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How much did you pay for your last pair of glasses?

How much did you pay for your last pair of glasses?

Probably way too much,* by the standards of Oxford physics professor Josh Silver, who has developed a wearer-adjustable set of eyeglasses that use water-filled plastic bags as lenses. They’re so cheap that they can be distributed freely in underdeveloped and impoverished communities, which is exactly what Silver is doing, to the tune of 30,000 units so far. No visit to the optometrist and no custom lens grinding, just a standard pair of specs that you adjust once to your own visual comfort, using a small syringe, and then seal shut. A nice reminder that Making isn’t just about scaring away impressing potential mates with your flatulence-tweeting office chair. link

*In all fairness to the noble discipline of optometry, if you are able to visit a proper eye-doctor you probably should. Silver’s lenses can only correct for spherical, not cylindrical, defects in the eye, which is to say that if you have an astigmatism (as 1 in 3 adults does, per one study) you still need traditional lenses for full correction.

36 thoughts on “How much did you pay for your last pair of glasses?

  1. Zee says:

    It’s a noble project but he’s been trying to do it for years. I remember seeing a documentary about him almost a decade ago with the exact same plans.

    1. Sean Michael Ragan says:

      Hmmm. Based on what I read it sounded like he had already distributed several thousand pairs, which is, you know, at least a little good done. The Guardian article casually floats the “1 billion” number and, well, that’s something else entirely.

  2. The Oracle says:

    Also, how did glasses get so stupidly expensive? $150 for “cheap” frames and way up. You can buy decent quality reading glasses at the dollar store, so why are presecription frames so much more for not a whole lot of difference in quality.

    And then for the lenses, it’s not custom ground glass anymore, it’s mass produced plastic so how is it $100 for that. And then you switch to a higher index plastic (so it has about 15 cents of plastic instead of 2 cents) and you add $100 to the price.

    What this guy should do is have on standard frame shape and have all the different diopters of lenses made to fit them. Then in the developing country, a technician picks the right lenes pops them in and gives the glasses to the patient. It should cost less than this fluid lens.

    1. Sean Michael Ragan says:

      I agree, glasses are way overpriced. What really miffs me is the coatings they put on; I think my most recent pair has a “UV” coating and an “anti-scratch” coating, and as far as I can tell the main purpose of these coatings is to scratch easier than the lenses themselves so your specs get scuffed up sooner and you have to buy another pair earlier.

      Your standard-frames-with-interchangeable-lenses idea seems like a good one. Admittedly I don’t know enough about how polycarbonate lenses are manufactured today. Are they injection molded and/or machine-ground by some sort of CNC process? Until I understand the real costs of manufacture I couldn’t say for sure whether the water-filled lenses really are cheaper.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I got my current set of glasses from and it wound up being 40 dollars. the glasses are holding up pretty well going on 1yr now. My last pair cost 200 dollars for frames and 75 for lenses. The nose pads broke apart and one arm broke off within 6 months. I had to solder the right arm several times before I finally felt it was time for a new Rx. Glasses should not cost as much as they do.

    Anything like this to help people who need glasses is good work IMHO. I love that they require maybe 5 minutes of training to adjust properly. I could see someone picking up a box of these and getting shown how to adjust them, biking back to their home town/village, and helping half the town be able to see better.

    1. Sean Michael Ragan says:

      You’re the second person to recommend them to me. I’m definitely gonna try it for my next set.

  4. Simon says:

    Unfortunately in the first world glasses are a fashion accessory hence the ‘big’ name designers and the large price tags. My last pair were bloody expensive Lindbergs. The most minimal glasses I could find. Nice but basically a few bits of titanium wire bent a certain way. I had to get them after my eyes started protesting after years of contact lens wear.

    Now I have CRT contact lenses. Best thing ever! You wear them at night when you sleep then remove them during the day and you have perfect vision! I can even go a couple of days before having to overnight wear them again. They reshape your cornea as you sleep. Same thing Lasik basically does but non permanent.

    1. Sean Michael Ragan says:

      That’s really cool. Before my last eye exam, my optometrist asked me not to wear my contacts the night before, because even lenses that aren’t designed to will apparently affect the shape of your cornea for some time after they’re removed. When I learned that, I wondered whether or not something like the “CRT lenses” you mention might not work. Sort of like braces for your eyes.

      That said, I think my myopia is WAY too extreme for that route to be practical. I have to have special-ordered contacts because my error is beyond the normally stocked ranges. I have thought about LASIK but I’ve heard rumors that corneal implants will be available before too long, and I think I’ll hold out for that rather than have a laser ablate the surface of my eye, thank you very much.

