Where to Buy Your Next Pair of Glasses

November 12, 2020
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People wear eyeglasses for two reasons: to convey an image or to see clearly. People who are motivated purely by fashion can get by with inexpensive frames. Those who actually need glasses require quality frames that can be worn for years. Within both groups, some people want to make a statement while others prefer timeless style.

The eyewear industry is obscene

A handful of companies control the manufacturing and pricing of the vast majority of eyewear brands.

Four firms make 90% of all frames

The first eyeglasses were made in Italy in the 1600s. In the 20th century, Italy invented acetate and became the dominant source for quality eyewear. Today, most well-known brands are made by one of four Italian firms.

Luxottica

The Italian behemoth Luxottica either owns or licenses 25% of the industry's luxury brands, including Armani, Prada, Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, Coach, Valentino, Versace, Oliver Peoples, Persol, Tiffany & Co plus iconic sunglass brands Ray-Ban and Oakley. Further, it owns 9,000 retail outlets worldwide including LensCrafters and Sunglass Hut. In 2017, it merged with Essilor, the world's leading maker of prescriptions lenses. Luxottica was founded in 1961 by Leonardo del Vecchio.

GlassesUSA

Founded in 2009 by Daniel Rothman, Eldad Rothman, and Roy Yamner, the online retailer is headquartered in Tel Aviv, Israel and sells primarily to the U.S. It is affiliated with Luxottica, selling many Luxottica brands such as Michael Kors at a discount.

Safilo Group

Safilo is best known for its children's eyewear, but it also manufactures some of the world's top adult brands, including Moschini, Pierre Cardin, Kate Spade, Juicy Couture, Missone, Fossil, Givenchy, MaxMara, Fendi, Jimmy Choo, Tommy Hilfingers, Hugo Boss, Rag & Bone, and Marc Jacobs. Safilo was established in 1934 when Guglielmo Tabacchi acquired Italy's oldest eyewear maker and merged it into his existing firm.

Marcolin

Marcolin designs, manufactures, and distributes eyewear for Tom Ford, adidas, Bally, Moncler, Zegna, Longines, Guess, Swarovski, Pucci, Barton Perreira, Guess, Diesel, Kenneth Cole, GANT, Harley-Davidson, and others. It was founded by Giovanni Marcolin Coffen in 1961 in Veneto's eyewear district and specialized in the making of gold side arms.

De Rigo

Brothers Ennio and Walter De Rigo started the company in 1978 as an artisanal production factory. Today, it designs and makes eyewear for its house brand Police and other marquees, including Lozza, Furla, Converse, Caroline Herrera, Chopard, Mulberry, and Blumarine, among others.

Eyewear is a ripoff

Back in the '90s, before Luxottica gained a stranglehold on the industry, eyeglasses that cost $20 to make were sold for $100. Today, designer quality frames are manufactured for $15 and sell for $800 or more. Warby Parker-level frames are made for $8 with a 10x markup.

Unstopped by competition, eyewear conglomerates set prices arbitrarily, routinely marking up frames by 1000%.

Independent brands have a niche

Successful independents occupy distinct niches, from budget fashion eyewear to bespoke collectible frames. Luxottica can produce very high quality frames, but they are corporate rather than entrepreneurial.

Eyewear brands for people who don't need glasses

The Vision Council of America found 19% of U.S. adults have worn eyeglasses just to be fashionable. If you don't want a recognizable logo like Chanel on the stem, you can buy frames with non-Rx lenses for a pittance.

Zenni

E-commerce eyewear retailer Zenni caters to fashionistas who want to spend less than $20 on a pair of glasses. Although most of the styles are Warby Parker-like, there are also oversized cat eye designs in jewel colors. Based out of San Francisco, the company has sold more than 20 million pairs of glasses.

EyeBuyDirect (best buy)

This e-commerce retailer sells glasses with demo lenses for $39-$49. Its house premium brand, RFLKT, incorporates Italian acetate and German-designed hinges for just $70. It offers a line of oversized, '70s-inspired retro frames for less than $50.

