5 Fun Facts About Early Eyewear

It’s estimated that more than 60% of the world’s population uses some kind of corrective eyewear. Before we had thousands of frame and lense combinations to choose from, people used basic materials like gems and ribbon to keep their eyewear in place. Glasses have been around since 1000 CE, but back then, they weren’t nearly as fancy as the choices you have now.

The First Incarnation Appeared in 1000 CE

Although the creation of eyewear is attributed to 13th century Italy, the first incarnation of a vision aid appeared 1000 CE. An unknown inventor found that glass could be shaped and polished to magnify small text. This came to be known as a reading stone. These reading stones were made from rock crystal and glass, and given to monks to help them read texts.

Smoked Quartz Sunglasses

About 300 years after the creation of the reading stone, Chinese inventors used smoked quartz to create sunglasses. Crude slabs of smoked quarts were shaped to be held over eyes. These dark lenses were made for the wealthy and were not vision-correcting. They also didn’t protect against harmful rays. Although this form of sunglasses is seen as an outdated option, you can still find vintage smoked quartz glasses for sale.

Emeralds for Eyes

Long before the smoked quartz sunglasses, Roman Emperor Nero was using emeralds as sunglasses. His reign was from 54 to 68 CE, so this is regarded as an extremely primitive way of blocking UV rays. When at the coliseum to watch a gladiator fight, he would hold two emeralds up to his eyes. Emeralds can be worth more than diamonds, so it is possible that Nero’s makeshift sunglasses were the most expensive pair to ever be worn.

Ribbon Frames

For centuries after eyeglass was created, most people utilized the glass by just sticking it up to their eye or what they were reading. However, in the 1700s the Spanish grew tired of holding up their eyewear. So they manufactured fixed ribbons onto the lenses to keep them from slipping off. The ribbon would sit on the bridge of the nose, and wrap around the ears. This eventually lead to the modern glasses look we know and love.

Illustrated in the 14th Century

Although we know that glasses were likely created in the 13th century, they weren’t actually illustrated until 100 years later. The first artist rendition of someone wearing modern eyeglasses was a painting by Tommaso da Modena. He painted monks wearing monocles and early pince-nez style glasses to read and write manuscripts.

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