A closer look at glasses frames

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Most people buying spectacles or sunglasses look at the lenses first. Questions they ask themselves are whether the lenses are the right shape, the right shade, and the right style.

Glasses frames tend to take a back seat in the buying process but they really do deserve a closer look — the frames of your glasses can not only make a big difference to how you look but to how you feel too.

The materials that make up glasses frames may determine the size and weight of the lenses, the type and style of the hinge for the arms, the bridge and other factors.

Glasses frames split into two basic camps, metal or plastic, with various hybrid combinations and into smaller camps such as wood, bamboo and other materials.

Metal glasses frames

Metal frames on glasses are usually thin, lightweight and durable. Materials most favoured in the manufacture are aluminium, stainless steel and lately titanium.

Even the thinnest metal frames can support large lenses, unlike plastic frames which tend to be much thicker.

Aluminium frames are very popular, especially among men. Aluminium frames usually come in conservative colours but their real selling point is weight and durability.

Aluminium is lightweight, hypoallergenic and resist heat, corrosion and abrasion.

Aluminium frames repair present some problems as they can be difficult to weld but the special equipment at AlphaOmega overcomes these drawbacks.

Also popular with men are glasses frames made from titanium or titanium alloys that make very durable but lightweight frames. Titanium frames also offer more colours that metals such as stainless steel.

Titanium laser weld equipment installed at AlphaOmega make titanium frame repairs a breeze.

Flexon is a metal alloy that has become widely used in the spectacles frame industry. The titanium base gives them durability but the added alloys make them far more flexible.

Popular with sports enthusiasts, it can retain its original shape even after bending or twisting, giving it the nickname of 'memory metal'.

Stainless steel frames are lightweight, strong and hypoallergenic but relatively more expensive than other metal frames. Many contain chromium to add resistance to corrosion, abrasion and heat.

Colour used to be a problem with many types of glasses frames but they now come in a bewildering variety of finishes although most seem to prefer the 'metal' look, with either a shiny or matte finish

Plastic glasses frames

Once rather bulky, heavy and brittle plastic glasses frames have leapt forward with the great technological advances in recent years.

Modern plastics, mostly cellulose acetate blends, combine strength with thin, lightweight frames.

They may not be as thin and sturdy as metal alloys but they are good enough to provide a lightweight frame for lenses without overpowering them.

Cellulose acetate or zylonite is one of the cheapest and best options for sunglasses manufacture. It is a lightweight, flexible material that can be layered in many colours.

Nylon is made from petroleum products and nylon glasses frames are usually a blend of several nylons. Because it can withstand heat and cold without becoming brittle nylon often the choice for sportswear glasses.

Polycarbonate plastics are also preferred by sports enthusiasts as the frames offer optimum impact resistance. It's a tough and versatile plastic but it comes at a price and this eyewear tends to be rather more expensive.

Hybrid glasses frames

Spectacles and sunglasses don't need to be made of one particular material of course. Most hybrids use plastic for the lenses and metal for the arms, but there are plenty of variation on this theme.

Modern designers also opt for the retro look and ecological issues have become important in recent years. The up-and-coming Colin Leslie used bamboo, grown especially in plantations in Asia while Stella McCartney favours plastics made from recycled acetate.

It's all in the detail

It is often the small parts of spectacle frames that cause the most problems for the glasses repair industry. Hinges are usually made of metal and are often 'hidden' in the elbow of the arm.

A poor hinge mechanism can be problematic if they become lose or get slightly bent. Nothing looks or feels worse than glasses that don't balance properly on the ears and misaligned arms caused by bent hinges are often the biggest culprit.

Nose pads can be another problem area. Plastic sunglasses can do away with them, but thin metal spectacle frames need to feel comfortable. Silicon nose pads are widely used and they are flexible and soft yet 'grip' the nose better. Being porous, silicone nose pads will absorb dirt and sweat so it's advisable to replace them at least once a year.

Vinyl nose pads are a good alternative but they are more rigid and a little less comfortable. Titanium is the most rigid of all but has the advantage of being tough and hypoallergenic.

Many of the metal frames made today, and even some of the plastic ones, are given a special lacquer coating to both reduce corrosion and for cosmetic effect. Lacquers are either sprayed on in liquid form or they are applied as a powder then heated until they liquefy. Common coatings include polyurethanes and epoxy resins.

In any event, there is a lot more that goes on in the manufacture and repair of spectacles and sunglasses than meets the eye.