Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2023, TVR®OPT continues to uphold its focus on the preservation and revival of traditional spectacle-making in Japan, creating an eyewear collection that is already renowned around the globe; via a translator, we asked Sawada Yaemon (Mastercraftsman) and Eizo Onami (Head of Production / President), at TVR® OPT Japan about their work and dedication to the traditions of their craft – pictured above, Onami Eizo and Sawada Yaemon at the TVR®OPT factory in Japan
How long have you been making spectacles? Please tell us what got you started and why it is a skill that should be carefully preserved? Is it part of your family tradition? Sawada Yaemon: I have been making eyeglasses all my life, dedicating almost sixty years to this craft. The know-how has been passed down through generations, from my grandfather to my father and now, me. It has always been a family business, started by my grandparents. We used to make eyeglasses for Japanese and American companies in the 1950s.
Throughout the years, I’ve only known how to use tools and machinery from the 50s; the same methods are still practised up to this day. I’m not good with new technology and I think it’s always good to preserve this generational family tradition of making eyeglasses by hand. I believe in every eyeglass we make lies the soul and touch of the craftsman. Using this traditional method, we ensure the unrivalled quality and sophistication of our handmade eyewear. We’ve never changed anything, just making small changes in eyewear designs for our creations to be current and loved by everyone.
In Japan, it was impossible to predict the future of the eyeglasses industry. This business has had its ups and downs, especially since many companies moved their production to other countries in the 1990s. We do what we can do to preserve our generational craftsmanship, passing it down to the next generations despite having to go against advanced technology and modernisation.
Eizo Onami: The idea is to preserve our Japanese craftsmanship in eyewear making — this is the very reason why we started TVR®OPT Japan some ten years ago. We wanted to keep this industry going as very few factories in Japan have been able to sustain the business up to today. And we are very much aware that the artistry in handmade eyewear-making is fast-fading. Many factories are closed and craftsmen get older, or retired due to old age. The fact is, the younger generation isn’t taking up this work and isn’t interested in craftsmanship.
What we have employed before and today are the same — using old machinery. We can only make small batches of eyeglasses every year, significantly inferior to machine-made ones. Because we are ‘hand-made’, we have limitations and our production will not be able to cope with larger numbers. But know that what we are maintaining and preserving are the integrity and the authenticity of eyewear history that cannot be replicated elsewhere. This is our pride and joy.
TVR® OPT (True Vintage Revival Optical) was created based on true size, vintage design and the revival of old classics, with a tagline of “The Art of Recreating Classic Eyewear”. OPT means glasses company in Japan. TVR® OPT uses only time-tested methods to create “revivals” of classic frames. At TVR® OPT, we believe that retro is not merely vintage objects, but a vision of the past and present embodied in one’s sense of fashion, attitude and being. With that ethos, we started TVR® OPT in 2013 to continue the work of the craftsmen here in Sabae, and to share our pride and joy to people all over the world.
2. Today you are working on the TVR® OPT frames, putting your skill and dedication into frames that are timeless, quality- driven, and technically very precise. What are the biggest challenges? How long does one frame take and how many steps are there? What is your favourite part of the work?
Eizo Onami: TVR® OPT is still a young brand compared with other Japanese brands in the market, most of the other brands are over 100 years old. The biggest challenge is to keep improving every detail and craftsmanship. Everyday there are more and more new brands in the market. But I think it’s good competition, and it keeps us moving stronger forward while thinking of ways to improve and to constantly innovate with new ideas each time we launch a new collection.
We only use time-tested methods to create ‘revivals’ of classics and vintage frames. These are limited pieces produced by the hands of our artisans and TVR® OPT promises a delivery of true vintage pieces that withstand the test of time. At the same time, our team constantly finds ways to keep our designs current while improving every detail on the eyeglasses.
Sawada Yaemon: One of the biggest challenges is maintaining true craftsmanship. We are not considering relocating or even replacing labour with machines. We started with handmade craftsmanship and continue to do that up to this day, and the old master craftsmen still insist on keeping the whole handmade process true to their craft and artistry. TVR® OPT has been fortunate to be able to work with them and continue passing on this craftsmanship from their hands to the final product.
Many people wouldn’t have known that each eyeglass will take between 8 to 12 months to produce and there are as many as 200 manual processes involved in making an optical frame. Some collections like TVR® SERIES take longer, between 15 to 20 months due to its complex nature. It gives me great joy to see that my work and craftsmanship have been loved and worn by our beloved customers, making every minute spent worthwhile.
3. You are working out of Fukui? Tell us about this incredible eyewear destination and how the eyewear skills of the region are being preserved and passed down to younger generations?
Eizo Onami: Yes, you’re right. Over 90% of eyewear frames sold in Japan come from Sabae, Fukui Prefecture, Japan. Sabae has always been known for inventing the concept of nose pads and developing the use of titanium frames in the 1980s. Paired with a rich history in eyewear production and eye frame manufacturing, Sabae represents the history of handmade eyewear in Japan itself.
For those who didn’t know, the art of eyewear making started during the Meiji era when this technology was first introduced in Sabae. The city is also known as the ‘City of Glasses’, and the people here have developed their own style and artistry throughout the years. The industry began as an off-season side job for agricultural workers, but the demand grew exponentially after World War I. In the late 1930s, approximately 1.5 million celluloid eyeglasses were produced annually in Sabae — the same way and method practised by the TVR® OPT artisans today.
However, it is inevitable for this generational craft to face its own adversities. Many of our master craftsmen are octogenarians, and it is hard to have them replaced. These artisans have spent their entire life perfecting this craft, using knowledge and ‘sixth sense’ in creative every detail you see on the eyepiece. This is very different from mass-produced eyeglasses. And if it’s not being preserved, it may even disappear after my generation.
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