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A Thread for Sunglasses (High End and Rarities Welcome)

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 

I'm pretty new to "style," and have found this site and its members to be an indispensable resource. I thought I'd take a minute to add to the conglomerate of information this site holds and jot down my experiences with the one article of clothing I do know a lot about and have a lot of experience with: sunglasses. The odd thing about sunglasses is that they're so ubiquitous, but so misunderstood. There are no forums dedicated solely to sunglasses, and good info on them is spotty at best. A large number of fashion forward individuals seem to look down on "mall brands," but settle for pedestrian optics. As many of you know, this is largely due to the virtual monopoly Luxottica has over the market. Whatever they don't own, the other conglomerates Safilo and Marcolin probably do. Because of this, many smaller brands and real gems go unnoticed. I hope to bring attention to some of these brands by posting reviews and experiences I've had with them, as well as a few things I've learned about sunglasses over the years.

 

Let's start with an introduction for the newcomers. As I mentioned earlier, most brands are owned by optics conglomerates. The largest of these is Luxottica, who owns (among many others) Ray-Ban, Oakley, Persol, Revo, Sunglass Hut, Lenscrafters, and Pearle Vision. They also make sunglasses on contract for many big name brands like Chanel. Safilo also owns and contracts out for a fair number of brands, like Carrera and Gucci. Marcolin isn't as big as the other two, and manufactures for brands like Montblanc and Tom Ford. In terms of quality, Safilo generally trails the other two and Marcolin generally comes out on top.

 

The danger of having conglomerates like this is that it gives optics companies the power to raise prices while cutting quality, and creates the illusion of choice for the consumer. Hardly anyone walks into a Sunglass Hut realizing that everything in the store except for Maui Jim is owned by the same company. Conglomerates often take advantage of this; when one frame style is successful in one brand's lineup, they begin introducing very similar styles into their other brands. Furthermore, nearly every fashion brand contracts their sunglasses out to companies like Luxottica, and have barely any involvement with the production process. Everything from the design to the manufacturing is done by the optics company. So when you buy a pair of sunglasses from a company like Prada, your glasses have no involvement with Prada other than the name. You're better off going with a company that made its name on optics. With that said, companies like Luxottica do make a few good products, but it's very hit and miss.

 

When determining the quality of a pair of sunglasses, there are a number of things you can look for. A few basic things I look for are:

 

1. Lens setting. Make sure the lenses are set into the frames properly, and do not pop out of their seating at all.

 

2. Frame warping. Many companies produce sunglasses with this problem. Lay the glasses on a flat surface with the arms folded out fully. The temples should both touch the surface at the ends, and the frame should not be warped so that one arm is higher than the other.

 

3. Hinges. The hinges should not wobble significantly. They should be fairly tight when new, and have about the same tension on each side. For plastic frames, 5 or 7 barrel hinges are nice to have. The arms and front of the frame should also meet flush with each other with the arms fully out, and not have a large gap. Also, hinges that are pinned through the frame on plastic frames show a higher degree of craftsmanship and skill than hinges that are just set into the acetate with heat. Be careful, though, many frames have fake rivets that give the appearance of being pinned, but are really heat sunk on both sides (e.g. Ray-Ban Wayfarers).

 

4. Solder points. For wire-framed sunglasses, the solder points are a significant indicator of quality. On pairs that do not exhibit very good quality, the solder joints are often uneven or sloppy. A high quality frame will have uniform soldering, with only enough solder used to make the weld, no more and no less.

 

5. Wire cores. For plastic frames, there should be a wire core inside the arms. Acetate is a flexible material that can be bent with or without heat to better suit the user. The wire core helps the arms to keep a shape they've been bent to. The better plastic frames are machined from blocks of acetate, which has a higher quality feel to it than typical plastics. Not all plastic frames with wire cores are acetate, though. Look for seams along frame; if you see any, the frame was injection molded and not machined from acetate blocks.

 

As Kurt Vonnegut noted, the frames are where the money in optics is. The higher end companies put a lot of efforts into their frames, and sometimes not very much into their optics. If optics are a priority for you, it's important to note what the lenses are made of. Nearly all lenses are made of these four materials:

 

CR-39. This is the standard plastic lens. It is not very impact resistant, but it is close to the clarity of glass, and has the least chromatic abberation of the popular lens materials. It can be tinted easily, and coated with a hard shell that resists scratches.

 

Polycarbonate. This is a plastic with much higher strength and will resist impacts, but that's all that it's good for. It has the worst clarity, chromatic abberation, tintability, and scratch resistance of the main lens materials. If you aren't playing sports and don't need impact protection (or the frame design doesn't rely on strong lenses), polycarbonate is probably not your best choice.

