The history of progressive lenses that you need to know

by Visio Optical

You may be familiar with progressive lenses, as they are quite popular nowadays among adult people. Many middle-aged people use them today, and they are pretty common among older people. These lenses are also known as multifocal lenses or varifocal lenses. However, you probably do not know that it was in 1959 that a young French engineer created the first commercially successful progressive lenses. And the first progressive lenses were made of glass.

In 1959, and after eight years of development, the engineer Bernard Maietnaz patented a lens design with progressively increasing lens power in the lower half of the lens. The purpose of that design was to address a common eye problem in older people, that of presbyopia, or the difficulty to see objects at near distance.

With presbyopia, it becomes harder to look at our phone and read
With presbyopia, it becomes harder to look at our phone and read

Inside our eye there is a lens that can change shape and power, and its name is crystal lens. This lens is flexible and soft, and a muscle around it can squeeze it to alter its shape. And by changing shape, it allows us to keep the focus of our vision at any distance, like a camera lens would do.

However, as we get in our late thirties or early forties, we loose the ability to alter the shape of our crystal lens. And that is because the crystal lens starts becoming more and more rigid. Hence, it becomes harder to look at our phone, read, or do work that too close to our eyes. Indeed, presbyopia is the loss of our ability to focus at different distances.

Before progressive lenses: bifocal lenses

The History Of Progressive Lenses That You Need To Know
At the end of 1700, the first bifocal lenses made their appearance

At the end of 1700, the first visual correction of presbyopia made its appearance: a single pair of glasses that allowed its wearer to see near and far. As early as 1784, Benjamin Franklin popularized the use of bifocal lenses. Time went by, but the product evolved very little. In 1950, presbyopes were still wearing bifocal lenses that divided the field of vision in two parts.

Benjamin Franklin popularized the use of bifocal lenses
Benjamin Franklin popularized the use of bifocal lenses

Who really invented progressive lenses

Bernard Martinez was not truly the first to produce multifocal lenses
Bernard Martinez was not truly the first to produce multifocal lenses

The idea of Bernard Maietnaz was to overcome a limitation of bifocal lenses, that of splitting the image in two parts. That is, Maietnaz wanted to create a lens that would correct the distance vision and the near vision in a continuous way, without breaking the image in the way that bifocal lenses did.

The introduction of multifocal lenses without a line on them was truly a revolutionary concept that allowed natural correction in distance vision and reading at the same time, all in a single pair of glasses.

Bernard Martinez was not truly the first to produce multifocal lenses, and there are many earlier examples of such lenses. Already in 1907 in England, Owen Aves patented a design for progressive lenses. However, because of the limitations in manufacturing in those times, he was never able to produce such lenses.

In 1924 the American Estelle Glancy had also patented a design for multifocal lenses
In 1924 the American Estelle Glancy had also patented a design for multifocal lenses

In 1924 the American Estelle Glancy had also patented a design for multifocal lenses, while working at American Optical. Also, Irving Ripps with his invisible line “blended” lenses in the early 1950s preceded Martinez and his lenses.

However, we usually recognize Bernard Martinez as the creator of the first progressive lenses, because these were the first progressive lenses that became commercially successful. They got the now famous name Varilux.

The first commercially successful progressive lenses

Martinez joined the Société des Lunetiers (SL) in 1948, which later in 1962 became Essel. Essel produced glasses without a visible line. In 1972 the name of the company changed to ‘Essilor‘ because of the fusion of two companies. These original two companies were Essel and Silor, that dated their origin back to 1849 and 1931 respectively.

Indeed, Bernard Martinez was one of the founders of Essilor Group. He led the company between 1981 and 1991. And under his leadership, the company introduced new types of progressive lenses. In 1976 the company introduced the first progressive lenses made of plastic. However, plastic material was not totally new in the world of lens manufacturing, as it was already available in the market in 1959 with the lenses Orma 1000.

Evolution of progressive lenses

The first progressive lens design was certainly a revolutionary product
The first progressive lens design was certainly a revolutionary product

When Bernard Maietnaz introduced the first progressive lens design, it was certainly a revolutionary product to the public. However, it lacked largely in many features, if we compare it to the multifocal lenses that are available today. The advancement in technology has resulted in extremely fine-tuned progressive lenses.

In earlier times, the lenses worked when the wearer rotated them into the desired position. The wearer had to adjust the position of the lenses to be able to see through the reading area of the lenses.

The earlier multifocal lenses had crude designs, or hard design. The symmetric design was complex to use for the patients as, in general, our eyes work asymmetrically.

