• France edition
 
Tortoiseshell eyewear artisans look to diversify
Franck Bonnet of the family-owned Maison Bonnet firm (Photo: Joel Saget/AFP)

Tortoiseshell eyewear artisans look to diversify

Published: 06 Dec 2012 12:49 GMT+01:00
Updated: 06 Dec 2012 12:49 GMT+01:00

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.

Maison Bonnet describes its customers — among them Audrey Hepburn, Maria Callas or presidents François 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 grammes 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 in 2008 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 towards broadening what they offer is to come from customization — allowing people to change the size and colour 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!"

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Why topless French women are covering up
Why going topless on French beaches is no longer de rigueur. Photo: Shutterstock

Why topless French women are covering up

Topless sunbathers were once synonymous with French beaches, but with the trend apparently no longer de rigeur, The Local looks at why French women no longer feel the need, or feel comfortable taking their tops off on the beaches. READ  

Uproar over sale of 'jihadist book' in France
'Islamist propaganda' sold in mainstream French stores has sparked controversy. Photo: Screengran/Amazon

Uproar over sale of 'jihadist book' in France

An apparent nondescript book called 'The Way of the Muslim', which is on sale in 1,000 stores across France, contains incitement to holy war and encourages killing “heretics” leading to uproar and calls for the text to be pulled. READ  

France hands over 'Jewish museum shooter'
Mehdi Nemmouche, the suspect in the Jewish museum shooting in Belgium has been handed over to authorities in Brussels. Photo: AFP

France hands over 'Jewish museum shooter'

French police handed over Mehdi Nemmouche to their counterparts in Brussels on Tuesday. Nemmouche is suspected of shooting dead four people at a Jewish museum in the Belgian capital in May. READ  

France set to pull its nationals out of Libya
Libyan security services and civilians gather across the street after a car bomb attack on the French embassy in Tripoli, Libya on April 23rd, 2013. Photo: Mahmud Turkia/AFP

France set to pull its nationals out of Libya

Amid an increasingly dangerous environment in Libya, France has decided to evacuate its nationals for their safety, according to reports on Tuesday. France's decision comes amid warnings and similar evacuations of other foreigners from the strife-torn North African nation. READ  

Nibbling rats blamed for French rail crash
The rear of a TGV train after it was hit by a regional TER train in south western France on Thursday. Photo: Mehdi Fedouach/AFP

Nibbling rats blamed for French rail crash

Rats nibbling at signalling cables led to a crash between two passenger trains that injured 40 people in south-west France earlier this month, a new report has announced. And signal failure is not the only problem being blamed on rats this week. READ  

Eurostar to start London-Marseille direct train
Eurostar is going to start direct train service from London to Marseilles. Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP

Eurostar to start London-Marseille direct train

Getting from London to France's sunny Mediterranean coast is about to get a lot easier because Eurostar has announced it'll start direct service to Marseille next year. READ  

No new criminal probe against Sarkozy
Ex-French President Nicolas Sarkozy is the subject of yet another criminal probe. Photo: Valery Hache/AFP

No new criminal probe against Sarkozy

Media reports on Tuesday claimed yet another criminal investigation had been launched against ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy, surrounding funding for 2007 presidential campaign, but the newspaper that first published the story has since admitted it's not true. READ  

EU to impose new sanctions on Russia
EU and the US are to impose new sanctions on Russia after their leaders agreed Moscow had done nothing to decrease tensions in the Ukraine. Photo: AFP

EU to impose new sanctions on Russia

France and its fellow EU powers along with the US agreed on the need to impose new sanctions on Russia over its presumed role in Ukraine's insurgency, the French presidency said on Monday. The sanctions should be finalised on Tuesday and will come into force shortly. READ  

Peach wars: French fury over Spanish dumping
French fruit growers unload a truck of Spanish peaches onto the road as the "peach war" between the two countries heats up. Photo: Raymond Roig/AFP

Peach wars: French fury over Spanish dumping

France has gone on the offensive in what is starting to look like an increasngly bitter "peach war" against Spain after authorities stepped up the number of checks on trucks carrying fruit across the border. READ  

French envoy's New York home search scuppered
Neighbours in a swanky New York apartment block have scuppered the hopes of France's ambassador to land a new home. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

French envoy's New York home search scuppered

France's ambassador to the United Nations is struggling to find a new home in New York after his attempts to buy a palatial 14-room apartment ran into trouble with prospective neighbours, who were concerned about the number of parties he would have. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Travel
Reckless or adventurous? US dad takes his two children up Mont Blanc
National
From manure to money: Ten bizarre facts about the French Parliament
Culture
Tourists picnic with rats in Louvre gardens
International
Is France really Europe's biggest public spenders?
National
Could your job in France soon be done by a robot?
National
Why you should think twice about feeding stray cats in France
National
And the new redrawn map of France will look like...?
Politics
Is French President François Hollande about to tie the knot?
International
Want a long-term visa? You may soon have to take a French test
International
Votes for foreigners: 'France would be giving up its sovereignty'
National
VIDEO: Stuntman jumps onto a moving Paris metro... and survives
Gallery
Forget 'faire l'amour', here's 15 top French expressions for making love
National
Report - 'Anti-Semitic' riots in France: 'We may leave for Israel'
National
Paris Plages: Here's 10 reasons to head down to the city beach
International
'Mont Blanc is like Disneyland. It's time to end the free-for-all'
Travel
Fancy climbing Mont Blanc? Here's 10 reasons to think twice about it
Gallery
Looking for a weird museum in Paris? Here's 10 that are worth a visit
National
Clear your head: Eight tips for buying wine in a French supermarket
National
'Don't blame the labour market for France's unemployment woes!'
National
Job applicants in France: Be prepared to send in an anonymous CV
Sport
'Bouligans' to booze bans: Ten things you need to know about pétanque
Gallery
Driving in France: How to stay out of trouble on the roads
Travel
Ten essential free phone apps for a visit to Paris
Sponsored Article
CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se