RetroSpecs: Vintage Eyewear

February 15, 2010 • Magazine

RetroSpecs: Vintage Eyewear

RetroSpecs: Vintage Eyewear

Mon, 2000-02-14 23:00

Becky Ellis

Back before eyewear was a trendy accessory, it was an expensive, well-crafted necessity. The fact that function came before form, however, doesn’t make old spectacles any less interesting or beautiful; it only means that, as with many things created before the age of the disposable, the craftsmanship is part of the total appeal.

When Jay Owens was in college, he discovered the marriage of form and function in several pairs of glasses from the 1930s. He restored them and discovered that the cable temples held the lightweight, gold-filled frames in place perfectly as he was pitching for his college baseball team. Friends and family began asking him to restore old eyewear for them, and it was there that RetroSpecs was born.

After college, Owens took off in an RV, hitting small town, family owned eyewear stores and antique shops across the country and buying up their (unexpectedly large) stock of 12K gold filled spectacles to restore and resell. The restoration process is extensive: It begins with an ultrasonic cleaning, and may pass through more than 15 custom-designed machines to solder, straighten, bend or curl the frame to restore it to its original condition. The process finishes with a tumble polish to restore the original gold sheen, and then it’s ready for purchase.

An antique map chest at the headquarters in Los Angeles houses one of every design ever collected, currently more than 3,000 designs from more than 15 manufacturers. The collection is broken up into five categories: Early Modern (1910 to 1950); Vintage (1950 to 1970); Specialty (unique and rare pieces from 1870 to 1970); Buffalo Horn Inlay (frames crafted from buffalo horn, 1920 to 1950); and Museum (one-of-a-kind pieces). 

All frames bought from RetroSpecs gets a registration number, which is recorded in the company database to ensure the frames can be serviced in the future. The information recorded includes the design of the bridge and the temples as well as the bridge width, lens size, temple length, lens shape and frame color. More than 10 million combinations are possible.

Frames pictured here are from RetroSpecs

Image Layout: Alicia Lee

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