Werner Koeppen, a physicist, and his team worked on developing the Varilux Comfort design from 1960 and into the 1990s. The purpose of creating this design was to require less eye movement and provide a wider field of view.

Technology advancements and semi-finished lenses

The manufacturing of progressive lenses from semi-finished blanks is still common today
The manufacturing of progressive lenses from semi-finished blanks is still common today

With advancements in technology, progressive lens design improved to cater to the users’ needs and to provide them with more precise lenses that were more refined from their previous counterparts.

The typical progressive lenses were produced from semi-finished lenses. Semi-finished lenses are lenses where the front part of the lenses is surfaced with a standard pre-defined curvature. The specific prescription for an individual patient is added, or surfaced, on the back of the lenses. It is with the customized surfacing of the backside of the lenses that a patient gets his or her own power. The manufacturing of progressive lenses from semi-finished blanks is still common today for lenses with more basic designs.

ZEISS and the introduction of freeform progressive lens technology

Freeform technology has changed the world of progressive lenses
Freeform technology has changed the world of progressive lenses

In 1981 Gerhard Further introduced  and patented freeform technology in progressive lenses. Gerhard Further was a mathematician by profession who worked for ZEISS. Before that, ZEISS used the Varilux technology under the brand name ‘Gradal’.

After developing the patent, ZEISS got the opportunity to use their in-house freeform technology, under the brand name Gradal HS. And since ZEISS now owned the technology design and patent, it had the opportunity to personalize the lens design in unique ways on their own.

Freeform technology has changed the world of ophthalmic lenses in many ways, benefitting both the consumers and the manufactures. Before the introduction of digital freeform equipment, lenses were pre-produced using moulds of standard design. There was a limited number of designs, and the amount of pre-produced lenses that each laboratory needed to keep was huge.

The benefits of freeform technology for the consumers

With freeform manufacturing, each lens is produced on demand
With freeform manufacturing, each lens is produced on demand

With freeform manufacturing, each lens is produced on demand, without the need of moulds or the need to keep pre-produced lenses. And for the consumers, progressive lenses can have a much more sophisticated design. Indeed, the design for each lens is modified and tailored to the specific user in many ways, taking into account more and more information.

Nowadays all major lens manufacturers supply the majority of their custom-made lenses using freeform production, for both progressive lenses and single vision lenses. In fact, the majority of progressive lenses on the market are now designed using this technology.

The introduction of fully customized progressive lenses

Fully customized lenses can fine-tune many parameters
Fully customized lenses can fine-tune many parameters

The fully customized progressive lenses are the ones that can fine-tune the lens zones individually for the person and the chosen frame. The parameters around which fully customized lenses revolve are:

  • Wearer’s unique prescription
  • Pupillary distance and fitting height
  • Frame shape and design
  • Pantoscopic tilt
  • Back vertex distance
  • Wrap angle
  • Variable inset
  • Pupil size
  • Reading habits of the wearer

Only the more advanced progressive lenses take into account all these factors.

Why are progressive lenses better today?

The power varies gradually from point to point
The power varies gradually from point to point

With traditional progressive lenses, it was common to divide the field of view in separate areas. These areas were the distance area, the intermediate area, and the reading area. And to explain multifocal lenses in an easy way, we still refer to these areas. However, currently, these lenses are not divided anymore into separate power zones like the traditional lenses. The power in these lenses varies gradually from point to point on the surface of the lens. It helps in providing the right focal power for seeing the objects clearly at any distance. The advanced multifocal designs have provided progressive lenses with a seamless look without any visible lines.

Brands that offer best progressive lenses designs

There are lots of different multifocal lenses available in the market, depending upon the manufacturer. In addition, each progressive lens has qualities that depend on the technology used in the production. Moreover, every brand separates its lenses into ranges: premium, medium and basic.

If you are looking for the best progressive lenses design in Singapore, get in touch with Visio Optical. We have a wide variety of lenses from all the brands that are available in Singapore.

We like to recommend ZEISS for its premium lenses. ZEISS is a German manufacturer of optical systems that makes quality progressive lenses. These lenses provide the wearer with sharp, strain-free vision with fast focus at any distance and direction.

And the best among the best is probably ZEISS SmarLife Individual progressive lenses. These lenses are tailor-made to the individual that ensure excellent wearer adaptation and great satisfaction.

Verdict

The most adapted and personalized the progressive lenses are, the better the vision and visual performance will be. If you demand higher precision, bespoke design, and unparalleled quality for your progressive lenses, pay a visit to Visio Optical.

We provide premium progressive lenses to people all over Singapore. We are a reputable shop that deals with the best progressive lenses design.

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