Join Date: Feb 2014
It's not an easy subject to quantify. Determining quality of a blade might be best achieved through actual use as intended; however, not many of us are inclined toward physical combat, mano a mano, sensibly preferring verbal exchanges.
Then there's the question: can one compare battle tools with more carefully crafted exhibition-grade weaponry, in which the smith's talents would be more visible?
My immediate thought is that the best of both worlds might be found in high-quality Japanese swords - elegant, very artful, and deadly effective. I have no exposure other than pictures/museum-ogling to back this up, but certainly their reputation is top-drawer.
I've been impressed with some high-end Ottoman-area work, jambiya/khanjar examples artfully created with wootz steel, as well as an Albanian yatagan cored with 4 rows of rose Damascus with plain(?) steel at top and edge, in a silver niello'd hilt. A lovely sword, though not likely to find its way to a battlefield. This is not to discount the lovely Damascus blades found throughout the Mideast, of similar quality.
Indian workmanship has always impressed me. Treating steel as a plastic medium, gracefully working pattern and shape into tools of beautiful destructiveness, made my first encounters with the products of these ancient smiths full of awe.
The swords and daggers of the Malay Archipelago take quality perhaps a step further, with the utilisation of nickel to create innumerable varieties of pamor, and sculpting the blades to an extent beyond what I have seen from India, though there is certainly plenty of cross-cultural influence going on. Adding a metaphysical, symbolic dimension to these blades may have nothing to do with the quality under discussion, but it goes a certain distance toward illuminating the reasons why such apparently flagrant excess exists in the construction of the keris.
As I ramble on, it seems to me that I tend to equate quality more with elements of design and creative use of material, rather than sheer function and utility. I suppose it's basically adding another layer of skill and effort to the fundamental creation of a blade.