Although memory metals have dominated the men’s eyewear market, a new wave of products targeted at women and teenagers is creating a stir. Memory metal boasts durability, flexibility, is corrosion resistant, and is about 25 per cent lighter than conventional eyewear metals, giving it a leg up on competition.
The popularity of memory metal frames over the last two decades has been due to the widespread availability of titanium, beta titanium, and stainless steel. These frame materials have spawned a whole genre of lightweight, hardy, corrosion-resistant, hypoallergenic frame options. Marketed particularly to men due to the material’s benefits, it becomes an easy sell to those who have an active lifestyle or are simply hard-wearing on their conventional frames.
However, to claim that memory metal frames are only for guys, is selling the frame’s potential short. Anyone who spends time with kids, and needs to regularly remove their glasses, would appreciate these frames as they do not require constant re-adjusting, while they are also particularly suitable for low minus users, who constantly have their glasses on and off, and those who alternate between frames and contact lenses. Memory metal frames are also ideal for those with active lifestyles or employment, and others whose physical work styles can cause frames to be hit or bent.
The Term Memory Metal
The term was coined for its amazing lightweight and flexible properties. When twisted or flexed, the integrity of the frame remains intact, returning to its original position- specifically at the frame’s bridge and temples. Adjusting the frame requires three points of contact: temple tips, endpieces and pad arms. Springiness has been removed from the temple tip, allowing it to be adjusted in the same way as a standard metal frame. The endpieces are made from standard metals, allowing them to be adjusted in, out, up and down, like a regular endpiece. Pad arms are made from standard materials. While the end-pieces are not comprised of memory metal, they are created to serve as a point of rigidity – with the temples acting as a spring hinge – absorbing the stress and flexing rather than the endpiece, as in conventional frames.
… 25 per cent lighter in weight than standard metals, so you get much less weight on the face. Frames made from aluminium are lightweight and highly corrosion-resistant, with the metal being used primarily by high-end eyewear designers due to its unique look and feel
Bear in mind, however, they are not entirely indestructible. While they can be twisted and bent and the metal alloy is kink resistant, too much rough-handling can cause the temples to snap. A quality test will also ensure that with any twisting at the bridge, the lenses remain in place.
The History Behind the Metal
Memory metal initially came about in 1959 when chemist, William J. Buehler of the U.S. Naval Ordnance Laboratory, discovered the shape-retaining alloy Nitinol. This discovery and subsequent developments by Buehler and Frederick E. Wang have been revolutionary in the fields of orthopaedic and cardiovascular surgery, orthodontics, solid-state heat engines, shrink-to-fit pipe couplers for aircraft, safety products, optical frames and toys.
Researchers in California’s Silicon Valley began experimenting with Nitinol’s use in flexible frames during the mid 1980s. The delay from its discovery to its consumer application was largely due to the cost in mass manufacturing, and the fact that the alloy at that time could not be readily welded or plated.
Several years of design, research and development across the United States and Japan, were necessary before Marchon & Marcolin Eyewear launched the first large-scale application of Nitinol eyewear in 1988. The alloy was used in the frame’s bridge, top bar, and temples, where flexibility allowed the frame to retain its original shape, even after bending, flexing and crushing.
They were also more durable, corrosion-resistant and hypoallergenic than conventional frames. Marchon patented the development and marketed the metal as Flexon, launching the first large-scale application of Flexon in optical frames in 1988, with the Autoflex Collection.
According to Dave Chure, executive vice president of Marchon, as Flexon easily goes back into the shape originally set by the dispenser, it ultimately makes for a better frame and fit.
“Flexon is also about 25 per cent lighter in weight than standard metals, so you get much less weight on the face. Frames made from aluminium are lightweight and highly corrosion-resistant, with the metal being used primarily by high-end eyewear designers due to its unique look and feel,” says Chure. “Aluminium is the world’s most abundant and widely used nonferrous material. Pure aluminium is actually soft and weak, but commercial aluminium with small amounts of silicon and iron is hard and strong”.
General Optical Products
As the Australian distributors for Marchon, General Optical has virtually cornered the memory metal market. They represent diverse brands featuring Flexon as Nautica; Flexon and Flexon Kids; Nike and Nike Kids; and X Games. Each brand has incorporated memory metal into their unique personality.
Fashion Meets Flexon
The original memory metal brand continues to provide men with stylish and durable frames designed to suit even the toughest glasses wearer.
Styles FL440 and FL441are bold in construction, featuring a modern colour palette including a new blue suede shade. Featuring plastic temples that cover a Flexon core wire, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the flexibility. Flexon temples are the spring hinge without the spring. The Flexon temples take the stress, rather than the endpiece, removing the need for adjusting temples on patients.
Flexon Kids offers the ultimate in lightweight kid-durability, along with cool, sporty flashes of metallic red and blue, through the addition of rubberised temple tips. Look out for new models FL107 and FL108.
