Are you wearing the right spectacles?


Janice Breen Burns

A selection of Peter Coombs' specs.

A selection of Peter Coombs' specs.

PETER Coombs is a font of subtle knowledge on the illusory power of what he calls ''jewellery for the face''. He's learnt what shape can convey a ''scholarly, Euro-professorial'' air, how chubby cheeks be ''slimmed'' by an optical (pardon the pun) illusion, how a squarish face can be ''rounded'', and a roundish face ''squared''.

Some spectacle frame designs can make you look happier than you are, he says, others instantly dour or glum. Posh, clever, sexy, bookish - the right ''jewel'', positioned just so on your face, can be a designer's gift, correcting or enhancing natural quirks.

Coombs is a metalsmith and jeweller based in Adelaide. His latest collection of titanium and sterling silver spectacle frames, released under his label PCD Elements, was shortlisted in the new fashion accessories category of the 2012 Melbourne Design Awards.

Peter Coombs.

Peter Coombs. Photo: Claudio Raschella Photographer

The five styles are deceptively simple. Each is based on an anodised titanium top bar, virtually a straight laser-cut span of the featherweight metal positioned below the eyebrows. From it, subtly shaped sterling silver lens frames are suspended. Not immediately obvious is the devilish ingenuity in the detail of each frame's tiny, perfect hinges and nose-piece, meticulously handcrafted evidence of Coombs' fascination with mechanical engineering. ''They're stripped back to the beauty of their form,'' he says, ''to that certain austerity.''


The frames cost about $1680 but despite the sharp intake of breath this can trigger, they are not the world's most expensive hand-made optical frames. Coombs says he has little trouble selling them.

He has developed a global reputation in 30 years as a metalsmith, and clients make contact from as far away as Brunei and Britain. Elton John ordered a couple of dozen PCD frames after one of Coombs' sales trips to Los Angeles. ''I haven't spoken to him for a while though,'' Coombs says. It hardly matters; the celebrity endorsement will cling forever.

A sketch of one of Coombs' spectacle designs.

A sketch of one of Coombs' spectacle designs.

Coombs is hesitant to pigeon-hole his more typical clients. ''I'd like to say they're the 'thinking person','' he says. They also tend to be more mature: men and women ''of a certain age''. Coombs believes this is due more to an accident of statistics than anything else. ''It's a fact of life, when people pass the age of 40 their focal length doubles and they start to think about eyewear.'' He does have young clients, but the complexity of his designs and purity of vision are appreciated by those with a certain mature connoisseurship.

Coombs remembers making his first pair of frames in the early 1980s as part of his design degree. ''They were a sort of 'Jules-Verne-under-the-sea-the-Apocalypse-is-coming','' he says with a laugh, ''very much about what was going on in the '80s, and quite clunky in comparison to what I do now. Funky, but clunky.''

He experimented with silver, nickel, titanium and aluminium and eventually, abandoned the latter.

''Aluminium had too many limitations, hard to solder, so any attachment has to be riveted or screwed. Strength also had to come with extra width of material which added weight.'' As a young designer, he was also fascinated by Swiss engineering, the moving, interlocking parts of some European cars, the delicate maths of weight versus bulk, and the possibility of devising the perfect, miniature frame hinge. Years of research and the results of relentless experiments fed into his evolving work. ''Rather than hiding those aspects,'' he says, ''I wanted to make a feature of them.''

These days, the slender, minimalist frames with their elegant, visible hinges, are recognisably PCD by Peter Coombs and capable, he says, ''of some weird optical illusions'' when applied to the average face.

From: The Age