Building Swiss Army Knives in Switzerland –
An Unforgettable Experience
I am the mother of boys. They love knives. I personally have never had this deep desire to own, collect and strut around with knives like they do. So when our family recently spent a week traveling through Switzerland, we knew that the famed Swiss Army Knife would somehow become part of our travel experience. What we didn't know, was that we would have the opportunity to visit an assembly location and build our very own! Keep reading to find out about our experience and tips for how to plan your own.
We first became aware that assembling our own Spartan knives was even a thing we could do while watching Season 28 of Amazing Race. Teams of two scrambled through the task of putting their own knife together under the supervision of a craftsman. For their challenge to be completed, it had to be inspected and approved. You can imagine our joy sitting there in our living room watching this episode from our sofa. Knowing our own trip to Switzerland was just around the corner, the wheels started turning and the boys wanted to know if they could do this. We did a Google search to find out where in Switzerland we could have this experience and made plans to reserve our spots. We discovered that the Swiss Army Knife Welcome Center in Brunnen takes reservations for knife assembly. We made the call. It was all set. We would be building our own knives in Switzerland. The boys were elated!
A Brief History of the Swiss Army Knife
Switzerland’s army needed a tool that could accomplish three main tasks: a way to repair their guns, open their canned food, and cut stuff. So in the 1880’s a portable tool was invented that could do just that. A talented Swiss inventor by the name of Karl Elsener came up with the first design. In 1891, Elsener’s tool was handed to military personnel for the first time. He later added a corkscrew, and since that time the design has remained the same. In 1909, the company was named after Elsener’s late mother, Victoria. In 1921, they started using stainless steel for the first time. That's how it became known as Victorinox since “inox” means stainless steel. "Swiss Army Knife" is a literal translation from the original name, "Schweizer Offiziersmesser" and clearly much easier for us to say! Today Swiss Army Knives are still assembled in Switzerland and exported to hundreds of countries around the world.
Plan Ahead Before You Leave Home
Since a limited number of appointments are set aside each day for knife assembly, it's important to make your reservation in advance. As soon as you know your travel dates, call to make your appointment. Unfortunately, they do not provide an email address for making this appointment which would be more convenient. They do, however, provide an informative PDF with contact information and other details about visiting. Confirm your reservation before leaving home.
The quaint town of Brunnen, Switzerland
This is where we ran into a problem. Since we had made a reservation by phone (the only way possible), we had no written proof of our appointment. When we arrived in Brunnen, we felt confident that things would go as planned since we had made the reservation as indicated on the website, had spoken with a knowledgeable employee, and had received our scheduled time slots. We learned, however, we should not have been so confident. On the morning of our scheduled appointments, we walked over to the Victorinox shop to check-in, only to discover they didn’t have our reservation on record and were not expecting us. And furthermore, we had no way of proving our reservation as we didn’t have any written confirmation of it. They were very kind and made it clear right from the start that they would squeeze us in between tours and that’s what they did. I would recommend asking the person who is taking your over-the-phone reservation to send an email confirming the time so that you have a written record of it. Yes, it all worked out fine for us, but I can't help but imagine that if we were traveling in the height of the summer season or on a day when a large number of tour buses were scheduled to stop in, we might not have been so lucky.
Where to Stay
Brunnen is located right in the heart of Switzerland, just 30 minutes by car from Lucerne, one hour and a half from Bern, and one hour and a half from Interlaken. Because of its proximity to other places you might be visiting, making Brunnen a day trip is certainly doable. We were coming from the Interlaken area and afterward would be heading to Lucerne to return our car and catch a train to Italy, so we decided to spend the night in Brunnen. I discovered that finding an affordable hotel room in Brunnen was a bit of a challenge. I considered a few different apartment rentals, but in the end went with a place with favorable reviews on Tripadvisor, Hotel Alfa. The best details this hotel had going for it were its ideal location right on the waterfront and the kind host who went out of her way to make our stay comfortable. Otherwise, the hotel has seen better days. Our floor was creaky, the furniture was outdated and worn out, and the hallways were stinky and dreary. Good luck if you can find something better. And if you do, please comment in the section below so other travelers can benefit. The Victorinox shop was just a short 5-minute walk from Hotel Alfa.
Time To Build
The boys went one at a time, learning about the meticulous steps involved in building a Spartan knife by hand. Each layer was carefully placed in the grooves and then pulled together by a foot pedal that eliminated extra space. All Spartan knives have a knife, a can opener, a bottle opener, tweezers, a toothpick, and a razor blade. In addition, the boys got to choose between a screw driver or a corkscrew. We were told that knife assembly still takes place this same way, one knife at a time, by hand. Although the assembly took us about 15-20 minutes, we were told that Victorinox employees can put a knife together in a matter of seconds. The cost to assemble your own is CHF 30. per knife, including the engraving.
Once the various layers were added and compressed together, it was time to add the outer layers and hammer them into place. Everyone looked on with admiration as the knives came together step by step. The final part was choosing the font and wording for the engraving.
Of course, shopping is a great thing to do while you're here as well. The boys picked out a "feminine" style pocket knife for me that I absolutely love and will always treasure! And I can't tell you how many times the tweezers, small scissors, and very sharp knife have come in handy since then. We also picked up some nail clippers and a potato peeler from the shop to take home. The store has plenty of knives, tools, watches, kitchen supplies, and even clothes to choose from.
Visit the Museum
Make sure to take time to visit the historical exhibits located downstairs. It's a small collection of knife history through the ages as well as the specific history of the Swiss Army Knife.
A display knife that shows every tool available!
A timeline of the knife progression through the years
So that is our experience of how we learned about assembling our own knives in Switzerland, how to make an appointment and what to expect. Please share your thoughts below if you've had this experience and can add any tips.