A spectacle frame, pt. 1

What a trade, the optics trade of Great Britain: what glorious and era-defining ups and downs over the last 100 years. Just ask the spectacle frame factory in East London. Ups began with the making of gas-mask frames and aviator goggles for the war; then NHS frames for just about everyone short of sight between 1950 and 1980; then exquisitely made face-furniture for the great and the good and the deep of pocket in more recent times. The downs — well, the factory now is the last of its kind.

But, then, this place — it always has been a sort of one-of-a-kind. It made its name first with the nifty idea of making frames with “rolled gold” — 14-karat gold wrapped onto a durable alloy base — and, latterly, for the heavy-rimmed spectacles which were standard-issue, with a doctor’s note, in the country pre-Thatcher. Contraptions used then were, as today, small and mechanical and hand-operated. Mostly museum-grade vintage. No other frame-maker of sensible acumen entertains the thought of using them. But, here, a troupe of skilful makers and technicians use them every day: some buzzing up and down the four floors of the place, as if playing parts in some make-believe or toy spectacle-factory; others occupied by the squint-making minutiae of a bend or a crimp or a solder for one of the many dozen parts which go into every frame.

Hand-made frames, then. For spectacles or, if you prefer, sunglasses. More very soon.