An Ecosystem of Blades:
1000 meters above sea level, in the Lombard Alps, you will find Premana. The heart of the Italian scissor industry, this is the birthplace of our iconic scissors which have been a staple of the Choosing Keeping catalogue since the very beginning. We were lucky enough to see behind the scenes of the production process on our visit in 2019.
To the untrained eye it looks like any other quaint mountain town, complete with winding cobbled pathways and old stone houses, but don’t be fooled! If you look beneath the quintessential alpine dwellings you will discover the juxtaposition that defines Premana - heavy machinery built and optimised solely for the process of perfecting and finishing scissors and other cutting utensils. There are around fifty unique companies operating out of Premana and each one has its niche - form forging blanks to the finishing touch of gold plating: Together they make up a harmonious ecosystem that is fulled by scissors.
An excellent example of how the environment informs industry (the best paper mills, we have been told, will always be found next to a good, clean water source), the surrounding mountains are rich with iron, from which the first cutting utensils of Premana were forged three centuries ago. Today the scissors are made from steel and are no longer finished completely by hand; the factory workers are assisted by modern advancements in technology and machinery to complete the numerous processes that are involved in finishing the blades, from sharpening to polishing.
Perhaps less romantic than the setting, the manufacturing process is equally fascinating and far more complex than you may presume. The production starts with the forging of ‘blanks’ - these are the blades in their rawest form. Today made from molten steel which is poured into the mould, known as a ‘master’, they subsequently undergo up to 40 processes before they are ready to be sold and used. The master is an extremely valuable and difficult to make item - this means that much scissor production relies on historical designs. Indeed, many of the Italian scissors you can find at Choosing Keeping have been made for generations. In fact, in the museum, lovingly curated to document the historic production on the mountain, we spotted a few familiar handles..!
In each factory man and machine work together, each a vital piece in the puzzle of Premana’s industry. Walking through one of the larger factory rooms we passed many individual machines whirring away as the blades move along their journey and past a particularly unnerving human sized arm-like robot that was spinning in the cage (yikes!) where it completes around 14 unique processes. At the end of the room was the factory worker responsible for the final check of newly assembled scissors. He sat with great focus and through a series of fast movements and taps he listened, able to detect the most minute of irregularities. Indeed the process remains artisanal and the work is highly skilled; each worker needs to be in tune with the scissor they are working with and as a result the industry tends to remain local and the businesses family run.
Premana takes extreme pride in the quality of their production and stay true to their history of careful craftsmanship. Able to maintain their reputation for excellence, combined with an ability to keep up with the global market which has sadly been the downfall of many similar local industries, the factories of Premana have been able to keep production thriving.
On the right are scissors that have been gold plated; on the left are those in waiting!
Pictured above are the master moulds from which scissors are forged