Eyewear – A Dive in History

Eyeglasses – lenses embedded into a frame to correct vision have a very long and interesting history.What started as an object to fill very important health function has evolved to the object of fashion. Since glasses were put onto a face from their inception lots of consideration was given to their look, lightweight and comfort.

It is beleived that first documented evidence of spectacles appears in Santa Maria Novella dating back to 1306 written by the Dominican friar. According to the documented fact invention is contributed to Allesandro Spina, a Dominican monk. Italy at the time was a glass making country of the world. Before 1300 magnifying glass was already widely used and it was made out of crystal. Traditional glasses lenses made out of glass, but because first models were made out of beryl or rock  they were known as beryls. Term “brillen” is still used in German to refer to glasses.

First surviving picture of glasses circa 1352 is currently displayed in the church of San Niccolo at Treviso.

It didn’t take long before spectacles reached mass use and by early fifteenth century were associated with literacy. This “image” item is common on painitings, frescas and engravings often depicting monks, cardinals and bible preachers of 1400-1900 era.

first glasses glasses history

The earliest spectacles were made with two lenses mounted in rims made out of metal, horn or leather. They were held by hand and worn only when needed. Later a bridge appeared that connected the lenses and pressed them onto the nose.

first glasses glasses history

As technology of lens production improved, so the desire to wear them continuously. Spectacles were prone to fall of the face or hurt the nose. This problem was solved by the arm that was added to the design of glasses at around 1723. Eighteenth century was also an era of widely developing fashion. Glasses were considered an important part of accessory and therefore many designs spurred. Handles were decorated with precious stones, various shapes were made and materials used for the frame. A lot of attention was given to the cases to hold glasses. Cases were engraved, incrustated, often made out or gold, silver and decorated with mother or pearl, colored stones and even diamonds.

An arm that curved under the wig holding spectacles firmly fixed on the head

Of course simplier materials were also widely used. Among them wood – the easiest to finish, industrialized steel, aluminium, and later optyl. Optyl is a light flexible plastic invented in Austria in 1967. Christian Dior was first to use this material in his collection of fashion eyeglasses and sunglasses. Other forms of plastic were used in combination with metal on glasses frames.

Today metal glasses and plastic glasses fragment the market. Silicone nosepads are part of all metal frames today. Glasses frames are further segmeted into full rim, semi-rimless and rimless that is possible to a very advanced technology of lens manufacturing and etching. Lenses technology development has its own chapter in parallel to sunglasses. We will be covering this in the future posts.

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