Maggie Fox just wanted a pair of scissors that cut – properly – without tearing, jamming and pinching.
Fed up with cheap, ugly, mass-market scissors that sever nothing but nerves, the Toronto entrepreneur set out on a quest. She’d never held a pair of really good scissors, but felt that, somewhere, there must be a maker dedicated to old-world craft, precision performance and eye-catching elegance. She found a few of them online – and she also discovered an industry, located mostly in small European villages and towns, teetering on the brink. Artisan scissor making was in danger of extinction.
“This doesn’t exist as a category,” Fox tells me. “But if we raise awareness and raise demand, we can save these companies.” So the expert marketer decided to bring luxury scissors to the masses.
Fox’s confidence is fuelled by one certainty: Everybody hates their household scissors – and most would be willing to pay for a functional and good-looking pair.
“Scissors are a tool that you can use as often as you use a knife, or even more,” she says. “We’re happy to spend a lot of money on beautiful knives because we understand the value. Yet unbeknownst to most of us, people are still making high-quality scissors.”
We just never see their products. “These aren’t marketers,” she says. “They make scissors.”
After visiting workshops in France, Italy, England and Spain this past winter, Fox partnered with about a dozen makers, importing and selling their wares online at Ciselier.com, where they range in price from $26 to $229. The question is: Are they worth the investment?
I counted up my collection of crappy scissors. I have five pairs of kitchen scissors, some carrying the names of well-known premium household brands. I have another dozen poorly made general-purpose scissors. None of them cut anything, but they reliably deliver pinches and bruises to the user.
Now, I own two pairs of Ciselier scissors, an Alpen from Italy and a Whiteley from England, both designed for kitchen use. Each is crafted from solid steel, hand-assembled and polished to a mirror finish – and yes, they cut like a dream and handle like a Formula 1 racer. I use them from slicing the backbone out of a chicken to opening an Amazon envelope. The Whiteleys feature a handy bone notch, and both pairs have a bottle opener and a tab for wedging under stubborn jar lids.
“The minute you hear that snip of a good pair of scissors, the blades coming together perfectly, you never go back,” Fox says. Ciselier sells scissors for kitchen use, sewing and craft, and general household duties, and they come handsomely boxed with polishing cloth and a note about the workshop. Ciselier sells left-handed scissors, too – as lefties know, these can be hard to find.
The craft of scissor making, Fox found out on her site visits, dates back hundreds of years (and more) when blade making was a noble craft. Without much call for war accoutrements, blade makers turned to scissors and household tools. Today, the industry is in peril owing to the forces of globalization, the pursuit of mass-market cheapness and an endangered supply of forged steel. (Cheap scissors are stamped from sheet metal and assembled mechanically; the first pair of hands to touch them will be those of a frustrated customer.)
Fox is betting that the appeal of hand-crafted scissors will attract the same discerning people who value artistry in everything from vintage wine to bespoke clothing. It’s not such a stretch to apply the foodie term “terroir” to these scissors, given that they are rooted in places of origin, top quality ingredients and designs that are unique to a specific atelier – not to mention the intense hand-work required to make them.
The workshops are generally tiny, with an average of 10 staff and as little as four in one Italian atelier. Most are located in regions – such as Sheffield in England, Solingen in Germany and Premana in Italy – with centuries of tradition in the blade-making arts. It used to be that each region would have its own forge to produce the steel “blanks” – rough hunks of metal that vaguely resemble a pair of scissors.
On visiting the Pallares workshop 90 minutes north of Barcelona, Fox says, owner David Pallares described the skill required in his craft. “On a scale of one to 10, he said, making a knife is about a two. Anyone can do it. Making a pair of scissors, he said, is a nine.”
A craftsperson cuts and drills the scissor blades out of the blank, which are then hand-hammered and prepared for assembly. They are polished, sharpened and examined, and tested numerous times. The role of the assembler – called a nagler in Germany, a regolatore in Italy and a puter (for puter-togetherer) in England – requires a five-year apprenticeship.
Since her online shop went live this year, the consumer reception, Fox says, has been enthusiastic, with repeat customers snapping up multiple pairs and leaving five star ratings. Her new friends at the ateliers in Europe are equally happy, and she’s in discussions with some to offer rare and old-stock scissors, made from metals forged before the Second World War. Other “special” projects will follow.
“Every one of the makers I reached out to was welcoming and enthusiastic, and just happy that someone is recognizing the significance of their craft.”
Plan your weekend with our Good Taste newsletter, offering wine advice and reviews, recipes, restaurant news and more. Sign up today.