Opinion

Passionate About Fine Watchmaking? Luxury Eyewear Could Be Your Next Obsession

Opinion

Passionate About Fine Watchmaking? Luxury Eyewear Could Be Your Next Obsession

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Be it watches, jewelry or otherwise, the role of any accessory speaks to a core need. It shows the world a little part of who we are, one that might not otherwise be obvious. It is a deeply human thing, something that we have done since time immemorial. We tend to acknowledge this about watches, but I don’t think there is a more transformative accessory than one that you wear on your face.

 

Prior to my time in the watch world, I spent the better part of 15 years in the luxury eyewear industry. During that time, I had the opportunity to work with some of the finest eyewear companies and boutiques in the country as a sales rep, account manager, buyer, and optician. Throughout that time, and my own path learning about watches, I couldn’t help but see the parallels between these two esoteric but comparable worlds. The detailing, the subtlety, and the artistry were all key distinguishing factors that sparked my fascination in each case.

 

While my passion for watches has led to a collection that I would describe as aspirational at best, my eyewear collection has, at times, gotten completely out of control — to an extent that few people, even watch collectors, would understand. Why does anyone need dozens of glasses? Similarly, why does anyone need dozens of watches? The simple answer, of course, is that they don’t. But despite that, something about each speaks to me in a unique and profound way.

 

Brushed, grooved titanium creates a subtle vintage look

Unique colors, shapes, and designs of zyl acetate frames allow for a wardrobe of style options

Seeing Is Believing

But you see, there’s the rub. Most people, even those who I feel should understand, often don’t. Watch collectors, for example, should get it. Recently, whilst standing on my soapbox pontificating to Revolution’s very own editor Zen Love about the merits of high-end, independent, luxury eyewear, I was met with something of a shrug. I wasn’t getting the point across. It just wasn’t something on his radar. To quote Zen, “I never used to wear glasses before I wanted blue light-blocking lenses for the computer, and one reason I never wore sunglasses is because I never liked the way they looked on me.”

 

The lack of a prescription is of course reasonable, but the second rationale, I just couldn’t accept. I said it for years: there is a perfect frame for every face. If someone hasn’t found that, it’s a failing of the optician or sales associate they’re working with. But beyond the buying experience, there’s most certainly good eyewear and bad eyewear. What’s the difference? And, more importantly, why should watch collectors care?

 

So we decided we’d take a field trip to Morgenthal Frederics in Soho, NYC, so I could show Zen first-hand what I am always going on about. Now, New York is an eyewear town, and contains some of the finest eyewear boutiques in the world, Morgenthal Frederics certainly being among them.

 

Morgenthal Frederics is a company with history going back as far as some watch brands. It began in 1913 as Frederics Opticians and became Morgenthal Frederics in the 1980s after it was acquired by optician and eyewear designer Richard Morgenthal. Beginning in 1994, the Morgenthal Frederics Eyewear collection was created. Today, the core of their collection is their frames made from pure buffalo horn, but more on that shortly. They currently operate 13 boutiques across the country, and sell luxury eyewear from some of the finest independent eyewear manufacturers in the world including Jacques Marie Mage, Matsuda, and Robert Marc NYC, to name just a few.

 

What’s the Difference?

But what is the point of going to a high end eyewear boutique vs any other optical store? Glasses are expensive everywhere, right? To really understand and answer that question, I like to break eyewear down into three big categories — “value,” “fashion” or “designer,” and “luxury.”

 

“Value” eyewear includes everything from the two-for-the-price-of-one stuff you buy at Walmart or Costco, to the direct-to-consumer frames that can be ordered online. It is generally no-frills, has basic lens options available, and will more or less get the job done. While not always the most inspiring or fashionable product, it very much has its place — after all, everyone has to see.

 

Details as small as microbeading on nosepads with silicone balance intracacy with comfort

Morgenthal Frederics offers a wide variety of styles ranging from classic and retro to contemporary and avant-gard

Next, you have “fashion” or “designer” eyewear. This is where the waters get murky. These are the major brand names that most people would recognize, everything from Ray-Bans to Tom Ford, Prada, etc. The vast majority of these kinds of collections are licensed, meaning the fashion house name you see on the frame is not the one that actually designs or makes the frame, instead being produced by mass-market companies like Luxottica or Safilo. While there is certainly an exception to every rule, by and large these frames are extremely expensive relative to the quality that you’re actually getting. Unfortunately, in this case, you’re mostly paying for a name.

