Everyone knows the Swiss Army knife. As a kid, it was imperative to have one. Adults the world over still recognize the usefulness of the tool.
Victorinox began crafting knives in 1884, and it is still owned by the Elsener family today. The name Victorinox is a combination of the founder’s mother’s name, Victoria, and the word inox, which was the universal name for stainless steel.
Today, they turn out an astounding 34,000 knives per day, and you can get your own semi-customizable piece at the flagship store in Geneva.
Perhaps, ironically, the Swiss Army knife (originally patented in 1897 and called the Swiss officer’s and sports knife) was never officially a part of the Swiss Army’s gear. Yet it has become such a staple of design ingenuity that it is displayed at New York’s Museum of Modern Art for its universal functionality.
The knife was also prominently featured on the 1980s TV show MacGyver, a hit known for the main character’s ability to use everyday household items to inventively solve problems.
Not one to rest on merely producing blades, Victorinox has since branched out into travel gear, kitchen cutlery, fragrances, watches and clothing. But it is the knife for which the brand will forever be known.
Inside the gleaming Victorinox Geneva store, there is a knife-assembly station where you can put together (with the help of trained staff, of course) a knife and have it personally engraved. You will need reservations, but the whole process takes less than 30 minutes for you to leave the store with a personalized knife.
You have a choice between different handle colors and can custom engrave both the blade and handle. The customizable knife is the base model – the Spartan – and is the original configuration of the Swiss Army knife. And while you won’t be able to pick the various components of the knife, it does offer 12 different functions and weighs a mere 2.1 ounces. It includes a bottle opener, tweezers, a toothpick, a screwdriver and two blades, all stored into a four-inch package of compacted genius.
The reasonable workshop price (19 Swiss Francs or about $20 US) includes the knife, engraving and assembling. Surprisingly, the knives take a relatively short time to make since all the parts are pre-manufactured.
Where things move a little slower is during the 35-step assembly, which is all done on a small machine roughly the size of a typewriter. The various components are laid onto the base of the knife. Here it’s key that the tension is correct so the blades and other components snap into place inside the housing. It is at once simple and elegant, a form of function and thoughtful design.
While it doesn’t necessarily confer all the benefits of the enviable Swiss lifestyle, having your own Swiss Army knife does connect you to Geneva and to the history of this region’s reliance on human innovation to solve problems.