While the protests about the crisis and the country's future continue on the streets, several portuguese entrepreneurs left negativism behind and made a bet on the country, helping to maintain industries in danger of extinction and creating a new appreciation for handmade goods. In the beggining of the year i had the opportunity to visit the factory where Paulino Spectacles pieces take shape, a small unit in Gondomar, where five artisans with decades of experience on their hands sculpt the magnificent glasses of this new portuguese brand. Here the article published in Essential Lisboa 54:
No one would imagine that inside this discreet pavilion in Gondomar would be the only working factory of glasses frames in the Iberian Peninsula. Despite being the only representative of an industry that once had around 15 similar facilities in Portugal, the Sociel factory is, however, where the glasses of one of the latest and most exciting national projects are made: Paulino Spectacles. Created by Ramiro Paulino Pereira, the Portuguese brand is the result of a three-generation-long family tradition.
“The opticians business was born with my grandfather. It gained roots with my father and it was with him that I learnt the trade. For me it is vital to go that bit further and combine the desire to develop with a more creative and innovative project, as well as the know-how and experiences that have come from two generations back,”
reveals the founder of Paulino Spectacles, who decided to launch his project when, in 2011, he found “a store whose optician created most of the glasses he sold, including the ones he personalised for his customers” in São Paulo, Brazil. At the start of 2012, Ramiro Paulino looked into the best way to begin the project, and in the meantime designed all the models that comprise the current collection. After a disappointing MIDO, the International Optical Fair in Milan, where he was “hoping to find equipment to make hand-crafted frames, but they were all industrial”, Ramiro ended up finding the perfect partner in Portugal to materialise the project upon meeting José Maria Rodrigues, a partner of Sociel, which still produces all the frames using an artisanal process.
After we entered the factory, José Maria Rodrigues stated that “we can't compete with the Asians, we only have our workmanship”, but it's that same know-how and small-scale set up that led Ramiro Paulino Pereira to approach Sociel, an asset in a market dominated by the big optician groups and in which manual labour, attention to detail and provenance play a more leading role than ever for true lovers of quality products.
At a place where around 40 people once worked, the current team of five artisans is responsible for all the steps in the frames' manufacturing process. Resistant to new technologies – there isn't a single computer in the factory – José Maria Rodrigues produces all the moulds manually – with rasps, saws and files – in a small, dusty office, filled with drawings and old models in acetate and metal, a witness of the long history of Sociel, founded in 1964.
In the factory's large open space, long wooden workbenches support the old machines that help the craftsmen transform the Mazzucchelli acetate sheets into Paulino Spectacles glasses.
Step by step, “the artisan gives life to the piece envisioned by the designer and transforms the raw material, from the mould and the cutting of the acetate through to the manual polishing of each piece, which makes each one unique,”
explains Ramiro Paulino Pereira, who took us around the factory and explained the various stages of construction of his creations. From the initial process, in which a manual pantograph sculpts the acetate from the original mould, a machine that places wire in the arms, the various milling cutters that trim the frame, the creation of the bevel for the lens or the special attention given to how it sits on the nose, the artisans with decades of experience ensure that the Paulino Spectacles frames are not only aesthetically impeccable, but also equally functional, comfortable and robust, which is ensured by the embedded hinges.
Guided by “family values, mainly the passion for this trade, thoroughness and the pursuit of perfection”, Ramiro feels right at home every time he visits the factory in Gondomar. He recalls his childhood in his father's store, “where there was a workbench, 'the fixing one', where he would restore and repair frames, as well as make personalised frames by hand”. He adds:
“It had drawers full of screws, hinges, plaquettes, different-sized files... And I was so fascinated that I used some of the leftover acetate to make boxes and play craftsman. At that time, I remember the patience and care my father had when cutting the glass lenses for the glasses, totting up many hours of work.”
With the same fascination he was always fostered for the world of optics, the founder of Paulino Spectacles carefully observed a new model of frames for the first time – an opulent 'cat eye' design inspired by the glasses worn by Jacqueline Bisset in the film Le Magnifique – that had just come out of the rotating polishing cylinders. “These frames are very special, because they are going to be coated with a gold filigree, a one-of-a-kind project in this field in Portugal,” he proudly reveals.
Vintage-inspired, the Paulino Spectacles collection is defined by “the past and the period during which I worked with my father back in the 1970s and '80s, when I was in contact with diva-style frames that evoked the golden age of American cinema. The icons like the 'cat eye' style, like Marilyn Monroe used to wear”, but it also draws contemporary references, “especially day-to-day”:
“An idea can emerge from mundane things. It's important to be observant, and memorise and reinterpret shapes and colours.”
With a belief in Portugal and the know-how of his craftsmen, Ramiro Paulino Pereira hopes to “make the utmost of national resources. Particularly at a time when Portugal is looking to improve its balance of trade, it makes total sense to subtract imports and add exports”.
Saying that the recession is “a time of many uncertainties, which also generates opportunities, being without a doubt the best time to begin the Paulino Spectacles project,”
Ramiro reveals that “the last year has been unbelievable, it happened very fast”. Represented by the best opticians in Portugal, the first Paulino Spectacles international sales points opened in London and Madrid in February.