What do sunglass frames and Lego have in common? Once upon a time, they were both made from the same material – cellulose acetate or Acetate/Zyl (aka. ‘Zylonite’) as it’s commonly known today. Acetate/Zyl is the most popular material for sunglass frames in the world right now – and for a number of good reasons.
If you like frames that seem like they’re hardly there when perched on your nose, Acetate/Zyl frames may be close to your perfect match. Tough, hardwearing and intriguingly transparent, Acetate/Zyl have a more natural feel than plastic. That’s important because you’re likely to touch your frames regularly so you want them to feel good in your hands.
High quality Acetate/Zyl is very flexible, so it’s ideal material for creating frames you can gently adjust to fit your head. Plus, if you’re environmentally minded, Acetate/Zyl is a natural choice. It’s made from renewable resources, including a combination of natural cotton fibres, cotton flakes and wood flakes, which gives it an extremely flexible capability to present the broadest variety of colours and patterns, including that tortoiseshell effect.
Kaleidoscope of colours.
If you’re a creative person, you’ll no doubt be drawn to the amazing arrays of colours and effects that can be achieved with Acetate/Zyl, ranging from glossy primary colours to a rainbow of layered zebra stripes, spots and chips. It’s often better to choose frames with light colours on the interior sides, though. This makes the frame disappear from your visual field, whereas dark or black frames create a visible line around your visual field.
It’s important to remember that not all Acetate/Zyl is created equal. It’s generally acknowledged the best ones on the market come from either Italy or Japan. In the 1940s, imitation tortoiseshell Acetate/Zyl frames were block cut from a single sheet of material and finely ground but into shape by a skilled craftsperson. Today, the best frames are still made in this way, partly because it’s easier to create special colour effects.
All glasses frames are not created equal. Crafting Acetate/Zyl frames
Beware Acetate/Zyl frames that look as if they’ve been injection moulded – they’ll be more prone to brittleness. These are made taking cellulose acetate, liquefying it and pouring it into a mould. They come out matte and colourless, so they have to be spray painted and treated with a design.
This coating can chip, bubble, degrade or develop a cloudy white film in hot or humid environments (largely anywhere you want to wear them, then!). …Plus, they’re not particularly flexible – if you bend them, they’ll break – so they’re usually less comfortable to wear. Its best to look out for well know brands such as RayBan or Lacoste sunglasses, as you know the marque of quality is there for a reason.
What’s the alternative?
If Acetate/Zyl frames aren’t quite right for your look, you’ve got a wealth of alternatives, including:
Metal – the second most popular material for frames after Acetate/Zyl, metal is malleable and corrosion resistant. Titanium is particularly lightweight, durable and strong, comes in a variety of colours and is hypoallergenic. Beryllium and Stainless Steel are lower cost alternatives. High-end designers because of their unique look, lightweight and relative strength often use frames made from Aluminium. Flexon has been called the ‘memory metal’ because it can ‘zap’ back into shape after bending, which makes it a great choice for children’s eyewear.
Wood, bone or horn – usually expensive one-off or handmade artisan pieces, wood and bone make for stiff, less flexible frames, but offer a unique look. Bone warms to your body temperature and has an elegant air about them.