Ray-Ban: A timeline
Mention high fashion sunglasses and the name that immediately springs to mind is Ray-Ban. This iconic brand has carved itself a unique place in the world of eyewear and its sunglasses have graced the faces of many famous figures, both male and female, for decades. Over the years Ray-Ban has earned a reputation for superb design, excellent performance and an unmistakeable sophistication that has made it recognisable the world over.
In 1937, the American company Bausch & Lomb established the Ray-Ban brand of sunglasses and eyeglasses. In the years since, Ray-Ban has developed into and extremely successful fashion brand, with design classics such as the Aviator and Wayfarer making Ray-Ban a world leader.
But what were the significant milestones along the way and what does the future hold for Ray-Ban?
The Ray-Ban journey - Bausch & Lomb Timeline
German immigrant John Jacob Bausch opens a small business dealing in optical goods in Reynolds Arcade, a building in central Rochester, New York. Henry Lomb provides financial support in the form of a loan, creating a partnership between the two.
1863 – 1866
Rausch and Lomb establish an optical retail shop. This is located in a workshop on Andrews and Water Streets and centres around importing and manufacturing eyeglasses and optical instruments such as microscopes, binoculars and telescopes. Len grinding is also included.
The company diversifies into the production of photographic lenses, developing the inclusion of shutters into its products within a short space of time.
William Bausch (son of the founder), invents a technique for creating lenses directly from molten glass. This negates the need for the delicate process of grinding and polishing individual lenses, significantly reducing production time and the use of raw materials. Naturally, this also reduces costs.
B&L becomes the first company in the US to produce optical glass. The First World War (and the later Second World War), bring a huge demand from the military for optical instruments, including torpedo sights, periscopes and searchlight mirrors. The company expands production to meet these needs.
1936 – 1937
Several years previously, B&L had been asked to develop special lenses designed to limit glare experienced by pilots in the Army Air Corps. Based on its military product, B&L creates similar glasses for use by the general public.
The following year the company introduces 'aviator-style metal sunglasses'
1938 – 1970
B&L gains a world-wide reputation for premium sunglasses, worn by celebrities and public figures around the globe.
The development of soft contact lenses has become an exciting innovation in eyewear. In 1971, B&L receive sUS Food and Drug Administration approval to sell soft contact lenses, a move which results in the establishment of the SoftLens arm of the company.
Almost all local B&L operations are relocated from St. Paul Street to North Goodman Street, which had once been the home of General Dynamics and Bond Clothes factories.
1981 – 1982
In 1981 B&L decides to stop manufacturing prescription eyeglass lenses and frames. 4,800 of the local employees are laid off (comprising around 17% of the workforce), with a further 500 jobs ending in 1982.
In yet another diversification, B&L moves into the contact lens solution market. ReNu Multi-action Disinfectant Solutions are developed.
A showcase headquarters is opened in downtown Rochester at a cost of $50 million.
After decades of producing its famous sunglasses, including the Wayfarer and Aviator brands, B&L make the decision to sell the eyewear division to the Luxottica company. The price tag is $640 million.The company then concentrates determinedly on moving into the eye surgery business by purchasing Storz instruments and Chiron Vision.
The Ray-Ban ethos
Ever since its invention, the Ray-Ban has been all about aspiration. From its original concept of sunglasses for American airmen, and through its many celebrity endorsements, Ray-Ban has marketed itself as the brand that everyone wants to be seen in. Owning a pair of Ray-Bans should be the ultimate dream for every fashion-conscious individual who wants to look like their hero.The invention of the Ray Ban Aviator
The invention of the iconic Ray-Ban Aviator brand has its roots in the meteoric rise of the power of flight. In the 1930s the swift development of military aircraft design allowed pilots to travel ever farther, faster and higher. But this created a problem.
Pilots reported that the high levels of glare they experienced as they flew high and fast were leading to vision problems, headaches and altitude sickness. This naturally reduced their ability to function at the high levels needed for military action. A solution was needed.
Some time previously, Lieutenant General John McCready had taken a balloon flight. During this balloon flight, he had been dazzled by the sun. He then conceived the idea of a pair of dark glasses which would shade his eyes while letting him see what was around him. McCready was convinced that this type of eyewear would solve the problem of glare for the pilots. He approached B&L with a request to create sunglasses that could limit the glare without restricting the pilots' vision.
