Here are the rules. Here is the $25 and less entry, the $50 max entry, the $100 max entry, the $200 max entry, and the $500 max entries (tools and lights).
Well, we have finally made it. This is the end of any semblance of reasonableness. Spending more than $1000 on a knife and light is really completely unnecessary. In all likelihood, even $1000 is silly. But, at this price range you are looking at the some of the very best gear in the world: small, handmade batches, or extremely refined production stuff. This price range is the F1 racecar price range. Here you can insist, rightfully so, on only the very best. These knives and lights can be the equivalent of the Rolexes. The pimp my ride phenomenon from the previous category still exists here, so be careful. There is nothing worse than paying $350 for a knife that offers no performance upgrade over a $50 knife.
There are very few knives in the Spyderco/Benchmade/Kershaw lines that are worth paying more than $300 for. There are things like the Benchmade Infidel which are exceptions to this rule and are not simply "prettified" versions of cheaper knives. Other those few examples, it is time to move beyond these more mainstream brands.
There are the three American made knife companies that people in this price range always mention: Chris Reeve Knives, William Henry Studios, and Strider. Zero Tolerance makes some reasonably sized knives in this price range as well and their new 777 sent the knife world into tizzies before BLADE show. There are also a few import knives that are worth considering from Klotzli.
One thing seems to set the price or value proposition for all of the blades in this price range--the basic Chris Reeve Sebenza 21 either large or small. The knife is so well made, the tolerances so fine, that a blade either needs to come in significantly cheaper, do something spectacular, or do something radically different. If it doesn't, why not just buy a Sebenza?
Sebenza 21 small and large are classics, as the "21" designation indicates, having been around for 21 years. The new versions use the next gen Crucible steel, S35VN. Both are exceedingly simple and unspeakably perfect in their execution. I love my Sebenza small, as it is just the right size. For people looking for something a bit bigger, you have the Sebenza large or even the Umnumzaan, an even bigger CRK blade. At the small end, you have one of the most elegant gentleman's folders I have ever seen, the Mnandi. Personally I think the "enhanced" Sebenzas are bit of gilding the lily, but the Mnani, for some reason, just seems right as the upscale choice. I love the wooden handle choices available too, things like Walnut strike me as particularly beautiful next to the titanium handles. The fanciest knife CRK offers is the Ti-Lock. I am not sure if it is even released, as there seems to be some issues with production. The knife, in my opinion, is not part of the same aesthetic whole as the other three CRK knives and lacks the minimalism that makes the Sebenza so attractive to me. Out of the CRK family of folders, the Sebenza 21 small is my favorite, but I am trying to figure out a way to get a Mnandi as well. If I could only have one, it would be Sebenza 21 small.
The Strider PT is certainly a different approach to knives in this price range, as it is based on the very aggressive looking Strider SNG and SMF. I think the PT and the SNG are really everyday carry sized knives, but I am sure that someone out there hauls around the SMF. One issue that seems to hold the PT back, in my mind, at least, is a regular and persistent criticisms of the fit and finish of the knife. DarkChild 57's review typifies the lot--little things are missing here and there. I love the size and the shape, especially the finger choil, but I am worried that even for all this money, the little things aren't done right. And at this price level this is a concern you should not have. I know that they replaced the pivot screw on the Gen II PTs. I also know there is a clipless PT CC with a convex G-10 handle scale. Still, for this much cash you have the right to expect perfection and I am not sure you get it here.
Microtech, a maker made famous by their high quality auto knives, released a gorgeous folder in time for BLADE 2011 (it won the Most Innovative award). The Microtech SF is a beautiful looking design, but has not been released long enough for their to be a lot of useful feedback. Still, based on Microtech's reputation, the specs, and the look of the knife, there is obvious quality here. I like the thin handle, recalling the precision feel of the Delica's long thin handle, and I like the blade shape. The steel is also nice--S35VN. If you are looking for something a little more aggressive looking than the Sebenza, but you want a bit higher fit and finish than most Striders, the Microtech SF may be the way to go. Again, all of this is with the caveat that there is no real meaningful feedback out there yet.
William Henry Studios makes some really nice and really fancy blades. The WH EDC 6 was covered in the last recommendation. Its larger brother, the EDC 10, can now be purchased, as it is about $50 more than the $250 EDC 6. Both are fine knives that use a button lock. I handled an EDC 10 at a knife show around its release last year and I was impressed. It was light and felt very solid, a surprising combination. I guess you are paying for the inlay and this odd combination of lightness, solidity, and size. Again, you have the Sebenza problem, though. At this point and this price, why not just get a Sebenza? The look and feel are different, but the fit and finish is about the same. The only issue for me with the EDC 6 and 10 is the steel. I like D2, as tough as it is, but it is substantially below par in this price range.
