How To Get A $600 Pair Of Glasses For $200

Alex sends me a link to a forum post today, from a German client looking for the best way to buy glasses and save money.

I’m somewhat notorious on this subject, since I’ve bought hundreds of pairs of glasses over the years, everywhere from Moscow and Berlin to Kathmandu and Saigon (and of course, online).  There’s a lot to be said for quality of frames and lenses, and staff that knows their way around frame adjustments, and also to find you great frames.  

That last bit, not something you are quite likely to experience in the U.S., where frame fashion seems to perpetually be a decade (or three) behind the times.


And just what might you be implying *by that*, young man?!

Nevermind.  Take no offense, if you happen to live in the U.S.

For great fashion frames, and staff actually professionally educated in matching your face to frames, Germany is no doubt the place to be.  You’ll shrug this off, till you have the experience yourself.  And if you do, it’ll be really hard to go back to the Specsavers in the mall!

The problem, especially in Germany (though in the U.S. too), is price.

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What I Wanted To Buy

I went to a few boutique shops for a particular combination I was looking for, late last year.  I was consistently quoted prices in excess of 500 Euros, for this:

1)  Metal / plastic combination Armani frame.  Not for the brand, but the style that actually fits my unfortunately odd face shape (not easy to make the mug look passable).

2)   Transitions VII photochromic lens coating.  VII (a notable improvement) had just then come out late 2014 and still fiendishly expensive in most shops.  They are the greatest thing ever though, for coatings that darken with UV exposure.


Darken awesomly.

I just wanted a -1.00 prescription, for times that I needed some correction (driving, unfamiliar environments, and to keep my brain trained to expect perfect clarity while pulling focus without glasses).  As you might now from the blog, with a -1.00 you actually don’t want to use high index lenses!  The much more inexpensive CR-39 lens has better optical quality and is perfectly adequate for a full frame and a -1.00 prescription.

Or so you’d think.

The lowest boutique quote I received was for 540 Euros.  That’s 640 USD.

And you might say, until you read the rest of this article, that sounds about right.  Expensive brand name pair of frames (you’re a sucker, Jake, you might say).  The latest in Transitions photochromic coatings.  

I spent less than 200 USD though, on that very setup, all told.

And I did it while in Berlin, and buying locally, getting professional advice (which again, truly is rather great), fitting, and service.  That’s less than 170 Euro, for some of the best you can buy.

How I Saved $400 On My Wishlist Purchase

The big one is the lenses.  Here’s how it went:

First of all, I immediately walked away from any boutique that was trying to push me on polycarbonate lenses.  If that’s news to you, take a look at this article on CR39 vs. poly.  Way more expensive, lower optical quality, and no redeeming qualities for a -1.00 prescription.  

But still, even the shops that (rather begrudgingly) would let me get CR39, had lots of excuses on hand.  We don’t have Transitions VII on CR.  Imagine for a moment some very German subtle yet scathing looking-down-their-nose attitudes.  Like, you poor, poor man, can’t afford anything of quality.


VII on CR39.  Transitions Unicorn, if you believe the boutique shop.

There was just no use.  Transitions VII was still brand new, and way better than VI.  Faster, darker tint, and much better tint in indirect sunlight (and now that I have used them for a while, they really are great).  But hardly anybody carried them.

So first step to my budget-friendly high end glasses, I went online, looking for somebody to sell me a pair of raw lenses (the round ones, before they are cut into frames, usually only sold directly to optic shops).

Here is what I found:


You know the optic shop guy is fuming about this.

Transitions VII.  The -1.50 here refers to index of the lens, not diopter correction.  Whenever you see -1.50 rather than a higher number, it usually means that you are getting a CR39 lens.  No good for high myopia or frameless mounting, but great for what we are looking at here.  Here’s the linkey link to those guys.

Behold, 66 Euro, including standard shipping.  They’re in Berlin, I was in Berlin, I had them the next day (though they do ship worldwide).

Second step, the frames.

Fielmann had a deal on the Armani frames I wanted.  89 Euro.  Less than half of the snotty boutique shop three blocks further down the street.  If you have ever been to one of the Fielmann shops, their frame choices would take you days to sort through.  Their staff is brilliant in finding shapes that work even for the weirdest faces, like for yours truly.

Third step, getting the lenses cut for the frames.

Fielmann does this for free.  Yes.  I am sad for the demise of individuality and mom and pop local commerce.  I’m willing to pay more to support local business.  But am I willing to support bad attitudes, and paying a 300% premium?  Perhaps less so.  Last time I had bought a similar setup in Germany, back when I was clueless consumer Jake, I paid well over 500 Euro for a pair of plastic frames and CR lenses in a -4.00 (or so) lens.  Not to mention the wrong lens for the diopter degree, but also a total ripoff.

Speaking of ripoff, lens cutting is another side scam. You know how it’s done?  Each frame comes with a template (or you can just use the lens already in them).  You put the template into a lens cutting machine on one side, and the raw lens on the other side.  Then the machine automatically cuts the lens down to the same size as the template.  Sure I’m oversimplifying a tad (you do have to plug it in first).

You can buy an automatic lens cutter on ebay for about 150 bucks.  Looks like this:


Snobby boutique shop wouldn’t flip that switch to cut your lenses.

Fielmann staff smiled and said yes of course sir, we will cut your lenses into the frames.  Next day, glasses are done, and perfect.  Grand total for this experience, and truly getting some of the best service, design, and lens tech you can buy anywhere?

155 Euro, all included.  Less than 200 dollars.

With some modifications, you can accomplish similar savings in most countries.  Go forth and enjoy better eyesight, while saving yourself some money!


– Jake


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2016-11-09T02:19:34+00:00 By |Categories: How To's|