by David Thomas November 20, 2022
By David Thomas
Most scissor makers at least dabble in other quality steel craft as well, such as cutlery or knives. Cuchillería Pallarès of Solsona in Spain is no exception. Even though we are most drawn to them for their scissors, the bulk of the firm’s business, as well the reputation of Solsana itself, is wrapped up in the craft of master knifemaking.
An ancient small town located in the heart of Catalonia, about an hour north of Barcelona, Solsona has a long history in blade making, even though its historic significance is overshadowed by Toledo, more than 600 kilometers to the west, just south of Madrid.
The Toledo name was synonymous with quality throughout Europe, when its layered forging process (similarly pioneered in Damascus) produced a stronger steel that made their swords prized for their power in the 15th to 17th centuries.
By the time David Pallarès’ family started up their knife and scissor company in 1917, there was a shrinking connection left to Solsona’s 400 year-old blade-making history. The town of Solsona, he explains, had been home in the 18th century to about 24 different workshops making blades under different brand names. By the early 1900s, there were maybe a dozen players still involved in the blade trades.
“Today, it is just us,” Pallarès laments. And they are doing more than just knives and scissors to keep the company on a firm economic footing – they are also dabbling in agricultural tools, sharpeners, gardening tools and even barbecues.
Trained as an economist, Pallarès spent some time working in other factories and learning how to run the business before returning to modernize the family firm. He likes to talk about balance a lot – balance in modernizing some machine processes while continuing to most of the work by hand; leaving a few steps, like the forging of the raw blanks to suppliers in France or Germany, so as to focus his team's energy on the fine finishing work; balance in diversifying the line of products so he can afford to invest in the labour to make amazing scissors by hand; and balance in finding new export markets so the firm isn’t reliant on a smaller Catalonian or Spanish market.
Pallarès holds a special place in his heart for the scissors business. It makes up about 15% of sales and carries higher profit margins, but also requires the highest level of skill from his craftspeople. Almost all his staff can make a top-quality knife, but only a few are able to master heritage scissors.
The reason for the higher price is of course, a high tab for quality, hot-forged steel and a multi-step process for crafting the scissors by hand.
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“Kitchen scissors are very important because every house needs at least one,” says Pallarès. “But we sell the same amount or even more of sewing and dressmaking scissors. Everyone has their priority – If you work as a tailor, your tailor shears are the most important. It’s the same if you are into embroidery or couture.”
Once you get a chance to hold and use them, it will be obvious there is no comparison between solid, heavy things of beauty that can last generations and cheap, mass-produced hardware store scissors that are soon tossed away because they can’t hold a sharp blade.
The company is now in the hands of the third generation since it was founded in 1917. Two brothers, Lluís and Carles Pallarès Canal. Lluís's children Jesús and Juli Pallarès Moncunill took over in the 1960s and the company made moves to modernize. At the start of this century, the reins were handed over to the current generation, which has made great strides to expand markets for exports into France, Switzerland, Germany and South America.
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