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Blades of beauty come to Bern

Knives can also be works of art

(swissinfo.ch)

The Swiss Army Knife had to take something of a back seat in Switzerland this weekend as collectors focused on some of the best knives in the world.

Hundreds of examples of the finest cutting-edge craftsmanship were on show at the annual Swiss Knife Show in the capital, Bern.

The exhibition is the brainchild of Hans Peter Klötzli, who as the fifth generation in a line of knife makers knows that the humble knife can also be a work of art.

"We have about 25 exhibitors who come from Switzerland, Japan, South Africa, Austria, Germany and France," Klötzli told swissinfo.

He said there was a wide spectrum of knife collectors, ranging from ten-year-old boys and truck drivers to professors, doctors and lawyers.

Mechanics and materials

"They're interested in the mechanics, in the design, in the materials that are used or just in the fashion. They collect everything from $5 (SFr6.35) to $10,000 knives."

But what do you actually do when you've bought a knife for a high price and perhaps waited up to four years for it to be hand made?

Klötzli explained that some people only buy knives that they intend to use – whatever the price. Others buy a $10 knife that goes straight into a display case without being touched.

It might be hard for someone who does not collect knives to understand why some people do.

"A knife is basically the oldest weapon of man," Klötzli explained. "It has a lot of symbolic meaning. It's also an easy tool to use and then there are the variations we have today."

Open or close

"We have thousands of designs, hundreds of different technical features like how to open or close it, locking mechanisms and systems... and it's a little bit cheaper than collecting watches or cars or other technically attractive things," Klötzli said.

While a wide range of knives will be on show, there is also a special attraction this year – an exhibit featuring items that have become popular through the Lord of the Rings films and book.

"These created an enormous interest in swords and there is now an amazing range in quality that ten years ago was not possible for the price."

Apart from swords, there are also helmets and some jewellery, including rings.

Master cutler

As a master cutler, Klötzli has made collectors' knives himself but has had to devote most of his time to running the family business, which consists of a workshop and shop in Burgdorf and a shop in Bern.

As a child, he remembers there were craftsmen of one kind or another all around his home.

"When I went to school I had to go through the workshop to get in and out of the house. I made my first knife probably at the age of seven. It was a piece of polished steel with a leather handle."

"In the area where we lived we had a carpenter, a plumber, a shoemaker, a saddler and three butchers. As kids we were always around these workshops and they showed us around and we were able to work a little bit."

Apart from its own range of knives, the Klötzli business makes high-tech folding knives under licence from designers.

Do a deal

"The advantage is that the top guys are my friends and I usually do a deal that I make a certain down payment on a design and then pay some royalty per knife," he explained.

Not surprisingly with his family background in knives, Klötzli has his own collection of older pieces, including scissors. He looks for perfect craftsmanship – and that can be found even in a knife that costs only SFr50.

Klötzli collected modern knives himself until he realised that if he continued he would end up having his shop in his living room.

One of the favourite pieces in the household is a knife that Klötzli made when he married his wife Beatrice – a bride's knife.

"I wanted to do something like my great-grandfather so I chose a little penknife with some Damascus steel blades and ivory handles. Then I found an engraver who put on our family crest and the two names and the year."

"I think that was a significant moment and a kind of piece of history. I was then at the peak of my knife-making career. Then I had time to spend in my workshop but that [time] has now gone," he said.

swissinfo, Robert Brookes

Key facts

The Swiss Knife Show took place at the Hotel Bern in Bern on Saturday and Sunday.
Knife shows have their roots in the United States, where knife makers offer their hand-made single pieces called custom knives.
The Swiss Knife Show is now in its 23rd edition.
H.P. Klötzli is president of the Swiss Association of Master Cutlers.

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