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The Knife as Art


By: Images Jewelers   
Date Added : June 20, 2011 Views : 303


In every form of art, there are those who are great because they can do things that no other person can do. In music, people like Mozart and Beethoven or Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion made themselves the best by their natural abilities and their drive to be successful. In painting, names like VanGogh, Rembrandt, and Picasso became the best similarly. In jewelry, David Yurman and Steven Kretchmer are among the most innovative. While most people wouldn’t consider knife making an art, to those who appreciate and collect knives, they would not only differ, they would praise those who take the ordinary pen knife and take it to the level of those names previously mentioned. One of those people is Matt Conable, the founder, CEO, and chief designer of the William Henry Studio located in McMinnville, Oregon.

Where most companies have come up with “mission statements” to define how they are going to do business, William Henry Studio has a “design statement” that defines their business. To quote from their design statement “The William Henry Studio has defined a level of elegance in pocket knives that hinges on the palette of materials and techniques that they bring to bear on each piece they create. Their work is limited only by their imaginations, and they continue to push that envelope outward with every new style they offer.” How they succeed in this is what makes Matt the top in his form of art.

The integration of classic natural materials and state-of-the-art alloys is a hallmark of William Henry's work. Each component is precision machined to tolerances reserved for aerospace level. The final fit, finish, action, and sharpness of each knife are achieved entirely by hand, employing craftsmanship developed by generations of master cutlers.

William Henry blades are among the hardest in the industry. Where most pocket knives have hardness ratings in the 48 to 52 range (the higher the number the harder the blade), the steel in William Henry’s knives can reach a hardness number as high as 67 in their ZDP series knives. This special steel alloy, developed by Hitachi Metals of Japan, guarantees superior sharpness, edge holding, and wear resistance.
What transforms the steel into a piece of beauty is what they do with it. Many of these blades are made from hand formed Damascus. Originally developed around 1100 AD, such blades were reputed to be not only tough and resistant to shattering, but capable of being honed to a sharp and resilient edge. William Henry Studio has taken this fine method one step further and created blades in Damascus that feature raindrop, herringbone, hornet’s nest, typhoon swirl, ribbon lace, and dot matrix patterns.
Once the blade has been forged, it is then fitted into a frame. These frames can be something as simple as aerospace grade titanium or Damascus steel in beautiful patterns or Mokume Gane.
The frames are accented with different materials to bring out their beauty. Exotic woods are popular with a lot of collectors. Desert Ironwood, Snakewood, a tropical rosewood known as Cocobolo, Black Palm, Amboyna Burl from southeast Asia, and Koa from Hawaii all are used as enhancements to the frames of a William Henry Knife. Seashells are also used as scales on the frames. White, Black and Gold Mother of Pearl as well as Abalone are used. Even more exotic and highly sought by collectors and those who appreciate fine beauty are fossilized ivories and bones. Mammoth and walrus tusks, wooly mammoth bone, and mammoth tooth are all used as scales embedded in the frames of a William Henry Studio knife.
Additional embellishments are sometimes added to their one-of-a-kind knives. Carved Silver is done by hand with chisels and rotary tools. In many cases, they use colored sapphires and other precious stones, set in 18K gold bezels, to further decorate these masterful carvings. Each edition, or piece, is carefully conceived and executed by Matt at William Henry and the engraver, and every finished engraving is hand-signed by the artist. Guilloche is a very fine geometric engraving on metal. William Henry owns a rare set of original Guilloche machines, built in the 1920's in Switzerland and used for decorating very high-grade timepieces. Completely rebuilt, these tools are now in service in their studio and used to create very small editions of beautifully decorated metal components in their knives and pens.
As you can see, William Henry Studio and Matt Conable should be included among the great artists of the past and present. Their knives, as well as other products they offer, lead the competition in the area of practical art.


Bryan works at Images Jewelers, a fine jewelry manufacturer and retailer in Elkhart, Indiana, and a leading manufacturer and retailer of custom jewelry on the internet. If you want to find out more about William Henry Knives, see our expanded article on SQUIDOO!

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