Sabae City, Fukui Prefecture. Its name is known around the world. It is known as the “City of Glasses”. Just the label, “Made in Sabae” alone is an absolute guarantee of quality. Like Naples’ dress shirts, Northampton’s leather shoes, or Islay’s malt whiskey, it is a place bound inseparably from the product it produces. History, climate, tradition, craftsman, custom, innovation, pride. Manpower, labor and time is not normally found together in one place like it is here. This city pours forth something truly special. That is what it means to be a renowned place. Naturally, EYEVAN glasses are also made somewhere in this town. In 1972, EYEVAN started as an original product launched as “Eyewear for dressing as a fashion accessory” with VAN’s Kensuke Ishizu. They were later discovered by Oliver Peoples in the USA in 1985, and then restarted in 2018 with a capsule collection composed of 6 models. Throughout their history, all have been made here, in Sabae, a town narrow in width from north to south and surrounded by mountains. They are testimony to the high-quality products Sabae produces. That is the background from which EYEVAN are born.
Several polishing machines hum in a factory we visit. Other than that, the only sound you can hear is the local radio flowing from an aged speaker. A craftsman who silently polishes different metal parts of various manufacturers and brands brought to him speaks about his work. Not too cool, not overly passionate, he speaks tranquilly about the crafting of eyewear, as if he were speaking about the appearance of the sky and the day’s weather. There are other factories specializing in polishing in Sabae too, and there as well you’ll find a similar atmosphere amongst the craftsmen. It seems slightly strange.
Titanium alloy, which is superior in rigidity and is light weight as well, is the main component for metal parts used in modern Japanese glasses. Processing and polishing are difficult, and slight polishing residue or burrs cause peeling in the plating. For metal frame products, it is a fatal flaw. However, there is no numerical value to ensure quality. It is entrusted to the craftsman to judge by the way it feels in their hands -“ It is shining properly”. There is also another side of Sabae, a city of craftsmen, to be seen. More than numeric measurement, they go by feel and shine. The beautiful finish of the plating after processing is something one must see. Quality is entrusted to master technique and the senses. It may not apply to mass-produced goods, produced through large capital investment and manufactured in lots of tens of thousands, but when it comes to craft items, made through craftsmen’s hands, when it comes to Sabae glasses, sensation, rather than statistical measurement is appropriate.
There is a factory producing metal frames that boasts it is one of the best in Sabae city. Here, almost all processes other than plating are performed as a set, from design to mold making, cutting, polishing, pressing, welding, brazing, and assembly. There are approximately 80 employees all differing in age and sex. Everyone joins the company inexperienced, and becomes a specialist in one of these processes. No matter how complicated or delicate the designs, when it comes to glasses, rest assured that they can be made here. Daily production is 1000 units. The glasses are of numerous manufacturers and brands, selling based on quality and beauty, both in Japan and abroad. EYEVAN is one of them.
Since its founding in 1931, it has ceaselessly pushed its evolution, accumulating technology and experience, making the production of this product line possible. The “development of new processing machines” mentioned above is an example of that. The latest is a machine for caulking. Prior, the rivet used to secure the hinge was driven in, but now has been made to screw in. The difference in finish is something so slight you may not notice unless it is pointed out to you. The machines are made to attain beauty that can not be achieved by man. Such beauty is unobtainable other than in this city of craftsmen.
“Designs are flat plans on paper.
It is my job to fill in the margins in my head,
imagine curves and make it three-dimensional.
Do you need experience to do that?
That’s only logical. But, I have been making glasses since the age of 17…”
How are eyeglasses made? It is understood that the designs drawn on paper are the basis. They show the glasses from the top and front, as well as from the left and right. So how about when you look at them diagonally? How does curve of the front connect on the left and right sides? To be honest, even the person who drew the design often does not know clearly. Sometimes the front and the left and right do not even connect well. In other words, it is impossible to create a mold without filling in what’s not in the design. That is why this little factory is here. A craftsman who creates a prototype based on the design is here. From design to prototype, the form factor of EYEVAN was also decided here.
The material for prototyping is a soft metal plate. Parts are cut out and bent by hand, connecting the shapes shown on paper, filling in aspects not apparent in the design with imagination. If necessary, three dimensional parts that curve are sometimes cut out after being imagined in two dimensions. The appearance of the glasses is clearly established here. It is intimidating because the impression of the glasses changes dramatically depending on the craftsman working on the project. If one explains it in terms of the world of tailored clothing, one might call the craftsmen “pattern designers”. Knowledge, experience, technical skill, and sensibility are called into play. They each carry that heavy responsibility. One may seem young when you hear that they are 35 years old, but they have cultivated experience creating eyeglasses for nearly 20 years. Their prowess has been forged.
Approximately 100 years ago, Gozaemon Masunaga brought the technique of manufacturing glasses to Sabae from Osaka. Starting out as a side job to supplement work in the agricultural off season, the people of Sabae developed their own ingenuity and trained, leading them to where they are today. And so now you should be able to grasp the essence of this town, with its rich background, advanced technology, and numerous craftsmen. It is in this town you will find EYEVAN, eyewear which is comparatively delicate and occasionally requires intricate work to create. There, techniques and handicraft live together with craftsmen who plate, and engraving craftsmen who manually engrave their designs (it is said only one single such craftsman remains). It may seem like an overstatement to say that EYEVAN holds the essence of Sabae. Nonetheless, they are the glasses inheriting the town’s history and carrying it anew into the future.
The assembling factory is lined with various machines of sizes large and small. Unlike the specialty craftsmen intently working at their benches, the many steps involved here, such as delivery of parts, is done primarily standing.