Since it's inception in 1890, Opinel has remained a family run workshop. Based in Chambery France, the company currently employs 95 people, all of whom oversee the quality and precision of a quintessentially French product.
Victor-Amédée Opinel who was a peddler, learnt how to forge nails during his travels. He set up his first blacksmith workshop in Gevoudaz, a hamlet part of Albiez-le-Vieux, near Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. His son Daniel later worked alongside his father and took over the workshop when he died. He then became a renowned “edgetool maker”* among farmers who came from afar to buy his billhooks or sickles.
Joseph Opinel is Daniel Opinel’s eldest son. In 1890, Joseph Opinel turned 18 and worked in the family edgetool making workshop. Led by his passion for machinery and manufacturing processes. Against his father’s wishes, who preferred hand-made tools and traditional craftsmanship and who was weary of machines, he spent his free time refining the shape and manufactured a small pocket knife: the Opinel was born!
Joseph Opinel had the idea of making his knife into different sizes which would be suitable to different hand sizes or used for various tasks. In 1897, he developed 12 different sizes numbered from 1 to 12. The smallest knife, named No. 1, included a ring so that it could be attached to the chain of a pocket watch. Its manufacture as well as No. 11’s was stopped in 1935. Nowadays, the smallest Opinel, No. 2, has a 3.5-cm blade and the largest knife, No. 12, a 12-cm blade.
In 1565, King Charles IX of France ordered each master cutler to add his emblem to his products to guarantee their origin and quality. To follow this tradition, Joseph chose the Crowned Hand emblem in 1909. Joseph Opinel added the crown as a reminder that the Savoie was a duchy. Since, every single Opinel blade and tool is stamped with the Crowned Hand.
Wood chips produced during the shaping of the wooden handles have always been used to heat the workshops. In January 1926, a wood-burning stove which had been badly put out started a fire which destroyed the entire building. The Opinel family dealt with this disaster and decided to build new modern premises better suited for their production.
Within a few months, a modern factory was built and inaugurated in 1927, on the same day as Maurice, Marcel's first son, was baptised. Today, this factory is closed. In 2013, the “shell ring” workshop, the last still in activity, was moved to the Chambery site.
In 1955, Marcel Opinel, wanting to improve the safety of the knife, invented the Virobloc® system. He added a rotating lock which slides on the shell ring, closing the groove and therefore locking the blade in its open position. This is a simple idea but with a complex implementation.
In the 90s, the Virobloc® system was modified to allow the blade to be locked in its closed position. At first, it was only used on a few references, but by the year 2000, it was added to every Opinel knife.
The Opinel is a popular object used on a daily basis. Its aesthetics and functionality have convinced several generations of users. Unchanged for over a century, its design is one of the most successful of all times. For this reason, Opinel is recognised by the “Victoria and Albert Museum” as being among the 100 best designs. This list includes the Porsche 911 and the Rolex watch.