Anyone knows what's happening with Al Mar Knives?

Discussion in 'General Knife Discussion' started by bouddha0357, Feb 11, 2019.

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  1. KenHash

    KenHash

    Sep 11, 2014
    Can't help but wonder how Al Mar, who served in Vietnam, would have felt about his knives being made in the Peoples Republic of China.
     
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  2. James Y

    James Y

    Feb 18, 1999
    Let’s be honest; a lot of that had as much or more to do with lingering resentment from WWII than with the quality of the product at the time.

    Jim
     
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2020
  3. The Whip

    The Whip

    655
    Jan 28, 2007
    Nah. Prior to the 1980s, Japan really was putting out a lot of cheaply made, low-budget knives.

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    Once the demand from Frost, Parker, Valor and other 1980s budget brands spurred the Japanese knifemaking market, the quality began to improve. Al Mar, Sal Glesser, and Lynn Thompson sought and found some exceptional makers who truly inspired new standards of manufacturing precision within Japan's knifemaking community. The craftsmanship of those knives continued to improve until they became a benchmark that others emulated.

    Eventually, as quality, demand, and prices rose in Japan, Pakistan and then China stepped in to fill the cheap knife market vacated by Japan, sometimes quite literally.

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    -Steve
     
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  4. James Y

    James Y

    Feb 18, 1999
    Yes, I know that Japanese makers put out many cheaply-made knives back then. I had a few of them, which were awful. I also used to have a couple nice ones that weren’t as commonly found. Just like Chinese makers, they had the capability of producing both quality and junk, depending on what was wanted/asked of them. Although they really did up their game in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. But I know for a fact that the reason I stated in my last post did happen in many instances, because I’ve personally heard people in the past say so (not about knives in particular, but Japanese products in general), even after the overall quality level of Japanese manufacturing had improved dramatically.

    Jim
     
  5. The Whip

    The Whip

    655
    Jan 28, 2007
    I wasn't discounting your original point. I also heard similar sentiments expressed when I was growing up. It makes sense that men who were witness to Pearl Harbor, the Bataan Death March, the Rape of Nanking, Comfort Girls, and Unit 731 would not be anxious to put money back into the coffers of a country that they had expended their own blood, sweat, and tears preventing from taking over the world.

    I've read enough of your writings, Jim, to realize that you weren't unaware of those early Japanese knives. But I thought that your original post was incomplete and didn't paint an accurate picture. People who read it and were ignorant of history (both knife and world) might come away saying, "Yeah, typical Americans! What a bunch of Nipponophobes!"

    Um, no, Japan supplied some crummy knives to the U.S. for decades. The Al Mar Shivas were a long time coming!

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    -Steve
     
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  6. James Y

    James Y

    Feb 18, 1999
    Good points, Steve.

    Was it Pete Kershaw who was the first American to have a line of quality knives manufactured for his company in Japan?

    As for Al Mar Knives, for some reason, I never did buy one until I bought a SERE 2000 folder, but it never really grew on me. I think I would have liked an Eagle or Hawk folder better.

    Jim
     
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  7. The Whip

    The Whip

    655
    Jan 28, 2007
    Your memory is better than mine, Jim! You're right, and now that you mention it, so did Pete Gerber. I'm guessing that Kershaw and Gerber influenced Mar, who in turn influenced Glesser and Thompson.


    For me, the prices of Al Mars kept me from buying them for years. By the time I could afford them, their quality construction was no longer unique and other companies were equaling (or surpassing) it for lower prices. These days, there are a few old models I'd love to own, but their scarcity has made them unaffordable again!


    -Steve
     
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  8. James Y

    James Y

    Feb 18, 1999
    I totally agree with you on Al Mar knives. Even the Al Mar designs I’d had a passing interest in were too expensive for what you get (IMO). I got to handle a couple Eagles in a store long ago, and although the design looked nice, they weren’t any better-made than less-expensive knives from, say, Spyderco, which were also more comfortable in hand.

    IIRC, both Pete Kershaw and Al Mar had worked at Gerber (or at least Al Mar did) before starting their own companies. Gerber started manufacturing the Silver Knight lockbacks in Japan under G. Sakai, in the late ‘70s. It was a nice model. And I read that Al Mar helped Sal Glesser with connections to get his start having his knives manufactured in Seki, and also allowed Sal to use his same lockback design in the Spyderco Clipits.

    Jim
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2020
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  9. Ourorboros

    Ourorboros

    402
    Jan 23, 2017
    I think it's cost more than anything else and trying to get anything made in a first world country compared to a second world country is ridiculous.
    Look at the price of Solingen made Bokers.
    Now that people are willing to pay to have quality products made in China we have WE and other companies. Cost of machinery is going to be the same, more or less, but labor and lax workplace safety & pollution laws keep the cost of workmanship lower.
     
  10. KJKeyserSoze

    KJKeyserSoze

    9
    Jun 16, 2019
    As long as it is well made, value proposition, above all a good tool, why is its country/place of manufacture so important ?
     
