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Are Designer Sunglasses Worth the Price?

Maybe not, writes Brett Arends. For starters, most shades are made by the same company. Here's what you need to know before buying.

By BRETT ARENDS

Are you in the market for a new pair of designer sunglasses this summer?

It's the season for it, and you can spend hundreds of dollars on your next pair of shades. Some Prada and Bulgari pairs will run you nearly $500, and that's if you don't need prescription lenses. Even more moderate design labels like Ray-Ban or REVO can cost a couple of hundred bucks.

Designer shades are big business, even in this economy. I keep hearing about the new age of frugality, but I'm not seeing much of it at the mall. Sunglass Hut's same-store sales in the U.S. rose 10.8% in the first quarter, pretty much erasing the slump in early 2009.

But are these expensive brands worth it? How much better are they, really, than the $25 pairs you can get in your local pharmacy?

Before you spend big money on your next pair of designer shades, here are six things you should know.

1. Most sunglasses are made by the same company. Do you prefer the "quality" of Ray-Ban to Oakley? Do you think Bulgari is better than Dolce & Gabbana, or Salvatore Ferragamo is better than Prada? Wake up. They're all made by one company, Italian manufacturer Luxottica–one of the biggest consumer companies that consumers have never heard of. Luxottica also makes sunglasses branded Burberry, Chanel, Polo Ralph Lauren, Paul Smith, Stella McCartney, Tiffany, Versace, Vogue, Persol, Miu Miu, Tory Burch and Donna Karan.

"We manufacture about 70% of those brands in our factories in Italy, and the balance in America and China," says Luxottica spokesman Luca Biondolillo. "We do the design, the manufacturing, and the marketing," he adds. The company makes most of those brands under license, working closely with designers at the relevant fashion houses. But it owns several brands itself, including Ray-Ban, Oakley, Oliver Peoples and REVO.

2. In many cases, the same company is also selling you the glasses. Luxottica also owns LensCrafters, Pearle Vision and Sunglass Hut. This is extreme vertical integration. The eye doctor telling you that you need a new pair of glasses, the sales people helping you choose them and the people who design and make the glasses all work for the same company. Make of it what you will. But if your financial advisor was actually employed by the mutual fund company that he recommended for your portfolio, you'd at least want to know.

3.The markups are as big as they seem. Whenever I have bought a new pair of regular eyeglasses, I have always reflected on how little I seem to get for my money. I can sort of understand why lenses are so expensive, as the material has to be made and ground precisely. But $100 or $200 for frames? These are bits of metal or molded plastic. Once I bought tiny slivers of hollow titanium that weighed considerably less than the bills I was handing over.

The cost of a new pair of glasses will of course reflect materials and labor. But the price will also reflect brand values and marketing–and how much consumers will pay. Luxottica says it makes a gross profit of 64 cents on each dollar of sales. Even after deducting sales and advertising costs, overhead and brand licensing royalties it's still making 52 cents. That's some margin.

While the company's return on equity has fallen since the global economy turned down, last year it still managed a respectable 11%, according to data from FactSet Research Systems. A few years ago that number was as high as 20%. And investors are confident on the company's future. The stock has jumped from $13 to $25 from last year's market lows. It's about 20 times likely earnings, an optimistic rating.

4. Those expensive sunglasses may not be any better for your eyes, either. "Three hundred dollar sunglasses don't do anything better than $100 sunglasses, except maybe look better and have a brand name associated with them" says Dr. Jay Duker, chair of ophthalmology at Tufts Medical Center.

"A significant chunk of what you pay for isn't the quality of the lenses, it's the brand," adds Dr. Reza Dana, director of the cornea and refractive surgery service at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. He notes that making lenses that offer protection against harmful ultra-violet rays "isn't very expensive technology." And while spending more may get you better quality frames, here, too, there are laws of diminishing returns.

For about $40, says Dr. Duker, you can get a pair that offers 100% protection against ultra-violet rays. If you spend maybe $70 you should be able to get a pair with decent quality polarizing lenses that cut out glare. Beyond that, the medical benefits tail off pretty fast.

5. An inexpensive pair of sunglasses from the pharmacy isn't the worst thing in the world. They may be fine for most people in most circumstances, Dr. Dana says. "The main reason people wear sunglasses is to block out (regular) white light," he says, "and from that point of view, cheaper glasses work pretty well." And they will probably block most UV rays, even if not all of them, he adds.

6. Those fancy glasses are really costing you a lot more than you realize. If you make your shades last for many years, that would be one thing. But who does that? The people who want designer items want the latest fashion each year. And then there are the pairs that get lost. Scratched at the beach. And sat on. Personally, I have come to consider sunglasses a disposable item, and I suspect I am not alone.

