Framed in style

Weekend Glitz | Jourdan Ma 10 Nov 2017

What sets Christophe Kozma apart from other bespectacled men is his mastery of the specs and grasp of consumer preferences in the luxury eyewear market.

"At six, my parents brought me to an optometrist. With my first pair of glasses, I was amazed to see how clear the world could be," he recalls. That fascination paved the way for his venture into the eyewear industry. He opened his first optical shop in 1994, soon after obtaining his diploma in optometry.

But it was not until 2009 when the idea of starting his own brand arose. After seeing a splendid array of spectacles, he took the leap into developing his own luxury eyewear.

The founder and chief executive had never thought of going eponymous with his label as it would not match his Swiss modesty.

"Our brand name, Von Arkel, originated from Dutch chemist Anton Eduard van Arkel. We want to pay homage to his scientific contribution - the crystal bar process for the production of titanium, which we use in our glasses today," he said.

"There are many well-established eyewear brands in the market, so if I have to carve out a position, I should bring some technology."

For the first two years, he worked alone on design codes derived from watchmaking. He then consolidated with highly-skilled watchmakers, aside from his in-house team.

Kozma is all praise for his six-strong team. His brother, John, heads digital strategy and marketing. "He's an IT expert and I fully trust him," he said. "But believe me, you're always stricter with your sibling than your colleagues."

Design is definitely Kozma's forte. A pair of spectacles is more than a corrective tool, it's a personal style signifier, he said.

He aims to showcase pieces that bring out the multifaceted nature of wearers, from being suave to energetic.

"You can wear Von Arkel with any kind of style because our design is minimalistic and timeless," he said.

The allure of his specs also lies in the individuality that they offer. Like any component of a luxury watch, Kozma believes that the hinge should be beautifully crafted.

"When you look at the frame, you should recognize our brand directly," he assured. "Some brands glue fake diamonds for no purpose. We never do that.

"When we're not convinced of our wares, we don't sell them," he said. "We threw away 1,000 pairs of glasses because I was not happy with the color and quality."

He is now confident enough to show off his patented creation. The hinge, which he termed "the signature of the brand," is available in three calibers. It is exceptional, sturdy and, most importantly, interchangeable.

A flamboyant alternative to steel, the 23.5-karat gold hinge is PVD-coated. Both are delicate and scratch-resistant.

His first creation, Caliber 8.0, took two years. It avoids all friction, putting technical sophistication and durability on equal footing. It also hallmarks the bar-turning process employed in other new creations.

Subtle hinge details can also exude femininity if done right. A case in point is Caliber 9.0, embellished with customized gemstones like diamonds and rubies.

Without screws, or rivets, it is subtle but surprisingly technical. It is equipped with a double lock mechanism, enabling wearers to fix the lenses and temples simultaneously.

Headquartered in Morges, Switzerland, his brand is poised to become one of the pioneering luxury labels in the cradle of watchmaking. To ensure exacting standards, he goes on regular inspection rounds of manufacturing facilities in France.

"I used to do too much sales in my shop," he said in jest. "Now I focus on explaining our principles and technology to connoisseurs."

The domestic market is niche, though. In Switzerland, each optical shop has its own style which consumers are accustomed to. For budding brands, consolidating a fan base and setting new trends take time, he said.

Now his spectacles are available in China, India, Spain, France, Canada and the US. In Hong Kong, they can be found at Leo Optic and Nice Optical.

Kozma is expecting rapid growth next year. Aiming for a bigger presence in Asia, he will launch a collection specifically for the market.

"It's my hope that one day when people are wearing Von Arkel, they can recognize other wearers, calling each other members," he said.

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