Luxury Tells a Tale: The Best of the Best Stories in Luxury Frames

By Paddy Kamen

Caviar Collection mod. 5570

Luxury frames tell a story. There’s a narrative attached to prestigious eyewear collections that confirms the wearer’s sense of identity, and that story is just as important as the frame material, the hinges, the adornment, design or lenses. In fact, the story may be the only thing that really matters to the consumer!

Eyecare professionals (ECPs) must, of course, understand these stories, for consumers who know what they want will make sure they find it – somewhere, anywhere. It is also true that the ECP, by virtue of professionalism, values the more tangible aspects of luxury: the fit, the craftsmanship, the subtle or not-so-subtle aspects of superior design, the artistry and fine materials that make a luxury frame so much more that the sum of its parts. This is where taste triumphs over spin – not that marketing isn’t still a necessity in this day and age.

In this feature, we present an array of luxury collections that will turn the heads of consumers with the refinement and means to choose from among the finest eyewear offerings in the world. We’ve paired down those offerings to a select group.  Many of them are handcrafted, all are created with great artistic integrity and fine workmanship. We have included frames made from precious metals,  buffalo horn, fine woods and the highest-quality custom acetates, along with adornments that include gems and crystals. We hope you enjoy this look at the best of the best.

Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes luxury in this diverse world of ours, and eyewear is no exception.

Richard Stortini, president of Prisme Optical Group, notes, “A lot of people associate luxury with precious metals or refined materials but it is also defined by craftsmanship. Some will also associate luxury with brand names but the quality that may be conveyed by those names in apparel, for example, does not necessarily translate into eyewear.”

Bob Karir, president of Karir Fashion Eyewear, with three stores in Toronto, agrees. “I find that some of the big brand names have exclusivity in their apparel but not in their eyewear. They usually have only one store per major city for apparel and accessories, yet they place their eyewear in many locations. If a frame is mass-produced and doesn’t have an aspect of exclusivity, then for me it does not represent the highest luxury.”

Karir carries frames made of precious metals but doesn’t see a huge market for them in this country. “It’s different in emerging economies where they sell very well, indeed. Here, if people have thousands of dollars to spend on eyewear they typically prefer to spread it out and buy several different pairs for different uses and occasions.”

Young people are ‘brainwashed about labels’, according to Karir. “It is important to them that their peers see them wearing an expensive label. We carry the big name brands in our Yorkdale Mall store because our clients are younger adults in their early 30s and they most definitely want to show off labels. In our downtown and Yorkville locations, however, shoppers are older and more sophisticated and they will reject a frame that has a logo. These are very different markets with totally different thinking.”

Karir’s personal taste and sense of luxury leans toward…“funky and different luxury frames. For me, luxury is about exclusivity rather than mass-produced product, and innovative design rather than precious metals and diamonds. We have some custom collections from small suppliers that are very exclusive. Nice, elegant, well-made and exclusive: to me, that is luxury.”

Mylene Laoun is merchandise consultant at Georges et Phina, a family-run eyewear distribution business and the buyer for two stores in Montreal under the name Georges Laoun Opticien.

For Laoun, luxury is often about design and innovation. “Luxury can be understated: if I’m wearing a funky dress, I could choose to wear a more subdued frame with shape and movement, but if I’m wearing a simple dress, I could enjoy some artistry on my face. Of course, there are no rules – for my next outing, I could choose to do the complete opposite!

“Those who come to our stores are generally not looking for conservative luxury frames but rather for something more edgy. We don’t define luxury by the conventional measures or brand names, but rather by materials and workmanship. As important as it is for me to sell outstanding frames, the eyewear should not lead the face but arrive with it.”

Amin Mamdani, director of operations with Toronto-based Josephson Opticians, articulates a useful distinction between luxury and premium frames. “For me, a frame can be very high-end in terms of best materials, quality and brand presence; but luxury goes beyond that and adds elements of detailed work with 18-karat gold, sterling silver, solid wood, stones and embellishments. Premium frames are priced from $300 to around $700, while luxury frames start at $600 and go up to $3,000 or more.”

Mamdani explains how customers might weigh their options when it comes to making a high-end purchase: “Fashion is more about replacement than longevity. Do I want a $1,000 frame with a classic look, made from silver, or do I want to spend $500 apiece for two premium frames so I can have two looks or replace them within a year? It depends on where your store is located and your demographics. Some Josephson stores focus on luxury and premium frames and others sell frames based on elements of creative design and fun.”