Non-prescription sunglasses

Some of the best sunglasses are made on American soil, including two brands that hale from Massachusetts. Neither offers prescription lenses.

American Optical

AO Eyewear has a list of firsts in addition the first aviator sunglasses: rimless frames, full-view temples, first fashion sunglasses, and more. In business for more than 150 years, the firm makes it products in the U.S. although it sources components globally. Wearing a pair puts you in the same class as baseball great Ted Williams, president John F Kennedy, and the Apollo 11 crew. You'll pay $200 compared to $150 for a pair of Luxottica-owned classic Ray-Ban aviators.

Randolph Engineering

Founded by two Polish-born emigrants, Randolph Engineering has made aviator-style sunglasses in the U.S. since 1973. Priced slightly higher than American Optical, the glasses have traditionally been designed for military use. The sunglasses carry a lifetime warranty and are made in the U.S. from internationally sourced components.

Sunglasses lenses

If you need prescription sunglasses, mineral lenses hold lens tints and treatments better than plastic and are more scratch-resistant, but mineral glass also fractures upon impact. Trivex is impact resistant and has better optical clarity than poly.

Eyewear for people who need minimal correction

If your vision needs are uncomplicated, there's no reason to spend a lot on glasses. Cheap Chinese labor makes it possible for companies like Warby Parker to sell Italian acetate frames for $99. Today, many mass-produced frames are made in China from Italian acetate. As a result, Italian acetate has become less prestigious even as the quality of Chinese acetate has improved.

Warby Parker

Founded by Wharton grads Dave Gilboa, Neil Blumenthal, Jeffrey Raider, and Andrew Hunt, Warby Parker disrupted the eyewear industry by cutting out the middle man and going direct. The New York City-based company appeals to a millennial demographics and relies on trendy design and strong marketing.

Warby Parker eyeglasses come standard with polycarbonate lenses. Polycarbonate has very poor optics (an Abbe Value of 30 compared to 58 for CR-39 plastic). You can opt for high index plastic lenses, but their Abbe Value is not much better than polycarbonate. I've owned several pair of WP glasses and all of them scratched easily. I and many others, including artist Jason Markow, have noticed distortions in WP lenses.

Warby Parker's Winston frame in Rosemary Crystal

Fetch (best buy)

If Warby Parker is too mass market for you, check out Fetch or see a side-by-side comparison. Founded by Portland tile designer Ann Sacks, all profits are donated to animal rescue. The eyewear is comparably priced to Warby Parker but Fetch offers lenses in CR-39 (best visual acuity next to glass) as well as polycarbonate and high index materials. All eyewear has a lifetime warranty, so if your frames break you'll get a replacement pair. Like other brands in this price range, the frames are made and assembled in China.

It is possible to purchase a pair of perfectly good glasses online. Heck, I would say that your chances of getting a great pair of glasses from a large online retailer are actually better than what you might get through several of the managed care plan companies offered through your doctor’s office!

John Seeger, OpticianWorks

Vint & York

Headquartered in New York City, Vint & York is Warby Parker on steroids. It was founded in 2012 by optical consultant Larisa Ginzberg as a source for vintage-style frames. If you're an influencer who needs IG-worthy spectacles, this is where to shop. Lenses are available in high-index, Trivex, and CR-39 as well as polycarbonate. All frames are designed in New York and made either in China or Italy. Prices range from $109 to $299.

Rivet and Sway (sad story)

Okay curious cat eyes, Rivet and Sway was started by Sarah Bryar back in 2011 to sell eyeglasses online to women. Sadly, the company shut its doors a few years later despite having raised $3 million in funding and winning over $4 million in orders.

