Today I want to discuss eyeglass frames. I’d like to try to explain to you how there are $10.00 frames and $500.00 frames, even $1000.00 frames. I’ve been busting my brain trying to come up with a good analogy for frames since I already used the sports car analogy for lenses. I did what everyone does these days, and I asked Google and it gave me a better option than using an analogy. I found a good article that talks about “The Comfort Principle”. It basically says you should spend your money where you spend most of your time. This is why you buy a good mattress, good office chair or good computer because of how much time you spend in bed, or at the office or on your computer. Think of it, most of us put on our glasses from the time we wake up in the morning to just before we go to bed at night. Why wouldn’t you want to buy a good quality pair of glasses which help you See better, Look Better and Feel Great!
If you just need a pair of magnifying readers to help you read a pill bottle, or quickly check out a menu at a restaurant, go ahead and get a cheap pair. You’ll probably lose or break them anyways as they’ll be off and on all the time. But if you need to wear your glasses all day, why not buy something that is professionally fit that is going to feel good on? Why not buy something that is masterfully manufactured to high standards which will hold it’s adjustments and last a long time? Why not buy something you enjoy wearing which gives you pride in your appearance? I personally believe that a person should have more than one pair of glasses but that is a blog for another day.
Cheap frames versus Expensive frames
I have been selling and fitting eyeglasses for over 25 years. I can pick up a frame and in seconds tell you if it is a cheap poor quality product or if it is a higher quality product. I guess to the person who hasn’t been doing this for as long as I have, I would compare it to a cheap t-shirt. Not sure if you’ve ever seen a cheap souvenir t-shirt while on vacation. You pick it up and it seems to be extremely light, you hold it up and you can almost see right through it. A lot of times there will be a bad stitch on it somewhere or even some loose threads hanging here or there. You do end up buying it (because that’s what we sometimes do on vacation) and after you wash it once or twice, it has either shrunk, or the picture on it has already started to fade. Off it goes into the rag pile in the garage or into the donation bin. Frames to me are similar. Years ago I worked for a company that offered a sale on 2 pairs of glasses for $109.00. I could spot one of those cheap frames a mile away. I would be out shopping and look up to see someone walk by and I just knew they were wearing a cheap frame they got a a 2 pair deal. They often didn’t fit well, the paint or finish would start flaking off in no time and they were not very stylish at all. We hated selling them because we knew that we would then see that person in every other week for an adjustment or repair because the material was so weak and poor quality.
Quality frames are made from quality materials in a quality factory. Most people are not aware of how much of a frame is actually completed by hand. As a kid I used to think that frames were make like a cookie was made in a cookie factory where you put all the ingredients into a machine and at the end of a line out would pop a ready made batch of cookies. Eyeglass frames go through a lot of pairs of hands when they are made. Most of a frame is assembled by hand and some parts are even attached by hand, not by automation. The better frames go through a lot of steps when they are made as well. Some of the better plastic frames are put into large drums of exotic wood chips for polishing. A die is also made for frames which is used to shape and form various frames. These die’s only last so long and then they need to be replaced. A good manufacturer will be able to make a new one which is virtually the same as an old one so that the first frame is almost the same as the thousandth frame. A manufacturer of cheap frames does not offer the same guarantee. To continue with my story of the 2 cheap pairs of glasses is the variation in frames. You could buy a pair, and it would break a few months later and when you went for a replacement, the lenses would not fit into the new frame, even though it was supposed to be the same frame and size. The new batch of frames were either slightly larger or smaller than the previous batch. The colours would also often be slightly different between the batches.
There are also cheap frame materials. A lot of the cheaper metal frames use a lot of nickel which a lot of people often have reactions to. The nickel frames would also corrode on some people because of their skin moisture and oils. I have seen some frames corrode so much that the edges of the frame temples actually became sharp. Some of the very high quality frames are actually gold coated. Gold is a very soft metal but it stands up very well against rust and discoloration. That is why a lot of frames are actually coated with gold rather than made with gold. There are other new metals now that can stand up very well to the regular wear and tear that people inflict on them. There is cheap plastic as well. A lens in a plastic frame is held in by pressure. The lens is forced into the frame, sometimes the frame is even heated up to allow it to stretch enough to let the lens fit into the frame. Well, cheap plastics do not hold their shape very well and tend to dry out and stretch quickly. A cheap frame will discolour quickly with regular wear. I am not saying that a good quality frame will not discolour, but it will definitely happen at a much slower rate than a cheap frame.
Just the other day I had an older lady come in for an adjustment. She handed me her glasses which she said were not very old. As I took them back to adjust them I knew they were a cheap frame. The metal was very soft and the metal frame was already discoloured. The frame was very soft and pliable when I adjusted it. So soft that I knew she would soon have to get her glasses adjusted again as they would not hold my adjustment very long. I did my best with them, but they were just too flimsy to get them into perfect alignment. She exclaimed excitedly how good of a deal she got by purchasing them in Mexico. They did not fit her properly, they did not look good on her and they were of very poor quality. You get what you pay for.
Where are the Quality frames made?
The first eyeglasses were made in Italy over 700 years ago. This is probably why the Italians still make some of the best eyeglass frames today. Germany is also known for high quality manufacturing as well and they make some very good eyeglass frames. The trend to have all manufacturing done in China has not escaped the optical industry as well but not everything coming out of China is the best quality. In my store I have tried to feature frames made and/or designed in Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and Canada while trying to limit the amount of product I carry from China. Not all frames coming out of China are poor quality, but you have be very careful about what you choose.
Then comes the designers. Some frames are actually designed by some of the big names in fashion while other celebrities or big companies are just paid a fee to have allow a frame manufacturer to put their name on a frame. Yes, you are partially paying for the name, but most of the time a big fashion name means that the frame is a good quality frame with a design that is something a little different than a standard product. Most designers are careful about what they put their name on, they don’t want to be associated with a poor product.
What else is included in the price of a frame?
You’re not just paying for actual material that went into a frame, that is just silly. I’ve seen a comparison where someone said the pieces of a frame are quite cheap. Well, if you look at it that way, the pieces of an iPhone are quite cheap as well. But someone had to design, manufacture and ship it to the store. In the cost of a frame is the equipment used to properly fit and adjust a frame. Opticals spend thousands of dollars on the proper tools needed to properly adjust and repair eyeglasses. Then there is the shipping cost to get the frame from their factory, over the ocean and across the country so it makes it the optical where you can try it on. The Optician fitting your glasses is a professional who has gone to school up to 4 years to get their professional accreditation which allows them to fit, sell, adjust and repair your glasses. This is not a minimum wage employee who was given a days worth of training and then pushed out onto the sales floor to sell you something. You are also paying for their experience. Properly adjusting glasses is a bit of an art form. It can take years of practice to learn how to adjust for each individual face. Certain materials can only be adjusted with certain tools and in certain manners. A new trainee may or may not know that.
If you include lenses into the mix, the machines that properly grind and shape your lenses can run in the tens or hudreds of thousands of dollars. The machines that put the anti-glare coating onto your lenses can run in the millions.
The Last Word
The way I look at it is similar to how I started this blog with the comfort principle which stated that you spend your money where you spend the most of your time. I have always thought that I wear my glasses every day from the time I wake up until just before I fall asleep. I wear them 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Even the days I wear contacts, I tend to wear my glasses for part of the day as well. Why would I want a poorly made poor quality pair of glasses on my face every day? I want to wear something that helps me look better, see better and feel great! I want to wear something I am happy with which suits me and is comfortable. I would rather spend some more money and be comfortable than be cheap and be uncomfortable.