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Knife chat: The Wenger Esquire and derivatives

Wenger, maker of “The Genuine Swiss Army Knife”, are now owned by Victorinox. A very small range of their 65mm knives survive in the catalogue. All are based around the once standard Esquire model. Some of the various derivatives are well worth a glance as they offer slightly larger tools than the popular 58mm Victorinox Classic.

65mm Wenger Esquire (top) compared to smaller 58mm Victorinox Classic
65mm Wenger Esquire (top) compared to smaller 58mm Victorinox Classic

Most of us will have heard of the ‘Swiss Army Knife’. This was originally an actual knife- the Offiziersmesser, or ‘Officer’s knife’ that was issued to members of the Swiss Army. The company that later became known as Victorinox (founded in 1884) won the contract to produce the Modell 1890 knife in 1891, thereby becoming the maker of the ‘Original Swiss Army Knife’. In 1893 Wenger also began to manufacture the knife and the contract was split evenly between Victorinox and Wenger from 1908. The range of knives produced by both companies increased though Wenger began to struggle commercially. This was particularly the case following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks as Wenger relied on sales of their products in airports and there was a consequent large drop in sales. In 2005 Wenger were acquired by Victorinox, an action that prevented a well-respected Swiss brand moving overseas.

The Wenger brand was retained until 2013/4 when it was abandoned in favour of Victorinox though the name lived on in spirit. All of the Wenger knife models were withdrawn but production of some continued under a slightly different branding- Victorinox Delémont, with some associated subtle changes in design. These tools were manufactured in the Delémont valley in the Canton of Jura, Switzerland. Amongst those manufactured were variants on some of the smaller 65mm range of knives previously produced by Wenger.

Tang stamps on Wenger Esquire (left) and Victorinox Executive 81 (right)

The 65mm Wenger Esquire was a slightly larger alternative to the very popular 58mm Classic made by Victorinox. There are three main tools on both knives. These are blade, scissors and a nailfile with nail cleaner tip. If plastic (Cellidor) scales are fitted there are usually two further tools- toothpick and tweezers.

There have been quite a few variants on the Esquire of which just a handful are shown here. Most knives have plain smooth sides but one version of the knife had the toothpick replaced by a small white LED light. This was called the Microlight Esquire. Together with larger size Wenger knives, a version of the standard Esquire with ergonomically sculpted scales was produced. This was called the Evo 81, or Evolution 81. In 2009 this was ‘improved’ by the addition of black rubberised pads to the Evo scales in an attempt to improve the grip further, this version was called the Evo Grip.

For just a couple of years there was a collaboration between Wenger and the Buck knife company. One of their products, the SwissBuck Legend, model 87504, was based on the Esquire but had black ribbed scales fitted with somewhat poor quality ‘BUCK’ transfers. Very hard to come across these days, this variant is not covered here.

Minor tools:

Just 65mm in length, these knives are small enough to not be too intrusive if actually hung with a set of keys. Minor tools on these knives usually comprise keyring, toothpick and tweezers. All of the knives shown below have a 9.5mm diameter ‘split-ring’ keyring but over the years some of the Esquire type knives have been released that lacked this or a holed tab on to which one could be fitted. If fitted and the split ring removed, the tab will not fold away into the knife, instead being fixed in position. While defined as part of the 65mm range, the keyring tab extends 2mm beyond the frame. If a pedant, you could therefore describe the length of these knives as 67mm.

With the 2014 change in branding from Wenger to Victorinox Delémont, the former Wenger scale tools, accessible from slots beneath the lip of the scales, changed to the larger Victorinox type of scale tool, the toothpick and tweezers sitting into a cut-out in the end of the scales. Three Points of the Compass is not the greatest of fans of the tweezers and toothpick found on many Swiss Army Knifes. The tweezers are a little too flexible for decent gripping of obdurate thorns and splinters, though if you grip nearest the tips, it will extract very small thorns. The tips could do with a far sharper angle to them for tick extraction duty and a dedicated tick tweezer is best carried for that essential task. The toothpick is a nasty little addition. It simply harbours bacteria in its slot, there to be transferred to the mouth. I refuse to use them for their intended purpose though they can also be used to hook out trail gunk and pocket fluff from between the scales.

