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Giant Swiss Army knife sharpens Wenger brand

Collectors think it's a snip at SFr1,100-1,200 (Wenger)

A knife with just about everything you can wish for in a set of tools is currently giving the Wenger company of Delémont in western Switzerland a welcome boost.

And while "normal" users of the Swiss Army knife might scoff and say it is just too big, unwieldy and unusable, collectors are snapping it up.

The Giant Swiss Army Knife weighs in at 1.3 kg and contains all 85 tools that are in Wenger's catalogue for 2007.

"We wanted to show what a Swiss Army knife could look like with all the tools in one product... to show this handy toolbox in its most extreme form," Wenger's chief executive Peter Hug told swissinfo.

"Everything has to be functional, it has to have the quality of Wenger but here we overdo it," he added.

The idea to make such a giant knife came when the company was preparing for the major annual watch and jewellery fair in Basel.

Surprise piece

"As Wenger also sells watches we were looking for a surprise piece that people could immediately recognise the name as a brand of the maker of the genuine Swiss Army knife."

A former head of production mentioned that there had once been an idea to put more of the tools together and finally it was decided to try to put them all in one product.

After ten weeks of development, the company had come up with a first prototype and the giant began to take shape.

"Of course it's more of a showpiece than a serious Swiss Army knife. I used to say this was our trick to sell more backpacks and you need a backpack to carry this around," Hug said.

Inside the Wenger plant, Michel Champion is a busy man because until now he alone has been responsible for putting the knife together.

The knife has to be assembled by hand because there is no machine that can do it. And Champion knows exactly where each tool should go.

In the beginning he could make two pieces a day but by gaining experience the figure has now gone to up to about ten.

Awesome tool

The price in Switzerland of this awesome tool is between SFr1,100 ($910.56) and SFr1,200.

"Given the price that we're selling this at, we are collecting orders from our distributors and once we have an amount that is high enough, we launch production of maybe 20 or 30 pieces," Hug said.

Despite its price tag and size, the knife is enjoying a positive echo in the marketplace.

"It's selling very well, far beyond what we expected quantity-wise. What's even more important is the press attention we get is incredible. We could sell a couple of hundred a year, which is far more than we expected."

The Wenger company was taken over by its "big brother" Victorinox in April last year in a move that kept the company in Swiss hands and secured its future.

Hug said cash problems were solved by the takeover, which proved a "great relief" to management and staff.

Concentrate on brand

"Now we can concentrate on our brand, our products and our clients because we do not have to fight to survive, to organise the cash."

Wenger is focusing much more on what Hug calls high-mechanical solutions.

"We are the 'high-mech' knife brand. One example is the Swiss Army Knife with the nail clipper."

"Victorinox is more taking the high-tech approach. They built in the USB stick and the MP3 player. We are not going in this direction. It's not our key competence. We really focus on where our strength is," he commented.

Hug is proud at what Wenger has achieved since it came under the wing of Victorinox, which is based at Ibach in central Switzerland.

"Just look at the results. This year for the first time since 2001, since the September 11 attacks, Wenger will sell more Swiss Army knives than the year before, so this is clearly a turnaround situation."

swissinfo, Robert Brookes in Delémont

Key facts

Founded in 1893, Wenger makes up to 20,000 pocket knives a day. It also has daily production of up to 4,000 Swibo butchers' knives and 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.

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Giant Collector's Knife

The knife - or should that be toolbox – contains 85 tools that are currently produced by Wenger. These can be used in more than 100 functions and it is the world's largest Swiss Army knife.

Apart from the usual tools you can find in a Swiss Army knife, the giant version hosts a golf club face cleaner, cigar cutter, laser pointer, and tire tread gauge.

There is also a compass in case you need to find your way around it.

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