Jürgen Schanz manufactures knives, sabers and swords by hand. His cutting-edge collector’s items have won the hearts of enthusiasts all around the world.
It sometimes happens that Jürgen Schanz departs the town of Stutensee in Germany’s Baden region and flies halfway around the world to discuss an order with a king or a prince. Personal contact with the sovereigns among his clientele is one of the highly satisfying aspects found in working on what he calls the crème de la crème of his craft. This artisan, now 43 years old, manufactures swords by hand and these are highly esteemed in international collectors’ circles. But he also has an eye for less exotic implements, making those knives to customer specifications and contributing his own passion for the work.
Beginning right with his “journeyman’s piece”, submitted in 1991 at the age of 21, it was clear that his talents were exceptional. It was on the basis of a Malaysian kris, a dagger with the characteristic wavy blade, that he was honored as the “National Winner in the Crafts” in 1992. This award made it possible for him to skip the usual journeyman’s years and, just a year and a half later, completed his master craftsman’s examination with the submission of a Japanese sword. In his workshop near Karlsruhe, this father of three not only crafts unusual sabers and swords for crowned heads or enthusiastic collectors. He also demonstrates his skills when making up hunting, survival and culinary knives — and other special-purpose blades. The primary challenge here is sensing what the customer really wants. “The ultimate purpose is important.
Survival knives, for example, often have to be used like an axe. Choosing the right material is also critical. Diving knives must never rust, of course. And kitchen knives have to be made of a steel that can be honed to a very thin edge. It has to be hard, but it must never break,” Schanz explains.
Seven to eight hours of work are involved in making a simple knife. The master craftsman takes between forty and fifty hours to finish one of his exceptional swords. “It can happen that I rummage through the Internet for three weeks or so, looking for materials for the handles,” he reports. Regardless of whether we’re talking about special stones or prized woods — everything has to be perfect in the five or six spectacular beauties he makes every year. Neither does he leave anything to chance when crafting the blade. He purchases his steels only from select suppliers. Good-quality Damascus steel, with its distinctive pattern, is not always available. This perfectionist knew how to overcome that difficulty. “At the end of last year I bought a second company so that I can do my own forging.”
His customers are willing to pay top prices for this amount of quality and creativity. The prices for the finely decorated showcase pieces lie between 2,000 and more than 10,000 euros. His clientele is found all around the world and many of them became aware of Jürgen Schanz through his website. At least as important to him are small and exclusive trade shows and exhibitions where discerning collectors meet. “Personal contact is a must. Especially among Arabian customers, e-mails or phone calls simply don’t work.” He travels to the Côte d’Azur or to the Emirates — but to Russia, as well — to talk with interested parties about their ideas. This calls for a great deal of interpersonal empathy. “No single concept of beauty is absolute. The Arabs prefer gold and diamonds. We Europeans envision a sword in silver, trimmed with sapphires. Russian customers go for reserved elegance. This is a question of cultural traditions and we have to accept that,” Schanz notes pragmatically. It is often difficult to turn over one of his masterpieces after having invested so many hours of careful work. “But it is easier,” Jürgen Schanz notes, “when I know that the customer is pleased and can ultimately hold what he had envisioned.”
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