It takes a grand total of 72 hours to create a pair of Handcrafted frames; our premium collection made in micro-batches of around 15 pieces per style. The process closely mimics bespoke-making and everything takes place in our small workshop in England.
To create our frames, we use cellulose acetate, which is a biodegradable material derived from cotton and tree pulp, and we source it from the storied Italian manufacturer Mazzucchelli that was founded in 1849 and is still family-owned.
The process starts with creating the frame front, and for this we use 8mm acetate. This immediately underlines our frame’s premium quality as many pairs of sunglasses you see today are of an inferior thickness and are considerably lighter, daintier, lacking shape and definition and most importantly more prone to breaking.
According to the pattern designed by our Creative Director, our craftspeople use a hand-controlled band saw to cut out the basis of the frame front. Once cut to a vaguely recognisable design, it’s then trimmed using a rotary file to strip away all of the excess acetate. At this stage, we use a fine spindle to carve into the centre of the eye aperture a female groove at a depth of 1.5 mm to allow the lens to later sit within.
Next up we have the catchy step called ‘bumping the bridge’, which is a style-driven aesthetic we like all of our Handcrafted frames to have. What we do is we gently warm up the acetate around the bridge, which is the area that rests on the top of your nose and we manipulate this area with a male/female mould that’s over 50 years old to create this nice, little bump. The heating doesn’t end there, though, as we also use it to gently curve the frame front from end to end. We don’t do this with a mould, but instead by hand which is extremely difficult as it can only be done with experience, a niche kind of muscle memory and a precise amount of strength.
The front piece is by this point taking shape, but we need to add more depth and character into it and sculpt the frame more. One machine we use here is called a grindstone. This sands down the edges and makes them smoother and more refined. Again, there are no guidelines to follow here, and once again it’s a step that can only be executed by experienced craftspeople.
The one downside about the grindstone is that it can’t access the tricky areas on the frame front in and around the bridge. So, our small team use a range of different files and work their way in and add more roundness around the bridge. Once this is completed, more sanding is required and then our team moves on to the temples.
All of our temples (or arms) for our Handcrafted range measure at 4mm thickness and when combined with our 8mm fronts, a perfect balance of distributed weight is created. We cut down strips of the acetate to 150mm lengths and then carry out a process called wiring which has been used to strengthen temples for more than 70 years.
The core wire is the metal rod in the middle of the temples (you can see it in all our frames bar the styles rendered in black acetate), and to position it perfectly we heat the acetate and fire this steel wire through the centre with absolute precision. This, in turn, gives our temples increased strength and durability.
We have lots of different styles in the Handcrafted collection, but only three different styles of temples. So, according to the specific model, our team scores out onto the strips of acetate the temple shape. They then rub a little bit of blue chalk into the groove and then use a bandsaw to cut it roughly down to size. They’re then subjected to the grindstone, much like our fronts, to achieve the softened edges.
Once the front and temples have reached a satisfactory aesthetic, they’re then placed inside two tumblers which are octagonal-shaped drums filled with stones and wood chips. They go in the first one for 16 hours, and then into another for a further 16 hours. The second drum has the added ingredient of a polishing paste which gives the front and temples a fine lustre. They’re then polished by hand before the assembly takes place.
If you were to look at the entire Handcrafted range, one of the common denominators across all of them is that not one frame front has any visible pins on the outside. This is a modernised touch – a Kirk Originals touch, if you like – for we love vintage eyewear, but we always try to subtly inject some semblance of contemporary design to fit in with the current times.
Of course, the frame front needs to be attached to the temples somehow, and so what we do is heat insert a hinge into the back of the front. We then drill two holes through the temples directly through the steel core wire and out through the other side. Two steel pins, which are German-made so you know they’re going to be as reliable as their sports cars, are slotted in through the hinge and filed down for a flush finish.
The end of temples, where they meet the lugs of the frame front, need to be sanded down to size. It’s approximately a trimming of 5mm, resulting in a 145mm temple which is the uniform length across the range. They’re then placed within a custom vice, colloquially known as a ‘bender’, and with a precise amount of force bent by hand to have a gentle curve that rests around your ears. This is another step that underlines the artisanal process of our Handcrafted range, as it can only be done with experience and muscle memory.
The temples are then branded using a gold foil stamping machine with ‘KIRK ORIGINALS’ and the style name, such as ‘REED’, on one, and ‘HANDMADE IN ENGLAND’ on the other plus the style code. God knows how many of our frames this age-old machine has graced, but it’s a finishing touch that we’re proud of as Made in England is the most important pillar in the business.
Last but by no means least, we need to cut the lenses and we source these from Divel Italia. Using a state-of-the-art machine which traces the design drawings – be it a tear-drop, round or rectangular shape – it’s then digitised. We then place the lens inside the machine and it’s grounded down to size and then popped into the lens aperture that’s been created early on in the process.
The assembled frame is then checked for quality control purposes and cross examined with its 14 siblings before being packaged and eventually ending up on your nose.
All in all, we hope you’ll agree and now understand the sheer quality of our Handcrafted frames. There’s no workshop like it in England and it’s an honour to work with the small team there and create a product to such high standards made entirely by hand in a one-by-one process.