What’s on Offer?

One undisputed leader in luxury frames is Chopard. This fabulous collection is built on a solid history of creativity and craftsmanship, which began in 1860 when watchmaker Louis Ulysse Chopard established his watchmaking business in Paris. The company has been in the hands of the Scheufele family since 1963. These descendants of a dynasty of watchmakers and jewelers from Germany have made Chopard a global name in fine watch and jewelry-making.

Each Chopard frame is handmade in Italy and takes 200 hours to create. The range and quality of the materials and finishes is simply stunning and includes the finest Wenge, Bubinga and Padauk woods from Africa, 23-karat gold, palladium, rose gold, Swarovski crystals, genuine gemstones, Mazzucchelli acetates and river diamonds. These are jeweler-quality luxury frames.

Chopard is distributed in Canada by Ronor International. Popular models made with 18-karat gold and adorned with diamonds include Time, Tulip and Star Dust.

The Marciano collection from Viva International is a sophisticated and subtle take on luxury with the modern, international woman in mind. These glamorous frames have a feminine retro feel to them, in refreshingly classic shapes with a unique and polished touch. Italian handmade acetate frames are accentuated with faceted Swarovski crystal stones and Mother of Pearl details. GM 168 and GM 185 are particularly outstanding examples of this classy collection.

The Charmant Group is decidedly focused on premium frame materials. “We are a frame manufacturer, not a licenser,” explains Adrian Maas, president of Perfect Optical, distributors of Charmant in Canada. “For us, the expression of luxury is found in two collections: Charmant Z for men and Line Art, for women.

Both collections are made with Charmant’s proprietary titanium alloy, Excellence Titan. “This is a complete memory metal that is revolutionizing the industry,” saysMaas. “After eight years of research, Charmant has created a completely nickel-free alloy which is hypoallergenic, and yet also allows the designer complete liberty.”

New manufacturing processes were also developed in the creation of Line Art. “It’s an entirely new welding process that was developed by laser specialists in Japan. No one else in the world can do this,” states Maas.

Charmant’s heavy investment is paying off handsomely. The company won the Eyewear of the Year 2013 Award for one of the optical frames in its top-of-the-range brand CHARMANT-Z at the IOFT 2012 trade show inTokyo. The judges honour distinguished new products that excel in design and/or function, and are scheduled to be marketed in the upcoming season. The Grand Prize Award was presented for the high quality of the innovative LINKS function, a patented flex mechanism that provides quality, smoothness and flexibility. “One can feel the extremely comfortable grip, which is surprising considering the light weight of the frame. In spite of the lightness, the temples have a very unique and voluminous design,” the jury commented.

Line Art, made from Excellence Titan, was launched at Silmo 2012 to wide acclaim and is enjoying stupendous market success inJapan, with a population that is very technology-driven.Maassays that in the over-$500 retail product category for frames, Line Art has captured 26 per cent market share. “The product clearly resonates with Japanese consumers. This is utter market dominance.”

Canadian designer Mehran Baghaieof Spectacle Eyeworks has accomplished something wonderful by laminating fine wood onto buffalo horn frames. “The material and fine workmanship of these frames is of the highest quality. We started with two models, Skaay and Gwaii, and will introduce the Persa-Loen and Homa very soon,” he notes. 

Who but Henrik Ørgreen would think to add minute diamonds to the top of a frame eyewire, where they will seldom be seen? This Danish designer is recognized worldwide for his design aesthetic. Here we have two special edition frames, one for men and one for women. The women’s frame is made of a combination of 100 per cent pure titanium and beta-titanium and is precision-plated in precious metal: gold and palladium. The men’s model is composed of a combination of 100 per cent pure titanium and beta-titanium and is precision-plated in precious metal: gold, palladium and ruthenium. Subtle and distinctive.

Ørgreen is represented in Canada by Prisme Optical Group, headed by Richard Stortini, who also brings an impeccable and more conventional luxury brand forward with the made-in-France Cogan collection. These 22-karat gold frames, embellished with diamonds, are unique works of art, says Stortini. “They are based on key values of precision, distinction and pleasure,” he adds. “True luxury.”