  1. The company's brand resonated with its customer base but, unlike Warby Parker which relied solely on public relations, Rivet and Sway hired Seattle agency States of Matter to do an expensive branding program
  2. The company could not sustain the high cost of customer acquisition using a home try-on program
  3. Founder Sarah Bryar noted that their market, women, are most motivated by saving money, so the company could not charge more than $169

Eyeglasses for people who really need them

If you're blind as a bat like me, you need durable frames with scratch-resistant lenses that provide sharp visual acuity.

Optics matter

Abbe Value ranks the amount of chromatic aberration in eyeglass lens materials, with low numbers having more distortion.

Lens MaterialAbbe Value
Polycarbonate30 (worst)
High index plastic36
Trivex45
CR-39 plastic58
Crown glass59 (best)

Collectors ooh over mineral glass lenses, which are made from sand and ash and are less heavy than standard crown glass lenses. However, mineral glass has an Abbe Value of 39-42, which is much less than crown glass. If you need to do close work, like writing, crown glass lenses are worth it.

However, glass lenses can shatter. The best choice for general wear is CR-39 polymer, which has an Abbe Value of 58. Polycarbonate is required for kids because it is the most impact-resistant, but it has very poor optics.

Choosing the right lens material involves a complicated set of pros and and cons. The matter becomes even more sticky when you throw in coatings and lens treatments. Coatings change lens material performance; for example, the impact resistance of Trivex and poly can be reduced up to 65% by certain coating stacks.

Frame material is a matter of choice

Cellulose acetate is the most popular frame material. Also known as zyl or zylonite, acetate was first used for frames in Italy in the 1940s. Italy remains the leading producer of high-end acetate frames, although Japan has a reputation for producing acetate frames of superior craftsmanship and hardness. David Kind, Salt, and Jacques Marie Mage are among the independent brands that use Japanese-made frames. Japanese eyewear brands, including Matsuda, Eyevan, and Masanage, are often sought after.

Metal frames can be made from titanium, steel, and alloys of other metals. Titanium costs about 10x more than steel. The best metal frames are made in Germany, Belgium, France, and Japan.

Couture (bespoke) brands often use rare materials such as horn, genuine tortoiseshell, or precious metals like gold. If you want the ultimate in handmade quality, bespoke is the way to go.

Construction details are telling

Then there are telltale construction details, such as coated screws, engraved metal nosepieces, anti-slip temples, and five-barrel hinges with genuine rivets. You can learn more about hinges in the video below.

Don't assume designer brands are better than house brands. Often, they are made by the same people on the same assembly line. And all eyeglasses require at least some hand-assembly, so any brand is to some extend handmade.

Shuron (best buy)

Located in South Carolina, Shuron has been making glasses in-house since 1865. The firm introduced the Browline Ronsir in 1947, perhaps the most iconic frame of the 20th century. These are the retro "FBI glasses" worn by William Dafoe, Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Kevin Costner, Matt Damon, and many others.

Shuron frame prices average $100, which make them a steal compared to other independent eyeglass brands. They are one of the few frames actually made in America.

I have a small nose bridge and narrow set eyes. (I sound like a lizard, right?) My Shuron Ronsir eyeglasses fit better than other frames. Unfortunately, they were stolen when I left them on a table in a coffee house. I plan to buy another pair as soon as I update my prescription.

Kala (great buy)

Famous for perfectly round frames. Handmade in California from Italian and Japanese acetate. Metal frames are made in Japan in a "luxury factory." Huh? Sold in optical shops, not online. Prices for frames are $270 up to $325. The company was founded 1990 by the father of current owner, Daniel Lau. He is interviewed for podcast by eyetrepreneur.com

Cubitts (great buy)

London-based Cubitts offers attractively sculptural acetate frames priced around $165. Genuine buffalo horn frames are available in ready-to-wear for $440 and bespoke for slightly more. In contrast, horn frames at Luxottica-owned Oliver Peoples cost $1500. Finally, bespoke frames made to your design in your measurements in any color can be purchased for just over $425, but (alas) require a store visit. The company offers annual frame rehabs at no charge to local customers. I am very tempted to buy an erudite pair of genuine horn glasses.

