Everything started in 2007, during a trip to Tibet, when Belgian designer and entrepreneur Benoit Ams felt in love with a piece of craft made out of yak horn, and from there the idea to create high quality eyewear frames using this fantastic quality material. Smith & Norbu was born.
“I wanted to create frames that are not only beautiful, comfortable to wear but also manufactured in respect of the environment” Benoit Ams recalls.
At Smith & Norbu, they do many things differently to their competitors. They do not run advertisements, preferring to trust in word-of-mouth. They do work slowly, spending over six hours on a single frame. Each frame must be perfect and that is the best advertisement.
“Our customers are looking for the true comfort of the most exclusive noble materials, choosing true beauty over the ostentation of designer names, or brands” outlines Benoit.
The association of high quality natural raw materials from different origins and the fusion of tradition and innovation to create stylish re-interpretations of classic icons are at the heart of the brand’s philosophy; style, quality craftsmanship and commitment to sustainability.
“Creativity is another major priority at Smith & Norbu as we strive to create stylish re-interpretations of classic icons that meet the changing needs of modern lifestyles. Smith & Norbu design brings together timeless elegance, quality and traditional craftsmanship. Made to the very highest quality, Smith & Norbu products are unique, beautifully designed and superbly executed. But our objective is not only to manufacture beautiful products, but also products that make people look better.
Today, our more discerning clients, connoisseurs who appreciate sartorial elegance and craftsmanship, appreciate the value of our unique bespoke service. “Our clients want an expert to help them look their best, they want eyeglasses that will fit, function, and flatter their look, and experience the satisfaction that their eyewear is tailor made specifically for them to enjoy wearing for many years to come.” continues Benoit. The use of natural horn makes the frame more comfortable and light to wear than other synthetic materials. It is also an anti-allergic product.
At Smith & Norbu, we pay utmost attention to the materials and the craftsmanship that go into making a new model. Devotion for quality starts with the selection of the best quality raw material and that is the reason why we only work with un-laminated horn as we want to be as close as possible to the natural product. We also want to be as close as possible to the source to select the best available natural raw material.
“The love and careful selection of the highest quality of raw materials are essential qualities of fine spectacles makers” he outlines.
Natural horn is one of the most exclusive materials available for eyeglasses. Horn is not only a highly resistant material; it is also a beautiful and vibrant natural product with characteristic color nuances that differentiate genuine horn from any other man made materials. At Smith & Norbu, we predominantly select the horns of the yak from the Tibetan plateau for their incredible resistance and lightness. Yaks are cattle-like animals about the size of small oxen. Yaks are highly valued by Himalayan peoples. The generic Tibetan name of the animals means "wealth" or “jewels” that grant all your wishes. These features make each and every single piece of product as unique as you are. Horn ages with style, acquiring a signature patina that adds depth and character.
Craftsmen’s know-how is the magic by which exceptional raw materials take shape in the most exclusive products. Smith & Norbu’s range of optical frames are crafted by skilled artisans using traditional techniques carefully preserved and handed on from one generation to the next.
“The challenge for us is to revive traditional horn craftsmanship that dates back several thousand years and to make it relevant for today, as we do not live in the past” explains Benoit Ams. “For that reason, we have invested in state of the art modern tooling as it is relevant to guarantee a high quality product. Our customers are very demanding and my vision has always been to create very high quality products.” Our production embraces the entire horn frames making process and includes modern tooling and solid management techniques including quality management from the sourcing of the raw material to the control of the finished product. We have integrated the different steps of the production as it is fundamental to guarantee the highest possible level of quality outlines Benoit Ams, a fan of fine craftmanship who considers a pair of fine horn frames to be a piece of art.
Manufacturing a piece of spectacles involves as many as 50 separate operations to manufacture a single pair of frame. Through meticulous attention to detail and superb craftsmanship, Smith & Norbu optical frames are of the highest quality and durability and can be cherished for a lifetime.
"I am determined to "give something back" to a world from which we have taken much" outlines Benoit Ams. “My plan is to revitalize traditional horn craftsmanship in a way that creates a sustainable source of income and improves the quality of life for the local population of Tibet”. Typically, we are working with suppliers to ensure full compliance with the Smith & Norbu Supplier Conduct Principles, and in turn we offer higher price for the raw materials they supply.
Finally, we are also committed donate a part of our profit to local charities in Tibetan region.
Ecological commitment is centric to our approach. For us, people contribute ideas, skills and hard work while Mother Nature provides the materials. All our products are manufactured in the highest respect of the environment, using only natural eco-friendly materials.
Yaks are domesticated animals on the Tibetan plateau and are widely used in agriculture. They do not fall into the category of protected or endangered species. Horn processing respects the environment and therefore complies with the most stringent ECO standards.
Our leather cases are manufactured using yak leather for their incredible resistance and lightness. Our hides are then specially tanned with natural plant extracts and organically dyed with natural pigments to create soft, smooth, comfortable, yet strong and light products that comply with the most stringent ECO standards. All our leathers are natural, promising you sensuality through touch.
The seductive eye-catching signature yellow gift box reflects our passion for detail: the idiosyncratic shape of the letters in its logo, the choice of colors and the quality of the paper used. All our signature gift boxes are made of 100% wood free recycle cotton handmade papers. Smith & Norbu’s yellow gift box delivers something beyond its content and perfects the moment with the most exclusive gift.
Today, our products are now sold in more than 50 stores in 20 countries around the world. As a small company, the only chance we have to survive in the global market is by delivering consistent quality, Benoit states. "We only craft a limited amount of frames every year. Today, the challenge for us today is to be able to continue to manage our growth without compromising on quality’’.
"It was never about money for us; it has always been about the frames," says Benoit Ams, who lives between Hong Kong, Europe and the western parts of China. Big corporations have been buying a lot of brand names lately and we do not want to be bought because we want to keep our creativity free from any management intervention. We want to remain independent.
“We have also been busy with collaborations with different prestigious brands in Japan, in France and in the USA on horn projects and I must say we have learned a lot through these different projects” adds Benoit Ams.