Welcome to Further Details, a series dedicated to ubiquitous but overlooked elements hidden on your favorite products. This week: the small dots and other decorations on the front of your glasses.
Eyeglasses, as we know them today, are an 18th-century invention. A Brit named Edward Scarlett conceptualized what he called "temple glasses," a pair of lenses posed together with wiring and attached to metal arms that'd wrap around the ear. He wasn't the first, The College of Optometrists argue. Factually speaking, he may have simply been the first with an advertising budget. Who knows?
By the mid-20th century, eyeglass manufacturers had shifted from using metals and cellulose nitrate to cellulose acetate. The wood pulp-derived material proved stabler than cellulose nitrate and more stylish than bare metals. But the transition required a little manufacturing magic. The introduction of hinges didn't happen during the 2oth century — Scarlett's frames were foldable, too — but acetate frames required new, visible hardware to hold everything in place.
And now we arrived back where we started: getting to the bottom of what the dots, leaves, arrows, bars, and beyond on the front of your frames really do. To be (mechanically? linguistically?) correct, they're rivets — or a decorative design meant to be an anchor (or simply a cover) for rivets on the other side. As for why they aren't all the same? Depending on your glasses' given hinge type — tenon, spring, hidden or hingeless — there may be different rivets.
For anyone with a bit of mechanical know-how, this could be common sense. However, most acetate or full-frame glasses, which are the type that require front-facing rivets, are put together using tenon hinges. These stack together — the stacking parts are called charniers — and get secured using a vertical screw. Rivets are then driven into the frame following the tenons' formation.
Rivets are clustered in sets of two or three, meaning eight or 12 in total. There are a set on either side of the frame when you're looking at them straight on and sets on both arms, by the temples. Some come barred together, hence why you'll see a rectangular plate out front instead of disconnected dots. Others use the tradition as a form of decoration. Their frames don't need rivets at all, but their presence implies a polished finish — and quality craftsmanship — even if they're the cheapest pair you could find. There's something put-together about acetate frames with pronounced rivets. And ones with "signatures" — the palm leaves on Garrett Leight's Naples frame, the diamonds on Moscot's Lemtosh frame — offer a way of signaling you're wearing frames from a favorable brand. Shop pairs by a few below.