An eye for the eyeglasses of all times

history of eyeglasses

Beauty has always been professed to lain in the eyes of the beholder but for those whose mere presence of the physical entities of these eyes do not carry along with them the luxury of a proper vision, beauty only reveals to them in distortions. And yet, it isn’t just the beauty of the world that we seek to explore through these means of the eyes. Equally desirous of scouring out expanses of the good and the bad and the ugly in all personal realisation of them by letting the world reveal as it is to us through our very own eyes are folks lesser blessed like us who cannot carry on through their journey of life by powers exclusively stemming of them.

Today as incorporative of the spectrum of fashion and style as it is of a pursuit deeply rooted in necessity are eyeglasses or spectacles or the even developed wearing of lenses that present therefore as both ordinary and luxurious a succumbing to compulsion or an assertion of choice. And while donning these functional and/ or fashionable accessories catering to lifestyle requirements definitely isn’t anything to fuss about and over, knowing from when and where they actually made their much needed entry to make lives better for those of us not already having it that way makes indeed for an interesting area of exploration. It perhaps is our way of paying ‘ode’ to this today common assertion of everyday life that holds however a special place of significance for a majority section of the population who in fact are more than indebted to this surprisingly not so recent invention of the scientific kind.

The history of wearing glasses begins from the precursor that helped dawn this item of immense necessity as a blessing upon humankind. Preceded by a certain 9th century invention of the reading stones, that as their name suggests were magnifying devices helped to aid the experience of the immense pleasure of reading, have been the eyeglasses of today that serve a wider range of functions not just pertaining to the joys of a good read. But even reading stones probably had precursors as well, as pointed to by documents of time as far back as 1000 B.C. that detailed “optical-themed works”. A more concrete manifestation of such aids of vision, though rested still on the premises of being able to afford the luxury of reading occurs in the account of Roman tragedian Seneca who purportedly relied on a glass globe of water to magnify the letters, no matter how small or dim they were, as he accomplished the feat of having read all the books in Rome as early as the 1st century A.D.! Around the same time, it had been Emperor Nero of Rome whose magnifying emerald was what granted him the larger than life experience of witnessing those famed gladiator fights on a truly grand scale. From thereon though, it had been a rather long period of wait for eyes constrained by the range of their endowment to stumble upon the then revolutionary idea of the reading stone.

Finding its beckoning among the monks of a 10th century Europe was the reading stone that began as polished domes of transparent quartz that relied on the accuracy of their technique to clearly decipher the finer detail embedded in their illuminated calligraphy. A few centuries hence and glasses finally came to find their place set in frames giving away the requirement of having to resort to holding these precious apple of the eyes and facilitating thus the wearing of them. More specifically it had been the Venetians of the 13th century to whom this facilitation of eyewear as wearable aids of vision were attributed even as they also devised earlier handheld reading stones that were set in single frames of horn or wood not as pieces of quartz though but rather as rounds of solid glass. Thus as it would entail, the development of the first glasses sometime in the second half of the 1200s, precisely around 1285-1289, commenced with either the monks or craftsmen in Pisa or perhaps in Venice even as it has been the prominence of the Murano glassworks that more exclusively catered to the creation of this new, modern variation of eyeglasses.

So incredible was the glass making expertise of the Murano artisans that the technique of it was a closely guarded secret, needed to be protected in all possibility as a violation of any of the rules could even evoke the ultimate punishment of death. Made by grounding two convex lenses that were then each placed in a wooden ring with a shaft and connected with each other by a rivet, these first wearable glasses though did offer then the ultimate experience in vision clarity for those not amply blessed with it by the forces of nature still came with some inconvenience characterising them. These aptly named rivet glasses did not come with any attached handles, meaning that the only way you could don them was by allowing the rivet to clamp on your nose along the width of its bridge which allowed obviously for sufficient discomfort to disrupt your pursuit of an enhanced viewing experience.

Evolving therefore from there and then, over the course of the following years and the succeeding centuries, developed therefore other variants and designs of the spectacle that each attempted to make the aided viewing experience more worthy an exercise in continuation. It perhaps was in the midst of such numerous attempts that a certain interesting development occurred across the facade of eyeglasses. A continually running 17th century reference cited Florentine Salvino D’Armati as having invented the eyeglass during the 13th century itself, as per a claim made by Ferdinando Leopoldo del Migliore of Florence in his book, Firenze citta’ noblissima illustrata (Florence, Most Noble City, illustrated), which however was exposed to be a very erroneous account in probably the entire remarkable history of inventions. That apart, the otherwise reliable and very on point creation of this item of mass necessity spanned across the realm of a couple more other notabilities before taking on its present form and shape of as mass an appeal and effectiveness.

