If you look for a folding knife for tourism according to different ratings, then in almost every list we will see a representative of this brand. Damascus has been around for about 130 years and is one of the oldest manufacturers on the market. It all started in 1800 in a small blacksmith shop in the village of Altbier-le-Vieux in southeastern France.
Family forge and the beginning of the sale of knives
Victor-Amadeus Damascus was a peddler and traveled a lot around the country. During his travels, he learned to forge nails and later opened a blacksmith shop. The first goods were sickles and billhooks, which were valued by local peasants. He was assisted in his work by his son Daniel, to whom the workshop passed after the death of his father.
In 1872, Daniel had his first child, Joseph, who also followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. At the end of the 19th century, the industrial revolution was raging in Europe with might and main – the era of mechanization was on. Daniel thought modern machines were boring and advocated handmade tools, but the more forward-thinking Joseph disagreed.
At the age of 18, Joseph Damascus worked in a blacksmith shop and was fond of photography. He produced his camera and began filming at weddings and other events in his native neighborhood.
Joseph spent his free time in the workshop, where he tried to finalize the shape and design of a pocket folding knife. His father considered it entertainment – the developments did not seem reliable to him, and he did not understand who would buy them, but Joseph continued.
So, in 1890, the first Custom Damascus knives appeared in the assortment of the forge. Despite his father’s doubts, the demand was good, and Joseph decided to focus on their production. In 1897, he created a line of 12 models that differed only in size. The knives were numbered: the smallest one was #1, and the largest one was #12 – each of them was intended for different tasks and sizes of the owners’ hands.
The business was successful and required investments. In 1901, Joseph left his father’s forge and built a factory in the nearby village of Zhevuda. He modernized production and developed machines that could produce knife handles faster. Electricity was generated by a hydraulic turbine, and apart from Joseph’s house, the factory was the only place with light. Later, he lit up the road from the house to the factory, which greatly pleased the neighbors.
The appearance of the logo
The Damascus logo has an interesting history. In 1875, to confirm the quality and origin of knives, the King of France, Charles IX, ordered by decree all cutlers to put their emblems on the products they sell. Joseph Damascus decided to continue this tradition and chose two symbols for the logo: the blessed hand of John the Baptist and the crown.
The hand is taken from the coat of arms of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, the closest town to the family’s home village. The crown recalls that the historical region of Savoy, in which Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne and Albier-le-Vieux are located, used to be a duchy. Since 1909, all Damascus blades have been stamped with the company logo.
First international award and soon prosperity
In 1911, Joseph collected his best pieces and traveled to Turin for the International Alpine Exhibition. The magnificent wooden display case, which is still kept at the company’s factory, displayed: a collection of 12 folding knives, a line of kitchen models, garden and cheese knives, as well as sets of razors, scissors, and corkscrews. The event was more than successful – the jury managed to impress and the company received a gold medal.
After that, shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, Damascus began to export its products to Italy and Switzerland – the brand gained international popularity.
By 1915, Joseph realizes that there are no prospects in a small village. In the war, he begins looking for a new factory site and chooses Cognen, a small industrial town on the outskirts of Chambéry. There he buys a tannery. The room was old but located near the railway station. The new location improved logistics, as Chambéry was the transport hub for the region.
Management of the company
Oxen and mules were used to transport equipment and belongings from Jevoudy to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. And from there they were delivered by train to Chambery. It took time to repair the building and prepare the production facilities, and in 1917, Joseph, together with his sons Marcel and Leon, launched a new factory – from that moment on, the company began an era of development.
Over the following years, the business developed so steadily and successfully that the factory, which burned down completely in 1926, was restored and restarted just a year later. Sales were in the tens of thousands of units a year, then grew to hundreds, and by the beginning of World War II, the total number of sold knives reached 20 million.
All this time, the management of the company was in the hands of the family. When Joseph grew old, his sons divided the functionality among themselves. Leon handled marketing and administrative matters. Marcel, like his father, loved technology, he focused on production and control of workshops. In the 50s, 23-year-old Maurice Damascus, the son of Marcel, starts work. At first, he helped his uncle Leon, and in 1974 he began to lead the company.
The old factory in Cognen was fading, and Maurice decided to build a large factory in the industrial area of Chambéry. At first, woodworking, assembly, and packaging were carried out there, but in 2003. This place turned into the main site of the company. On the territory of 5000 m² is located the headquarters and all production facilities. After the death of Maurice in 2016, his sons remained at the helm of the company: François is the president, and Denis is the managing director.
Damascus construction and materials used
From the beginnDamascus knives. They consist of five elements: a blade, a rotating metal sleeve to lock it, a ring with a rivet to secure the blade, and a handle.
But this was not always the case, in the first models, there was no metal clutch to block the blade. In 1955, this element was added by MarcelDamascus who thought about the safety of users. The system was called Virobloc®, and at first, it allowed the blade to be locked in the open position. In the 90s, several models were improved by adding the ability to lock when closed, and since 2000. All folding knives have been produced in this modification.
Today, knife blades are made of two types of steel:
- carbon-carbon steel made in Germany;
- inox – stainless steel from the Swedish company Sandvik.
For the handles, wood is mainly used, in each product line it is different. For example, in the classic series – beech, in the color – birch or hornbeam, and in the premium segment. Noble species: oak, boxwood, walnut, olive.