From aiding sight to aiding appearance, eyeglasses have come a long way

Eyeglasses are one of the greatest inventions in history. Although they were not invented in their present forms, eyeglasses have evolved over time in purpose and design. They were earlier meant to aid sight but today they do more than aid sight, they aid appearance. At various times in their history, eyeglasses have served as symbols of status or learning.

No one really knows who invented the earlier forms of lenses, but the first pair of lenses that looks like what we have today have been traced back to Italy. They are believed to have been made by monks or craftsmen in Pisa around 1285-1289. They were shaped like two small magnifying glasses and set into bone, metal, or leather mountings that could be balanced on the bridge of nose — basically for reading.

Thanks to an artistic representation by Tommaso da Modena in his 1352 painting; we have an idea of how these glasses looked on those who wore them.

Hugh de Provence, Basilica San Niccolò, Treviso. Painting by Tommaso da Modena via Veneto uno http://www.venetouno.it/notizia/32933/gli-affreschi-di-tomaso-da-modena-a-san-nicol-torneranno-a-splendere
Hugh de Provence, Basilica San Niccolò, Treviso. Painting by Tommaso da Modena via Veneto Uno

Today, eyeglasses are still worn to aid vision, but whether they are being worn for health purposes or otherwise, having the right frames and appropriate lenses are important for your appearance.

Usually, the most important factor when considering the choice of eye wear is the shape of the face. Faces can be oval, round, square or heart. Sometimes, the shape of some faces looks diamond. Whatever shape your face is, there is a perfect frame for you. Colour is also an important thing to watch. There are also frames with functionality that matches particular lifestyle just as there are frames that fit certain personalities. All these have expanded the eyeglasses market.

persol

Eyewear is big business now. The global eyewear market which includes contact lenses, frames and sunglasses, is worth $90 billion, and will reach $140 billion by 2020, market sources claim.

Some designers of luxury fashion have jumped on the trend of eye glasses as a fashion statement and now hold about $13 billion of the global eyewear market. Some big players in the eyewear industry include Luxottica, the world’s largest eyewear company. The Italian firm controls over 80 percent of the world’s major eyewear brands. It owns Oakley, Persol and Ray-Ban and produces for Chanel, Armani, Prada, Burberry, Versace,Dolce and Gabbana and and Michael Kors.

Persol sunglasses
Persol sunglasses

Luxottica made a revenue of €7.652 billion ($8.1 billion) in 2014.

The second biggest player in the eyewear business is the Safilo Group, which produces for Dior, Fendi, Céline and Marc Jacobs. Also Italian, the company reported a revenue of €1.17 billion ($1.24 billion) in 2014.

Marchon Eyewear is neither in Luxottica’s class nor is it in Safilo’s but it holds licences for some global brands like Calvin Klein, Valentino, Salvatore Ferragamo and Chloé.

What started centuries ago as sight aid has become a huge business. The industry is expected to continue to grow steadily as more people adopt the use of eyewear for fashion and several others who need eye glasses for health reasons buy them. And yes, technological advancement will continue to bring about new forms of eye glasses such as the google glass.

Bill Grado/Alex Masters/Flickr
Bill Grado/Alex Masters/Flickr
African artistes hardly perform without a pair of eye glasses. Wizkid, Ayo Balogun,TCD Photography
African artistes hardly perform without a pair of eye glasses.
Wizkid, Ayo Balogun,TCD Photography
Old people may need eye glasses to improve vision. Pope Francis REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
Old people may need eye glasses to improve vision.
Pope Francis REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya