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Spectacle Frames

Most people head into the opticians with at least a general idea of what they want: after all, the decision between dramatic frames and understated ones is a pretty easy one. Where you go from there depends on what qualities you most want in a frame: a light weight, flexibility, strength, hypoallergenic materials, and so on.The hot materials today in the frame market are many — titanium, beryllium, stainless steel, aluminum, Ticral, zyl (plastic), Flexon and nylon — and each has different advantages.

Titanium

Titanium is a silver-gray metal that's lightweight, durable, strong and very corrosion-resistant. Since its discovery in 1791, it has been used for everything from the Gemini and Apollo space capsules to medical implants such as heart valves. Advances in manufacturing processes have enabled frame producers to create a broad range of titanium eyewear in a variety of colours.

Sometimes, manufacturers combine titanium with other metals, such as nickel or copper, to make an alloy. If you're among those who are allergic to nickel, look for frames that are marked "100% titanium."

The only drawback to this material can be high cost due to its manufacturing process.

 

 

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Flexon (A Patented "Memory Metal")

Flexon is a titanium-based alloy with nickel and some other elements in it. This unique and popular material, which is proprietary to the frame manufacturer Marchon, is called a "memory metal" because it can go back to its original shape if damaged. The transition temperature is at or below freezing, so Flexon comes back into shape in almost any operating environment. It doesn't corrode and is lightweight and hypoallergenic.

Flexon-type staples are used in many restorative surgeries today.

Flexon was originally discovered accidentally by the Naval Ordinance Lab in 1962.

Beryllium

Beryllium, a steel-gray metal, is experiencing increased popularity as a lower-cost alternative to titanium frames. It resists corrosion and tarnish, making it an excellent choice for wearers who have a high skin acidity or spend a good amount of time in or around salt water.

It's also lightweight, very strong, very flexible (making it easy for an optician to adjust your glasses) and available in a wide range of colours.

Beryllium is used in products such as jewelry, watches, sports equipment and high-performance autos. Because of its ability to conduct heat and its light weight, it is used to make certain parts for rockets, missiles and satellites.

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Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is an alloy of steel and chromium; it may also contain another element. Most stainless steels contain anywhere from 10 to 30 percent chromium, which imparts an excellent resistance to corrosion, abrasion and heat. Other qualities of stainless steel include light weight, low toxicity and strength. Those steels containing only 10.5% to 27% chromium are also nickel-free and thus hypoallergenic.

Despite these qualities and its reasonable cost, stainless steel still has not garnered the attention or cache that titanium has, perhaps in part because of marketing efforts and availability.

Aluminum

Aluminum is not only the world's most abundant, but also the most widely used nonferrous material. Pure aluminum is actually soft and weak, but commercial aluminum with small amounts of silicon and iron is hard and strong. Aluminum frames are lightweight and highly corrosion-resistant.

Aluminum is used primarily by high-end eyewear designers because of the unique look it creates.

Ticral

Ticral, which is relatively new to the market, is an alloy of titanium, copper and chrome. It is nickel-free and thus hypoallergenic. It's also extremely lightweight and offers many of the features of titanium without the high cost. It can be cut a bit thicker than titanium, which enables it to have the popular look of a thin plastic frame while still offering light weight. The material is also strong, durable and available in a variety of colours.

 

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Zyl (Plastic or Cellulose Acetate)

Today, plastic frames have experienced a fashion resurgence: zyl is a very cost-effective and creative option for eyewear.

Particularly popular right now are zyl frames that have layered colours. These are made through an extrusion process, which means the plastic starts in a pellet form, goes into a hopper and gets melted and poured into sheets. This sheet form is often layered with others of varying colours to create a pattern. Once this block of plastic is cut into frame forms, the patterned sheets create a variety of striations and colourations.

The other way in which plastic frames are made is through an injection-molding process. The plastic is injected into a form or mold in a molten state and then cooled. Some manufacturers are also using propionate — a nylon-based plastic that is hypoallergenic and manufactured using the injection-molding process. It's lightweight and has a different look and feel than other plastics. Plastic does have some drawbacks. It will burn (but is not easily ignited), and aging and exposure to sunlight slightly decrease strength but do not affect colour.

Monel

This material — a mixture of any of a broad range of metals — is the most widely used material in the manufacture of frames. It is malleable and corrosion-resistant — especially if the right kind of platings, such as palladium or other nickel-free options, are used.

Nylon

Nylon, a synthetic fiber, was first put on the market in 1938 for the manufacture of toothbrush bristles and at that time was dubbed "artificial silk." It would soon find its niche, however, in women's nylon stockings, which were introduced in 1940. Today, it is used for everything from parachutes and umbrellas to car tyres.

Frames made of nylon were first introduced in the late 40s. Because of brittleness and other problems, frame manufacturers switched to blended nylon (polyamides, co-polyamides and gliamides). Today's blended nylon frames are both strong and lightweight.

Nylon is also a premier material for sports and performance frames — typically made of gliamides, which are very resistant to hot and cold and are more flexible, yet also stiff. Nylon is also easily molded into today's popular wraparound styles, as well as other shapes that are difficult to produce.