Thiers has been the historic and economic capital of the French cutlery and knife-making industry for nearly 800 years. By the year 1220, the town was already known for its forty-odd knife-making workshops, which suggests that the beginnings of the cutlery industry date back to the early 13th century.
Over the course of its history, the Thiers cutlery and knife-making industry has lived through some very important dates and periods, especially concerning its guilds: “Corporate charters that regulated the trade through the drafting of some thirty articles that defined the region, identified cutlers (brand chart), and set out the rules for professional ethics and manufacturing quality.”
The first Guild was established in 1582 by a patent letter signed by King Henry III.
The second Guild dates from 1614, established by the patent letter signed by King Louis XIII.
The third Guild came into effect in 1743 under Louis XV, widening the geographical production area to include a dozen outlying towns in the Thiers mountains. This is how Thiers developed into a cutlery and knife-making manufacturing basin.
In the 19th century, the design, development and sale of Thiers knives and cutlery really took off. The optimization of manufacturing costs, by having certain companies specialise in various operations and grades of production (forging, cutting of metals, quenching, grinding, polishing, shaping of handles, etc.) enabled the development of a veritable cutlery production chain, where all the various worked subcomponents of the knife finished their journey in a manufacturing workshop that assembled the various knife components, fine-tuned its design, and then sold it.
This manufacturing process, developed in Thiers, is what makes the difference between a cutlery manufacturing town, that has just one or a few companies manufacturing knives, and a cutlery manufacturing basin, overlain by this network of companies, manufacturers and subcontractors.
The 19th century also saw the rise of cutlers forming partnerships with merchants, a kind of sales company, similar to present-day wholesalers. These merchants created a competitive environment between cutlers in order to get the best prices, significantly boosted the marketing of a major part of the cutlery and knife-making production in Thiers and, through their efficient, highly organized networks, distributed Thiers cutlery and knives widely throughout France, and then worldwide.
In the first half of the 20th century, the Thiers cutlery and knife-making industry employed over 16,000 people, through 300 to 400 companies that manufactured closing knives, hunting knives, table or household knives, cutting knives for professionals (food trades, farmers, electricians, veterinarians, winemakers), knives for advertising, and articles used in original ways (pie shovels, vegetable peelers), scissors, poultry cutters, pruning shears, specific blades for household appliances, and so on. To this were added many companies that supplied the cutlery industry, or ensured the maintenance or modernization of industry production methods.
Henceforth referred to as the Thiers cutlery and knife-making sector, the basin now included companies that dealt :
- Manufacture of machine tools, specific to the cutlery and knife-making industry,
- Maintenance or mechanization and automation of the production tool,
- Manufacture of small hardware and equipment, together with articles used in the various knife-making operations: polishers, polishing pastes, rivets, screws, etc.
- Manufacturers of packaging specifically designed for the cutlery and knife-making sector: cartons, boxes for knives, pouches and cases, displays, thermoformed packaging, etc.,
- Consignments of raw materials: steel, wood, horn, plastics, etc, together with many other supplies.
After 1945, some companies in the Thiers cutlery and knife-making sector underwent a major technological transformation, combining their skills and expertise with their machine-tools equipment to foster new activities :
- Forging, metal cutting or plastics injection for automobile parts, armament, aeronautics, maritime fittings, industrial parts, plastic shoes, small office equipment, equipment components for the electricity, electronics or farming sectors.
- Mechanical engineering, maintenance and machining for the production of machinery for the agri-foods industry, the production of consumer products, the mechanical reworking of industrial parts.
As with most of western Europe, at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century, cutlery and knife-making manufacture and allied industries were affected by globalised marketing trends and had their share of business closures and lay-offs. The knife-making factories, a labour-intensive industry if ever there was one, were not spared. Today, the Thiers basin counts some 80 production units and around 30 subcontractors. Following the major industrial crisis, Thiers cutlery and knife manufacturers have made significant progress in perpetuating the very essence that embodies their sentimental, cultural and economic roots : THE KNIFE.
To secure its development and promotion, Thiers and the cutlery and knife-making trade created :
- A cutlery museum,
- A “Coutellia” festival, France’s, and even the world’s, leading trade fair dedicated exclusively to the knife,
- A vocational cutler training certificate, leading to a diploma,
- A collective knife, the “Le Thiers®” regulated by a Guild, and inspired by history. There is no other global example of such an initiative.
- A collective trademark: “Esprit de Thiers”,
- And, today, the “Rencontres Mondiales des Capitales de la Coutellerie”