 

Glass. Glass is much heavier than any of the other options, but many find the weight to be well worth it. While it doesn't have any impact protection, it does have the best clarity and very low chromatic abberation. My favorite feature of glass, though, is its scratch resistance.

 

Trivex. This newer plastic is even stronger and more impact resistant than polycarbonate, but is also clearer and has less chromatic abberation. In fact, it is better than polycarbonate in every way. However, it is more expensive, which is why it is not very common.

 

Even within a certain material, lens quality can vary. The better lenses have antireflective coatings on the back that curb distracting flashes of light. Some lenses are also just clearer than others, which varies by company. Many companies offer polarization, which blocks light that is oscillating in a certain direction. This helps to cut glare from reflected objects without making the lenses much darker. Photochromic lenses are also gaining in popularity. These lenses darken when the light is stronger, keeping your eyes comfortable in a broad range of lighting conditions.

 

Reviews and quick company profiles to be added soon...

post #2 of 26
Thread Starter 

First up, IC! Berlin. IC! Berlin was founded based on an unusual concept for eyewear frames. The company's design makes use of .5mm thick stainless steel sheetmetal to create a hingeless frame that can be disassembled and reassembled without tools. Due to the springy nature of the material, it can withstand being bent to an extreme degree and snap right back to shape. Its thinness makes it unusually lightweight; IC! Berlin's frames are often lighter than titanium frames made using traditional methods. Rubber is used on the nosepads and temples for grip and comfort (some recent models use plastic instead, as seen in the Wisteria below). The owner has a quirky sense of humor that comes out on his site, videos, and frames. Newer models now feature a tiny message written on one arm (Mine say "IC! Berlin supports Helmut Köhl," "Under your clothes you are always naked," and "IC! Berlin supports the French language").

 

IC! Berlin makes all its frames in their Berlin shop. The frames have a distinctive industrial appearance and are very well made. Earlier frames had a tendency to spring open when clipped into a shirt (see Wladimir P frame below), but newer models are incorporating an extra kink in the metal around the hinge that serves as a detent to keep the arms folded in (as seen on the Magomed J and Wisteria). IC! Berlin sunglasses come in a spartan plastic tube with a cleaning cloth. The lenses are of good quality and have antireflective coatings on the back. Polarization is available as an option on some models.

 

In my experience, I find these sunglasses to be about as good as they come in terms of function. There aren't many others that are as lightweight and strong as these frames, and not having to worry about screws falling out is a big plus (I had this happen to me in the middle of a dark forest once). Disassembly and reassembly can be done in a few seconds, too.

 

Left to Right: Magomed J, Wladimir P, Wisteria

 

 

 


Edited by Tsujigiri - 3/21/14 at 4:02pm
post #3 of 26
Thread Starter 

After IC! Berlin was founded, a few employees split off and formed Mykita. They sought to make similarly functional eyewear using a new hinge design. Mykita's sheetmetal hinge has firm stops in the open and closed positions, which means that they won't spring up if you clip them to your shirt. The downside is that the Mykita hinge can't be disassembled and reassembled without tools. Mykita is a little more posh in their design approach and less industrial. They have done numerous collaborations with brands such as Moncler, Rad Hourani, Bernhard Wilhelm, and Damir Doma.They come with real hard cases, unlike IC! Berlin. The rubber they use is also softer and grippier than IC! Berlin's, and the newer models feature Zeiss lenses that offer superior optics and have bronze colored antireflective coatings. Like IC! Berlin, they make all of their frames in a small Berlin shop.

 

Mykita has also branched out to make acetate framed sunglasses (IC! Berlin has acetate frames as well, but these are just acetate fronts on sheetmetal arms). In fact, Mykita sought out a German acetate manufacturer that was struggling with competition from Italian conglomerates and bought them out, for the purposes of having their own in-house acetate manufacturer. They then developed a new sheetmetal hinge for their acetate frames. Later, this hinge was replaced with a newer version that uses solid metal components and is inset into the frame. Both hinges have biases towards the closed and open positions, and operate smoothly. The older sheetmetal hinges were more rigid, but the newer ones have a lower profile. You can see the older hinge on the older version of their Herbie frame below, and the newer one on the Carlos and Icco.

 

Mykita's newest venture deals with building frames using 3D printing. They have released a new line of models that are created using selective laser sintering with Nylon material. This manufacturing method produces parts that are stronger than other rapid prototyping technologies, and a wide variety of shapes can be made that would be difficult with traditional manufacturing means.

