Inside the Oliver Goldsmith eyewear workshop

From its founding in 1926 through the early 1970s, all Oliver Goldsmith frames were made by hand in the company’s Poland Street workshop. The company started with the design, in the form of a hand-drawn sketch.

Sketch for the 1964 frame 'Goo-Goo', Museum no. T.244:S-1990

Sketch for the 1964 frame 'Goo-Goo', a style in the V&A's collection, Museum no. T.244:S-1990

Sketch for the 1968 frame 'Countess', Museum no. T.244:I-1990

Sketch for the 1968 frame 'Countess', a style in the V&A's collection, Museum no. T.244:I-1990

Sketch for the 1960s frame 'Ogle', Museum no. T.244:G-1990

Sketch for the 1960s frame 'Ogle', a style in the V&A's collection, Museum no. T.244:G-1990

The frame makers would then cut a slab of plastic into the desired shape for the frame and its sides; file down the edges; attach the sides; sand down the finished design; and fit the lenses. Depending on the complexity of the design, the process of making a frame by hand would take from six hours up to several days.

Many of the workshop staff stayed with the company for decades. Retired glazer Harry Swain worked for Oliver Goldsmith from 1946 until 1983. He recalls, ‘I left school at the age of 14 years in 1932 so I had to decide which trade to go into. I decided to go into the optical industry. When I was demobbed in 1946 I went to work for Oliver Goldsmith, where I remained until I retired in 1983.

In 1972 Oliver Goldsmith moved its offices from Poland Street to Potters Bar, Hertfordshire. At this time, the company was transitioning from making all its frames by hand to making semi-handmade frames. This process still started with the frame styles designed in-house. Pre-ordered plastic was then delivered to factories in London, Essex and Brighton to be cut into the desired shapes by machine. The frames were then assembled and finished by hand.  By the early 1980s, though their prototypes were still designed in-house,  all Oliver Goldsmith glasses were completely mass-produced in a Brighton factory. A surviving order form shows how manufacturing information was communicated to the factory.

From the 1960s through the 1980s, the company produced new styles on a regular basis. Once these new frames were produced, the company salesmen would take a set of samples of these new styles to show to opticians across Britain. For the foreign market, A Oliver Goldsmith travelled regularly to the United States, Canada and Europe to present the collection and take orders. The company would ship frames to the distributor who would then sell them on to the foreign opticians. The United States, Europe, Scandinavia and South Africa were the company’s main overseas markets.

Order form from Oliver Goldsmith for Fariba dated 1988

Order form from Oliver Goldsmith for Fariba dated 1988

Since 1989 A Oliver Goldsmith has run the eyeglasses company as a licensing business and creates the looks which the licensees select from. Oliver Goldsmith frames are sold in Korea, Japan, Europe, Australia, the United States and Canada. In recent years Oliver Goldsmith has revived a number of its most popular original designs.

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