B&L set to work on developing dark glasses. Following several experiments, the prototype sunglasses with plastic frames and green lenses were produced in 1936. Thus the Aviator appeared.
The following year the plastic frames were replaced by metal ones. However, it was considered that the term 'anti-glare' wasn't sufficiently striking enough to sum up the appeal of these new glasses. So the term 'Ray-Ban' was adopted instead, along with the Aviator tag as a nod to the aviation link. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The Ray-Ban Aviator was such a success that it wasn't only the pilots who were wearing them. Contemporary photos show them being used by the high-ranking officers as well and before too long, they were considered to be synonymous with the glamorous lifestyle of the military pilot. This set in motion the trend for Ray-Bans to be marketed as a premium product which has been continued throughout the following seven and a half decades.The B&L Ray-Ban yearsRay Ban in the 30s (The Aviator, Shooter and Outdoorsman)The invention of the Aviator in 1936 marked the start of the Ray-Ban rise to fame. Within a couple of years the use of Ray-Bans had moved beyond military use and others who lived, worked and played outdoors began to see the benefits.
In 1938 B&L released the Ray-Ban Shooter, specifically designed for rifle users, with a choice of green or yellow lenses. The yellow lenses were especially useful as they filtered out blue light, enhancing detail and minimising haze, so making it much easier for users to operate in misty conditions. The design also included a so-called 'cigarette circle' centre which allowed the wearer to keep both hands free, which has become the Shooter's signature feature.
Hard on the heels of that success, in 1939 B&L introduced the Ray-Ban Outdoorsman, marketed at hunters, shooters and fishing enthusiasts. Originally known as 'Skeet Glass', the defining feature of this brand is the various coverings for the top bar and temple ends, such as nacre and calf leather.
Ray-Ban in the 40s
The advent of World War II called for further innovation in the development of sunglass technology. The Aviator was still used by the military for its pilots and B&L continued to improve the design to meet the needs of these high-performing pilots.
One such innovation was the gradient mirror lens. This involved providing glare-reducing coating at the top of the lens but leaving the lower area untreated so that pilots could view their instruments clearly and easily.
Of course, especially during the war, the status of pilots with the public rose even higher. And with this adulation came the desire to look like the heroes they admired and so the popularity of the Ray-Ban Aviator increased as well. A pair of Ray-Bans was the perfect accessory to match the military-style look which had permeated the fashion culture of the time.
Ray Ban in the 50s - Ray Ban Wayfarers
After the enforced austerity of the war years, it was perhaps inevitable that the 50s became the era of high glamour. Despite the enduring popularity of the Aviator, B&L decided it was time to take advantage of the new synthetic materials available and create a design with a different appeal. In 1932, the Ray-Ban Wayfarer stepped into the limelight.
With frames created from modern moulded plastic, the Ray-Ban Wayfarer had a totally different look from the Aviator. The frames flared out into sharp pointed 'wings', with almond-shaped lenses, said to be specifically designed by optical designer Raymond Stegeman to imply a certain air of danger and unpredictability.
The attraction of Hollywood's silver screen was fast becoming the ultimate trend dictator and Ray-Ban Wayfarer was soon being worn, both an and off the screen, by the most stratospheric of superstars. Sported by the likes of James Dean in 'Rebel Without a Cause' (1955), and later by Audrey Hepburn in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's', the Wayfarer became the sunglasses of choice for multitudes of film fans the world over.
In 1953, the Ray-Ban Signet flaunted stylish gold and silver frames, together with horizontal bands over the centre, corners and ear stems. Like other designs first released in the 50s, the Signet has had several design upgrades over the years and has become one of Ray-Ban's most enduring styles.
The Ray-Ban Caravan, a re-imagined version of the Aviator with squarer lenses, was launched in 1957.
Ray-Ban also launched a range of sunglasses aimed specifically at women, with additional embellishments and a wide range of colour options allowing women to stay truly up-to-date with the ever-changing fashion scene.
Lens technology was also enhance with the introduction of G-15 grey lenses in 1957, which combined exceptional protection against glare with the ability to see true colour.
