In our modern world, we have thousands of eyewear frames to choose from, and hundreds, if not thousands, of frame manufacturers for all of those frame lines. Despite what 60 Minutes wants you to believe, there is not just one company. And knowing something about where your frames come from, can help you make educated choices of how well your glasses might hold up, and how good the warranty may be.
Where do your Frames come from?
Country of origin can tell you a lot about what was involved in manufacturing your frames. Generally speaking, frames that originate anywhere in Europe and/or Japan have a level of craftsmanship that is significantly better than other nations. They are usually handmade, not just hand assembled. For example, the manufacturing of acetate (plastic) frames can be very detailed and time consuming when done by hand. This short YouTube video gives you a glimpse into the process.
While Luxottica is a very large manufacturer and has great reach in the global optical industry, they are far from the only frame manufacturer available for you. Along with several other large companies which help to create very popular design lines such as Tom Ford (Marcolin), Kate Spade, Hugo Boss (both Safilo), etc. there are also many independent lines from amazing smaller companies producing very high quality products, such as Salt Optics, Barton Perreira, Francis Klein, and DITA to name a few.
As you might expect, when frames come from these countries, they tend to cost more. These costs are partly due to the generally higher wages for workers, but also due to the level of skill and craftsmanship that goes into handmade frames.
Also a note about the “CE” logo. the CE marking used to be a good indication of frame manufacturing somewhere within the European Union. It is now used to indicate a product is eligible for sale within the EU, so products can be manufactured in China, Korea, etc. and still have the CE marking.
What’s it made of?
This made sound odd, but there’s more than one type of “plastic” frame! The type of plastic can dramatically change how comfortable the frame is, as well as how adjustable it is. The most common, high quality plastic used is acetate.
Acetate frames are actually made from a type of salt which can be heated and mixed with other compounds to produce a strong, pliable form of plastic. Acetate frames allow for adjustability and are not painted to create their colors, it is infused directly into the material, thus they cannot chip off to expose a different color underneath. Generally considered the highest quality of “plastic” frames this material type, this can sometimes translate into a higher price on your frames. This additional cost also means the frames tend to last longer and can be re-lensed more times. In addition, to add structure, and the ability to hold a curve around your ear, the temple has a wire running through it of a malleable metal.
One drawback of acetate is associated with aging. As it gets older, there can be a dull white coating which can build up, indicating that the material is drying out and becoming too brittle to be reshaped easily. However, it can also be polished to bring back some of its original shine.
Nylon is another popular “plastic” frame type. The advantages for Nylon frames is flexibility and durability. These frames tend to be very resilient to accidental manipulation (i.e. sleeping in glasses, falling off your bike, etc.). They also tend to be very lightweight. Colors are typically matte in finish, given the way the material is made, it is difficult to polish up to a shine. In order to allow the frame to be adjustable at all, there is usually a different temple component added with a metal wire inserted into the nylon, and then covered with a silicon or rubber temple end. This allows for adjustability around the ears, but it can also mean a potential weak point for the frame to break (where the metal inserts into the nylon)
In the next few days I will break down metal frames and their options.