Friday, February 9, 2007

Three unique and special openers

Here are three very special wine openers created by the famous Laguiole knife makers. The artisans of this small village situated in the Aveyron region of southwest France have been producing superbly hand-crafted cutlery for over 170 years. They have traditionally used bone, horn, or exotic types of wood in the production of their knives and wine openers, and the symbol they have adopted for their handiwork is the bee, said to be the result of a royal patent granted to them by Napoleon himself. The quality of their workmanship has to be seen and held in your hand to be fully appreciated. They are true masterworks. (Click on picture to enlarge.)

The opener pictured in the middle of the above group of three (the knife at the bottom is there so you can see the bee and workmanship) appears to be a simple waiter’s friend opener with a rather plain-looking wooden handle. But the wood is not just any wood. It came from the historic “Marie-Antoinette oak” that stood on the grounds of Chateau Versailles for some 324 years. The tree was planted in 1679 by Andre Le Notre and in her time Marie-Antoinette would sit under it to escape the sun while she read in the magnificent gardens. Ironically, and sadly, the tree succumbed during the record heat wave that scorched Europe in 2003. The wood was put to several uses, one of which was a series of openers designed by Guy Vialis, the creator of the Chateau Laguiole wine opener.

The handle of opener on the right is also from a tree that once stood in the gardens of the Chateau Versailles. This time it’s a 221-year old Thuya that was up-rooted during the terrible wind storms that struck Europe in 1999. Thuya is an aromatic wood that has been in use since the biblical days of Solomon and David, when it was called Thyine. The Greeks named it Thuya, or sacrificial wood, because they used an oil distilled from it as incense in their religious ceremonies. It is still used in some church ceremonies and its sandarac oil is valued for medicinal uses.

The handle of opener on the left is made from mammoth ivory that is said to be between 10,000 and 50,000 years old. The ivory is legal and comes from Alaska. Aside from the natural brown coloration, there are streaks and flecks of blue and other colors resulting from minerals the ivory has absorbed over the course of time.

These openers are not only historic and attractive, they are also highly functional. The worm is wide, so it grips the cork and will not pull free, while the boot lever is just the right length, allowing you to screw the worm all the way in and still engage the lever on the bottle’s lip. I’ve also found that the flange on the lever is deep enough, and so angled, that it does not slip off a rounded edge. These openers are perfectly balanced and a pleasure to use.

If tempted, you can visit Custom Curling at or call them at 1-860-705-6172. The very helpful and knowledgeable owner, Fred Camboulives, is from Laguiole and will give you friendly and expert advice. He offers both Laguiole wine openers and knives in an assortment of exotic woods, horn, and bone. I can’t think of a better combination of history, beauty, and functionality than one of these special openers. Or a Laguiole knife for that matter.

Important note: Because of their status and popularity, be very careful when purchasing Laguiole wine openers or knives. As with other luxury goods, there are many knock-offs out there. The bee symbol is not a registered trademark, nor is it protected, so others can put a bee on a cheap imitation product and call it a “genuine” Laguiole. It is important you deal with a reputable merchant, and Custom Curling is just such a merchant.

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