Europeans have spent 700 years fine-tuning the quality of their eyewear… since late 1200s when Italian physicist Salvino D’Armati invented the first pair of eyeglasses. No wonder European eyewear manufacturers are so passionate about eyewear! This issue we look at their rich history of eyewear and the latest styles ‘Made in Europe’.
Whilst Italian physicist Salvino D’Armati is most often credited with the invention of eyeglasses there is still some debate about who the very first creator of eyewear actually was. However, what is not disputed is that spectacles originated in Italy somewhere between 1280 and 1300.
..the European eyewear industry has almost always posted an increase in production as well as in exportations, proving to be a market leader thanks to the quality and solidity of (its) products
According to one of the more popular stories of the origins of eyewear, in 1285 D’Armati while conducting light refraction examinations injured his own eyes. Through these experiments, the Florence-based physicist learned how to increase the appearance of subjects by viewing them through two pieces of convex glass. Armati’s glasses were prescribed for far-sightedness and he wore them himself following his injury.
Antiquarian Leopoldo del Migliore, in his 1684 history of Florence, wrote that the following inscription is said to have been featured in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore: “Here lies Salvino degli Armati, son of Armato of Florence, inventor of the eyeglasses. May God forgive his sins. AD 1317.”
Gaining In Popularity
Glasses began to become a popular fixture of the wealthy in Europe towards the middle of the 1300s; these early forms of glasses did not have stems, but rather perched on the bridge of the nose. Public documents make references to these spectacles and they were also included in legal wills as the earliest form of glasses were a costly item only affordable for the wealthy and were therefore disposed of carefully.
In 1451, Nicholas of Cusa, a German scientist and Roman Catholic Cardinal created eyeglasses to correct near-sightedness using concave lenses. Rather than bulging in the middle like convex lenses, these concave lenses were thinner at the centre and thicker at the ends.
One of the earliest depictions of such lenses was featured in a 1517 painting by famous Italian artist and architect Raphael in which Pope Leo X wears glasses with concave lenses. By this time, spectacles had evolved into specially shaped and polished glass. This glass-making technique encouraged greater production and more widespread use. Early eyeglasses had glass lenses mounted on heavy frames of wood, lead or copper and then later more pliable materials of leather, bone and horn were used for greater ease and comfort of wear.
In the early 1600s, lighter frames of steel were developed and in the 1700s tortoiseshell frames came into use. In 1746 a French optician named Thomin invented actual eyeglass frames that could be placed over the ears and nose.
In the 1800s, Dutch ophthalmologist Frans Cornelis Donders investigated the physiology and pathology of the eye, making possible a scientific approach to the correction of refractive disabilities such as nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. It was largely the influence of Donders that made the problems of refraction and the rational use of glasses a part of the general optometric creed.
European Eyewear in the spotlight
According to the Italian Optical Goods Manufacturers’ Association (ANFAO), the European eyewear industry has almost always posted an increase in production as well as in exportations, proving to be a market leader “thanks to the quality and solidity of our products”.
However, like most industries, the global economic crisis has impaired this solidity. In 2009 in particular, European eyewear makers felt the effects of the GFC, however ANFAO states that this year the European industry has started to see improvement: “85 per cent of our production is destined for exportation and Europe has confirmed its position as the reference market for sunglasses and frames made in Italy, with a 54.9 per cent share, while the American market (North, Central and South America) stands at 26.4 per cent.”
To aid this recovery, ANFAO says exposure is the key. Hence, Italian made eyewear was celebrated in New York’s Grand Central Station in March this year in a historical exhibition entitled “Eyewear from the Beginning to the Future: The history of eyeglasses from their invention in Italy to the latest trends”. The exhibit was produced by ANFAO and the Italian Trade Commission (ICE) and was dedicated to eyewear manufactured in Italy, featuring original fashion dating back as far as the 13th century.
Prior to ANDAO’s exhibition in New York, the best eyewear in the world in production of quality and creativity was displayed at the 40th showing of MIDO in Milan, the fashion capital of Italy.
MIDO 2010 as a celebration of eyewear brought together the major players in the world of optics who presented the latest styles ‘Made in Europe’.
“In the early 1600s, lighter frames of steel were developed and in the 1700s tortoiseshell frames came into use.’