Minimalist elegance comes to us from FRED, an historic and prestigious house of fine jewelry based in Paris. All the craftsmanship, artistry and perfectionism that has distinguished the FRED brand since its inception over 60 years ago is applied to the eyewear. From the choice of materials, to the faultless design and skillful application of precious metals – 18-karat gold, platinum, ruthenium, palladium – FRED are the only frames with 5-micron-plated metal on each eyewear component (including temples and endpieces), confering on them the jeweller’s hallmark.

Precious woods are also an intrinsic part of the FRED collection. Very fine-grained mahogany and ebony are high-density woods and therefore resistant to deformation over time. They also allow for perfect polishing, bringing the wood to its ideal luster.

Leather (supplied by a factory that specializes in leatherwork for the finest watch brands) and Mazzucchelli acetates fromItalyare also used in FRED eyewear frames, which are distributed inCanadaby Importlux. This is a strong line for men, which also features exquisite frames for women.

Tura Elegance is created by a Venetian designer for the woman who is looking for something special. These frames are 100 per cent handcrafted inItalyand submitted to extreme quality control. Swarovski crystals are handset into the five models in the collection, with one piece holding 144 crystals. A special treatment is applied on the surface of the crystals to ensure quality and most frames have a flex hinge. The result is a collection that is strikingly beautiful, fashionable and easy to wear.

Sylvain Carne is the agent inCanadafor renowned luxury brand Gold & Wood, as well as the luxury company, Leisure Society. Carne picked up the Leisure Society collections last year at Vision Expo East inNew York, after following their work for a couple of years. “What most impressed me was the technology behind this brand. They make incredibly complex frames of acetate and titanium that are then engraved and gold-plated. Only one factory in the world can produce frames to this standard. They end up with a product that is unique. You just have to hold them to know that it took a lot of work and ingenuity to create these frames,” says Carne.

Leisure Society frames are available for both men and women, with the best sellers being theOxfordand Vanderbilt models. The whole collection has a retro, 1950’s look. All titanium used in Leisure Society frames is 100 per cent pure, with gold plating in 12-, 18- and 24-karats. Accent materials include etched buffalo horn insets, diamonds and precious metals.

Gold & Wood, Carne’s other luxury brand, is well-established globally as the maker of handmade frames as unique as they are luxurious. “Even the same model and colour choice will portray subtle differences as a result of the patterning in these natural wood and horn materials,” explains Carne. “B-16 is a good example. This is my best seller; a gorgeous wood frame for the man who wants a chunkier, retro look. From a distance, it looks like a heavy acetate but is in fact light as a feather. You don’t get better quality than Gold & Wood.”

The Caviar Collection®, from UltraPalm, defines luxury with a series of glamorous frames for women that are bound to attract the most flattering attention possible. Some designs are complex, others are simple and pretty, but all are dripping with luxurious Austrian crystals. Pieces for men are, of course, more subdued but no less striking. Marketing coordinator for Caviar distributor UltraPalm, Lionel Cohoone, notes that Caviar frames are indeed exclusive. “Only 4,000 pairs of each model are created and this limit adds to the value. Luxury, for me, connotes something that is not widely available. When you wear Caviar frames it’s like wearing a one-of-a-kind. Combine this with extreme design details and Caviar’s rich history of making eyewear and you have a luxury product that is second-to-none.

Born-in-Canada eyewear company Claudia Alan Inc. recently introduced five new styles to its AYA Optical Collection. The new line includes two limited editions,Sitkaand Langham, featuring natural buffalo horn and bamboo materials and sophisticated retro styling. TheSitkafeatures a keyhole bridge and rounded silhouette, while the Langham is more rectangular. Both have horn front pieces and bamboo temples, and each design is available with either a light or dark-coloured face. Beautiful raven artwork etchings by native artist Corinne Hunt (co-designer of the 2010 Olympic medals) bring a third element of beauty to these eco-chic frames.

President, Carla D’Angelo, notes: “Luxury in eyewear is definitely about quality of materials: in this case one-of-a-kind horn materials. These frames are handmade and each takes about two days to construct. We are careful to select only the best portions of the horn so that patterns are appealing on the face. Claudia Alan has created a unique and luxurious product. We are proud to have combined safe, natural and renewable materials with indigenous-influenced art and quality craftsmanship in our AYA frames.”