Ray-Ban in the 60s - Ray-Ban Olympian
At the start of the 60s, Ray-Ban had 30 models in its range, but along with the explosion in fashion, popular culture and celebrity adoration, B&L expanded their catalogue hugely over the decade.
By 1969 there were over 50 designs to choose from. As with previous models, the popularity of the different styles were hugely influenced by the celebrities who wore them, especially when they featured in a 'blockbuster' movie that had far-reaching impact.
The Ray-Ban Olympian I and II appeared in 1965. A delicately arched metal ridge, together with sculpted rectangular lenses, recalled a classic look but with a uniquely contemporary edge. When Peter Fonda wore a pair in 'Easy Rider' in 1969, their popularity predictably rocketed.
In 1968 the Ray-Ban Balorama was introduced, subsequently made famous by Clint Eastwood, in his guise as Harry in 'Dirty Harry' (1971). The space race inspired the Ray-Ban Meteor, whilst the Ray-Ban Laramie sported cat-shaped eyes for a unique appearance.
But the old favourites did not die. The Aviator and Wayfarer continued to be worn by many celebrities, such as Bob Dylan.
Ray-Ban in the 70's – Ray-Ban Vagabond and Stateside
In the 70s, disco was king, and wearing the right outfit and accessories had never been more important. By now, Ray-Bans had become a fashion item in their own right and were just as likely to be worn indoors as outside. Of course, the requirements of fashion wearers were totally different from those who needed sunglasses for practical reasons, and this led B&L to branch out into catering for two individual markets: the fashion market and the sports market.
On the fashion front, the Ray-Ban Vagabond and the Ray-Ban Stateside each made their debut. These models had plastic frames, and came with a choice of lens: the standard G-15 lens and the G-31 mirror lens. Again, over the years these designs have been adapted to make them more in line with the modern look.
In addition to devising new Ray-Ban models in the 70s, B&L were also breaking further new ground in lens design. A lens for mountaineers featured mirrored lenses, as well as leather side shields to cut out the wind, whilst the Ambermatic lens (1974), was photosensitive, darkening and lightening in response to the strength of the light. It also gave fantastic definition to outlines and shadows, making it a fabulous choice for snow sports activities.
B&L also made another leap forward with the advent of prescription sunglasses, saving countless wearers the hassle of juggling general glasses and sunglasses.Ray-Bans in the 1980s – the return of the WayfarerDuring the high-fashion era of the 80s, Ray-Ban continued to keep a prominent place in fashion consciousness. Movie culture kept the public profile high and the Wayfarer put in an appearance in 'The Blues Brothers' (1980) and 'Risky Business' (1983). The original Aviator had a strong resurgence when Tom Cruise sported a pair in 'Top Gun' (1986), taking the model back into the heart of its original aerodynamic roots.
Pop culture also had a role to play. In particular, Michael Jackson was seen wearing several models, including the Ray-Ban Aviator for his 1984 Grammy event and the Wayfarer on his world-beating 'Bad' tour from 1987-89.
Ray-Ban in the 90s - the Decline
It's said all good things must come to an end, and despite prominent publicity in some popular movies, the Ray-Ban brand began to fall into decline during the 1990s. Notable film appearances included 'Reservoir Dogs' and 'Malcolm X' (both in 1992), 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), and the ultra-cool 'Men in Black' (1997).
But wrap-around sunglasses, which could be perched on top of the head, had superseded the classic Ray-Ban styles; the brand began to be viewed as old-fashioned and behind the times. But B&L were developing other interests, so in 1999 the famous Ray-Ban brand was sold to Luxottica.
Ray-Ban under Luxottica
The history of Luxottica
In many ways it seemed almost inevitable that Ray-Ban would end up in the hands of Luxottica. Founded by Italian Leonardo Del Vecchio in 1961, Luxottica began life in Agordo and is currently located in Milan. Del Vecchio was initially trained as a tool and die maker, but eventually he decided to turn his hand to making parts for eyewear instead. He moved to Agordo, the heart of the Italian eyewear industry and set up his company with others to create eyeglasses.
As time passed, the company became convinced of the need to take control of all aspects of operation, buying a distribution company (Scarrone) in 1974, and then moving on to set up a series of important contract services with such well-known companies as Armani and Vogue. It acquired shares in a number of optical companies and bought out other eyeglass providers, including OPSM and Pearl Vision. It went on to buy Erroca for €20 million and Oakley for US$2.1 billion, making it by far the largest eyeglass company on the world.
