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 correct shade, and the right style.

Glasses frames tend to take a back seat in the buying process, but they do deserve a closer look. The frames of your glasses can not only make a big difference in 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.

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 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. Silicone nose pads are flexible and soft yet 'grip' the nose better. Silicone is porous and will absorb dirt and sweat, so it's advisable to replace them at least once a year.

Vinyl nose pads are an excellent alternative, but they are more rigid and a little less comfortable. Titanium pads are the most inflexible but have the advantage of being sturdy 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 applied as a powder then heated until they liquefy. Conventional coatings include polyurethanes and epoxy resins.

There is more to the manufacture and repair of spectacles and sunglasses than meets the eye.

Glasses frames split into two basic camps, metal or plastic, with various hybrid combinations, and into smaller fields 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 although the specialised 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 than 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, and 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. Most seem to prefer the 'metal' look, with either a shiny or matte finish.

Plastic and nylon glasses frames

Once rather bulky, heavy and brittle plastic glasses frames have leapt forward with the tremendous 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 plastics to help them withstand heat and cold without becoming brittle. Nylon is often the choice for sportswear glasses.

Sports enthusiasts also prefer polycarbonate plastics as the frames offer optimum impact resistance. It's a sturdy and versatile plastic, but it comes at a price, and this eyewear tends to be somewhat more expensive.

Hybrid glasses frames

Spectacles and sunglasses are often made of more than one particular material. Most hybrids use plastic for the lenses and metal for the arms, but there is plenty of variation on this theme.

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