Larger Victorinox toothpick and tweezers compared to the smaller Wenger scale tools
The location of the ‘keyring’ has moved around on these knives over the years. Earlier Wenger blades opened away from a keyring, unlike more recent iterations of the knife which open toward.
The Wenger 65mm knives (left) had scales that wrapped around the frame with tweezers and toothpick centrally set into these. The Victorinox equivalent (right) has larger tweezers and toothpick slotted into Cellidor scales pressed onto the outside of the frame

Main tools:

All these knives have non-locking slip joints with modest length blades and easily fall within UK ‘knife-carry’ law. The overall blade length of 44.5mm on these 65mm long tools have an actual cutting edge of 39mm. The blades measure 1.15mm across the spine. Steel quality and blade thickness is common to all of these small knives. Of interest, there was an uncommon version of the Esquire with a serrated blade. However that blade can be more difficult to sharpen whereas plain blades are relatively easy.

The 45mm long scissors on these knives have the exact same 16mm long cutting edges as those found on the smaller Victorinox Classic. But all of this is practical usable length on the 65mm knives. The cutting edges on the Wenger scissors are different too. The scissors have ‘self-sharpening’ edges and micro-serrations. They also have a lever type back spring, unlike the Victorinox which usually incorporate a small spring. The back spring is more reliable in the long term with less reported breakages though the small spring on Victorinox type scissors can be purchased as an after-sale replacement if necessary. Some users don’t like the serrations on the Wenger scissors but Three Points of the Compass finds these particularly useful on such tiny scissors as they provide a little grip on slippery materials. I have found these small scissors ideal for many small and simple ‘on-trail’ tasks. While the scissors will trim nails and I have used them for that, they are not particularly suited to this task as they leave a slightly roughened cut edge that then requires smoothing. Dedicated nail clippers are preferable and a potential solution is included below. There was a very subtle change in scissor design in the earlier years that prevented pocket fluff etc. jamming up the pivot action as much as very earlier versions of the Esquire did. Though it still pays to keep the scissors on all versions from all years as clean as possible.

The 65mm knives have toothpick and blade shpaed around the same profile. These two tools lie beside each other when folded into the frame
The 65mm knives have toothpick and blade shaped around the same profile. These two tools lie beside each other when folded into the frame
Serrated self-sharpening scissors found on 65mm knives

The nail file has the exact same profile as the knife blade and the file surface itself measures 27m x 6mm. It is akin to a match strike surface that smooths nails just fine. The nail cleaner tip will work with smaller Phillips head screws though it will not handle a tremendous amount of twisting torque. The textured nailfile suface does face the blade and rasps uncomfortably against it when opening and closing. The repositioning of the keyring wasn’t helpful in all respects. It all comes down to what is most important to you. Easier use of the blade and nailfile, or easier use of the scissors, when hanging from a bunch of keys.

Wenger Esquire:

The 21.6g Wenger Esquire, model 16940, is the smallest basic toolset around which all other 65mm Wenger knives were or are based. There has been a small variety of scale colours produced over the years for this knife and various metal scaled alternatives that did not have any additional scale tools.

Wenger Esquire
Wenger Esquire
Wenger Esquire. Note printed white ‘Swiss’ shield used on this example, this was used in the 1980s and 90s
Wenger Esquire

Wenger Esquire features:

  • Cellidor scales
  • Small blade
  • Serrated scissors
  • Nailfile with nailcleaner tip
  • Keyring
  • Toothpick
  • Tweezers
  • Length: 65mm, width: 18.45mm, thick: 9.40mm
  • Weight: 21.6g

Microlight Esquire:

Microlight Esquire
The shield on the Microlight Esquire is an injection moulded two- tone red and white ‘Swiss’ cross shield, used by Wenger from the 2000s until taken over by Victorinox.

The 23.3g Wenger Microlight Esquire, model 16925 is a useful variant on the Esquire that combines the three useful tools- blade, scissors and nailfile, with a small white LED in one of the scales. This replaces the, frankly useless, toothpick. A small pair of tweezers is in the other scale.

There is a small sliding tray in the side of one scale that holds two 3v CR1216 batteries. These batteries are prone to slipping out and being lost underfoot when being changed. This is a brighter LED light than the Victorinox SwissLite alternative, looked at here, but still of modest lumen when compared to some of the tiny keychain LEDs generally available now.

