Dominique Chambriard - Defending a regional craft by uniting the artisans

Thiers, capital of French cutlery

 

Perched on the foothills of the Massif Central, the old streets of Thiers offer a magnificent view over the green expanses of Auvergne, dotted with mountains and extinct volcanoes. Established on an old Gallic village, the old town of Thiers keeps many traces of its medieval past.

 

Even though this region of France is sparsely populated, Thiers benefits from tourism and a flourishing cutlery market, as evidenced by the countless cutlery shops spread over its main street.

 

Some early XXth century mansions testify to a golden age of cutlery which once made the prosperity of this small town.

The “vallée des usines” is home to the old knife factories of Thiers, constructed on the banks of the Durolle river. Today, the industry has mostly left this valley to settle in other parts of the city, and its empty factories have now converted into tourism: one of them is the Creux de l’Enfer factory, which now houses a museum of contemporary art.

 

Nowadays, Thiers is seen as the capital of French cutlery: 80% of French are made there, and the city hosts next to a hundred companies in this field. Furthermore, this know-how is also used in other industries, such as machinery-parts constructions or surgical prostheses.

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Cutlery, a know-how that lives on

Just next to the town square, Dominique Chambriard works in his cutlery, where he sells, sharpens and restores knives of all kinds, sometimes tinkering on centenarian artifacts. Apart from the modern workshop next to his store, Dominique also owns a traditional forge at home, in which he does his most delicate work, including damascus steels. Like many cutlers of Thiers, his family works in this trade for several generations.

 

The protection of Thiers’ cutlery tradition is in part due to the CFAI, a cutlery school which trains new generations in the know-how. Dominique’s nephew is one of these young cutlers, and he now works in the family store as his uncle’s apprentice.

 

Dominique Chambriard is also a member of the “LE THIERS®” cutler Brotherhood, which protects a knife shape that is typical of the region. Thanks to it, Dominique is able to make a living out of selling handmade knives, apart from industrial knives.

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“LE THIERS®” cutler Brotherhood, a transformation for local artisans

In 1993, a small team of cutlers from Thiers created a brotherhood to protect their regional know-how. Indeed, they reacted to what happened to the Laguiole knife, a form of regional knife that became impossible to sell once its shape was sold by industrial counterfeiters.

 

In 1994, they registered the knife brand « LE THIERS® », a form of knife that cannot be marketed without the permission of the brotherhood. In the words of Dominique Chambriard, one of the 55 manufacturers currently creating this knife: "We manage LE THIERS® ‘s brand like it was a form of wine or cheese: it must be made by members of the Brotherhood, and only in Thiers: nowhere else”.

 

Since the foundation of the brotherhood, the Thiers cutler craftsmen have been able to perpetuate their traditional know-how while being able to live off from it and promote it. Not only do they participate in demonstrations in the Cutlery Museum but they also exhibit their work in the Coutellia International Cutlery Festival, based in the city. Every year, a young cutler creates a new knife design based on "LE THIERS®" to decorate the poster for the event.

 

Even though Thiers’ cutlers are firmly settled in their town, this does not make them less cosmopolitan, as this festival is an opportunity to meet cutlers from around the world. Thanks to these new actions by the craftsmen of Thiers, cutlery has become the pride of this small town in the french countryside.

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