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Need a Jerk? So Did This Veteran Optician. Enter Bespoke Frame Making

Tired of going with the flow, he learned there was still so much more to learn about his chosen profession.

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A MAN LIVES sorta – well, in jerks. Baby’s born or somebody dies, and that’s a jerk. He gets a farm or loses it, and that’s a jerk. With a woman, it’s all in one flow, like a stream – little eddies and waterfalls – but the river, it goes right on.” – John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath.

I didn’t understand this quote in my 20s when I was first introduced to Steinbeck. It wasn’t until I sat down to write this article, now in my 50s, that I fully understood what he was saying. While the quote speaks of men versus women, it’s ultimately a view of how people live their lives. Looking back on my career, I can say I have lived in both flows, waterfalls, eddies, and yes, jerks.

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When an optician enters the field, that’s a jerk. They earn their first certification, and that’s another. At some point, you find yourself in the flow, slowly winding through the days, repeating them endlessly until you get another jerk. When I first sat down to make a frame, I realized how little I knew about them. It wasn’t until somebody showed me the edges of my knowledge that I realized how much further there was to go. Questions such as:

Why does a $30 frame feel so different from a $300 or $800 frame?

The truth is, as price goes down automation goes up. Thus, at the lowest price point, injection molded plastic with sprayed on finishes are the norm. As you move up in quality, the attention to detail and the amount of hand work increases. At its highest point, you have one frame made for an individual with the least amount of machine involvement possible. All the surfaces are cut, filed, sanded, polished, and fit together with precision in mind. This is called Bespoke and it’s what I make for my clients.

What’s Mazzucchelli acetate? What’s the deal with Italian vs. Japanese acetate? Aren’t they all made in China?

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The biggest manufacturers do make some of their product in China, but when ordering, it is delineated from other product so that makers can decide what they want to use. Mazzucchelli is considered one of the oldest and finest acetate manufacturers in Europe. I use Mazzucchelli in my own frames. That’s not to diminish Japanese acetates. Japan makes beautiful products that tend to be more ridged and hold a shine, albeit with greater work—in part because of the amount of wood cellulose used. Japanese acetates tend to be more muted in color due to the development and manufacturing processes.

Are spring hinges or standard hinges better? What about riveted hinges?

Depends who you ask. One of the largest hinge manufacturers is Visottica Comotec. I would argue the bulk of the hinges on the market come from them. OBE is their direct competitor. Both make spring hinges. They also make standard and riveted hinges. I stick to standard or riveted hinges from OBE if I can.

These are just a few of the questions I was asked the day I started my journey as a frame maker. Questions regarding fit, modifications, design and how to make it all fit in your career start percolating. Frame making not only jerked me out of the flow but catapulted me forward as an optician. Frame making is not only informed by being an optician, but as an optician you are informed and made better by frame making.

Kevin Count has been an optician for more than 30 years, working in both retail and wholesale settings. In 2018, he traveled to Morez, France to learn the art of frame making from Les Meilleurs Ouvriers de France Lunetiers. You can email him at [email protected].

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