Making a spectacle: How glasses are crafted

How eyeglasses are made

When it comes to getting a pair of glasses, looks can be deceiving.

We see them as functional fashion, but in reality eyeglasses are the Teslas of the personal style world – objects of beauty borne of impressive feats in engineering and craftsmanship.

Yet they come with significant purpose. The eyeglasses we wear play a key role in the first impressions we make, from meeting the future in-laws to nailing that job interview. They can even help us in our careers – with clear vision, workers are 35% more productive and earn up to 20% more per year.[1]

So naturally when it comes to choosing glasses, questions crop up, like: What frames look best on my round face? Or, can I pull off rimless frames? But how often have you asked: What prevents these lenses from scratching when I drop them in the parking lot? Or, how do they get those little hinge thingies attached to the frames?

Well, you’re about to find out.

How eyeglasses are made

Both eyeglass frames and the lenses require a significant degree of technology and steady handedness. Let’s talk lenses first.

More than 80% of glasses worn today have plastic lenses,[2] and all come in a wide variety of shapes and thicknesses to accommodate the selected frames and vision correction required.[3]

Most glasses start off with “blanks,” or round pieces pre-made by optical labs with varying front curves and different thicknesses based on how much help your eyes need. The lab technician chooses a blank closest to the prescription and places it into a machine where it’s ground to a curve matching the prescription. It’s a process involving rigorous precision not only to match the prescription, but also to avoid scratches.[4]

Next, the lenses are edged to fit the exact frames you selected, let’s say Ray-Ban® Wayfarers. A groove is precisely cut into the lenses so they pop snugly and securely into the frames. Lastly, the lenses are tinted or treated for scratch-resistance or light-sensitivity.

Yet even with this scrupulous process, new technology enables opticians to make lenses quickly and efficiently — and accessible from the comfort of home, online. At Glasses.com, for example, expert lab technicians cut the lenses using the same materials a doctor uses, in labs that include the most state-of-the-art equipment available. And shoppers can get the lenses quickly, too, with anti-reflective coating arriving in just 24 to 48 hours.

Framing art

While lenses help us see, frames help define us. So ask yourself: plastic or metal? The former is a go-to for color variety while the latter is great for malleability and strength. Both require expert craftsmanship.

Let’s say the glasses are made of blue cellulose acetate, a plastic that is lightweight and available in many colors. The frame maker uses a lathe to skillfully shape the frames within a millimeter of the selected design. These delicate frames are then lightly smoothed out in a tumbler filled with gentle abrasives.[5]

Meanwhile, the temple pieces, or arms, are carefully cut. Once smoothed, they are heated along with a couple pieces of wire-thin steel and inserted into the temples. Next, to join the temple pieces to the frames, tiny hinges are deftly inserted at the point where you need those parts to hang together. The pieces are secured with minuscule screws.

Finally, the temple pieces are molded to fit over the ears and the final product is given a good polish before one last inspection ensures the glasses are balanced and secure.

So when you receive your glasses, you see a beautiful, functional accessory that will distinguish you from others. But the skill that went into the creation – that’s what distinguishes a good pair of glasses from a mere fashion statement.


[1] http://www.glasses.com/onesight-giving-back
[2] “Eyeglass Lens,” How Products are Made, http://www.madehow.com/Volume-1/Eyeglass-Lens.html
[3] Ibid.
[4] “How Are Prescription Eye Glasses Made?” Glasses Crafter, http://glassescrafter.com/information/how-prescription-glasses-are-made.html
[5] “How Eyeglass Frames are Made,” Ditto Blog, http://blog.ditto.com/2014/07/how-eyeglass-frames-are-made.html