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Victorinox wins contract for new army knife

The new knife is olive green and has a range of new features

(Victorinox)

The Swiss army has chosen to continue buying soldiers' knives from the company that's been supplying them for more than a century – Victorinox.

The firm, which is Europe's largest cutlery maker and is based in Ibach in the central canton of Schwyz, on Monday signed a contract with the army's procurement unit, armasuisse, for 75,000 knives valued at SFr1.38 million ($1.22 million).

The decision quashes fears that spread at home and abroad that a company outside Switzerland, including from China where many fakes are made, would be chosen to supply the knives for the army.

A former member of the Swiss Senate last year even launched a petition called "Soldiers' pocket knives only Swiss made".

Under rules of the Geneva-based World Trade Organization, contracts worth more than SFr250,000 have to be offered – with some exceptions - for tender internationally.

Not surprisingly, there was relief and satisfaction at the Swiss company. The head of marketing at Victorinox, Urs Wyss, admitted the company hadn't been 100 per cent sure of securing the deal.

"We had of course a lot of confidence. We in Ibach are very glad that we again get this order for the new soldier knives because it's a question of image when you can deliver to the Swiss army," he told swissinfo.

Old age

The current Swiss soldier's knife, introduced in 1961, had been showing signs of old age.

"We noticed for example that modern weapon systems need a Phillips screwdriver and the old one didn't have such a tool," the head of communications at armasuisse, Kaj-Gunnar Sievert, told swissinfo.

"We asked seven companies from Switzerland and abroad to offer us a knife and in the end we had four different types of knives that were tested." Tests took place in the laboratory and in the field in July.

"Just to give you an idea, we made crash tests with these knives. We used them till they broke. We gave them to specials units in the armed forces and they used them during regular military training and exercises.

"In the end you have a mix between three different criteria – the technical, military and commercial aspects, and then we chose the model with the best price/performance ratio."

No beauty contest

Asked whether any knives of the competition came close to the performance of those from Victorinox, Sievert put it this way: "We didn't hold a beauty contest so in the end you have a winner and the others were not as good as the winning knife," he said.

Some might argue that the Swiss knife was always going to win, a claim that Sievert also put in its place.

"We are the procurement agency and we have a process in which we test and evaluate all the materials. We were looking for the best for our soldiers."

The knife, which will be handed out for the first time during next year's recruit school, is rather different from the current model, which features silver anodised handles.

"It's a new generation of knife... you can for example open the big blade with one hand because it has a one-hand opening system. It's a lockable blade. You can also lock the screwdriver," Wyss explained.

"The handle is also different because there are two different plastics which are injected together – a hard one and a softer one, which means that when you put it on a table, it doesn't slide away. And the shape is more ergonomic than the model of 1961. You see quite a big difference."

The big question army knife enthusiasts and collectors will have is whether they too will be able to buy such a new knife.

"The contract is being specified right now but we think it will also be available in the retail business for the public," Wyss said.

swissinfo, Robert Brookes

Victorinox

Founded in 1884, Victorinox is Europe's largest cutlery manufacturer.

The present name of the company (1921) is derived from Victoria, the name of the mother of the founder, and Inox (stainless steel).

Since 1998, the company has also had its own watch company at Bonfol in the Swiss Jura region.

In 2002, Victorinox bought its US representative, Swiss Army Brands Inc.

The company is now run by Carl Elsener III (grandson of the founder) and his son, Carl Elsener IV.

Wenger of Delémont, now owned by Victorinox, is the only other company officially permitted to make the Swiss Army knife.

end of infobox

Army knife

It has saved lives, it is a present of presidents, it is standard equipment for Space Shuttle crews and it continues to sell by the million.

Its image is so polished that it is frequently used in advertising for products that have absolutely nothing to do with a pocket tool.

The new knife for the Swiss army comes at a price of SFr18.40 each, complete with pouch. Don't expect that to be a guide to a retail price... unless you are thinking of buying 75,000 of them.

Victorinox also makes knives for the armies of Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Malaysia and India, as well as for special army units in various other countries.

end of infobox


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