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Protecting Your Most Valuable Set of Tools

by J.Edwards

Last week, Tuesday marked the first day of summer here in the Northern Hemisphere. The equator of the Earth was at it’s maximum tilt around mid-day, offering up the longest duration of (much welcome) daylight hours that are possible in a day between sunrise and sunset. With the warmer weather comes more time spent outside and the longer days mean more time spent exposed to the harmful, ultraviolet spectrum of the sun’s rays.

Protecting Our Eyes

As watchmakers, it is of vital importance that we protect our eyes from exposure to UV rays with good sunglasses. If left unprotected, long term exposure to UV radiation will cause the lens of the eye to cloud over, in the form of cataracts, resulting in blurred vision. Imagine trying to flatten a hairspring or lubricate the escapement of a co-axial movement while in a fog. It’s not going to happen. Our eyes are unquestionably our most valuable set of tools. I have met watchmakers with amputated fingers, and even one who had a partially crippled hand, but I have never met a watchmaker who was able to continue to function at the bench when their vision became impaired.

I have almost always worn sunglasses. In the past, I usually purchased them from the local pharmacy or corner store when I happened to need a pair, but it wasn’t until my ophthalmologist alerted me to the dangers of inexpensive lenses that I began to investigate investing in a pair of good sunglasses a little over a year ago.

Why Quality Sunglasses are Important

I will refrain from using the word “cheap” to describe a poor pair of sunglasses, as my journey of discovery led me to uncover many designer sunglasses priced at several hundred dollars that simply do not provide adequate protection. UV specifications are not tightly regulated in North America and sunglasses that are marked as having “full UV absorption” or some other spin on UV protection without specifying the level of UVA and UVB protection may not be telling the full truth. Even with proper UV protection, lightly tinted sunglasses, popular in the fashion realm, can still cause eye-strain and result in degradation of vision over the long term. Worse still, are dark tinted glasses that offer little or no UV protection whatsoever. By dimming the amount of perceived light without blocking UV rays, such sunglasses trick the iris of the eye into opening wider, allowing even more radiation to penetrate and be absorbed by the cornea and retina. Sunglasses like these, of which I regret having owned a pair or two of in my life, are even more harmful to the eye than wearing no sunglasses at all.

What to Look For

Through talking with my ophthalmologist and researching eye-care further on my own, I came up with a list of qualities to look for when deciding on a pair of sunglasses. Here is a distilled list of the five most critical things to look for when choosing a pair of sunglasses:

  1. 99 to 100% protection from UVA and UVB radiation
  2. Polarized lenses. Cumulatively, the lenses should screen out 75 to 90% of visible light. Polarization automatically cuts 50% and improves depth perception, a proper tint will take care of the remaining 25-40%
  3. Optically correct and distortion free. The last thing you want is a headache due to distortion when it’s a beautiful day. Optically correct lenses will also prevent the development of incorrect tracking or focal habits.
  4. Neutral grey base tint for proper colour perception
  5. A good fitting pair of frames that offer protection from the side as well as the front

The Perfect Pair of Shades

When I first started my hunt for a good pair of sunglasses, I had my sights set on Oakley, which had dazzled me with their technical array of lens options. Classic, well promoted sunglasses, like Ray-Ban or Serengeti, were also up as potential candidates. Ultimately, however, it was a then little known brand to me, Maui Jim, that came out on top. Although I was to some extent aware of their existence, their advertising in publications such as Outside Magazine had never really caught my fancy, so I never gave them much thought. They were persistently well touted by the editors and authors of both that magazine and others, like Forbes, however, and my local optometrist happened to carry Maui Jims, so I decided to give them a shot while there looking at other options. In an instant, the whole world around me changed. It was like stepping into James Cameron’s Avatar. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The Maui Jim display in front of me sparkled to life in vivid colours that weren’t there a moment before, the fuchsia top of the secretary sitting across the room suddenly seemed to take on an aire of unreal iridescence, the colour of the flowers in the hanging baskets outside the window popped and took on a depth of contrast against the green of their foliage I had never experienced before. My mind was blown.

My mind also wasn’t convinced. Sunglasses this good simply couldn’t be this good without sacrificing something. So I delved into more research, only to return even more impressed. Maui Jims really were this good. In fact, with the right lens and frame selection, Mauis were even better than just this good. They came up with full marks on all five core criteria I had laid out and went more than the extra mile on some counts, delivering near supernatural colour and depth perception. Beyond the five criteria, they also happened to have scratch and shatter resistant lenses, oleophobic coatings, memory metal frames, and a graduated mirror-like coating that squints so you don’t have to. Put simply, Maui Jim lavishes the same attention to the quality and detail of their sunglasses that Rolex brings to the engineering and design of their watches.

Comparison of a Maui Jim Lens to the Naked Eye

I settled on a pair of Maui Jim South Shores, which were best suited to the contours of my face and provided good protection around the periphery of my vision. I went with the Maui Evolution lens, which is a dual-layer lens offering all of the optical benefits of crystal coupled with the strength and durability of polycarbonate. In neutral grey tint, the Evolution lens also offers the highest available light reduction, with rich colour and contrast. The polarized film in my glasses can been seen below, sandwiched between the crystal and polycarbonate halves that make up the Evolution lenses.

Maui Evolution Lens

Maui Jim then perfects the lenses on either side with a multitude of optical coatings. On one side of the lens is the subtle, bi-gradient, mirror-like coating that wards away superfluous light while allowing pertinent light to pass. In addition to the bi-gradient mirror is an anti-reflective coating that absorbs and disperses light to keep rays that may come from behind you from bouncing back into your eyes. The lenses themselves are tinted with three rare elements, neodymium, erbium, and praseodymium, that are responsible for the colour enhancement of the glasses. Finally, surrounding all of these layers, is a scratch resistant coating topped off with a combination waterproof-oleophobic coating to shed ice, water, snow, and natural oils from my face and fingers.

Ice and snow?! You bet. I have been so impressed with my Mauis that I took to wearing them whenever I was out in the sun all through this past winter. A habit my eye doctor applauds, as short term, intensified exposure to ultraviolet light, produced by reflections off the snow, can result in a condition known as snow blindness or photokeratitis, which is an inflammation of the cornea. I have also taken to wearing my sunglasses in overcast weather, as the depth perception and colour enhancing effects of the lenses persist even when the sun is not out in full force. If you have never been one to enjoy wearing sunglasses, for the sake of your eyes, I would challenge to try a pair of Maui Jims on for a few hours on a sunny day. I am convinced that, like me, you will find yourself missing them if you are ever in the great outdoors again without them.

Getting a Good Deal

When I priced out the South Shores a year ago, the best price I was able to find was through Endless, particularly with their free international shipping. In the end, however, I opted to pay more up front to get them through my optometrist in order to have the bulk of the cost of the glasses covered by my health insurance. Amazon’s prices are now about $40 cheaper than the advertised price on Endless, with some second hand and old stock selling for nearly $100 less. I would recommend staying away from retail sunglass shops, such as the Sunglass Hut, which tend to be marked up as much as 50% higher than elsewhere. Don’t be afraid to ask for a better deal, too. Forearmed with the price at Endless last year, I was able to negotiate a better price when I purchased my Maui Jims. While not quite as cheap as Endless at the time, I was still able to shave enough off the final price that my portion payable on the new pair of shades only set me back around the same amount that a new pair of inferior sunglasses would have cost me at the local corner store.

Even at full retail, a pair of good quality sunglasses that will last for years is well worth the investment for the health of our eyes as watchmakers. Forbes magazine has reviewed Maui Jim sunglasses as being worth every penny. Having worn mine for a year now, I disagree. Maui Jims are worth more than every penny. Owning a product that I look forward to and enjoy using, that also happens to be good for my health, and will enable to to keep doing what I love doing everyday, for longer, is hard to put a price on. A product like that is priceless.

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