David Kind (good buy)

After working at Oliver Peoples and Spy Optics, David Barton founded David Kind in 2013 to deliver quality optical wear at an "honest" price. Made in Italy and Japan, eyewear that would normally retail for $700 is sold for $395. Appealing to an older, non-millennial shopper, the brand's greatest challenge is overcoming the association of e-commerce with discount pricing. To do so, David Kind sets out three brand advantages. First, the frames are top quality, with details like titanium nose pads, rivet hinges, and titanium temples with filagree detailing. Secondly, David Kind will do refurbish your frames and update the lenses for a small fee. Thirdly, the frames carry a 10-year warranty. I have a five-year old pair of David Kind frames that look great. I simply need to replace the lenses with a new prescription.

Dom Vetro (good buy)

Based in Los Angeles, Dom Vetro brands itself as anti-Warby Parker. Founded by former child actor Ashley Bezamat in 2017, it blends Italian artisanal craftsmanship with American technology, offering the ability to customize any frame in its ready-to-wear collection. Specific customization includes frame size, frame and temple materials, hardware, and lens type. Ready-to-wear glasses are priced from $295-$375. These silhouettes can be customized to create a personalized pair starting at just $325. Unlike many other brands, its sunglasses feature mineral glass lenses and all eyewear is made to order. Devotees of the brand include Alec Baldwin, Terrell Owens, I am drooling for the frames designed specifically for Al Roker, but they are too large for me.

Cult brands

The following eyewear companies have won cult followings but may not live up to the hype. Think of them as high-priced Warby Parkers.

Moscot

Moscot is another New York born and bred brand. For about $280 to $350, you can buy a pair of Moscot frames, which is roughly three times the cost of Warby Parker frames. But unlike WP, Moscot frames have earned a cult following that includes celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Demi Moore, and Jake Gylllenhaal.

Moscot's hip popularity has hinged on limited edition collaborations and quirky lens tints. Actor Justin Theroux wore a pair of vintage-style Moscot frames in Mulholland Drive. Johnny Depp wore Lemtosh by Moscot in the 2004 thriller Secret Window. In 2018, a rose-tinted design was released in honor of the SFMOMA celebration of Andy Warhol.

Moscot frames are made at their factory in China. Lenses are made in NYC, where the final eyewear is assembled. Despite the celebrity kudos, Reddit reviews say the brand's quality is a disappointment.

Garrett Leight

Born and raised in Venice, California, Garrett Leight is the son of Oliver Peoples founder Larry Leight. When the senior Leight sold his company to Luxottica in 2008, Garrett felt called to make his own mark on the industry. Within two years, he had founded Garrett Leight California Optical. Appealing to millennial and Gen Z customers, the brand has been worn by Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCapriom, and Lady Gaga. It sometimes gets funky, incorporating healing crystals and color-changing frames. Prices for glasses start at $330 and although the frames look expensive, they are made in China.

Illesteva

Illesteva is a New York City-based eyewear company co-founded in 2009 by German-born fashion designer Daniel Silberman and NYC DJ Justin Salguero. The brand sells a variety of fashion accessories, which are made in small factories in Italy, France, and Germany. Frames prices, excluding lenses, are $177 to $240. A single vision Rx adds $100 to the cost. The company is notable for its collaborations. However, YouTube reviews show that frames can arrive crooked and the spring hinges are fragile.

SEE (most eclectic)

Michigan-based eyewear company SEE was founded in 1998 by brothers Richard and Randy Golden. The company produces eyewear in small batches at factories throughout Europe and Japan. Prices average $359 for single vision eyeglasses. The companies sells online and at its retail stores. In August 2020, it partnered with Howie Mandel on a limited edition collection of handmade Italian frames.

Luxury boutique brands

Even though most luxury eyewear brands, such as Tiffany & Co., are made by Luxottica or another conglomerate, there are luxury niches occupied by independent boutique brands.

