Veronique Laurent Has Become One Of The Most Accomplished Smiths In The World Even After Fighting Against Prejudice In Her Native Belgium.
I come from Texas where a knifemaker is more likely to wear boots and a cowboy hat than a suit and tie. In many parts of the world, it’s commonly assumed that a knifemaker is a man.
This past March I caught up with American Bladesmith Society Master Smith Veronique Laurent at BLADE Show Texas in Fort Worth, Cowtown, USA. She had no boots or cowboy hat and her accent isn’t “Southern,” but she’s sure enough a bona fide knifemaker.
Veronique comes from Brussels, Belgium, where French is the spoken language. Now, I don’t speak French, so out of respect I asked her how a non-French-speaking person should pronounce her name.
Over here she’ll answer to the Americanized Veronica Lawrent, but the correct answer is more like Vehr-o-NIK-eh Law-ron, with the rolled R’s in the middle of each. In Belgium the people use the last name first, so she’s often just called “Laurent.” Now that you can read her name in your head in a beautiful French accent, let’s move on to the interesting part of the story.
Veronique found her first career as a clerk at a Belgian TV station. She did cold metalworking as a hobby. While on holiday in France in 2004, she attended a knifemaking and blacksmithing event similar to a U.S. hammer-in. She later took a one-day knifemaking class with the Belgian Knife Society and never looked back.
She became involved with the Society and learned more about knifemaking from the members of that community. The group eventually broke up but not before Veronique was well on her way.
In 2010, again in France, she attended a hammer-in that included ABS Master Smiths/BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® members Joe Keeslar and Jay Hendrickson. In Belgium and France, a woman is not commonly accepted as a knifemaker. So it was that Veronique was pleased and surprised by the hospitality that Joe and Jay showed her, particularly with the respect they gave her as a craftsperson.
For while a female knifemaker is a bit of an American rarity, being female isn’t an automatic gale-force headwind in the American knifemaking journey. In Europe, however, things are quite different. Veronique struggled to sell knives in Europe even as her skills advanced.
“When a man came to my table and picked up a knife, he would ask me who the maker was,” she recalled. “When I said that I made the knife, he would then ask the person next to me who made the knife. Once he knew I was the knifemaker, he’d put the knife down and walk away. In Europe they don’t want to buy a knife from a woman.” She made it her goal to be a full-time maker, and her American contacts became even more important.
Becoming An ABS Master Smith
After her contact with Keeslar, she journeyed to the 2013 BLADE Show and gained her ABS journeyman smith certification. She then began corresponding with ABS Master Smith John White, who encouraged her to learn to build takedown knives.
“In 2015 I built my first takedown knife, and that same week I received the ABS email notification that John White had passed away,” she recalled. “I built all of my master smith test knives as takedowns in his memory.”
Veronique pretty well blew away the crowd at the 2015 BLADE Show and gained her MS stamp. After the show, she and ABS Master Smith Jean-Louis Regel of France spent three weeks in Brazil learning advanced damascus techniques from ABS Master Smith Rodrigo Sfreddo.
“After I was a master smith, I began to ‘exist’ in Europe,” she noted. “I became a full-time knifemaker shortly after that.” Even with American renown and credibility, the headwinds of bias still were a challenge in her home country. “People were rude, and it made me think ‘I will show you!’ Their bad attitude became my motivation,” she said.
She began to work with Jean-Louis more and more (Jean-Louis also earned his MS in 2015). Because of bias, it was often assumed that he did her work for her, that he made her damascus or that she worked only in his shop. This was not the case.
Though to Americans it makes sense that the two French-speaking master smiths must be connected, the real story is that Veronique and Jean-Louis each have their own shops in their hometowns. Their shops are roughly 375 miles apart, with Veronique in Belgium and Jean-Louis in France. The journey between them takes about eight hours.
Even in Texas, where we measure trips in hours, not miles, an eight-hour trip is a “long haul” or a “far piece.” While the distance was significant, they covered it about once a month depending on workflow. Veronique says that she has better grinding and finishing tools in her shop, while Jean-Louis has a bigger shop with better damascus-making equipment.
Veronique and Jean-Louis attended the International Custom Cutlery Exposition (now BLADE Show Texas) in Fort Worth in 2018, and each won multiple awards.
“In all my trips to America, only one time has anyone set my knife down rudely like in Europe,” she noted. They joined The Knifemakers’ Guild on that trip also and spent a week learning bladesmithing from ABS Master Smith Rick Dunkerley.
Covid got in the way of travel plans and so Veronique and Jean-Louis were unable to return to America until this year’s BLADE Show Texas. As an American, it wouldn’t cross my mind to visit France regularly to try to sell knives, so I was curious why Veronique keeps coming back. She explained that “Europe doesn’t like to ship big knives. It is very complicated and expensive. Sometimes you can ship a small letter opener or something, but it is very difficult.”
Rather than fight the restrictions, it’s easier to travel over here and sell her work where it is in high demand. Another thing she does is make a “junior baby” model of each major piece. If she makes a dagger, she makes another small one. If she makes a big bowie, she makes a similar hunter. These smaller pieces tend to sell better in Europe than the big works.
Veronique Laurent’s Knives
Veronique had a good variety of knives at BLADE Show Texas that showcased her skills and versatility: a large brass-backed bowie, a few elegant hunters and a folding dagger.
“It was an honor to be asked to make a big bowie,” she observed. “It’s a man’s knife and it took many years for a man to trust that I could build a large bowie.”
While she doesn’t build knives “to order,” she does keep a list of customers who are looking for a particular type of knife. “I don’t take orders. I want to be free!” she explained. She’d been asked to build a big bowie and did her research and came across the Musso Bowie. She built the Big Boy Bowie and it promptly won Best Fighter in Fort Worth.
Big Boy is highlighted by a feather damascus blade of O2 and 45NCD16 tool steels with a riveted brass back. The guard is O2 also. Parts of the guard are mirror polished, parts are stippled, and parts are engraved with raised flowers.
“O2 steel is good because you can finish it many ways and it works well for the engraving,” Veronique explained.
The handle is ancient walrus ivory. Also on her table was a fine damascus folding dagger that won the show’s custom judging award for Best Folding Knife. All the fittings, engraving, jewel settings, and display box are by Veronique.
So where does one go next when you’re already known worldwide?
“I want to focus on engraving and filework,” she said. “I am also learning to make automatic folding knives from Rick Dunkerley.”
Veronique is a strong woman and plays well at what is often a man’s game. She doesn’t take orders but builds a few major pieces in several categories each year. She prefers email communication from Americans because it is difficult to hear and translate over the phone. She’ll be at the major shows, but you’d better get there early as her work is in high demand.
For more information about Veronique Laurent and her knives e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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