When we look through old photos of our parents and see their “silly” pairs of vintage glasses, we laugh and shake our heads at the styles they wore. But how interesting is it to know that a jeweler who used to make wedding rings, made your grandma’s gold filled filigree frames in his workshop?
Or that those glasses your dad wore in the 50’s were actually standard issue from his time served in the military?
Enter Retrospecs: A Los Angeles based eyewear company with an amazing product and story that has stolen our vintage loving little hearts.
Retrospecs has collected and restored eyewear from the early 1890’s to 1980. They hold the largest reserve of vintage eyewear in the world. They have collected, cataloged and restored vintage frames made from yellow gold, white gold, and acetate.
All Retrospecs vintage eyewear have a serial number, and a story.
Nothing happens in a vacuum, and the eyewear industry definitely has evolved right along side major events in world history such as the Industrial Revolution, WWI, and The Great Depression. Why are there so few glasses before the 1900s? Why were glasses made of gold? Why were they made in the US? Just to set the scene, before the industrial revolution the literacy rate in the United States was low. The economy was mainly agricultural and there was just not a lot of demand for literacy (or glasses) until the mid to late 1800’s
What does that have to do with glasses?
The rise in manufacturing jobs and public education, eventually led to the increased demand for eyewear, and mass production soon followed. Much of the eyewear manufacturing craft has been lost or forgotten, or intentionally changed because the cost was simply too high for production in today’s modern economy. Most early eyewear was made of steel, which would corrode and rust quickly from exposure to sweat, sun and other elements. The very wealthy had their glass made from gold. Gold did not corrode, and lasted for upwards of 10 or more years.
Gold Filled wire was invented as a long lasting economical solution to steel frames as they were not as expensive as solid gold. 1920’s – Made in the USA – Because Economics made sense.
During WWI, manufacturing facilities were strategically targeted to cripple the war effort. As a result many factories in Europe had been destroyed. However, manufacturing in the US was still intact and exporting to other countries.
There were many early eyewear brands, but American Optical and Bausch and Lomb were contracted by the US government to supply eyewear to the military.
It made sense for the military to contract with local companies, manufacturing locally for cheaper and faster production. American Optical and Bausch and Lomb grew with the influx of government contracting and then proceeded to monopolize the eyewear industry all over the world for decades afterward.
Retrospecs has collected and restored these amazing historical pieces from these iconic brands.
During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, lavish jewelry was no longer in demand. Jewelers had to find other work. Experience working with precious metals and dainty details made them perfect converts to work as opticians. Eyewear design in the 30’s saw the introduction of more intricate filigree and new ways of mounting lenses in the frames. The jewelry industry’s loss was the optical industry’s gain!
The 1950’s saw the advent of television.
Thin gold rimmed frames washed out on screen. Combination frames, with gold rims on the bottom and plastic rims up top, crept into the fashion scene. Eventually thicker chunky plastic rimmed frames made an appearance in the 60’s.
Why do we see almost no eyewear made from gold after the early 70’s? Was it not a good material? Did they find something better to replace it? No, it was mainly because the government unlinked actual gold from currency during the inflation of the 70’s. The price of gold had been subsidized by the government, and when it no longer was, the market price of gold skyrocketed. Gold was no longer an economical metal to use in production of eyewear. It became too expensive to produce, and too expensive for consumers to purchase.
During the 70’s and 80’s we see the popularity of plastic frames rise, and the end of the golden era.
Some people get excited over vintage furniture, some people get excited over vintage watches… and some people get excited over vintage Eyewear. We LOVE vintage eyewear in particular because from a technical standpoint, eyewear is no longer produced exactly like it used to be.
And of course…Everything has a story.
Retrospecs loves the history of eyewear as much as we do. They have painstakingly and lovingly collected these vintage frames, catalogued and researched each one for over 20 years.
We are excited to Welcome Retrospecs to the Haus!
For all you history buffs, more information on vintage frame materials and technicals is available on our vintage frames blog here.