Microlight Esquire
Microlight Esquire

Wenger Microlight Esquire features:

  • Cellidor scales
  • Small blade
  • Serrated scissors
  • Nailfile with nail cleaner tip
  • Keyring
  • Tweezers
  • White LED
  • Length: 65mm, width: 18.55mm, thick: 10.55mm
  • Weight: 23.2g
Battery compartment on Microlight Esquire
Battery compartment on Microlight Esquire
LED is activated by pressing the light symbol on the side of the scale

Executive 81:

Executive 81, model 0.6423. The Esquire evolved into the 21.5g Executive 81 following the takeover of Wenger by Victorinox. Now part of the Victorinox Delémont range. This range was a little strange. Some elements of the Wenger knives were retained, such as the ‘self-sharpening’ serrated scissors, while other components, such as the Wenger tweezers and toothpick, were swapped out to the Victorinox equivalents. The Victorinox Swiss shield is now shown on the scale and the words- VICTORINOX / SWISS MADE / DELÉMONT appear as a tang stamp on the blade. This is a great knife and frequently available at a competitive price.

Victorinox Executive 81
Victorinox Executive 81
Victorinox Executive 81

Victorinox Executive 81 features:

  • Cellidor scales
  • Small blade
  • Serrated scissors
  • Nailfile with nailcleaner tip
  • Keyring
  • Toothpick
  • Tweezers
  • Length: 65mm, width: 18.80mm, thick: 9.90mm
  • Weight: 21.5g

EvoWood 81:

Victorinox EvoWood 81

The 20.2g Victorinox EvoWood 81, model 0.6421.63 version of the Executive 81 has sculpted european walnut ‘Evolution’ scales. While these are very attractive they are not particularly ergonomic and they don’t do much to improve grip. Three Points of the Compass took a closer look at this handsome wood-scaled knife here.

Due to the inclusion of wooden scales there are no scale tools found on these knives.

Victorinox EvoWood 81
Victorinox EvoWood 81

EvoWood 81 features:

  • Sculpted European walnut wood scales
  • Small blade
  • Serrated scissors
  • Nailfile with nail cleaner tip
  • Keyring
  • Length: 65mm, width: 19.30mm, thick: 12.15mm
  • Weight: 20.2g

Wenger:

The 22g Wenger, model 0.6423.91, a rebrand from 2017, is the latest variant on the Esquire. It is simply a renamed Executive 81, however that knife lacked the Wenger name on the scale. This latest version now has the Wenger brand name returned to one of the scales together with the return of the Wenger style Swiss cross. The words- VICTORINOX / SWISS MADE / DELÉMONT remain as a tang stamp on the blade.

This is an odd development and now represents a strange mix in branding that is probably unique within the current Victorinox product line up. Note, again, a two-tone red on the Swiss shield on the scale. All that said, this is still a great little knife but it is currently sold at a premium over the almost identical forerunner, the Executive 81, still shown in the Victorinox catalogue (as of January 2022).

Wenger
Wenger
Wenger
Wenger
Wenger

Victorinox Wenger features:

  • Cellidor scales
  • Small blade
  • Serrated scissors
  • Nailfile with nail cleaner tip
  • Keyring
  • Toothpick
  • Tweezers
  • Length 65mm, width: 19mm, thick: 9.60mm
  • Weight: 22g

This shows just what a mixed up history the Esquire has had to endure- constantly being renamed while also rebranded from Wenger to Victorinox then back to Wenger!

Victorinox Wenger, or is it a Wenger Wenger!

The nailclipper variants:

There is another variant on the Esquire that may be of interest to those travelling, on particularly long multi-day hikes or simply for those attentive of personal grooming. These ‘nailclip’ knives squeeze a folding French style nailclipper between the scales. I took a closer look at this particularly effective clipper, available in a number of guises, in a dedicated blog here. The first such variant based on the Esquire was the Wenger Swiss Clipper. When Victorinox released their Delémont Collection the clippers changed slightly in design and the knife became known as the Nailclip 580. All of the Swiss Clippers came with ergonomic ‘EVO’ synthetic or wood scales, moulded for supposedly an easy grip, however I am not convinced there is much advantage with these.