 

If I had to choose just one sunglass brand, Mykita would probably be my favorite. They have continually evolved and pushed the envelope to bring out new and interesting products, and their quality is excellent. For sheetmetal sunglasses, however, I still prefer IC! Berlin for their more distinctive appearance and ease of use. For acetate frames, Mykita is among the best there is.

 

Below: Pierce in black, Carlos in tortoise, Herbie in Honey, Icco in British racing green.

 

 

 

post #4 of 26
Thread Starter 

Cutler and Gross was one of the pioneers of fashion eyewear. They're a British company that currently manufactures in their own factory in Cadore, Italy. They have a few wire frames in their lineup, but their specialty is acetate. Their style is often distinctive and unusual, with the iconic model 0734 seen below being no exception.

 

The craftsmanship in Cutler and Gross's frames is exceptional. They are hand-made using rarely seen traditional methods. The frames are polished by hand instead of being dipped into chemical etchants, which C&G believes produces a longer lasting polish. The hinges are usually 5-barrel, with the exception of some thin frame models. These hinges are riveted through the frame on both the front and arms, and polished flush with the acetate. Like nearly all high end sunglasses, there are no outward facing logos, but the "Cutler and Gross of London" marking on the inside is cut from gold foil and encased in plastic within the frame, so it won't wear off.

 

For acetate frames, I believe Cutler and Gross makes the best there is. They are well-designed, precisely fitted, and not warped or lopsided in any way. The one area where they are lacking is their lenses. The lenses aren't particularly clear, and don't offer antireflective coatings. If optics are a big priority, there are other high end makers that offer acetate frames that are almost as good but have better lenses.

 

Below: Model 0734

 

 

 

 

post #5 of 26
Thread Starter 

L.G.R. is a relative newcomer, but they look about as classic as they come. The brand's inception came when the brand's creator ran into his grandfather's collection of vintage Italian sunglasses. He decided to build a brand based off of these classic styles, and employ traditional manufacturing methods. L.G.R.'s sunglasses are low profile to the extreme. They feature no distinctive characteristics on the outside and are marked plainly on the inside. Only handling them and observing their quality betrays that they're something special. The frames are hand made and polished by being tumbled with tree bark. All of their frames are wire-core acetate and can be bent to suit the user.

 

A couple distinctive features used on all of their frames are the spring hinges and glass lenses. The spring hinges allow the arms to flex out easily to accommodate the user's head. Glass lenses are a rarity on higher end sunglasses, but L.G.R. uses glass exclusively. The lenses are nice and clear, have antireflective coatings on the back, and are highly scratch resistant.

 

Below: Massawa (flagship frame featured in the company logo)

 

 

post #6 of 26
Thread Starter 

Oliver Goldsmith was another eyewear pioneer. They've made many distinctive frames, including the ones worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Most of their frames are acetate and feature 5 or 7 barrel hinges. The construction is clean and precise, and very well done overall. A specialty of theirs is their use of laminated acetate layers. Most of their frames feature combinations of different colors of acetate, which have often been incorporated into the frame in interesting ways. Their designs are classic, but original to the brand. Like Cutler and Gross, they have a lot of unique designs that really stand out among more common patterns. Also like Cuter and Gross, their optics are not as clear as they could be and don't have antireflective coatings.

 

Below: Carl in tortoise and Kendall in green pinstripe.

 

 

post #7 of 26
Thread Starter 

Oliver Peoples is likely the most well-known high end sunglass brand. They were created when the owners purchased an estate sale of vintage American frames. The manifest stated that the items belonged to "Oliver Peoples," so the owners set up a store in Beverly Hills under that name. Soon they began making new frames based on the vintage style of the frames they had bought. The brand has become hugely popular with celebrities and made many appearances in film. Unfortunately, the brand's quality took a hit when they were acquired by Luxottica. They have since created two spinoff lines (Mosley Tribes and Paul Smith) of eyewear. Many of their former fans have abandoned the brand due to recent changes, but I've found that the quality cuts are not across the board. I have had Oliver Peoples sunglasses that were terrible, but there are still some gems in their collection. My advice would be to try before you buy, as it's hit or miss.

 

When the brand is at its best, they produce some clean and precise pieces that are well-balanced proportionally and have good quality throughout. In my opinion, there isn't a better pair of classic aviators out there than the Benedicts. The solder points are immaculate and the frames are even. These feature Oliver Peoples' VFX glass lenses, and are polarized with an antireflective coating on the back. The lenses have a logo that appears when the lenses are fogged up, to verify authenticity. These lenses are among the best I've used. Clarity is excellent and the tint is an unusual brown that produces very high contrast.

