Innovation by brilliant minds has been the catalyst for many of the inventions we use today. There are few companies that have stood the test of time for more than 130 years, but Opinel, the famous French knife producer, is one that can proudly boast about this long-standing achievement. At Ronin, we love learning about different businesses that have succeeded, so read on to find out why we admire Opinel.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Opinel was established by Joseph Opinel in 1890 in a small town in France. His father had instilled a passion for machinery and emerging technology in him from a young age, as Joseph’s father, Daniel Opinel was a blacksmith just as his father before him. So it was well and truly in Joseph Opinel’s blood to create and innovate with his hands.
Tradition was strong in the Opinel family as this clearly shows, but it was the innovative thinking and a future-orientated mindset from Joseph Opinel that brought the creation of the Opinel knife to life. Going against his father’s wishes, Joseph Opinel wanted to invent an item that needed to be made using machine technology rather than being handmade. Daniel Opinel thought this forward-thinking would surely not work out, as traditionally handmade items were crafted to such high quality. However, Joseph’s determination and perseverance saw the birth of the wooden Opinel knife, an item that is still renowned 130 years later. Every business needs to have a mindset that focuses on growth and the future, and we can’t think of a better example than that of the creation of the Opinel.
BIG PLANS FOR A SMALL KNIFE
Joseph Opinel decided to craft his new invention into twelve different sizes in order to appeal to people who needed a knife for different purposes and to cover different hand sizes. This kind of product planning is admirable because the production process of the different sizes is the same, but it is maximising the number of people the product will appeal to.
Opinel had the business sense to employ a hard-working team and streamline his industrial process by developing machines that could manufacture the knife handles at a greater speed. His factory was even the first in his area to have electricity. After the successful creation of the fixed blade knife, Opinel started producing the knife so that the blade was retractable, making it easy and safer to transport around.
Throughout the years, Opinel carefully innovated in ways that didn’t betray the original vision of the company or the product. In 1955, the Virobloc system was invented and added to the knife. This system meant that the blade could now be locked into place in both the open and closed position, dramatically improving the safety of the product. Since 2000, the Virobloc System was given an added feature making transporting the knife even safer when in the closed position. Since this design upgrade, the Virobloc System has been included on every single Opinel knife produced.
For the first 122 years of Opinel, the wooden handle design had not changed. However, in 2012, the first Opinel with a polymer handle was introduced. This change in materials was introduced so that the knife could be better used in harsh conditions, especially outdoors in extreme temperatures or in wet conditions. Yet the basic profile of the handle still remains.
RECOGNITION OF EXCELLENCE
It’s always a testament to a brand and product if its name becomes the verb or replaces the noun. There are many examples of this today such as Sharpie or Post-it Notes, and Opinel is no exception. The word Opinel was famously added to the Larousse dictionary and the Opinel design has won multiple awards throughout its time. In 1985 Opinel was given the recognition as one of the most successful designs of all time by the Victoria and Albert Museum. This was a huge honour as the Opinel was selected alongside prestigious designs like Rolex and Porsche’s 911. Again in 2006, Opinel was recognised as one of the 999 best designs in the world by the Phaidon Design Classics collection.
LEAVING A LEGACY
Joesph Opinel sadly passed away in 1960 but left a great legacy behind, with Opinel being run and managed by his sons. It has stayed as a family business even to this day, which for any family is an amazing achievement. We admire the tenacity and endurance of the Opinel family to continually grow and succeed throughout the last 130 years.