  11. KenHash

    KenHash

    Sep 11, 2014
    Japan continues to be a major cutlery maker and exporter. It's just that labor costs since around 2005/2006 as well as the USD/JYEN exchange rate have forced US Knife Companies who market sporting knives to shift most production to Taiwan and China. But not all. A great many sporting knife companies break down their product line into models made in more costly countries and those made in less costly countries
    each at different price points and targeting different buyers. A company that sold only knives from high production cost counties would be at a competitive disadvantage. The culinary knife market continues to be dominated by German and Japanese makers. The popularity of Japanese kitchen knives is such that a German company is making knives in a factory in Seki Japan, and many Chinese makers are copying and producing Japanese styed knives. As for anyone who thinks China is "the future" they are out of date by a decade at least. China was indeed the future in the second half of the 1990s. Today with production costs rising in China combined with trade issues,as well as geopolitical ones with the U.S., both of which have arisen only in the last 10 years, no one who does any international business sees China as a growing manufacturing base now ,but rather as a growing consumer base.
     
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  12. kreole

    kreole

    Jul 23, 2009
    I was excited for these, but I've never seen a reputable knife use TC4 titanium. It always seems like a flag that corners have been cut. Definitely going to wait for some reviews before picking one up (if at all).
     
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  13. KenHash

    KenHash

    Sep 11, 2014
    As far as I know, Guttman was the first US knife importer to contract in Seki Japan in the late 60s.While they had been importing knives from Germany, when the costs rose so they turned to a cheaper source. Knives from Japan 1945 until then were for the most part total garbage produced in crumbling post-war factories short on labor and materials. As the Japanese economy grew, the capabilities of the factories improved. Pete Kershaw got to know KAI, based in Seki and owned by the Endo family. They provided financial backing so Pete Kershaw opened his own brand in 1974. Eventually, Pete sold his company to Kai, remaining onboard running the operation. Kai subcontracted the first knives to Hattori, who had just left his family firm to start his own in 1971.
    Gerber's entry into Seki was with the Silver Knight folder introduced in 1977 and made by what was then called Sakai Hamono. The Sakai family were so grateful for the OEM contract that they renamed their company to Gerber Sakai, now G.Sakai. Gerber Oregon never took any stake in G.Sakai, despite the name. It was as a designer for Gerber that Al Mar came to visit G.Sakai in the mid 70s, a relationship that resulted in G.Sakai making Al Mar knives until his passing in 1992.
     
  14. James Y

    James Y

    Feb 18, 1999
    I read somewhere where someone (was it Sal Glesser or Lynn Thompson?) stated that in Seki, very few of the younger generation want to take over from the older generation and make a living in the knife industry, and that most want to get into other professions.

    I can’t say how accurate that is or not, so don’t kill the messenger, but it is what I’ve read.

    Jim
     
  15. Ourorboros

    Ourorboros

    402
    Jan 23, 2017
    This is true for a lot of traditional artisanal skills - traditional blue dye makers in Japan, hand made mochi, etc. There just isn't enough of a market. There is a small revival of knife smithing in Japan because there is a new international market for gyutos and other cooking knives. But before that a lot of shops just flat out closed instead of being passed down. Now because there is a market for knives, blacksmiths of other tools like gardening tools are switching to knives to survive.
     
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  16. KenHash

    KenHash

    Sep 11, 2014
    This is absolutely true in general, although (1) the trend is far from limited to knife manufacturing and (2) depends on the shop.
    For example, Mr Ichiro Hattori has no son, and his daughter manages the business end. But Mr Yuhei Sakai has 3 sons, all working in the
    G.Sakai factory. As mentioned, while Seki has become uncompetitive in the sporting knives area, Seki, Sakai(in Osaka),Takefu, Tsubame Sanjo,
    etc are actively growing with production (both factory and hand) of cooking knives.
     
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  17. David From NC

    David From NC

    367
    Dec 31, 2007
    I am an Al Mar guy from way back, having had an original SERE (1988?) and a Woodsman. I then met Al right before his way too early death at an Expo at Ft. Bragg. I still have an autographed business card of his (in a FRAME!). I have also met Gary Fadden who bought 60% of the company and ran it for many years (met him at BLADE or SHOT or both).

    I bought/sold/traded several more Al Mars and today own a Woodsman (not my original but a buddy's original from the 80s), a SERE 2000 which I'd sell (hint, hint), and a cocobolo Eagle. I was OVERJOYED a year or two back (or three) when Al's daughter Ryanne came on here promising the Mar family would return to cutlery.

    Edge Technologies Engineering acquired the company in early 2019(?). Tonight I made my way back to the website for any updates and I notice the new models are posted (meh) and the business address is 100 Roe Road Travelers Rest SC. Switching to Greenville County SC GIS I find that this is owned by Roeh LLC.

    Too tired/too late for me to do anymore research/Internet stalking. I hope to be pleasantly surprised with new developments but I'm cynical.
     
  18. tltt

    tltt

    May 1, 2008
    Puma, and a few other Solingen makers have offered up the same explanation as to why they've moved to overseas contracting for some of their work too. Not enough young people want into the trade, and when the knife companies bump up pay, etc.... to be competitive, the knives wind up being too expensive for most people at the consumer level.
     
  19. KJKeyserSoze

    KJKeyserSoze

    9
    Jun 16, 2019
  20. AntDog

    AntDog Gold Member Gold Member Basic Member

    Apr 3, 2001

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