It turns out my neighbour is friends with a guy called Tom Davies, who is the largest maker of bespoke glasses in the world. And Tom’s studio is half a mile from where I grew up (East Sheen, south-west London). So, interested in learning about an area of bespoke I know nothing about, and hankering after some home cooking, I popped down to Sheen a couple of weeks ago to meet Tom.
 
How he got here is quite interesting. When he left university, aged 21, Tom decided on a whim to go to China. He worked in a glasses factory, designing frames and the machinery that made them. During the nine years he was there, one particular project fascinated him – when the company tried to build a machine that could manufacture titanium glasses. It failed: the machinery could only be made to construct individual pairs, which was not economic. But the experience of making single pairs of glasses inspired Tom. And when he came back to London in 2000, he set up a business making bespoke.
 
[This reminds me of a recent interview with Turnbull & Asser CEO Steven Miller: Steven said one reason T&A has never invested in much shirtmaking machinery is that any new machines are designed for mass production, not the one-off runs needed for bespoke. They don’t stick with flat-bed sewing machines on principle.]
 
Tom’s bespoke business was pretty successful, particularly in the client list it generated, and he also designed a ready-to-wear line. But the turning point was in 2008, when he returned to China and set up his own factory. From the start, it was designed to make individual pairs of glasses, to order. Half the machinery he designed himself. So now all his glasses, whether ready to wear, bespoke or ‘couture’, are handmade one by one.
 
That means the second and third categories (which, for comparison with suiting, should actually be thought of as made to measure and bespoke, respectively) are far more efficient. It only costs marginally more to change the arm length, colour, nose setting, depth and width of a pair of ready-to-wear glasses you see in an optician’s.
 
 
And that’s how Tom works: a select number of opticians (currently over 200 in the UK, more in Europe and a growing number in the US) carry his glasses together with a set of callipers to measure your temples and head above the ears, a series of sample frames with different nose settings, and lenses that indicate the position of the eyes and angle within them. The optician designs the pair for his customer and sends out the order, which comes back in less than eight weeks. With anyone else that would take several months.
 
Altering all these little details to get the perfect fit in a pair of glasses is what Tom calls bespoke. The next level up is couture. Here the same set of measurements is taken and design elements considered, but three photographs are taken (without glasses, with the measuring glasses, with a frame you like) and the guys in China design a completely new frame to suit your face. That creates a portfolio, from which your perfect shape is chosen.

You can see why I draw parallels with suiting. Tom’s ‘bespoke’ is rather like made to measure, where you get something made to fit you along a set number of measurements. ‘Couture’ is more like a bespoke suit – a whole new pattern is cut from scratch.

 

My current glasses are also like a good ready-to-wear suit, in a way. Tom said they fitted my face pretty well, with the eyes relatively central within the lenses but the width of the frame offsetting how close the eyes are together. The arms are a tiny bit short, though the difference between width at my temples and my ears (10mm) is very standard. The nose setting is not ideal, and indeed I have noticed that if I wear them for more than a few days in a row I get red patches under the pads. That classic round shape is called a panto, apparently.

 
Tom’s glasses are all designed on a CAD machine, and the basic front is stamped by a machine. But there is a lot of hand shaving to get the measurements precise, hand polishing, hand-bending of the frames and hand finishing. The construction reminds me more of benchmade shoes – experienced guys using their hands to manipulate something in a machine. You can see a video of the process here.
Prices vary from £240 for ready to wear and £295 for bespoke up to £350 for couture. The Buffalo horn range is rather more, but does involve picking out your own chunk of horn for both front and arms of the glasses, and deciding exactly where the frame should be cut out. Like picking your cloth for a suit and deciding on the lay.
 
Tom kindly offered to make me a pair, so I had some measurements taken. More details next time.
 
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
21 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Roger

Would it be more fair to call them ‘hand finished’? Even many mass produced things are designed on CAD, and with some hand finishing. Tom’s glasses seem to have just more individual input, which of course reflects the price.

Ideally every optician would have their spectacles made in-house; catering for the customers’ needs and comfortable fit (which they ought to considering their prices). Tom’s seem like made-to-measure rather than bespoke, but at least he’s considering wearer’s comfort. It’s a pity cost is leading parts to be made in China; the idea is to revive dying arts and crafts in the UK rather than everywhere else.

Anonymous

I know Tom well and have visited his factory in Shenzhen and own a pair of his buffalo horn glasses.

The frames and parts are of course produced by high tech machines and then pain stakingly hand polished. Using the CAD machine the frames can be made to fit a certain persons face exactly as per the measurements taken

While it may be more bespoke if someone was handcutting the frames from a piece of horn or titanium but its not possible.

Producing these frames in the UK would be far to costly, only the well off could afford to buy them rather than the masses being able to aquire glasses that now fit very well compared to a generic fit.

Andy S

What sort of price is the buffalo horn bespoke? Are we talking mega bucks? I’ve always wanted a pair but what most opticians offer is normally a limited range.

Easy and Elegant Life

I’m curious to see how your specs turn out. Since I wear glasses every day, it seems a good investment. I wonder if I could convince my optometrist to offer his services?

Mrs S

Hi Simon, do you have an update on this? I’m very tempted to go for this as my face is small and finding something that suits me is almost impossible. I can’t wait to hear your feedback!

Mrs S

Thanks for the reply, Simon, looking forward to the full report

KGJ

Dear Simon: Have you an update yet on these frames? I’m very interested in having a pair made in buffalo horn and would love to read your review.

Julie Jones

I adore Tom Davies’ frames. They combine the classic with the modern to create stunning art for your face.

Jeremy Solomon

I am an optometrist and i can say full heartedly that Tom Davies are my favourite glasses!

Tim

Tom has done a great job of pioneering made to measure eyewear.

KN

hi simon:

i am interested in having a pair of bespoke glasses made. I had lasik sugery years ago but I’m afraid I’m at the age now where reading glasses are nonetheless required. I would be interested in hearing your current recommendations — tom davies, eb meyrowitz, or someone else? I am looking for something classic – not too trendy as I do not change my eyewear often.

thanks.

Anonymous

Hi Simon

Would you choose Cubitts over General Eyewear?

dana powers

I would love to know if the glasses designed for Cruella are available for purchase and how much they are. Specifically the Estella wing tortoise and the Baroness’ black and gold sunglasses.