An Opinel is bought somewhere in the world every ten seconds.
Joseph Opinel began making knives in 1890 in Savoie, France as a simple working man’s or peasant’s knife. It proved popular with the local farmers, herdsmen, and paysans-vignerons (peasant winemakers) of the area. In 1897, a series of twelve sizes, numbered 1 to 12, was developed. From 1901–1903, Joseph Opinel built his first factory in Pont de Gévoudaz and produced a machine for mass production of the knife’s wooden handles.
The company hired peddlers to sell the knives and opened a small shop near the Chambéry railway junction, where the knives became popular with PLM railroad workers, who in turn spread word of the brand throughout France. By 1909, Opinel had registered his first trademark for the Opinel knife, choosing the main couronnée (‘crowned hand’) as his emblem. A few years later Opinel annual sales were in the hundreds of thousands, and by the start of World War II as many as 20 million knives had been sold.
The Opinel Virobloc or safety twistlock mechanism was invented by Marcel Opinel in 1955, increasing the safety and versatility of the knife by allowing the blade to be locked in the open position. In 2000, the Virobloc locking mechanism was improved to allow locking the blade in either the open or closed position.
In 1985 the Victoria and Albert Museum in London selected the Opinel as part of an exhibit celebrating the “100 most beautiful products in the world”, featuring the Opinel alongside the Porsche 911 sports car and the Rolex watch. The Opinel was also selected as one of the 999 classic designs in Phaidon Design Classics, and has been exhibited by the New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) as a design masterpiece.
This simple, everyday object is complicated to manufacture. Over twenty operations are needed and every stage is inspected meticulously.
To avoid negative environmental effects from distant supplies (transport-related pollution, forest clearance, etc.), 95% of wooden handles come from French forestry holdings.