Tessa Waugh meets Jost Haas, the only remaining maker of glass eyes working in Britain today. Photographs by Richard Cannon.
Jost Haas is the only remaining maker of glass eyes working in Britain today. Having originally completed an apprenticeship in his native Germany – where glass-eye technology was perfected in the 18th century – Mr Haas has been carefully crafting eyeballs in London for 50 years and, at the age of 81, has no plans to retire. ‘I have many loyal clients, some of whom have become friends and, as long as they continue to come here, I will carry on,’ he confirms.
This must be reassuring for his clientele, many of whom have lost eyes due to illness, assault or accidents and who can’t wear plastic eyes due to allergies. Mr Haas is kept busy due to the fact that glass eyes have such a short lifespan – all of them are returned to him after three to four years so that he can create a replacement.
Intriguingly, instead of being a round ball, a glass eye consists of a hollow half sphere that fits over either the non-working eye or a ball that has been surgically attached to the eye muscles.
Mr Haas holds a glass tube over a Bunsen burner, turning it constantly and blowing through it to produce a sphere. Then, with close reference to the client’s existing eye, he painstakingly paints the iris, pupil and veins onto the glass.
Unlike a prosthetic limb, a glass eye can’t restore function, but it’s vital that it looks as realistic as possible – losing an eye can be both physically and emotionally devastating.
‘I make sure that the eye fits, but psychology comes into my work as well,’ explains Mr Haas. ‘The client needs to feel happy with what I have made. It wasn’t part of the training, but it’s something that I have learnt over the years.’
This week's Living National Treasure is John Timms, the man who leads the team that stamps gold lettering into thousands
This week's Living National Treasure is royal florist Shane Connolly – and while he might be based in Britain, he's
Ian Shearman's team of glassblowers are still making glass using a technique that's 2,000 years old. Mary Miers found out