If you’re like me, you probably take your stainless steel flatware for granted. Yes, those shiny metal objects that serve as tools for both cooking and eating, and grace our dining tables with high frequency. We rely so much on our flatware—maybe occasionally appreciate its appearance or utility—but do we ever stop to think of it as a product of great innovation?
But in 1948, when Guy Degrenne took stainless steel cutlery to the mainstream market, from the French town of Sourdeval, it was just that: innovative.
Degrenne was no stranger to dinnerware; in fact, he was born into the business. His family manufactured flatware in forged steel—a more granular, less polished cousin to stainless steel, if you will. When Degrenne, spotting an opportunity, suggested that stainless steel—which was sleek, long-lasting, and strong—was the future of flatware, they were not convinced. The reason was simple: it was incredibly expensive to produce, and Degrenne was a young man with limited resources.
But Degrenne was never without ideas. He discovered he could repurpose the armor plating of tanks left over from the 1944 Battle of Normandy and use the material to build production equipment—a genius idea. He went on to do just that, and his eponymous line was born.
Degrenne’s clever workaround not only significantly cut costs, it was ahead of its time. In the 1940s, reclaiming waste material to manufacture products wasn’t particularly fashionable, and stainless steel was foreign to French dining rooms. But his flatware was attractive and modern, and it quickly took off.
Degrenne, who was adamantly against waste (his grandchildren half-jokingly refer to him as “very stingy”), continued to buy second-hand machinery long after the brand got successful, and even tweaked designs to generate minimum scraps, with any leftovers being sold back to suppliers.
By the 1960s, Degrenne had moved his operation from Sourdeval to Vire, where he established a production line and significantly increased productivity. With recycled equipment, minimal waste, and increased volume came more accessible dinnerware for all—including new items like plates, bowls, and teapots.
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Meeting with our artisans of Exception in Vire. Denis Richard, cutlery manufacture - Denis is today the oldest employee of the House with 44 years of service! Cutting steel coils into slugs, upset, hot forging, rolling, trimming, quenching, etching ... Here is the work of Denis who strives to maintain the quality of DEGRENNE products day after day. ... Rencontre avec nos artisans d'Exception à Vire. Denis Richard, fabrication des couverts - Denis est aujourd'hui le plus ancien employé de la Maison avec 44 années de service ! Découpage des bobines d’acier en lopins, refoulage, forgeage à chaud, laminage, détourage, trempe, émouture... voici le travail de Denis qui s'efforce à conserver la qualité des produits DEGRENNE jour après jour. #DEGRENNE #70ans #exception #histoire #vire #portraits #DegrenneNorthAmerica #DNA #chef #chefs #tabletop #tableware #madeinfrance #design #hospitality #foodservice #hotel #restaurant #hospitalitydesign
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Today, Guy Degrenne’s company continues to look ahead, but with a nod to its legacy. Its redesigned ‘Normandy’ range of flatware pays homage to the design of its iconic first collection, but is more elegant and ergonomic. Similarly, the Salam teapot speaks to its 1953 origins with its classic handle and Bedouin-inspired spout, but it also now boasts a felt-lined warmer, keeping water steamy for twice as long as others do. It's a balance of heritage and continuous innovation that is fundamental to the company—and its successes.
So, the next time you lift a stainless steel fork or knife from its kitchen drawer—or a crowded sink—consider Degrenne and his bold commitment to experimenting with new materials and methods. It’s not often that we acknowledge everyday objects and materials as having helped shape our worlds, but you may never take a polished spoon for granted again.
Have a Degrenne product you can't do without? Let us know in the comments!