AG Russell Acies is sort of like the knife equivalent of your fantasy baseball team--it has a combination of all of the best features from other knives into one knife. It has a low riding pocket clip, a Hinderer lock stop, a Chris Reeve style frame lock, a stepped and angled thumb stud from Kershaw (who actually makes the Acies for AG Russell), and it has a ZDP-189 blade. My only concern, other than size, is the fact that the fit and finish aren't as good as they should be. Many video reviews note a wobbly lock bar when in the locked position. I have seen this before on my Leafstorm, and it is not a fatal flaw, it just inspires a bit of worry. And, again, there is nothing like this on the Sebenza and, as you have noticed, the refrain is the same: at this price, why not just get a Sebenza? Fix the lock bar issue and make it in a smaller size and I think the Acies could rival the Chris Reeve classic. As it is, opt for the Sebenza.
Three Sisters Forge TSF has a Ti framelock, and it looks excellent. A fellow EDCFer put up a review and from the review and the specs, this knife looks like a contender. It sets itself apart from the Sebenza by using the IKBS system in the pivot. It also has deep pocket carry. The steel is excellent as well (S35VN). Finally, it can be a bit cheaper than the Sebenza depending on the options, so in my mind, this knife is worth a look.
Why mess around with things that compare to the Sebenza, when, at this price, you can just GET a Sebenza? It is that simple. The only knife in this recommendation I'd strongly consider other than the Sebenza is the Three Sister Forge blade and that is because it is cheaper with identical materials. I also expect the Microtech will get great reviews, but it is so new, we just don't know.
Recommendation: Chris Reeve Sebenza 21 Small
Price: $330 (EVERYWHERE, no price deviations at all)
Lights are much simpler affair. There are very few lights in this price range. There are upscale, Ti versions of the Mac Custom TriEDC and the Muyshondt Aeon. There used to be a company called Lumencraft that made a beautiful light called the GatLight. They seem to have gone out of business. That leaves a few McGizmos and a few other unusual lights to consider.
We now get to main lights made by Don McLeish, unquestionably one of the finest flashlight makers in the world. He has five lights in production, the previously covered Sapphire (a Ti Arc AAA), Haiku, SunDrop, the Mule, and the Makai. The Haiku is the all around light. It does tons of things very well and I absolutely love mine. The fit and finish is beyond anything I have ever seen, perfectly cut without any machine marks whatsoever. The design is superb and the reflector is a thing of beauty. I am not sure if I need to say more. The Sundrop is a bit different. It is a High CRI light (though the Haiku comes in a High CRI version as well) without a reflector. It is primarily an outdoor lighting source, I imagine a boon to photographers. It has no throw due to the lack of a reflector and so I'd skip it unless you have a specific task that calls for it. The Mule is similar to the Sundrop but without the aspheric focusing lens. It has even more limitations, in my mind, and thus I'd skip it. The Makai is a thrower and the head makes it too big, in my opinion, to use as an EDC light.
If it is all about lumens for you and nothing else, then the answer has to be the Moddoolar Pocket. I covered this light here. It looks really nice and it is not too expensive. I especially like the tailcap, which is compatible with Surefire lights.
Lenlight makes a really snazzy Ti light that is focusable. I covered it here, and it is pricey. Still, it is something a little different and the specs and heritage of the design seem to indicate that it is a quality piece.
The pickins here are slim, especially if you exclude lights from the previous category. That said, the winner, in my opinion, is pretty clear: the McGizmo Haiku is the finest EDC light in the world. I have made the case in the review and I stick by it.
Recommendation: McGizmo Haiku
Price: $495 (Don's Thread on CPF)
Honorable Mention #1: Spyderco Calypso 3 and the Mac Custom TriEDC.
That's right, nothing in this price range touches the two things that I ended up recommending. In fact, to find a pairing that rivals these, just by a quirk of the market and production quality, instead you have to go back to the previous price range to find stuff without any flaws or issues. All of the blades seem to be mimics of the Sebenza or not as refined and the Moddoolar light, while a true pocket rocket, requires specialized rechargeable only batteries. In the end, none of this stuff is better than the Caly 3 and the TriEDC. If you can't get the Sebenza/Haiku combination, get the next best thing and save a few hundred bucks. Even then, the Caly 3/TriEDC combo certainly gives this light&saber pairing a run for its money.