Design and Passion Meet Performance

Design and Passion Meet Performance: Get to Know Bladesmith Neels van den Berg


Get to know bladesmith, Neels van den Berg, whose meticulous attention to detail, quest for perfection and relentless passion ensures that each hand-crafted knife is a piece of art made with soul. 

What does it mean to be ‘Made With Soul’? In a quest to discover just this, Mazda’s latest campaign showcases local South African artisans who are dedicated to their craft.

Mazda believes that beautiful design, honed through decades of expertise and passion can breathe life into everything they create. Aesthetics is paramount. Enter: bladesmith, Neels van den Berg. With an eye for design, a requisite for perfection and a desire to create knives that are unique yet classic, he’s gained a loyal following for a reason.

While bladesmith may not be a common title, it’s one that Neels holds with pride. Qualified as an American Bladesmith Society Master Smith (he attained his Master Smith stamp in June 2022) and a member of the Knifemakers Guild of Southern Africa, Neels’ journey into knife craftmanship happened by chance.

Originally pursuing a career in graphic design, his interest in knives was piqued more than a decade ago, and he never looked back. “The first knife I created was terrible,” he laughs, yet it’s one he still has in his collection – a keepsake to show where he started and a reminder of how far he has come.

Graphic designer to bladesmith may seem like quite a jump, but in fact the professions are more similar than you may think – attention to detail, a flair for design and the commitment to deliver excellence are all traits that link the two vocations unequivocally. These are also principles which lie at the heart of the Japanese philosophy of Kodawari – a concept which has not only influenced much of Neels’ work since he started out but resonates with Mazda as a brand, too.

Design and Passion Meet Performance: Get to Know Bladesmith Neels van den Berg

As Mazda has its roots in Japan, the brand believes that when a form is painstakingly sculpted by human hands it receives a soul. Because of the power of touch a deep spiritual connection exists between Mazda’s master designers and their products. Like any true artist, they believe they always leave something of themselves in what they create. Neels feels the same deep bond with each blade he breathes life into. “Each piece that I create is made with soul. Blade-making involves many intense hours – hours of concentration, frustration, hard work – which ultimately leads to a piece that I am incredibly proud to hand over,” he says. “I also enjoy the physicality of the process – it’s literally made by hand, my hands.”

Madza’s Japanese design philosophy embodies the dynamic beauty of life. It’s this philosophy of passion, persistence, commitment, and attention to detail that made Neels feel a natural kinship to the brand. “I am continuously inspired by the technique and skilfulness of the Japanese. The way they are so meticulous about their craft and how they commit years to perfecting certain skills. It’s inspiring,” he says.

Neels’ company, Black Dragon Forge, strives to deliver products that put a smile on his customers’ faces. They seek him out – and return – for good reason. “My aim is to produce no-nonsense, practical products of a really high calibre,” he says. “Smithing is a skill that you can continue to improve upon – always learning something new, or perfecting what you do a little more. I may have been doing this for thirteen years, but I still have that same passion and drive that I started out with. Sometimes it feels like it’s just the beginning.”

By connecting with the driver’s soul, each Mazda is more than just a combination of metal, leather, and glass. It’s about creating an emotional connection where car and driver ultimately become one. To find out more about the #MazdaMadeWithSoul series, head to the Mazda website.