Making a Spectacle
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Nexus -Making a Spectacle
Making a Spectacle
There are only 3 people who hand make spectacles in Australia and Roger Henley from Adelaide is one of them. He has 400 styles in his range, with hundreds of colours to choose from. And, because he only produces 2000 pairs a year - there is a good chance that you won't see anyone with the exact same pair.
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ROGER HENLEY: People like my frames because they're individually made for them, they're uniquely Australian, there's an air of exclusivity about it, and they're fun to wear. My name's Roger Henley, I'm a spectacle frame-maker in Adelaide.

I'm one of three in Australia that produces hand-made spectacle frames. My interest in frame-making started in 1978 when, as an apprentice optical mechanic, I felt I could make spectacle frames. So in 1987 I actually left my job and started a business of making spectacle frames. There's no training in this, so I'm self-taught. It took a couple of years for me to actually work out how to make frames properly through trial and error.

Once I had it sort of worked out, then I thought I could have a decent product, I could try and sell it on the market. And we now have 140 accounts across Australia and New Zealand and the UK. I get my design inspiration from cars. I really like looking at modern cars and picking lines off the cars, especially the contours of the doors and guards and things like that. I also get inspiration from architecture and contemporary furniture. I get a lot of ideas from there.

When I was an optical mechanic, I thought there was an opportunity to make one-off frames, 'cause no-one was doing it. There was a need for someone to make frames for people who had facial problems such as big noses, small noses, high cheekbones, large faces - things like that. So that was what sort of prompted me to go and do that.

The frame-making process, in brief, involves over 50 steps. I'll just go through a few of them. The first step is to mill the front out on a CAD milling machine. It then has a heat-sink joint inserted into the frame front. It is then heated in an oven to its memory set point, which is 110 degrees C. And then placed in a mould which gives it its curvature or meniscus on the frame. It's then capped and the frame is then ready for polishing. We cut a small piece off called the temple, using a high-frequency heater, we insert a wire into the temple. That then is then capped, and that's ready for polishing as well. The polishing process takes four days. The frame and the temples are then mitred to give a correct butt, and then they're assembled by hand, hand-polished, and then they're brought upstairs, given a case, invoiced, and then the customer gets them.

We have over 400 models and in over 400 colours, so you can have any model made in any colour or colour combination. The permutations for that are endless. I've got some more for you, Bev. We only have myself and my wife. I do all the designing and manufacturing of the frames. My wife does the client liaison and marketing and business management.

Several years ago, we did have staff, but for the amount of work that we had to turn over to keep them employed, and for the style of the business, it just became too hard. So we sort of downsized and took the pressure off the business. And you find that when you're under pressure, your designing skills fail and you don't enjoy life as much. The industry's changed fairly radically in the last few years.

A lot of clothing designers now design their own range of eye wear and head offshore, get it made, and then import it back into Australia and then sell it. Yet we're much smaller, we're competing against all these imports, and we still seem to be doing pretty well. We still maintain our market share. We make about 2,000 frames a year. Virtually every frame we make is made to order and it's very personal for the customer as well. They really enjoy the fact that a frame is being made especially for them. This is our niche in a competitive market against mainly imported frames.
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