Sabae, Japan

The Titanium Frames Workshop

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By Rohan Dhir, founder of Archibald

Having found the partners to help us create our acetate frames, we were lacking fulfillment in another sector of the eyewear playing field – metal frames. Fortunately for us, we had by this time established a secure footing and reputation with many of the craftsmen. Metallic eyewear for the most part is made of caste metal, however this was not the handicraft we were looking for.

Japan is known to produce the highest and purest titanium sheets in the world and some of the most beautiful (and functional) eyewear is made of this very material. In 1981, the craftspeople of Sabae succeeded in developing and producing the world’s first durable yet lightweight titanium eyewear – the precise product we wanted to add to our collection.

Chapter I

The Search

We found ourselves in a difficult situation. Having established a reputation as a foreign firm which understood the cultural nuances of doing business with Japanese craftsmen, we were confronted with a rare opportunity of choice.

By default, after spending months creating and ensuring a partnership with Japan’s most respected acetate frame Takumi (craftsmen), we now had inside access and partners helping us navigate the plains of titanium eyewear manufacturing. Whilst many of the craftsmen we spoke with and considered were excellent at their trade – there remained one that was spoken off with mystique, one workshop which was recognized as the manufacturer of the very best titanium eyewear in the world.

The current master of this family owned workshop has built this institution having inherited it from his father – a metal frame craftsmen. He is joined by his two brother, nephews and sons, all having grown up trained from a young age in the art of manipulating metal.

Extremely selective, the workshop produces titanium eyewear for some of the most exclusive brands in the world and very rarely accepted new brands to work with, let alone those such as Archibald – a brand only in idea and with absolutely no status. When we first made contact, they had little to no interest of working with us, in fact I can fondly remember describing their negative stance as “politely aggressive”.

Archibald London - titanium

Chapter II

Gaining Trust

This represented a defining moment in Archibald and my personal development as an entrepreneur. We could either continue and move forward, working with one of the other excellent craftsmen of Sabae to fulfill our metal ambitions OR we could figure out to change the perception and win over the skeptical masters of titanium eyewear. Of course, as a young entrepreneur wanting to ensure the venture goes my way, the latter was the only option.

During the first attempt at reviving conversation with Kawamura-san (the lead craftsmen), our intended sale price represented a major stumbling block. The craftsmen felt his and his disciples skills were not being appreciated if pricing occurred according to the Archibald model, people would not realise the mastery that goes into the product. Titanium eyewear from this workshop retails for no less than $550 without lenses – a significant difference between our model which puts a roughly 60% mark-up on the cost price to us.

The romantic vision we held at Archibald turned out to be exactly the weight needed to tip the scales to our favour. As a hardened, experienced craftsmen, Kawamura-san had seen everything take place. Sabae had experienced a period with many manufacturers going out of business and craftsmen lost as their talents were no longer required – China and mass scale unskilled production started to take over as quality was no longer necessary, brands had been built. Fortunately Kawamura-san understood the world of retail, however when we described that through our model of eliminating retailers, more people would be able to obtain the pieces that made Sabae so famous, he was on board.

Archibald London - titanium

Chapter III

The Collection & Process

The thing that makes Titanium frames so special is their ability to withstand more or less anything. This when paired with the types of lightweight, classic designs possible with Metallic frames and one can begin to create a very special collection. Things get even more interesting when creating mixed frames, combining titanium elements with acetate, however we were not ready for this.

The first step of the process involves the creation of a metal die (or mould) representing the design, this die is used to help create every pair made and requires the utmost precision. The die maker takes great pride in the process as if a small mistake is made in the die, it will lead to a defect in every pair made using it.

The dies are used in a series of press processes with the titanium sheet, each press requires an inspection and this sometimes can take more time than the actual pressing. Following this, a specialist is in charge of cutting the parts further, meticulously checking each part over and over again. The cutting in our manufacturing are completed by a team of craftsmen who have been doing only this together for 36 years – able to complete the most precise cuts down to 1/10th of a millimeter.

The cut pieces then undergo a brazing process, the perfect brazing takes place at the right temperature given the design and it is up to the experience of the craftsmen to analyze the glow and temperature and continuously check each brazing stage. The shine and depth you see in our metal frames comes from the polishing process – if done incorrectly, it can lead to changes in the frame dimensions.

The final process aside from quality control (which takes place at every stage) is the plating process. If everything is done perfectly, an inconsistent plating can ruin the entire result – careful and repeated plating applications and surface machining processes ensure the perfect shine.