Barton Perreira (best buy)

Founders Bill Barton and Patty Perreira joined forces after working at Oliver Peoples and launched their vision of a quality eyewear brand in 2007 in Venice, California. Every frame is handmade in limited quantities using artisanal methods. Frame materials are imported from Japan. Lenses are either CR-39 or mineral glass. Barton Perreira frames are $349 to $65o.

Jacques Marie Mage

With big, bold designs, this brand is aptly based in Hollywood, CA and boasts a plethora of celebrity customers including Jennifer Aniston, Ariana Grande, and Kate Bosworth. Launched in 2014 by French-born Jerome Jacques Marie Mage, the firm specializes in the limited edition production of high-quality designer goods. You can happily buy a pair of Fellini frames for $650 or Arp frames for $685, both in acetate from the century-old Takiron factory in Japan and embellished with gold hardware.

Herrlicht (wooden frames)

Designer Andreas Licht creates eyewear, furniture, and bicycles out of wood and other natural materials. His brand has become synonymous with wood eyewear, although several companies also make frames from wood. The most notable of these include Schwood, Proof, Brevno, Rolf, and Woodone, but none are easy to buy online. Herrlicht sells through select online retailers such as Farfetch.

Lunor (best buy)

The family-owned German brand Lunor has a workshop in the Black Forest as well as factories in southern Germany and Japan. The company is known for handmade spectacles meticulously crafted in acetate and metal. It designed the sought-after round frames famously worn by Steve Jobs and has been recognized by the Robb Report as a premium eyewear brand. Ready-to-wear Lunor frames are difficult to find online. They run about $400.

ic! Berlin

This brand's designs have a futuristic vibe. Owned by Ralph Anderil, it has quietly expanding since it was founded in 1996. The brand is known for creating unmistakable designs without hinges. Frames are made from Italian acetate, German steel, and natural materials like Indian buffalo. The Berlin factory is the center for manufacturing and uses technically advanced methods, which appeals to a clientele largely made up of scientists, engineers, and doctors. Prices for eyeglasses start at $479.

For the very few, ic! Berlin's luxury brand, Onono, offers one collection per year with just a dozen models. Only 49 pieces of each model are produced. Every collection introduces a new designer and is tied to a literary leitmotif. Onono eyeglasses start at $800 but are extremely difficult to find.

Mykita

A pair of Mykita eyeglasses will run you between $489 and $769. Fabricated using innovative technologies such as folded steel and injection molding, all Mykita frames are known for being extremely durable. Eyewear is hand constructed of acetate, metal, or polymide plastic (Mylon) with a screw-free hinge. The company was started in 2003 by Moritz Krueger and three colleagues. The company has expanded to New York City and Los Angeles along with a dozen other cities around the globe. Uniquely, the company makes glacier glasses with mineral glass lenses from Carl ZEISS.

It also produces a line for the flatter nose bridges of Asian faces. Mykita First was created for children. Prices range from $529 to $700.

General Eyewear

General Eyewear is London-based maker of bespoke and production eyewear with vintage themes and the experimental use of layered acetate. Using traditional techniques such as cutting frames from acetate blocks by hand, the company has found a market among designers, costumers, and stylists for films such as "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "The Theory of Everything." The brand was founded in 1997 by Fraser Laing, who had a passion for vintage design. Frames are sold through the store only. Ready-to-wear glasses cost from $470, personalized glasses are from $600, and fully bespoke, original designs start at $870.

Personalized frames

Personalized frames include made-to-measure frames that combine facial scanning and 3d printing. Newer technology allows existing frame designs to be modified for a better fit and to reflect the customer's preferences in frame size, materials, and colors.

Our Bespoke service allows you to recreate any Cubitts frame to your exact facial measurements using our new face-scanning technology, TUPLE. Bespoke+ allows you to design the frame of your wildest dreams from scratch over the course of two private consultations with our Head of Studio.

