Swiss knives that do not cut

Adaptability is an essential requirement for the survival of companies.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
11 May 2024 Saturday 22:33
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Swiss knives that do not cut

Adaptability is an essential requirement for the survival of companies. Prestige and tradition are not enough, not even for century-old brands. This is demonstrated by the case of Victorinox, the manufacturer of the legendary folding knives of the Swiss army, which have been on the market since 1884. They will soon launch a model that does not include the knife, to avoid the increasingly strict laws on edged weapons.

The surprising announcement of the multipurpose knife that does not cut or puncture was made by the president of Victorinox himself, Carl Elsener, from the founding family, to the German-language Swiss newspaper Blick. The news spread immediately, as it is an instrument known throughout the world for generations. “In certain markets, the knife is associated with the image of a weapon,” justified the head of the company based in the small town of Ibach (canton of Schwyz), 60 kilometers south of Zurich.

The proliferation of jihadist attacks – often with knives when they involve lone wolves – and fights between youth gangs have meant that in some countries, such as the United Kingdom and certain Asian nations, including Japan, it has been prohibited to carry knives unless These are professionals who need them for work or people who use them in activities in nature.

The new version of the emblematic Victorinox knife is designed for groups such as cyclists and will incorporate specific tools that may interest them, in addition to classic pieces such as corkscrews or small scissors.

The 9/11 attacks in 2001 in the United States already changed the security paradigm, and that impacted Victorinox's knife business. The turnover of these knives immediately fell by more than 30%. “9/11 painfully showed us that we should not depend on a single sector of activity,” Elsener explained.

The Swiss company, in fact, no longer only sells pocket knives but also kitchen and professional knives, watches, suitcases and perfumes. In all of them, maximum care continues to be taken with the quality of materials and precision in manufacturing, very Swiss obsessions.

The knives are still Victorinox's most iconic product. 80% is exported. The company is fighting against the handicap of the strong Swiss franc, which forces it to reduce costs through automation and rationalization. All in all, knives have seen their price increase by 9% this year. Victorinox professional knives are 25% more expensive than the competition.

The company owes its name to Victoria, the mother of the founder, Karl Elsener, who greatly supported him in his initiative. It was not until 1921 when the current brand emerged, as a fusion of Victoria and inox (stainless steel), a material whose invention represented an extraordinary advance in the cutlery sector.

Another technological innovation helped Victorinox consolidate the quality of its products. In 1931, Carl Elsener II implemented automation. The engineering company Brown Boveri built for them the world's first facility for fully electric hardening of steel, decisive for guaranteeing quality.

Victorinox's link with the Swiss army dates back to 1891, the year Karl Elsener created the Swiss Association of Master Knifemakers and the first delivery of knives to the Swiss military. But global fame would come after the Second World War. In 1945, the US Army placed a large order for knives, which became a popular souvenir for soldiers stationed in Europe when they returned home.

In 1978, Victorinox became a supplier to NASA, whose astronauts were able to appreciate the usefulness of knives. A year earlier, the Swiss Army Knife had already had the honor of being included in the permanent design collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Only a knife with such a glorious past could dare to make a version without a sharp blade, perhaps the greatest audacity in its 140-year history.