Of particular mention should be the scissors glasses mounted on scissoring stems that still did not have the characteristic modern element of the handles accompanying them. But definitely an improvement upon its predecessors was this particular provision that facilitated ease of vision by providing two lenses on a “Y” shaped frame. Attached though would be a ring at the end of the handle to allow for it to also span out as an accessory of decoration, meant to be worn around the neck on a ribbon or even a gold chain, as what the wearer’s status would entail. A further development of this scissors eyeglass was the rather remarkably aesthetic occurrence of the lorgnette, though only in the nature of its essence steeped in the alleys of style. An 18th century or even later invention, by which time the spectacle as we know today in its temple stem assertion had already come to be, was this English origin piece of what was worn rather as an item of jewelry over its functional purpose. Accompanied very prominently by the handles, though in variations allowed to work in their way across this component as well, lorgnettes were what made spectacles fashionable also for the women folk, who otherwise were not deemed to be ‘appealing’ while sporting these essential correctors of vision. An elegant element of high society that it came to be particularly during the years of the 19th century, the early versions of this type though was still focussed on functionality in their undecorativeness. But the manifestation of style that the lorgnette came to embody resulted also in the creation of some rather remarkable specimens, most intriguing of which would be the fan lorgnette. With the aid of vision hidden in the fan, this enabled the wearer to inconspicuously observe others maintaining thus the grace of these high profile ladies while attending still to their desire for detailed scrutiny of their subjects of interest.

Sometime before the scissor glasses and the interest they generated leading to the creation of the lorgnette, the more convenient design of the spectacle was worked out probably by Spanish craftsmen of the 1600s who affixed ribbons of silk or strings to the frame meant to be looped over the wearer’s ears. Brought into China by Spanish and Italian missionaries, this new development received another facelift when the Chinese replaced the provision of the loops by attaching instead small metal weights to the strings. The more accurately modern assertion of the eyeglass style in all its rigidity of the temple, that is what makes it sit so resiliently over the ears for added convenience and better effectiveness was developed by British optician Edward Scarlett sometime before 1727 though it took quite some period of history for this development to attain its present day success and presence.

With some remarkable revolutions of sorts characterising the glassy happenings of the 18th century, it was only apt that American scientist Benjamin Franklin also added to his name the credit of inventing the bifocals in 1784. But even in its well established circulation of considerable authenticity that which even led these bifocal glasses to be named as Franklin glasses, there exists still a possibility that even this could be an invention accruing to England as suggested by evidence that points to the bifocals being a development of the 1760s itself.

The following century of the 1800s also allowed for a couple some advances to be made in the world of eyeglasses with France laying claim to designing foldable eyeglasses by making provisions for a hinged bridge with spring. Interestingly enough, another style that came to dominate the spectrum of the spectacle around this time in fact happened to be the handless specimen of the pince- nez. But though they became popular in the 19th and 20th centuries, these eyeglasses that come with a nose clip instead of the earpieces for holding them up in front of the eyes had indeed seen use in Europe as early as the 14th century. In their resurgence as well, pince- nez emerged to be rather popular styles of eyeglasses that came to occupy prime place in popular culture as well. In ‘upholding’ such dramatic witnesses of finding or losing favor of the masses is the very stylistic assertion of spectacles as well that have embodied different perceptions of style at different times. Once thought of as unfashionable and unattractive, or undesirably nerdy or geeky or even drawing upon their essence as an aid of vision to assert the infirmity or physical limitation of the wearer, eyeglasses today have evolved to be much coveted an element of fashion. As different types and styles of eyeglass frames emerged, the people of the world also took to sporting them in all fancy sparking therefore a trend of sorts by which spectacles came to define sharper a vision, not just of the eyes but also of the wearer. Today interpreted as diversely as possible, from being seen as chic and stylish to refined and sophisticated, eyeglasses sure have come a long way to endow not just upon those in need of them but also upon the world a clearer view of the many imperfections that makes up the world the spectacle of immense beauty that it has always been.