From rest stop kiosks and local drugstores to large department stores and online retailers, not to mention your favorite optical practice, there are optical frames and sunglasses made to fit every budget. Eyewear is a great way to show your style; if it’s one of your “go to” accessories, a beautiful pair of frames makes sense as an investment. After all, they live on your face! But do you know the difference in quality between more “inexpensive” eyewear, to that of more expensive, designer models?
Much of the difference stems from how, and from what, the frames are made. As with just about everything today, material from which a frame is made, as well as the workmanship that goes into its design, is indicative of its quality.
One of the most popular frame materials used today is cellulose acetate, a plant based plastic made from renewable resources. Acetate frames are very lightweight, hypoallergenic, flexible, and durable, and are available in a wide variety of colors and patterns. These handmade styles are created by slicing sheets from a large block of acetate, and then cutting the different parts of the frame from these sheets. Individual parts are then hand polished and assembled into the final frame. Many styles are designed with multiple layers of acetate to enhance the appearance of patterns, for example, or vibrancy of color.
Injection molded frames are also made of a type of plastic that is liquefied, injected into a mold, and cooled until the frame solidifies. Coatings are often used to add color to the frames. The workmanship involved in creating an injected molded frame is significantly less than that of an acetate frame. Injection molded frames often look “cheaper,” can break easier, and may include hidden defects from the injection process. However, the manufacturing process involves less waste, as molding only involves the necessary materials, while unused block acetate is discarded.
Many manufacturers today are developing advanced, proprietary copolymer and thermoplastic materials to enhance the lightweight feel of a frame and provide comfort to the wearer, as well as provide better flexibility and durability. The frames are often created with Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machinery to produce unique shapes and color combinations.
Also, with the popularity of 3D printing on the rise, many frame manufacturers are using this technology in the design phase to reduce the time it takes to produce a frame sample (which can often take several weeks). This allows manufacturers to respond to emerging eyewear trends at a much quicker pace, as well as experiment with inventive design options.
If you prefer metal frames, there are many varieties available that differ in quality. The most widely used metal is monel, an alloy made of nickel and copper. This inexpensive metal is typically corrosion resistant, and although usually hypoallergenic, may cause irritation to those with sensitive skin if the frames do not have nickel-free plating, for example.
Titanium, on the other hand, is a much higher quality, premium metal known for its strength, durability, corrosion resistance, lightweight and hypoallergenic properties. Titanium frames can be made in several colors. Beta titanium is an alloy predominantly made of titanium and small amounts of other metals, like aluminum, making these frames more flexible (perfect for frame adjustments!)
Stainless steel, an iron-carbon alloy that also contains chromium, is a less expensive option that also provides lightweight, strong, durable, flexible and corrosion-resistant properties. Stainless steel frames can be produced in matte or polished finishes.
Memory metal is an extremely flexible metal alloy composed of titanium and nickel. Memory metal frames, a great option for those with a more active lifestyle, can be twisted and return to their original shape.
Sometimes, we are willing to pay more for something simply because it looks better than a less expensive option. Knowing you are getting a quality frame, based on the craftsmanship of its design as well as the material that goes into it, is valuable (and a great way to justify your purchase!)