The Wenger company of Delémont has dared to change the shape of one of Switzerland’s national symbols – the Swiss Army knife.
One of only two official manufacturers of the Swiss Army knife, Wenger is breaking new ground in altering a design that hasn’t changed much in more than 100 years.
The company has brought out a new ergonomic knife called “Evolution”, which is designed to be much easier to hold and work with.
“I think every user will feel the difference immediately,” Thomas Schlapbach, the company’s international export sales manager, told swissinfo.
“When you touch it and have it in your hands, it’s much more comfortable to use than the standard model.”
The new range took just nine months from conception to realisation and involved industrial designer Paolo Fancelli.
Wenger is telling people to “pick it up and hold it, then you’ll understand”.
It says the lines of the new knife are rounded, its surfaces subtly curved “as if they had slowly evolved, formed by nothing more than the contact with your fingers looking for the best grip for cutting, carving, uncorking, screwing – or just for the comfortable feel of holding it in your pocket”.
Not everyone has been convinced. Norbert Wild, who is ad interim head of the collection at Zurich’s design school, showed scepticism at seeing photographs of the new knife.
“It’s a suspect design and the old model was already very functional. I suspect that it’s a simple cosmetic change,” he commented.
Wenger responded by sending Wild one of the knives to try out.
“We are absolutely sure that he will be convinced that it’s a good thing,” said Schlapbach.
And he is confident that owners of the old-style knife will be interested in the new version.
“I am quite sure they will be impressed because if you compare a standard knife to a new one, the new one looks so much nicer and so much smoother in the lines that they will fall in love with it immediately,” he said.
Launched in Switzerland in time for Christmas, there are six models available, four in one size and two in another.
It’s too early for customer reaction as the knife has only been available since mid-November, but expectations are high.
“We hope the potential is huge, obviously. The market will tell us…we presented this knife four weeks ago to our international distributors and the reaction was extremely positive,” Schlapbach told swissinfo.
However, he does not believe that the new model will make the present one obsolete.
“In the standard knives, we have more than 100 different models in our collection. We now have six new models, so maybe one day it will be a 50-50 situation,” he said.
Schlapbach was guarded about what Swiss Army knife fans can expect in the future, but commented that “our objective is really to bring new products, new knives that really make sense”.
“In the past, very often we added to a standard knife some new implements, like for footballers, skateboarders or snowboarders and that affected only a very small customer base. [Now] our aim is to bring new styles that are attractive to everybody,” he added.
swissinfo, Robert Brookes in Delémont
Founded in 1893, Wenger makes more than 22,000 Swiss Army knives a day. It also has a daily production of over 5,000 Swibo butchers’ knives and over 1,000 top-end professional knives under the Grand-Maître label.
The company is named after Theo Wenger who bought the company in 1907.
Wenger introduced its range of watches in 1988.
The other official manufacturer of Swiss Army knives is Victorinox, which is based at Ibach in canton Schwyz.
Up to now, it was the tooling machines that dictated the shape of the Swiss Army knife.
Its appearance had less to do with performance, ease of use and grip than with the industrial and technical constraints of production.
Wenger claims that the new Swiss Army knife is “as simple as your hand”.
In compliance with the JTI standards