Today Luxottica accounts for over 80% of the market, encompassing the eyeglass operations of a multitude of household names including Versace, Stella McCartney, Burberry, Chanel and Armani, to name but a few.Ray-Ban in the 21st century
Luxottica began by re-designing the Ray-Ban to take account of the new fashion trends. In a significant design re-modelling known as RB2132, the size of the frames was reduced and acetate was rejected in favour of lighter plastic.
However, Luxottica then set out to revive the fortunes of the Ray-Ban brand by launching a major expansion, which was subsequently followed by a decade-long flurry of activity.
In 2003, the Ray-Ban Optical optimised prescription sunglasses. Its aim was to blend superb design and matchless attention to detail in its craftsmanship, whilst always drawing on the cultural roots that made Ray-Bans so popular.
Also in 2003, Luxottica launched Ray-Ban Junior, a range of sunglasses designed specifically for fashion-conscious children aged 8-12. This range was further expanded in 2005 to include hypo-allergenic frames that are lightweight but durable.
2006 saw the overhauling of the iconic Wayfarer model, with music photographer Mick Rock commissioned to create a memorable portfolio of images to bring the Wayfarer squarely into the modern era.
Indie rock musicians were hired for this innovative project known as 'Ray-Ban Uncut: The Wayfarer Session, and artist such as Peaches, James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream and Johnny Marr of The Smiths all offering their own contemporary take on the new Wayfarer design.
A masterly publicity campaign in 2007, entitled 'Never Hide', harnessed the concept that Ray-Ban users simply needed to be true to their own identity to make themselves the centre of attention.
The campaign involved instantly recognisable personalities from the past and present,, combined with 'ordinary' Ray-Ban users who wanted to stand up and be counted. The world-wide nature of this innovation made a huge impact on the continued success of the brand.
Ray-Ban continued to blend the culture of celebrity seamlessly in its publicity campaigns, for example, with the Ray-Ban Re-masters project of 2008. Well-known musicians like The Kills, Black Kids, Ladyhawke, Ipso Facto and Paolo Nutini performed cover versions from the 50s and 60s to recall the popular Ray-Ban Clubmaster design of the time.
On the back of the Never Hide campaign, Never Hide Colorise was born. Wayfarer fans could create their own unique colour designs using special pens on a white frame, whilst other innovations included printing unique designs (e.g. New York subway maps), onto the inner surfaces of the glasses.
The 'Rare Prints' range delved once more into movie and music culture with a series of themed prints to give Ray-Bans a contemporary edge, based around the concepts of 'Buttons Pins' and 'Comics'.
And more recently, Ray-Ban has also marketed itself specifically to the LGBT community by incorporating rainbow colours into its advertising.
But in the midst of all this imaginative brand promotion, Ray-Ban did not neglect the technological aspects of their design. Always looking to improve its signature product, it launched the Ray-Ban Tech Fibre Collection, utilising the very latest in eyewear manufacturing techniques.
The wrap-around frame construction is fashioned from seven layers of lightweight carbon fibre, making the glasses durable and extremely flexible to resist accidental damage. The lenses have similar ground-breaking features. Created from polycarbonate and crystal, these lenses which superb polarisation capabilities, as well as natural high-definition colour vision, a special reflective coating to eliminate glare, and enhanced UV protection.
2010 and beyond
Throughout this decade, Luxottica have continued the successful strategy of marrying celebrity endorsement, using a multi-faceted approach to raising the profile of the brand (e.g. themed music concerts). The Never Hide campaign has continued with world-wide publicity events, keeping the main ethos unchanged whilst re-inventing the application of that ethos.
What does the future hold for Ray-Ban?
Ray-Ban started life as a cutting edge technological breakthrough to solve a problem in the relatively new world of aviation. And it seems that the future for Ray-Ban may lie in a similar ground-breaking innovation which is very much of the 21st century. On March 24 2014, Ray-Ban signed a deal with Google to collaborate in developing Google Glass.What is Google Glass?Google Glass is basically a piece of wearable technology. This looks similar to an ordinary pair of glasses, but enables the wearer to carry out many of the functions of a laptop or mobile device. This voice-activated device lets you access the internet, store information, make calls, take photos – in fact, all the functions the modern, seamlessly connected user wants, but in an unobtrusive form.