      1. Simon says:

        That’s a shame. I really do find them good and like the idea that’s it’s a non permanent modification. I work with someone who had Lasik bugger up his eyes terribly. CRT lenses are good to -6 diopters from memory (I am nowhere near that though). I’ve worn soft contacts more than half my life now so it took a while to get used to the hard lenses but it’s not too bad once you get used to them and of course you’re asleep most of the time you wear them anyway.

        It’s non permanent and if (when?) my prescription changes I just get new lenses. I have heard of people needing to get Lasik redone after some years. As someone who has played about with lasers over the years (I once built a 10W CO2 laser!) getting one beamed straight into my eye seems like an odd think to do to me :)

  5. AndyL says:

    How much did I pay for my last pair of glasses? $20.

    I bought them from an online vendor that I discovered in the “Toolbox” section of Make:13 (“It’s Magic”).

    At that price I can afford to have a pair of sunglasses, and a backup pair that’s my *CURRENT* prescription.

    I use ZenniOptical, but I’ve heard good things about other online vendors, too.

    1. ken says:

      This helps people who are farsighted. So now grandpa can read a magazine, again, assuming he ever learned to begin with.

      Unfortunately, this is no help for people who are truly incapacitated in the prime of their lives by near-sightedness.

      BTW, paid 20-40 dollars each for my last 5 pairs of prescription glasses for severe myopia.

      1. Sean Michael Ragan says:

        Interesting, Ken. Do you have experience with this technology? Or are you assuming (not unreasonably, I would add) that Silver’s water-bags can only form convex lenses? It seems to me that it might be possible to have a naturally concave plastic lens (which WOULD be good for nearsightedness) that would gradually swell as you added water, become less and less concave and eventually “flipping” to convex and becoming more and more convex. So they’d be going like….

        )( —-> || —-> ()

        …as you added water. I dunno if Silver’s lenses do this, or not. But it seems to me that it’s at least possible.

  6. The Oracle says:

    I think I heard something about those CRT lenses a while back. I use soft contact lenses which I love. No more frames in my peripheral vision, no dust or scratches blurring things, no fogging up in the winter or rain drops on them, no glare or reflection off the glasses, or the dozens of annoyances. Plus it may be said that glasses are a fashion statement, but no glasses are a thousand times better as far as fashion. People now guess my age about 8 years younger than I am.

    When I first learned how to use them, the optician put them in for me and let me test drive them for half an hour, it was absolutely fantastic. I don’t think I’d have made it through the hours of torture that learning to get them in and out was if I didn’t get to see how amazing they are. I was sold in 2 minutes. My only regret is the 10 years I wasted wearing glasses.

    What is the advantage of CRT lenses though? If you still have to take them out and put them in almost every day. And I always thought as the effect wears off during the day doesn’t your vision worsen? If I wear daily lenses my eyes start buring in 12 hours or so, but the biweeklies breath better. I would guess with CRT lenses that’s not really an issue.

    1. Simon says:

      Well for me there were several advantages. First I started developing GPC (giant papillary conjunctivitis), basically an irritation of the inside of the eyelids. Wearing soft lenses for any length of time felt terrible (imagine having sawdust in your eyes all the time) and in the end I had to go back to glasses.

      Wearing the CRT lenses is nowhere near as bad since you’re asleep most of the time and not blinking and irritating the eyelids.

      Also I was wearing contacts for long hours. 16 hours a day or so. With the CRT lenses I put them in just before going to bed then take them out when getting up so I wear them a lot less. Probably less than half the time. So less worries about blocking the oxygen flow to the eyes. I guess even the best lenses cause some restrictions. Obviously having nothing on your eyes is best for them.

      Caring for them is similar to normal lenses but reversed. So you clean them in the morning rather than at night. At night I just take them out of the storage container and put them in.

      I think how long your vision stays good depends on the prescription and the person. I can easily get away with 2 days and even 3 but then I start noticing some loss of sharpness. My prescription is mild though -2 and -1.5.

      Disadvantages, well cost for one. Although I pay the same as I did for the soft lenses since I wanted the best of them.

      Also hard lenses are uncomfortable! Well, I am finding them easier and easier and in the morning they are fine but I do find at night with them in I am conscious of them being there unlike soft lenses. You get used to them over time. The first few nights are hell! My opto gave me anesthetic eye drops for when I first put them in the first week or so.

      Also since the area of correction is only over a certain area (about the size of the iris it seems) light coming on from the sides can be distorted. In practice what this means is pinpoints of light can look like they have a star or halo around them. I notice it with LEDs and street lamps but only at night when the pupils open wide so you have more light entering from around the edges of the corrected part of the cornea.

      Saying that I am sure my night vision is clearer and stars look like pinpoints of light instead of little blurred blobs lie they did even with glasses and normal lenses. I haven’t tried using my telescope with the new lenses yet (or rather without them I guess).

