Our old town is one big sight. Few people know that where today tourists stroll, drink coffee and eat cake, once crowds of craftsmen worked in their workshops. Two street names, Seiler- and Schlossergasse, still remind us of the former blossoming of craftsmanship in the arcades and alleys of our town centre. In the meantime, gastronomy, trade and services have replaced the craft. A young entrepreneur, however, has the courage to revive the craft tradition of the old town. His name: Alexander Gartner.
Many of us know the old-established optometrist's shop.. Renate Hopffer' in the Riesengasse. After all, it's hard to miss. The sgraffito paintings on the façade announce a spectacle maker in a formidable 'vintage script'. However, hardly anyone suspects that behind the façade of the medieval house with its 1950s font there is a craft business whose machinery also consists of computer-controlled high-tech machines.
Years ago I bought my first pair of red reading glasses there. When I needed real glasses, good advice was expensive. I only found one frame that I liked 100%. They were my reading glasses. Round and red. Without further ado, I had my varifocal lenses fitted into the reading glasses. No problem, the young optician thought. A statement that pleased me very much
Alexander Gartner had told me that he wanted to start his own eyewear company. I was surprised: Here in the old town? The 4th generation owner of the optician's shop 'Renate Hopffer' was obviously serious and confident that he could fill a gap in the market. For me, that was hard to believe at the time, given the multitude of discounters that were constantly undercutting each other on price.
Today, three years later, behind the Gothic walls at Riesengasse 5, several high-tech machines are ready to produce spectacle frames in all shapes and colours. The shop is humming and buzzing, as they say. Alexander Gartner was counting on that. "It's the trend of the times to offer individually tailored eyewear," he states matter-of-factly cool. "Assembling is the keyword," he says, thrusting a pair of glasses into my hand that I've never seen before. Green frames with blue temples in a very extravagant shape. Is this perhaps part of a larger collection of glasses?
The difference between the cheap discounters and the spectacle makers' manufactory is explained in one sentence: A pair of glasses that has been made to the customer's exact measurements has a more ideal fit than 'ready-made' glasses, no matter how exclusive and expensive they may be. Gartner can offer its 120 or so models of glasses in 150 sizes and 34 colours and patterns each. Which opens up a utopian-sounding, gigantic 612,000 possible combinations. You have to let that melt on your tongue.
The biggest competitive advantage of the spectacle makers in Innsbruck's old town: each pair of glasses can be individually adjusted to each customer, down to the tenth of a millimetre. Just as important: choice of shape and colours are possible to an incredible extent. This makes the spectacle makers' glasses unique
The real innovation is the computer-controlled manufacturing machines that Gartner developed himself over several years of work. That's why he is also the only Austrian optician who can produce the temples himself. Sounds logical to laymen like me, but it's not: a spectacle temple is only 3 mm thick. And of all things, a 1.2 mm thick needle has to be 'shot in' to a length of 14 cm. You have to be a master of precision mechanics.
The raw material for Innsbruck's most beautiful eyewear collection is acetate. "Its main ingredient is cellulose, a substance extracted from wood," Gartner explains to me. "Our glasses are not made from petroleum plastic and therefore do not cause allergic skin reactions." What these glasses certainly do evoke, however: Attention.
I had my own glasses 'designed' two years ago at Alexander's suggestion. It had simply become too much of a nuisance for me to throw away the cheaply made reading glasses every few months and fit the optical lenses into a new pair each time. Alexander made me the same pair of glasses in acetate back then. Custom fit and beautiful.
Admittedly: The red reading glasses have become my 'trademark' so to speak. How do I know? People recognize me even when I'm wearing my mouth-and-nose shield. In other words: I've reinvented myself..
A volunteer at the "Schule der Alm" alpine farming school, cultural pilgrim, Tyrol aficionado and Innsbruck fan.