Michael Birch -photo by N Westover

Close up of the inside of the Birch spectacle case shown in main photo.

This week, I am passing my blogging baton on to one of our longstanding customers, Nicholas Westover. He has written a piece for us sharing his memories of spectacle designer Michael Birch, who he knew well. Michael Birch set up spectacle design company Birch Stigmat Ltd in Tunbridge Wells in the mid fifties. Michael Birch was born in Egypt in 1926 and moved to the UK in 1945. He was a highly creative person and after being unable to make a living from the arts, made his way into spectacle design. His company made spectacles for both ladies and gents and became successful and well known for stylish designs, especially the supra spectacle frame. A supra frame has a rim at the top and exposed lenses underneath, which are supported by a fine cord.Michael Birch also designed a more fashionable ladies’ frame for the NHS, called Candida. This was quite contentious at that time as the NHS was well known for its utilitarian yet unfashionable frames. The NHS’s attitude was that glasses needed to be functional rather than fashionable. There is a certain irony to this, as sixty years on, NHS frames are very fashionable. Michael Birch made stylish spectacle frames which are still as sought after now as when they were new.

MICHAEL BIRCH by Nicholas Westover

MICHAEL BIRCH- one of those rare people who enters one’s life and has a profound effect on your own.I first met Michael Birch when I was asked to help at a sale at his daughter’s farm by my brother who was married to one of his daughters. He pulled up in a Jensen car, I was the one to open and close the gate for him. Michael said to come up to the house to be paid on arrival, he went off and came back with £100 in crisp notes. I felt like a millionaire, in the 70s at 14/15 I practically was. From that day on Michael had a profound effect on my life.

Michael devoted his life after having a family and selling his business to spend his time doing something he had admired since a young age. Raised in Egypt, returning to his homeland in England with nothing, he waded through life to success and a rich life full of love. He was a generous man who shared his love for netsuke and glasses with myself while broadening my mind into the world of Japanese art.

When I first met him, I was aware of his spectacle factories, but I didn’t start collecting them until 35 years later, now I’ve come to collect over 100 pairs. His spectacles were the epitome of stylish, he was the beginning of quality. Michael’s mind allowed him to design and create a magnitude of beauty within these glasses. Michael created frames that were not only functional but also works of art in their own right. His designs blended classic frame elements with modern touches, creating stylish and sophisticated eyewear. Michael ensured the highest quality in his work, with his glasses being meticulously handmade with him overseeing the whole process. Michael would crush defective glasses under his shoes, ensuring the highest quality matching his standard. He made his factory an operating theatre with his strong presence. When pacing from one side to another in the factory, if there was anything as little as a screw on the floor that he would be seen to notice by the time he looked again it was gone. Michael breathed life into frames that radiated an air of sophistication and panache.

Beautiful Birch cats’ eye Supra frame

Michael always had an enrapturing story of some sort to share with me, I never left his house without a smile on my face. He was truly a pleasure to know, he was a good man and an excellent friend to me. I would often take his favourite lobster or turbot to have for dinner with him, being a fishmonger myself. Michael would invite my taste buds to a delight when eating dinner with him. He had the best taste in every sense. Best taste in conversation, food, and art. Beguiling my mind with his magnificent glasses and later his entrancing netsuke. His life was a dedication to art, he breathed an artistic essence that drove him throughout life.

He gifted me my passion, for which I’ll be forever grateful for. He opened my mind up to the world of netsuke alongside his passion for it himself. After leaving the world of frames at age 44, he began to devote his life to a passion which had enraptured his mind from a young age. He dove into the world of netsuke with passion and devotion, sharing this beautiful art with me. Netsuke being an intricate art form often using wood, ivory and tusk to shape images, show stories and beauty.

Michael’s life was a thing of kindness, friendship, art, and triumph. His loss was a great one, for me and for everyone who knew him. His essence I see in everyday life, I find him everywhere. When I drive by the place which he lived, the place where he made his glasses (Birch Stigmat and Birch wear) and the roads named after him (Birch close and Birch way) I’m reminded of his life and his devotion. Michael was one of those rare people you meet in life. Bringing a surplus of joy and greatness to the world. Michael declared himself honorary grandpa of my two daughters, they know his legacy. I miss him, but his legacy will live on.

With many thanks to Nicholas for writing this piece and inspiring us to take a closer look at Michael Birch and his beautiful designs.


Have a good week, Claire AKA Mrs Deadman