      I also like that it is a non permanent correction. If I stop wearing them my sight should be back to normal (i.e. bad normal I mean) in a week or so. So say some other advance comes along or a problem comes up I can stop with these and try something new.

      One thing that does worry me is mixing up the lenses on each eye one night because then you’re messed up for the next day. Your old lenses and glasses won’t work of course since your eyes will be at some crazy in between state. Should be hard to do though as when the lenses are in they correct your vision right away so your vision then is clear and I should notice if I get my eyes muddled up I hope!

      Sorry for the long post but I know when I got mine a few months ago there was no one else I knew with them to ask them questions. Hopefully this answers some of yours.


      1. The Oracle says:

        @Simon – no need to apologize for the length of that post. It was very informative and has given me a lot to think about.

        Something like Lasik is not something I’d consider for the same reason as you. I don’t want to make permanent changes that might make things a lot worse 10-20 years down the road as my eyes age.

        I’m still unclear about the process of your eyes going back to normal though. As the effect fades won’t you have several hours in a state where your vision is blurry but not in a way your glasses can fix? I’m envisioning being unable to drive home from work for example.

        Maybe I’ll give the CRT lenses a test try. If they’re like other lenses I can get a free trial.

        1. Simon says:

          “As the effect fades won’t you have several hours in a state where your vision is blurry but not in a way your glasses can fix? I’m envisioning being unable to drive home from work for example.”

          Sorry I wrote that first reply in a hurry so I wasn’t clear. You are right, as it fades your eyes do end up in a state the glasses can’t fix. But that takes some time so if you are wearing your CRT lenses every night (or for me every second one if I like although I try to wear them every night) then you won’t notice.

          I think my vision is slightly over corrected so in the morning I am a bit over my prescription for example. Then it wears off slightly over the day. Even by the end of the second day I can’t notice any difference in my vision in normal life. As I said my prescription is mild though.

          Now I think (you need to ask an optometrist though) that with higher diopters the lenses take longer to correct the vision but the effect lasts longer. Also it varies person to person with how long it takes the eyes to recover.

          If your vision does start to fade you can put the lenses in and your vision is always correct with them in place. I am not quite sure how that bit works!

          Definitely see if you can do a trial. My trial was free. It took several weeks with lots of visits and checkups. And it does take your eyes a week or two to adjust so you get the proper effect. It was very interesting though. They take special images of your eyes and you get to see in profile how the shape changes. Imagine the eyes as a sphere. What these lenses do is flatten the middle part. You end up with a flat bit in the middle and two peaks either side which is where the edges of the lens were. I think these peaks at the edges are what cause the halo/staring effect around bright lights a night. The CRT lenses are a smaller diameter than normal soft lenses.

          I should maybe do a blog post on these things.

  7. Einstein says:

    Hi, if you have the need for glasses I have a proven trick that can help you stay in your prescription for longer or maybe even correct minor some minor sight problems.

    Ill try to be brief but it will be hard.

    Every morning, do this very simple eye exercise.
    Pretend there is a massive clock in front of your face.
    Look at the center of the clock, then as far up to 12 noon as possible and hold for a second, then back to middle. Then go from the middle to the 1 for a second, and back to center, do this again to 2 and then to 3.
    Then start again at the 12 and work backwards to 11, 10, and 9… Always go near the limit as high up towards those numbers as you can.

    You will notice it is very easy to look very strongly downward, but looking upwards is slightly straining. There is a reason for this and once you do these exercises you will feel a difference. After a few months your eyes will work better than they have in 10 years. And I assure you it will keep you from needing a new prescription as frequently. Unless of course you have some sort of degenerative thing going on with your eyes, in which this wouldnt be as beneficial.

    This part will exercise the portion of your eye muscles that are rarely ever used. As earth dwelling humans we tend to look either left, right or down on a regular basis. We nearly never need to look up and even doing so for any time causes neck and eye strain. Therefore your eyes get distorted by its muscles being strong on 3 directions and very weak on one, causing your eye to no longer be round…

    Do many near to far and far to near focusing exercises.
    As humans we tend to be inside and only peering about 1 foot to 10 feet 99% of the day. This can make our iris and the focusing parts of our eyes weaker than it should be. So when you are at a place that you can see pretty far, like at least 100 feet up to a mile or so. Just peer at something 10 feet away, then far away, then peer very closely at your arm hair for instance, or shirt fiber, then focus at something far away. Do this as much as you like, but at least for 2-3 minutes a day. It doesnt reap you as many benefits as the above exercise nor will you likely even notice but it is still good for you and will keep you seeing better into your elderly years when focusing is nearly lost for most.

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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