 

Finally we come to the “luxury” eyewear category. This is where things get really interesting and in some cases really expensive. Luxury eyewear collections are often created by independent eyewear companies. They are designed either by or with the input of opticians to better suit the needs of prescriptions, and are made of significantly higher quality materials. Frames of this nature are meant to last for many years, and will survive having multiple sets of lenses put into them over their lifetime.

 

Morgenthal Frederics is a major retail partner of Jacques Marie Mage eyeglasses and sunglasses

Materials and Craftsmanship

Typically, luxury eyewear is going to be produced in Japan, Germany, France, and occasionally Italy. Materials like block Zyl Acetates are used in lieu of injection molded plastics. The benefit of block acetates cannot be understated. These frames are often carved out of a single brick of acetate, and finished by hand with skill and care. They are typically thicker, denser, and more durable than their “plastic” counterparts. Frames will be more flexible and will not dry out and become brittle over time, therefore lasting significantly longer. Because of the blending of the raw acetate itself, rich, dynamic, and unique color combinations are possible in a way that laminated or molded plastic frames cannot be.

 

Another material frequently used in the best frames is pure, nickel-free (and therefore hypoallergenic) titanium. Generally, the best titanium comes from Japan, and will often be accompanied by fine detailing like coining or filigree. It’s in these small intricacies that the true artistry and craftsmanship can be seen. These frames are lightweight, strong, and beautiful to admire. Like a fine watch, you can own a pair of glasses like these for months before you notice a new detail that reignites your fascination all over again.

 

Buffalo horn frames with intricate inlays, all crafted by hand by artisans in Germany

Combining materials like horn and japanese titanium creates distinct styles

Finally, natural materials like exotic woods or horn are used to create frames that are especially finely crafted. Such is the case with Morgenthal, whose horn frames are generally regarded as the finest around, and are made by hand in Germany from ethically sourced Indian Water Buffalo horn (that is to say, Buffalo are not killed for their horn). While horn frames do require a little more care than their counterparts, the comfort, stability, and lightweight quality of the frames is something that truly has to be experienced to be appreciated.

 

Just as I’d hoped, visiting the boutique seemed to open Zen’s mind to the appreciation of eyewear: “Learning about the process of creating the horn frames as Morgenthal Frederics does, the practical properties and interesting visual features they offer, the individual variations between different examples, and the care that ensures their longevity… It all started to make more sense to me. I even walked out of the store with a slight obsession for a particular pair. One of my first thoughts was: why haven’t more watch companies made use of this material in some form?”

 

Subtle details abound in the world of luxury eyewear

The matural color variations and textures of buffalo horn ensure that each frame is a completely unique work of wearable art

Finding the Right Frame

The last and possibly most important piece to the puzzle is the optician. Not unlike watchmaking, true opticianry is a skill that comes from years of study, practice, and apprenticeship, and in many states requires licensing. The difference between a good optician and an otherwise untrained sales associate cannot be overstated. Not only will a truly talented optician be able to analyze your facial features and help choose a frame that suits each individual, but they will also do so while ensuring that the frame actually makes sense for someone’s prescription needs. For many, the experience of truly enjoying their eyewear begins or ends with where it’s purchased and from whom.

 

All of these details, the manufacturing quality and craftsmanship, the details in the frames themselves, the custom or tailored nature of truly well-fitted and well-made frames, bears such a similarity to so many of the things that appeal to me in watches. But beyond the technical similarities — and the idea that if you like one fancy, well-made thing, you’ll probably also like this other fancy, well-made thing — is the personal enjoyment that eyewear can bring.

 

The act of going into the watch box at the beginning of the day and picking the watch that resonates with you in that moment, or that will give you that personal energy you need for the day ahead, is the same as picking which pair of glasses you want to wear. Who do you want to feel like today? Which side of yourself do you want to show to the world? Because, even in the watch world, amidst the most enthusiastic collector gatherings, people will typically look at your face before your wrist… most of the time.