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What is behind the brand?

What is behind the brand?

Comparison of various brands selling (and sometimes manufacturing) steel grooming instruments

Have you ever bought a pair of tweezers or nippers at your local drugstore or beauty supply store, only to find that you have to buy a new pair a few months later? The package said that the tool was made from steel, the brand sounded familiar, and the instrument itself might even have had Germany stamped on it. You probably thought all this meant the product would be durable and high quality, yet in a pretty short time the tools became nearly unusable. What gives? In our opinion - mostly advertising.

When searching for a well made quality tool that will last a lifetime, it is not enough just to know which tools you want and where you think they’re from. All around the world there are multitudes of companies that manufacture personal grooming tools; and many of these factories produce instruments for other private labels and brands. In fact, a lot of tools have a stamp that says “Germany”, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the tool was actually made there. Imprints like this are often put on poorer quality instruments simply because the tools were finished or packaged in Germany. Knowing the difference isn’t easy unless you know the brand.

Manufacturers around the world

China

Most consumers by now realize that these products may be cheap, but they'd rather pay more than use instruments that would make them and their families sick. Products made in China are manufactured for dirt-cheap prices because these factories externalize their costs. Chances are, the materials used are substandard, the construction methods are sloppy, the waste products are not recycled or filtered and instead dumped out to the environment, and the workers are underpaid, if they aren’t actual children. Historically, massive recalls of products and even foods that are made out of poisonous and toxic materials have taught most of us that it would be detrimental to our health to ever use these tools. Thankfully, so far in the beauty industry, most of these manufacturers are sticking to making plastic beauty products since these are relatively easy and inexpensive to make.

Pakistan

By now we've all heard about outsourcing. Offshore labor costs are much cheaper, so many companies have moved their manufacturing facilities, or just purchase the services or products of existing international factories to make products with a recognized name, but at much cheaper production costs. These second-rate instruments are sold at relatively cheap prices all over the world. Would you believe that over 90% of steel grooming tools on the US market are actually made in Pakistan? The place of manufacture isn’t in and of itself bad, but in an industry that is loosely regulated with little governmental oversight or penalties for abuse, finding a quality factory that is both ethical and environmentally responsible in this part of the world is difficult if not downright impossible. Of course we'd all rather pay less, but keep in mind that most of the time you get what you paid for. If you spend less, you'll generally get an inferior quality product, or at best, a product from a factory that has contributed greatly to the smog and pollution in this country that is making headlines with its severity and threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Korea

Instruments made in Korea may be a little bit better quality than those produced in Pakistan, at least their cases are, their tools are also rather poorly made. Though still inferior to the tools made in Germany (all crafted by hand), Korean made tools are made by an automated process (by a machine). Some instruments are made in Korea for various brands and private labels. While Korean beauty products and skin creams are starting to gain renown for quality, their steel grooming tools are the same as they have always been. While not terrible, they are not as good as they could be and these tools may serve for a year or two before replacement becomes necessary.

United States

Though marketing may not use the actual words “Made in USA”, some brands will try to play on the patriotic strings in such a way that consumers may easily assume that the products sold are USA made. In fact, most such products are actually made in other countries for US-based brands. These are often highly visible brands that are frequently sold in the general pharmacies and department stores. They may claim to be high quality but you should take these claims with a grain of salt. A good number of these pharmacy brands get their product lines from factories in China, Pakistan, Korea and other similar countries. Their "All American" claim is not true, just as their aspiration of exceptionally high quality is not as accurate as you'd hope.

Europe

We've touted the superiority of German-made instruments, and in most cases we'd recommend a German brand over any other without even asking for the name of the brands being compared, but there is an exception to this rule as there is with most things. Steel instruments are made in many places, but if they are Solingen stamped they are superior beyond doubt. To have a stamp of Solingen , the product must be produced to the highest standards that are strictly policed by the city.

Solingen has been the world-renowned center of production of superior steel for centuries. This knowledge and skill has not been lost; in fact it continues to be improved upon. The quality of all types of steel work produced here surpasses that of almost anywhere else. All of these companies are family-owned and operated, with generations of craftsman continuing the traditions of impeccable quality. They carry on the skills, the knowledge and love of the craft in the same way and the same place their grandfathers and great-grandfathers have.