What are the issues surrounding Google Glass?
Although it's been shown that there can be many benefits to using Google Glass, the device has had a somewhat troubled history, and it's the very unobtrusive nature that has caused many of the concerns which have been aired around its development and use.
At the heart of it lies the principle of privacy. For example, if the wearer can take photos and video without those around them realising, others could find their image has been posted online without their permission or knowledge. There have also been fierce exchanges of expert opinions on the physical, psychological and social effects of people being constantly 'hooked up' to the internet.
Why a partnership between Ray-Ban and Google?
But the issue leading to the partnership between Luxottica and Google is rather more prosaic – the actual design of Google Glass has been viewed as rather 'dork-ish'. By marrying the technological capabilities of Google with the undisputed stylishness of the Ray-Ban brand, it's hoped that Google Glass can overcome this perceived limitation and market the device through its worldwide network of 7,000 retail outlets, helping Google Glass rise to new heights.
Further Ray-Ban developments
Of course, Ray-Ban has not forgotten its original purpose – to design and market high quality sunglasses. Designs are intended to combine superb styling with the very latest in scientific innovation to produce the very highest quality eyewear for celebrities and the public alike.
Ray-Ban's most recent development has been the introduction of Lite-Force, a thermoplastic material that boasts even more superior lightness, durability and flexibility, giving Ray-Ban the capability to stay right up to date with the best possible features in its eyewear.
Ray-Ban started with the aim of being at the very forefront of eyewear development, designing and manufacturing sunglasses that gave outstanding performance as well as being totally fashionable. As it approaches its 75th anniversary, it seem the Ray-Ban brand has every intention of maintaining this forward-looking approach and continuing to deliver iconic sunglasses that look beautiful and give unrivalled sun protection.
- Further Resources on Ray Ban:
- Wikipedia Article - Ray Ban - The history of the Ray-Ban Aviator.
- Wikipedia - Bausch & Lomb - Bausch & Lomb: A History
- Roc Docs by the D & C - A look at the history of Bausch + Lomb, dating back to 1853.
- Ray Ban: The History of the Top Selling Eyewear Brand Worldwide:
- Never Hide Always Seek: How has Ray Ban Advertisement Shifted Over Time?
- Wikipedia - Ray Ban Wayfarer Article
- The Sunski Lens: A brief history of the wayfarer style.
- Bloomburg Business Week - Google to De-Dorkify Glass in Partnership With Ray-Ban Maker Luxottica.
- The Wall Street Journal - Google Deal With Luxottica Will Bring Glass to Ray-Ban, Oakley.
- IGN - Google Glass Partners With Makers of Ray-ban and Oakley.
- Wikipedia Article - Luxottica A history.
- Urban Optics - The Ray Ban Story
- Ray-Ban Official Site - UK
- Fun Facts About Ray Ban Sunglasses - Trivia History Celebrity.
- Vintage Sunglasses Shop - Ray-Ban Sunglasses Styles, Information, and History.
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What was the original purpose of Ray-Ban? ›
In 1929, US Army Air Corps Colonel John A. Macready worked with Bausch & Lomb, a Rochester, New York-based medical equipment manufacturer, to create aviation sunglasses that would reduce the distraction for pilots caused by the intense blue and white hues of the sky.What did the first pair of Ray-Bans look like? ›
The original glasses featured a plastic frame with the now classic Aviator shape. The sunglasses were remodeled with a metal frame the following year and rebranded as the Ray-Ban Aviator.How can you tell if Ray-Bans are vintage? ›
On fakes the etching will either be missing or of poor quality. The "RB" etching should be crisp and etched, not painted on. Vintage Ray-Bans might have a "BL" marking to denote the brands original owners Bausch & Lomb, but if you're buying new then look for the RB logo etching.How many Ray-Ban models are there? ›
Currently Ray-Ban boasts more than 400 different styles of sunglasses, some variations on the classics but most styles you've likely never heard of that are equally deserving of your attention.Are Ray-Bans still cool? ›
That's not to suggest that they aren't still undeniably cool: the strong vintage aesthetic delivers a universally approved look. They are a truly timeless pair of sunglasses, for 2022 and beyond.