Certain brands’ names pass into common vernacular for their staple products. Growing up in the UK, when I spoke of a vacuum cleaner, I called it a Hoover. Here in the US, you’re pretty likely to ask someone for Scotch Tape or go to the store for a Popsicle.
In France, it’s not uncommon to be asked to ‘pass the Opinel’. Founded in 1890, Opinel have been producing simple, wooden handled ‘peasant knives’ ever since, outfitting everyone from lowly farmworkers to Pablo Picasso – who allegedly used an Opinel to produce some of his sculpture works.
In 1985 the V&A Museum in London selected the Opinel as part of an exhibit celebrating the ‘100 Most Beautiful Products In The World’, featuring it alongside the Porsche 911 sports car and the Rolex watch.
The Opinel was also selected as one of the 999 classic designs in Phaidon Design Classics and has been exhibited by MOMA New York as a design masterpiece.
The modern Opinel knife doesn’t differ much from the original – although, at around 15 million units a year, there are a few more of them being built today than in 1890 - it consists of a blade, wooden handle, stainless steel metal clamping band, stainless pivot pin and a stainless steel Virobloc locking collar, which rotates to lock the blade open or closed.
The Virobloc, the last major change to the design of the Opinel, was patented in 1955 by Marcel Opinel, and, while simple, is quite sturdy, and converts the folding Opinel knife into nearly the equivalent of a fixed-blade knife for all practical purposes