in serial.
On the old handmade LAGUIOLE you will find various motives such as grape-wines, heads of bulls, cloverleaves etc. And also mussels. Laguiole is situated on the route St.Jacob. Pilgrims travelling through Laguiole liked to buy a Laguiole-knife showing the heraldic figure of their destination, the Coquile St.Jaques from Santiago de Compostela.
In the course of the centuries the LAGUIOLE developed from an original shepherds-knife to a favourite collectible and cult-object. Nowadays it is a “must” for every friend of the “savoir-vivre”.