Wenger Swiss Clipper has a pair of folding nail clippers
Nailclipper variants on the Esquire have a pair of nail clippers folded into the scales

Swiss Clipper and NailClip 580:

When Victorinox took on the task of replicating the Wenger nail clipper variant they manged to reduce it in thickness just a little and shave off a gram in weight. The Wenger Swiss Clipper weighs 37.8g the Victorinox NailClip 580. model 0.6463, weighs 36.7g. Half the weight again over the simpler Wenger in its final guise.

There is also an even simpler 65mm long tool with a nailclipper that I am reluctant to draw much notice to here because it eschews any useful main tools beyond the clipper itself. The 26.4g Victorinox NailClip 582, model 0.6453 is firmly targeted at personal grooming having no tools beyond nailclipper, tweezers and toothpick. Its usefulness on trail, or for that matter, anywhere else, is extremely limited as a result.

The only extra tools found on the 65mm Victorinox NailClip 582, beside the effective nail clippers, are less useful tweezers and toothpick, part removed here
Wenger Swiss Clipper
Wenger Swiss Clipper (Wenger shield on scale)
Victorinox NailClip 580 (Victorinox shield on scale)

Wenger Swiss Clipper and Nailclip 580 features:

  • Various scale types, those shown here are transluscent plastic
  • Small blade
  • Serrated scissors
  • Nailfile with nail cleaner tip
  • Nailclippers
  • Keyring
  • Length: 65mm long, width: 19mm, thickness: 19.80mm (the NailClip 580 is 18.80mm thick)
  • Weight: Wenger Swiss Clipper- 37.8g, Victorinox NailClip 580- 36.7g
Wenger Swiss Clipper is an attractive variant on the Esquire that is particularly suited to personal grooming
Victorinox NailClip 580 has a slightly altered configuration of tools from that found on the Wenger
The dedicated nail clippers found on all of the Wenger and Victorinox knives are of excellent quality and very efficient

NailClip 580 walnut:

There is a slightly simpler but more attractive version of the NailClip 580 from Victorinox. The NailClip 580 Walnut has moulded wooden scales and, in common with the EvoWood 81 above, does away with the toothpick and tweezers. No loss there I feel, but there is no subsequent loss in weight.

NailClip 580 Walnut features:

  • Sculpted European walnut scales
  • Small blade
  • Serrated scissors
  • Nailfile with nailcleaner tip
  • Nailclippers
  • Keyring
  • Length: 65mm, width: 19mm, thick: 19.75mm
  • Weight: 36.3g
Victorinox NailClip 580 Walnut
Victorinox NailClip 580 Walnut
Victorinox NailClip 580 Walnut

All of the main tools on all of the knives looked at above are of good quality. They open and close smoothly and are to the usual quality we have come to expect of these Swiss knife makers. There is not a bad tool amongst them but some are possibly more practical than others. It can be seen that many of these models offer exactly the same toolset and just reflect subtle changes in branding over the years!

In conclusion:

For those who are content with the simple trinity of tools offered by the 58mm Victorinox Classic but would prefer it if they were just a tad larger, the 65mm Wenger Esquire or one of the various subsequent incarnations may suit perfectly. There is nothing wrong with the Classic but most of the tools on the slightly larger 65mm knives offer not only a slightly larger size but often a small step up in functionality too.

It is odd that both the Executive 81 and the Wenger 65mm knives remain on sale side by side as they have exactly the same toolset yet there is usually a premium price on one over the other. Buy the cheaper.

The popular 58mm Victorinox Classic compared to the slightly larger 65mm Wenger Esquire
The popular 58mm Victorinox Classic compared to the slightly larger 65mm Wenger Esquire

There were a great many more knives with various tool sets in the 65mm range beyond those looked at here. All are now obsolete and some are very difficult to locate these days. Note though, that most of the tools to be found on those now withdrawn models, such as awls and screwdrivers of various types, can still be found on existing, still manufactured, Victorinox models in alternative size ranges.

Three Points of the Compass has looked at quite a few knives and multi-tools that may, or may not, be suitable for backpacking, day treks or Every Day Carry. Links to these can be found here.

The Victorinox Executive 81. A fantastic modern iteration of the earlier Wenger Esquire

3 replies »

  1. I have a wenger black penknife with a cigar cutter, which says PAT PEND. Also it has no Swiss cross on it. Can anyone give me any information on it please?

    Like

    • Hi John. My apologies but I have no knowledge on the Wenger knives with cigar cutter. As always, your first port of call might best be to those v knowledgeable chaps at Sakwiki, try here

      Like

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