Tortoiseshell craftsmen adapt to new century

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Updated 09 December 2012
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Tortoiseshell craftsmen adapt to new century

What did Yves Saint Laurent, Jackie Kennedy and the architect Le Corbusier have in common? Their eyewear, for one, as clients of the luxury French tortoiseshell artisan, Bonnet.
Four decades after the trade in tortoiseshell was banned under the 1973 CITES convention, the fourth-generation family firm sees itself as custodian of a rare craft, fashioning made-to-measure spectacles from stocks amassed before the ban.
Bonnet describes its customers — among them Audrey Hepburn, Maria Callas or presidents Francois Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac — as “aesthetes” more concerned about style, the timeless kind, than fashion.
Christian Bonnet, who learned the trade from his father and grandfather, holds the rank of “maitre d’art,” an honorific title granted by France’s culture ministry and currently held by just over 100 craftsmen nationwide.
Today jointly headed by Christian and his sons Franck and Steven, Bonnet turns out around 100 pairs of hand made tortoiseshell glasses per year for prices ranging from 3,500 to 30,000 euros.
“My father didn’t want me to go into the trade, because of the problem with tortoiseshell supply,” produced mainly from the shell of the endangered hawksbill turtle, Franck Bonnet told AFP.
With 12 grams of tortoiseshell needed for one pair of glasses, the firm says it uses around two to three kilos of the stuff per year.
Declared part of French national heritage in 2007, Bonnet will not say how much stock it holds, but the supply is finite.
“It is inconceivable that we would ever fish another turtle out of the ocean,” says the 41-year-old, himself a staunch environmentalist.
So he decided a few years ago it was time to look to the future — and to a wider market.
“For my father, my grandfather and great-grandfather before them, it was tortoiseshell, tortoiseshell, tortoiseshell only.
“I said to my father, ‘You are the last tortoiseshell craftsman, but you are also the last hand-made eyewear maker. If we could only use more readily available materials, maybe I can keep our craft alive?’“
That is how from 2008 onwards, he introduced buffalo horn — lowering the average frame price to between 1,200 and 1,500 euros, and acetate, for budgets between 850 and 1,150 euros.
Tortoiseshell aside, the dozen workers at its Paris boutique and workshop in Sens, a few hours southeast of the capital, now produce some 700 pairs using new materials.
The next step toward broadening what they offer is to come from customization — allowing people to change the size and color on standard models.
Franck Bonnet says he loves watching Japanese tourists inspect his wares, and is mulling opening a boutique in Tokyo.
“They go over every last detail. You know you haven’t put the effort in for nothing!“
Bonnet was snared in controversy recently when a star journalist, Audrey Pulvar — then in a relationship with a Socialist minister — was outed for wearing a pair of their steeply-priced glasses.
“It wasn’t 12,000 euros, it wasn’t 15,000 euros or 18,000!,” as reported in the media, Bonnet told AFP. “Five thousand is more like it.”
In other words, almost an entry-level model. “It’s true it is costly,” Bonnet said. “But we artisans are not millionaires, this kind of high craft is extremely time-consuming.” Making glasses to measure means studying the face in minute detail.
“How high your ears are, the shape of your nose — all have an incidence on the tilt of the lenses, and therefore on how well you see,” he explained. And that is before all the different steps of shaping and polishing the frame.
“You can spend a crazy length of time on a pair of spectacles, redoing them two, three, five times to get them exactly right. What costs money is not marketing, it’s what goes on the client’s nose!“


Saudi annual event 'Ayam Zaman' teaches younger generation the customs and traditions of days gone by

Ayam Zaman is an annual event that creates the old Ramadan atmosphere through the design of the place and the food and art exhibition. AN photo by Iqbal Hossain
Updated 22 May 2018
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Saudi annual event 'Ayam Zaman' teaches younger generation the customs and traditions of days gone by

  • Ayam Zaman, or “Old Days,” is an annual event that is usually held during the holy month
  • The event is sponsored by many companies such as STC, PEPSE, and Al-Faridah Hall

RIYADH: Parents always talk about the old days, and how “old is gold.” They start their conversations with the phrase “Back in the old
days …”

Today we get to live these old days in the Ayam Zaman’s event, held in Al-Faredah Hall in Riyadh from May 19-22.  The event started on the third day of Ramadan, and is one of the many events happening during the holy month.
Ayam Zaman is a place where the older generation can retrieve their memories and the younger generation can enjoy the customs and traditions in their original form but in a modern way.
Ayam Zaman, or “Old Days,” is an annual event that is usually held during the holy month, creating the old Ramadan atmosphere through the design of the place, the food, art exhibition and Ramadan products such as clothes, fragrance perfume and accessories.  It also holds the classic cinema for the first time in Saudi Arabia. It is a social development entertainment event that brings together heritage and modern innovations to support Saudi sm all enterprises through the booths represented there.

 

A young participant called Noura Alkhalel, a pharmacy student who is also an artist, told Arab News about her company “Adaptive Pieces” and how she and her sister came up with the concept to serve a younger audience. She said: “The idea of the company is to sell unique art pieces for everyone, especially the younger audience who cannot afford to buy art at their original prices.”  Asked how she ended up in Ayam Zaman, she said; “The Ayam Zaman event found us. No matter how many times Ayam Zaman do events, I’m pretty sure we will be part of it because it’s how we launched ourselves and we feel very grateful to it.”   
Ibrahim Al-Juwar, an architect at Clear Spectra, one of the “mindmakers” of this event, told Arab news: “The event’s idea is to tell the story of our lives today by bringing back our old culture and traditions, and that is how it is reflected through the designs of the booths and the outdoor settings.”
He said: “The event will be a great place for the family to chill and entertain themselves, watching live performances and allowing themselves to participate in Ramadan games.”
The event is sponsored by many companies such as STC, PEPSE, and Al-Faridah Hall. STC’s booth had a children’s arts section where they can express their artistic talents.
The concept of Garge’aan is strongly emphasized during the event with children roaming around the hall singing songs and collecting sweets and candy.
There is a separate zone for children to play in and have fun. The children’s zone includes bouncing castles, arcade games and entertainment shows.
Ibrahim said: “The kids’ zone is a little separated from the adults’ sections so that the parents can enjoy themselves.”  
The event is created by a Saudi group, who worked hard on designing and shaping the identity of the event to make it a reality. Many talented female designers also participated in the event.  Ibrahim told Arab News that there will be more events, especially during Eid and for the national day.

FACTOID

The event is created by a Saudi group, who worked hard on designing and shaping the identity of the event to make it a reality.