The closing knife really appeared in the everyday life only in the XVII th century. It is also at the end of XVII th century that an essential part of the knife, the spring, which causes to firmly maintain the blade in open or closed position, was invented. Consequently, complex mechanisms of operation appeared in order to satisfy an aristocracy increasingly more inclined to have fun. The knives with secrecies or complications intended for the “philosophy salons” or the entertainment of the court appeared and met with a quick success. Thus it is truly the XVIII th century, that of Diderot, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau, of the sumptuous Louis XV and Louis XVI’s courts, in short the “Age of Enlightenment”, which gave to the cutlery its true artistic dimension. The creations were superb and competed with ingenuity. The materials used were mother-of-pearl, ivory and tortoise shell for the handles, gold and silver for the blades, the bolsters or the rings, and steel, of course.
What characterizes this era of cutlery is its great artistic poetry. The knives had names such as: knife with secrecy, grimaces knife, powder knife for ladies, tree pruner knife, shepherdess knife, knife of friends, voyage knife, smoker knife, travelling cutlery knife, budding knife… As many names, as many stories, long and short, to tell, like that of the knife of friends which, when separating into two knives was shared for a meal. Or that of the royalist emigrant knife, symbol of mourning and rebirth. Or finally Diderot’s knife, made by the philosopher’s father.
Each piece of prestige made at that time represents a mini academy of arts and techniques of fine cutlery. Beyond the manual and artistic performances they suggest, especially if one thinks of the rudimentary means one had at the time, they are for us a testimony of the ingenuity, the talent and the exceptional creativity of the workmen of that era. Trying to make such replicas requires, with each new attempt, to confront oneself with difficulties that sometimes goe beyond the framework of today’s abilities. It is precisely what makes our job interesting. Indeed, a big part of it consists in regaining very specialized old techniques that have, for most of them, fallen into disuse. That’s why the very rare old books concerning this craft are essential to us, just as the extremely invaluable help we received from the curators of the Nogent, the Langres, the Thiers, the Carnavalet and particularly the Louvre museums. The art craftsman who throws himself into the work of his predecessors becomes a pupil again, with a child-like look, filled with wonder in front of the skills and incredible creativity of these old Masters. Their only weakness was, and this is rather specific to old art cutlery, not to have been able to pass on their wonderful skills. Their works, now safe in the national museums and private collections, have become, to some extent, our Masters in their absence and we seek advice from them in situations such as restorations or loans. It also sometimes happens to us to have recourse to other craftsmen (goldsmiths, sculptors, engravers, tabletiers…) in order to match up with scattered and sparse information. And we must underline the warmness with which some of them,who often are among the most famous in their skills, receive us. It is perhaps one of the most important lessons that the old knives gave us. They allow us to touch lightly upon all the extent of the knowledge of master craftsmen and workmen of the old days, while implicating us personally in meetings and exchanges dynamics very profitable professionally but above all extremely enriching from a human, intellectual and cultural point of view. This is not the least gift that the knives made us since we have started rubbing shoulders with them.