Cubitts.com

Tom Davies

Tom Davies founded his eponymous London eyewear firm in 2002 after working as a designer at a Chinese eyewear factory. His business was initially couture-only with pricing at $7000 a frame and a 12-month waitlist. He then set up a ready-to-wear line of opticals for men and women, with prices ranging from $375 to $775. In 2008, Davies opened his own factory capable of customizing any ready-to-wear frame to customer's face. A pair of 3D-printed acetate frames is $790 while natural buffalo horn frames are an additional $930. The cost includes the eye exam, valued at $200. Tom Davies made-to-measure frames are sold through opticians.

Topology Eyewear

San Francisco-based (where else?) Topology has embraced what it calls the "mass customization." CEO Eric Varady uploaded a video claiming to be an open letter from his team. If you believe that, maybe I can sell you a bridge in Brooklyn.

The company claims you get a perfect fit using its facing scanning app. I downloaded the app and jumped through hoops trying to get it to work. Here's the thing: I wear glasses so I couldn't see what I was doing on my phone without them. But, Catch 22, the app makes you remove your specs. Idjuts. I guess that's why the company is recruiting optical offices to scan your face for you.

Nowhere on its site does the company indicate the price for a pair of eyeglasses. I found out on Techcrunch that a pair costs between $495 and $800. Of course, Topology justifies that because each pair is "made from scratch." The website shows a workshop that looks atelier-like, but in truth the frames are mostly made by a 3D printer with some hand assembly.

Bespoke eyewear

Bespoke (couture) eyewear is the very highest echelon of wearable eye fashion. Frames are crafted entirely by hand based on the customer's facial fit and preferences. Couture eyewear can take weeks or months to make and requires Old World craftsmanship that is no longer easy to find.

Maison Bourgeat

Maison Bourgeat has been making bespoke eyewear in the French town of Morez since 1870. The company has always specializes in luxe materials such as horn, real tortoiseshell, and precious metals. A few years ago, business was so bad there were only two people left in the workshop. It eventually closed and relaunched in 2015 under the ownership of Brazilian-native Oscar Esteves.

Maison Bonnet

Maison Bonnet has been in existence since the 1930s. The brand was worn by cultural trendsetters such as Jackie Onassis, Le Corbusier, and Yves Saint Laurent. Four generations of the Bonnet family have maintained the highest standards of craftsmanship and quality. All frames are cut, filed, polished, and mounted by hand. The company makes 20 "ready to fit" models, which size an existing frame to the customer's face. Fully bespoke frames in acetate start at $2,200.

Over the top

Elton John wore his trademark oversized glasses even after he had LASIK. It's said he had more than 250,000 pairs of glasses. Many of these glasses were custom made. One pair, worn in 1975 on a Cher special, cost $3500 and was set with 103 diamonds and came from Dennis Roberts' Optique Boutique in Hollywood. The optical shop also supplied specs for Elvis, Steve McQueen, and Sammy Davis Jr, among other celebrities. Dennis Roberts passed away in 2007

Luxuriator by Franco

Luxuriator by Franco is not an eyeglass brand but rather a Beverly Hills optical boutique owned by Franco Eyramian. This is where Oprah buys her show stopping glasses. Luxuriator is known for custom made diamond frames and other couture pieces. The style are wildly original and range in price from $795 for acetate to $4900 for horn. Many of the frames are handmade in Germany. This brand proves the rule, "If the design is excessive, so is the price."

Chrome Hearts

Founded in an L.A. garage in 1988 by Richard Stark, John Bowman, and Leonard Kamhout, Chrome Hearts is a high end brand that produces clothing, furniture, jewelry, scent, and eyewear. Stark alone remains with the brand but it has partnered with many big names including The Rolling Stones, Robert Mapplethorpe, Rick Owens, among others. Customers include Kanye West, Kate Hudson, Steven Tyler and others who can easily afford $1900 for a pair of metal frames crafted in Japan.

To discover more independent eyewear brands, see a list compiled on Reddit in 2017.

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