It was in a corner of this workshop, a corner that was given to him by his disbelieving father, that Joseph Opinel developed his closing knife. Daniel Opinel wanted to achieve his ambition before someone else did it first. Of course, to keep his customers happy he "knocked up" a few pocket knives. But would there be a future in this type of manufacturing?
Joseph really believed there was.
In 1890, he was a young man of eighteen. Like quite a few during this time, he did not attend school for long and, from very early on, found himself working in the paternal tool making business. His first task was to complete the development of the definitive Opinel model. Common sense, comfort, how it was to be held, convenience and how it was to be carried in the pocket determined the general shape of it. The main difficulty was how the slit, which housed the blade, was to be designed. The easiest thing to do was to make a simple saw-cut, but this method, by slicing through the handle throughout its entire length had the effect of making the end opposing the collar very fragile. Joseph thus designed a simple but ingenious machine : a simple support on which a small circular saw could be placed in order to remove the exact quantity of wood.
A century later, this has remained a permanent feature at Opinel : machines are designed where there is a need and moreover they are designed by Opinel, either at Cognin or la Revériaz. As a result, the cutlery part of the business developed. According to Placide Rambaud, in 1896 Joseph had three workers who manufactured five dozen knives daily. The activity was a craft industry but the business began to grow. In the same year, Joseph got married to Marie-Henriette Sambuis, from la Maison Blanche (commune of Fontcouverte). In 1901, he set himself up in a modern building which he built a little lower down, close to the Gevoudaz bridge. Here he employed fifteen workers and there was even a dynamo which supplied the hamlet with electricity.
In 1909, Joseph Opinel registered his first cutlery brand. Up until then, knives, billhooks and various tools simply had the "Opinel" trademark: today they are much sought after by collectors. But this name, however prestigious it became, did not replace the trademark. According to the work of Jean-François Hirsch, "Le Coutelier" : "In 1565, in the Statutes that the cutlers of Paris had by letters of patent from King Charles IX, it is stipulated that each Master must have a hallmark or trademark, in order to stamp his work, which must have been given to him by the four jurors, prohibiting the taking or imitating of the hallmark or trademark". "In order to avoid counterfeits, the trademarks had to be registered in a "safe place", at the Clerk's Office of the police Lieutenant for Paris, at the headquarters of the corporate body or at the most reputable Lawyer or Juror concerning cutlery centres. There, they had to be stamped on copper, in order that the registration could be certified and to preserve the print in the event of dispute".
Joseph Opinel thus registered his trademark by choosing the Crowned Hand as his emblem. Why this hand with three raised fingers and the little and ring fingers folded? The answer is that the capital of the valley, Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, adopted the coat of arms from the cathedral's chapter : "hand blessing silver, on a field of azure, represented in the same way". So why not choose prestigious coats of arms as a trademark? Moreover, this emblem was not chosen just like that. Since the VI century, the cathedral of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne has kept the relics of Saint Jean the Baptist : three fingers, from the hand which baptized Christ, brought back from Alexandria in Egypt by a young girl from the region, Saint Tygre or Thêcle.
Concerning the crown, it was there as a reminder that Savoie was a duchy.
The reputation for Opinel knives was quickly to stretch beyond the limits of the valley. The grandfather, Victor-Amédée, had been a pedlar: what could be more natural than pedlars having a few knives amongst the wire and needles? It was said that Alexandre Balmain (the grandfather of the famous couturier), who made a success of peddling at the end of the XIX century, always carried a few opinels with him when visiting Düsseldorf or Stuttgart.
In any event, peddling was not the only means of distribution, and before 1914 Joseph Opinel was marketing his knives in both Switzerland and Italy. In 1911, he participated in the international exhibition of Turin with a magnificent display representing his main productions. He received the gold medal as a result of his work.