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The History of Glasses: Their Invention and Their Evolution

For some of us, it's hard to imagine a world without glasses! Since their appearance on the market, glasses have greatly evolved. They were once only for wealthy people, who would take them off at every opportunity because wearing them in public made them uncomfortable. Today, glasses have become an integral part of our style, and are much more comfortable to wear.

The Origins of Glasses
The first traces of glasses, as we know them, goes back as far as the 1st century. The philosopher Nero said he used a green stone to protect his eyes from the sun during gladiatorial battles. This was the invention of sunglasses! 

The first attempts to improve vision were experimented somewhere before the year 1200; glass spheres filled with water were used to enlarge objects. In the 13th century, rock crystals were used in Venice as "reading stones". They were simply placed on the pages of books to help the reader see better. It was also during this century that Luigi Zecchin made an important discovery: placing a lens made of crystal in front of his eyes helped improve his vision. This is how the first glasses were born! In 1284, the production of "roidi da ogli", which means "round glass for the eyes,” was put in place. These lenses were designed for near vision only.

Marketing Glasses in Italy
Following the discovery of a transparent glass paste in the 14th century, lenses became more affordable, making it easier to market them outside of Venice. Subsequently, the first glasses with biconvex lenses (useful to enhance vision from a distance) were designed. At that time, the glasses were composed of two lenses assembled using a metal or leather outline and a rivet. In order to use them, the wearer had to hold them in front of their eyes. In the 1400s, the invention of the printing press made reading more accessible, which considerably increased the demand for glasses.

By the 1500s, the frames were made of luxurious materials, such as horns, leather and whalebones. They also used real tortoise shells, which is where the term tortoise pattern originated. Research was done to find ways that did not require one to hold their glasses while using them, which resulted in models with nose clips. A century later, the frames were fixed with a ribbon around the head, or were affixed on a stick, which was then hidden under the wig or hat of the wearer. 

The Rise in Popularity of Glasses
It was between 1727 and 1730 that the first glasses with branches were invented, thanks to the British optician, Edward Scarlett. They were made of rigid branches, with rings at the ends. In the 18th century, bifocal lenses also appeared, making it possible to correct myopia in the upper part of the lens and presbyopia in the lower part. This century also marks the arrival of the lorgnette and the monocle, which were made of precious materials and considered to be jewels.

In 1873, John Wesley Hyatt discovered celluloid, the first artificial form of plastic. This material was later used to make frame shapes that had never been seen before. In the 1950s, glasses became more popular than ever, thanks to movie stars who wore them proudly.

Even today, glasses are considered one of the best fashion accessories. New technologies for lenses, contact lenses and even frame materials continue to be developed year after year. Our vision professionals are your best reference to tell you what's new in the world of optics. Make an appointment at an IRIS store near you to learn more about these new technologies and how they can improve your vision!

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