Paul Jacobs was looking for his own brand. The software developer from Holland wanted to find a product he could see and touch – a contrast to the digital world of technology in which he was active. By chance, he came across a scissors factory in Sheffield. The Ernest Wright family business had been producing high-quality scissors for 116 years until 2018, when it was close to bankruptcy. Paul and his business partner Jan Bart decided within an hour to buy the company. Why did he save it? “I fell in love immediately. Products like the wheel, the paper clip – or even the scissors – will never go out of fashion. And the good thing is, everyone has scissors at home.”
After the assets were bought and the building rented, Paul and Jan bought back all the machines and hired the employees who had already been made redundant. “It was time to become part of Ernest Wright’s story,” says Paul. In the beginning, the new owners were still being met with skepticism. “It’s a strange story. After 116 years you are on the verge of collapse and then two Dutchmen without any experience in this field come and promise you all kinds of things. Of course, the employees were skeptical at first,” Paul remembers. It wasn’t until they bought an extractor to improve the working conditions that the concerns disappeared. “Suddenly they knew we were serious and unpacked their tools.
The company, in which machines from 1936 are still in operation, expected an innovative upswing. Paul and Jan improved the processes and renovated the machines. “Instead of working according to the ‘trial and error’ method, we have established fixed processes,” says Paul. Thanks to his software background, a web shop and his own website were added. But one thing hasn’t changed in 116 years: The attention to detail in making scissors. “In the workshops you can feel the love and passion of every craftsman. This is also reflected in the feedback from our customers. We receive letters, e-mails, and even customers, from Australia for example, fly in to pick up the goods personally.”
From the Netherlands to England and back again. With the upcoming Brexit, Paul and Jan have decided on a small warehouse in the Netherlands and a location in Sheffield, between which the stock will be transported back and forth. They already have one or two shuttle journeys behind them. The Mercedes-Benz G-Class, with which they were initially travelling, became too small for this at some point. “So, we switched to a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter,” reports Paul. “The vehicle is great for us. It drives fast, smoothly and reliably. It’s also comfortable and above all spacious.” As much as Paul appreciates the quality of his company’s scissors, he also attaches great importance to the quality of the means of transport. “We didn’t have to make any modifications to our Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. The eight-hour journey goes by in a flash.”
From stainless or carbon steel to hand-made Ernest-Wright scissors – this is how the classic cutter is produced step by step:
The rough shape of a scissor blade is forged from steel in a die. It includes a drill mark for easy and accurate alignment of the two halves.
An over 50-year-old machine removes the first layer of the material. Then the further refinement takes place by hand. This is where the blades get their first shape towards the cutting edge. A belt grinding machine is guided through the handle of the blade to grind the inside.
3. Hardening and vibrating
Now the steel blades are hardened. Depending on the model, this is done either by salt hardening or vacuum hardening. Both methods produce the same result: A rock-hard blade that remains sharp for a long time. The hardened halves are then treated overnight in a deburring and polishing machine, the vibrator. This removes the grinding marks and gives the blades a smooth appearance.
The blades are now ready for assembly. It’s a delicate task where the perfect curve has to be made on every blade. It is a highly qualified job that takes years to learn and makes the difference between a scissor made in mass production and one made by hand.
5. Edging and sealing
After the scissors have been assembled, they are finally given their sharp edges. With a quick movement, both blades are closed for the first time.
6. Polishing, quality control and engraving
After high gloss polishing, the quality control manager checks all finished scissors. The name “Ernest Wright” is not engraved until the performance and finish have been approved.
Paul Jacobs predicts a long future for Ernest Wright’s scissors. He sees a trend especially among the younger generation: “The throwaway society is going out of fashion. People today are more concerned about their environment and the sustainability of the products they use. They ask themselves the question: Do I want to buy a product over and over again or would I rather buy a handmade product that lasts a lifetime? You don’t have to be rich to do that.” What is actually lacking, however, are young people to follow in the footsteps of scissors making. Paul explains this by the possible assumption that the work in a scissors factory is still regarded as badly paid and hard. “But that’s not the case. We are not mass production. Our products are of high quality and accordingly more expensive, which is also what the salary of the employees is based on. Paul has clear goals for Ernest Wright: Expansion of the company, a scissors museum in Sheffield City – and more young people enjoying the art of making scissors.