In fact, the plating process used by companies in Solingen is so durable that the nickel, chrome or gold plated instruments from will not come off the tools, at least not in the span of your lifetime, which is a lot of years of great, reliable service.

Solingen is not a brand

A common mistake is thinking the “Solingen” mark is a brand name. It’s an easy assumption to make, but absolutely incorrect. The Solingen mark indicates the place of manufacture, much like the name “Milan” or “Paris” would on an article of clothing. Unlike clothing, however, the Solingen mark is additionally distinctive and regulated by law. The Solingen mark is a sign of quality. For German brands, using the Solingen name on a product is a privilege and this privilege can be taken away if manufacturers do not ensure that their tool production adheres to very strict requirements which include a requirement to be crafted within the Solingen city limits, among other standards. In this way, you will know that the tools you purchase meet or exceed the highest quality standards that Solingen steel works have long been known for.

Solingen is also well known for its cutlery, but though it is known as the standard for steel manufacture, it is not the only place in the world where great steel products are made. Zwilling is located in Switzerland and is the headquarters of a few brands manufacturing steel cutlery and grooming tools that are also considered top of the line. A good example of a Zwilling brand is VitoriNox; they make Swiss army knives and other great cutlery. Premana - small town in Italy (also called “Little Solingen”) is also known for old traditions - 300 years of high quality production. This is where the brands Alpen and Premax are from.

Besides the best raw materials and finest steel production process, German made instruments are also prized for the precision and attention to detail that European craftsman are known for in general, and the masters in Solingen are esteemed for in particular.

The brands

Though the German brands we'll refer to in this article are generally better than those produced elsewhere, just as with German cars there are differences between the steel tool manufacturing brands. The main difference between the various German brands is the level of detail, design and manual involvement to which their instruments are put through. Instruments of a higher quality brand are actually mostly made, assembled, ground, sharpened, polished and even tested by hand. From the biggest to the smallest job, there is a specialized craftsman who completes every task by hand, down to any and every little detail.

Let’s take a look at few Solingen brands. To better understand the comparison, let's compare the brands to three brands of generally well known German made cars: Mercedes Benz, BMW and Volkswagen. All are made in Germany, all are of good if not great quality, but there is a difference in the level of quality, precision, luxury, and therefore price.

The trusty, no nonsense, no frills, Volkswagen is reliable, durable, and just keeps working. German grooming tool brands that meet this description are brands like Gosol, Timor, Duisberg Clou, BS, Hans Kniebes, and Doppelkopf. They’re not exactly luxurious, but they get the job done and the tools last a long time. These brands could be somewhat compared to Tweezerman, and as a matter of fact, some products made in the factories owned by Gosol, Timor, etc. are actually sold under the Tweezerman label.

The more elegant BMW has all the reliability and durability of a Volkswagen, but with more eye appeal and perhaps a bit more attention to small details. Brands that meet this description are brands like Erbe, J.A. Henckels and Pfeilring. Precise, good engineering, and well made are also good descriptors of these brands. The BMW brands cost a little more than the Volkswagen brands, but the added aesthetics and attention to detail are often worth it.

At the top of the list is the luxurious Mercedes Benz. Visually attractive, superior quality materials, flawless construction and a long life are common descriptors for not only the car but the brands we categorize here. Malteser, Dovo, F. Hammann, GERMANIKURE and Niegeloh are a few of these brands. They are often priced higher than the BMW or Volkswagen brands, but the detail and aesthetic are top of the line. These instruments are mostly made by hand; every blade is physically honed and ground by a craftsman to bring you a spotless and very attractive tool to own and use. These are the tools you will purchase and your grandchildren will inherit.

When looking for a better deal you may find it interesting that in some stores, good quality steel products made in Solingen are cheaper than some of the poor quality products made in third-world countries. The GERMANIKURE brand is a good example of this. Their tools are generally priced competitively with common drugstore and supermarket brands, but the lifespan of this brand is significantly better, and you’ll have much better experiences with the tools.

If you're really a bargain hunter, you already know that paying a bit more just once beats paying less over and over again. In the end, even if you choose to purchase instruments made by a less expensive German brand you'll still be a winner. Their quality is outstanding and will save you money in the long run.

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