 

Below: Benedict 59 in Java polarized:

 

 

 

post #8 of 26
Thread Starter 

After the takeover of Oliver Peoples, some of their employees were not satisfied with the direction the brand was taking and set out to form Salt Optics. Like Oliver Peoples, Salt focuses on classic American designs. The quality of their frames is more consistent than Oliver Peoples', and they offer both wire and acetate models. Salt stands out among other higher end companies for their focus on the optics of their sunglasses. Their lenses come in CR-39 or glass, and feature antireflective coatings, polarization, and decentered optics. The decentering places the focus of the lens closer to where your eyes actually are, reducing the amount of distortion the lenses cause. Some models are offered with gradient lenses, as well. Optics on these are very good, as is the quality of the frames, so Salt offers a very well-rounded and complete package.

 

Below: Lester

 

 

post #9 of 26
Thread Starter 

Barton Perreira is another brand that was founded by former Oliver Peoples employees who were not satisfied with the state of affairs at the old company. They offer a wide range of frame styles in both wire and acetate. Many of their wire frames are made from titanium, and polarized lenses are offered on most if not all of their models. Most of the models use plastic lenses, but a select few feature glass. They haven't incorporated antireflective coatings on any of the lenses I've seen, however.

 

BP's sunglasses are fairly well-made, but I don't think the quality is in line with the other high end companies out there. They seem to have emulated Oliver Peoples' recent offerings more than their better regarded models, and the precision of their frames falls somewhere in between the mid level brands like Ray-Ban and the higher end brands.

 

Below: Stonelove and Acheron

 

 

post #10 of 26

Your thoughts on Oakley?

post #11 of 26
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by AstroTurf View Post
 

Your thoughts on Oakley?

 

I would place sport sunglasses in an entirely different category. Sport sunglasses need to offer impact protection, so their designs differ significantly from other sunglasses. Integrated plastic hinges are fine for sport sunglasses because they don't protrude in case of impact, but you would expect better from a regular pair of sunglasses. Most sport sunglasses also have injection molded frames and funky styling.

 

If you're looking for impact protection, though, Oakleys aren't bad. I wouldn't wear them normally, but I do use them for eye protection when shooting or working with machinery sometimes. Their optics are pretty murky in my experience, and their tints are sometimes applied unevenly, but the frame quality is good for a pair of sport sunglasses. If you're looking to step up from them, Rudy Project offers sport sunglasses that are a cut above all the others I've tried. Their optics are better  than Oakley's, especially the ones with Trivex lenses (they call those lenses Impact-X). The frames are also adjustable for comfort and have a sturdy, quality feel to them.

 

I'll probably add a little info to this thread later on sport sunglasses.

post #12 of 26
Thread Starter 

Morgenthal Frederics is a highly regarded eyewear maker that creates both classic and unusual designs. They are best known for incorporating unusual materials and decorations into their frames, particularly buffalo horn and wood. Many of their frames feature fine detailing and polarized lenses. The Stealth Horn below has both polarized and photochromic lenses, mounted in a titanium frame that's made it Japan and buffalo horn arms that are made in Germany. Polarization is common to Morgenthal Frederics models. However, I have yet to see a pair of sunglasses from them with antireflective coatings. Their optics are good, but not a standout. As for the frames, their work is intricate and of good quality. I do find some of their designs to be overwrought, and I think they have frames that suffer in functionality and usability because of this. But if you subscribe to the school of thought that anything worth doing is worth doing to excess, Morgenthal Frederics might just have that over the top luxury you're looking for.

 

Below: Ziggy and Stealth Horn

 

 

post #13 of 26
Thread Starter 

Gold and Wood is a less-known company from France that manufactures in Luxembourg. Like Morgenthal Frederics, they specialize in frames that utilize natural materials like wood and buffalo horn (horn on the model below). Their styles are more conservative and laid back than Morgenthal Frederics, and sometimes border on being too pedestrian. If you find a style you like, though, they make very high quality eyewear. Their operation is small and their frames are hand-crafted with good attention to detail. Some models are polarized, and most have antireflective coatings on the lenses. The pair below is unusual in that it has antireflective coatings on both sides of the lenses.

 

 

post #14 of 26

Fascinating.

 

I have SALT for my normal glasses, so it's good to see they are worth the money (and comparably cheaper than several other brands mentioned here for shoddy quality).

post #15 of 26
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by LonerMatt View Post
 

Fascinating.

 

I have SALT for my normal glasses, so it's good to see they are worth the money (and comparably cheaper than several other brands mentioned here for shoddy quality).


Excellent choice and thanks for reading!

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