X-Games has been created for the trendy male tween. This customer wants glasses that make him cool amongst his peers, feel barely there, and can handle his fast and frenetic way of life. Available in bold and outrageous colours, the Ripped and Tantrum models continue the tradition that X Gamers have come to know and appreciate. Each colour is decked out with a contrasting X, while Flexon bridge and temples provide durability and flexibility.
Nike Vision maximises the benefits of memory metal and hones them into incredibly stylish, sleekly understated, sporty optical frames designed to last. The frame fronts are on trend with modified rectangle or less angular, soft modified rectangle, while the double injected rubber temple tips offer a secure fit, with rubber grips utilising the Nike heritage tread pattern. The bridge features Flexon with an integrated pad arm/chucking system. Colours are modern, but subtle, with frame fronts in silver and temple tips in contrasting shades (models 4160 and 4162).
For teens, Nike’s design team has gone into overdrive with their unisex frames, with Flexon memory metal temples and specialised bridge system. These frames feature an occipital fit temple design, with sneaker tread grip texture temple tips, and adjustable, rubberised nose pads for comfort. The Nike frames feature both a custom five barrel hinge and monoblock endpiece for durability (models 4616 and 4617).
Considered a more traditional brand, Nautica has adopted memory metal to create some sleek and understated frames for their clientele. In keeping with Nautica’s personality, the frames are flattering and come in masculine navy, brown, silver, gold and gunmetal tones. My preferred choices within the latest collection include N2019, a stylish full rim modified rectangle, and the semi-rimless 2018, which suits most faces.
CFX-Concept Flex was launched locally in 2008 by the Charmant Group, featuring a collection containing a dozen premium optical frames featuring memory metal. Designed for men and featuring a refined, contemporary design combined with comfort, it offers eyewear that suits the active and smart lifestyle of today’s demanding male consumer.
CFX-Concept Flex uses memory metal in the bridge and temples of the frames, giving it ultimate flexibility and allowing the frame to revert back to its original shape after being bent.
The CFX collection is comprised of two core categories, CFX and CFX PLUS. Both categories feature frames that are full rim or rimless, with a refined but masculine silhouette. They also feature a discreet colour palette that accentuates the wearer’s face ensuring they suit both a corporate or casual lifestyle.
The premium range, CFX PLUS, offers more design elements and an additional technical feature that allows easy customisation of the fitting at the temple end tip, a product feature that allows the optician to provide extra personal service to their patients. Look out for stylish model CX11403 which features shallow lens and twin wire temples and long acetate end tips.
Mod-Style’s Eclipse range of men’s memory flex metals have been in high demand since the product’s launch. The materials chosen – stainless steel, nitinol alloy and titanium, give the ability to mould the products to the stylish and desirable appearance, boosting their popularity and durability. These glasses also come with a two year warranty.
The Eclipse range features brand new, second generation memory flex bridges. In the past, the multi-flex tag often meant a less than elegant bridge, due to the material’s design constraints. They now look like a standard bridge, with the benefits of memory flex and a fashionable, stylish design.
When Mod-Style specified a new range of children’s frames, they not only considered the size and shapes, but the features that would appeal to the children wearing them.
The new Wizard range includes models with memory flex materials, spring hinges, multiple sizes and a great new range of colours for both boys and girls.
Oakley Metal Worth the Wait
The new Transistor frame will be the latest addition to Oakley’s optical Titanium range. Constructed from Oakley Nanowire, an ultra-lightweight titanium alloy, the Transistor provides an adaptable fit without sacrificing comfort or flexibility.
Shape shifting memory metal allows the frame to flex and spring back into place and the unique temple design provides the wearer with the ultimate comfort. Unobtainium stem sleeves increase grip with perspiration and the semi-rimless design means there’s no frame edge to block your downward view. The Oakley Transistor will be available from 1 March 2009.
Men no longer need to sacrifice fashion to have a strong frame. Titanflex celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, coinciding with the brand’s younger design direction – ultra-light, highly-resilient and super flexible. Australian distributor, European Eyewear, claims the eyewear is virtually indestructible and ideal for the sporty, dynamic man. The directly soldered bridges enable greater design flexibility, resulting in modern frames that don’t appear to be constructed with a memory metal. The bridges, coupled with the use of colourful acetate temples, result in a contemporary design with youthful charm.
In today’s age of heavy frame users, Neko has developed a memory titanium frame. This frame has a fully flexible bridge and temples that can be twisted around a finger several times and will still bounce back, proving to be fantastic for children or heavy frame users. The NekoFlex range has a selection of eye sizes from 36 to 56, in a variety of forms for men, women and teens. There are also a few very broad bridges and due to its flexible titanium alloy, these frames do not require spring hinges. Available in a wide range of colours, the NekoFlex range proves practical frames don’t need to equate boring.