Over a lifetime these things add up. Indeed they compound. Even at, say, 4% interest, $200 a year over 50 years adds up to $30,000.
 

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Be jealous of my
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I'll still buy my Oakley's no matter what. I love em, they're comfy, and I've gotten my moneys worth on numerous pairs!
 

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I'll still buy my Oakley's no matter what. I love em, they're comfy, and I've gotten my moneys worth on numerous pairs!
I'm with 'ya here. I've had a couple pairs of cheaper sunglasses that I liked, but nothing I have found has matched the comfort of my Oakley frames. Maybe I have an odd shaped head :haha
 

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Premium Member
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well i didn't need an article to tell me that expensive sun glasses were a huge waste of money..

i draw the line at $7 for sunglasses. and look how sweet these gas station beauties look

 

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I won't pay over $25 for a pair of sunglasses. I think most all the pairs I had in the last 10 years have been under $10 and bought at the gas station.
 

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ya i loved my oakleys tell my fat a** sat on them the other day for got they were in my truck seat an jumped right in i was made at my self lol. but i went an got a new pair an will make shore this time i putt them were they go when i take them off next time bc they last for ever if you don't set on them.
 

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Kitteh Commandaar!
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Sunglasses. WTFH are those? :toothless:

Don't wear any, mainly because when I need them, I can't wear them (driving)...because I where corrective leneses to begin with. :rolleyes:
That and I'm to cheap to buy some perscription glasses...

KC
 

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Past Bronco Owner
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I used to buy expensive sunglasses because cheap ones had bad optics but these days a $15 pair of Baush & Lamb are made as well as a pair of Oaklys and scratch just as easy.

I'm lucky if a pair lasts me a month so I buy many and don't have to worry about the cost. Walmart had some Panama Jacks for $10 I really liked so I bought 6 pair since I knew what would happen, they don't sell them anymore. Now I'm on my last pair.
 

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penis
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You guys think thats bad there are this glasses that get massed shipped through the postal service, I saw a reciept for one and they are the coming from the same distribution that makes dollar store glasses. O.K. this is how it breaks down from a reciept I saw:
Glasses 399.99
shipping 14.99 Includes insurance for delivery
warranty for 12 monthes another 50
O.K. now ontop of thisif you order special ones add anywhere from 100-300 more for the glasses, this includes scratch resistant coatings, corrective lenses. I mean hell I can get lenses for my glasses for around 100 (the self tinting ones). I saw an invoice for on the pallet and it only cost them for there most expensive pair $125
 

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Master of the Estate
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Satyr of the Midwest
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Hell, I'm just happy if I can find an American-made set of shades. :imp
 

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I have gone both ways....bought the cheapo's and have 4 pairs of Oakleys....end of the day, the Oaks are better quality and I take better care of them because of the money I have paid. They are not disposable if you like them and take care of them as such.
 

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i cant believe this topic was brought up again. some people like oakleys some dont. just let it die already. we understand some people are tough guys and they dont need sunglasses. but damn have you been googling articles about oakleys for the last month until you found something negative to post about them?
 

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i have two pairs of Oakleys, one with prescription auto tinting lenses, and the other with a nice laser etched "Daddy" in the corner of the left lens, ordered directly form Oakley.com I also have prescription ray-bans, and a nice pair of fossils. My wife has two pairs, one custom laser etched, as well as a couple of other name brands, one prescription. My two daughters (11yrs and 6 yrs)each have a pair of custom Oakleys with their names laser etched, and the older one has some nice ray-bans and a pair of ralph lauren. all of them, as of this writing are in perfect condition, and some have been around for a while,too. My prescri[tion raybans have been worn almost daily for three years here in Iraq, and show very little signs of wear. same for my prescription oakleys...as a matter of fact, the oakleys saved my sight once when a piece of metal was sent flying at my eye from an explosion. i dont see any $6 panama jacks on the APEL list...for a good reason too.

i think i will continue to buy the good stuff...i value my sight too much to skimp. same reason a bought Shoei motorcycle helmets instead of walmart specials. some things are just too important to go cheap on. my 2 cents.
 

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funny i did the same comparison between oakleys and shoei's the last time we hashed this subject out. thanks for your service.
 

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i cant believe this topic was brought up again. some people like oakleys some dont. just let it die already. we understand some people are tough guys and they dont need sunglasses. but damn have you been googling articles about oakleys for the last month until you found something negative to post about them?
Wow dude, you obviously have some unresolved sunglasses issues.

This article was on the yahoo homepage....I'm sure he looked reallll hard to find it.:histerica




I never thought there was much of a difference when you got over a hundred bucks. I'm sure $500 glasses work just as well as $100 ones.

My litmus test is how well they do on the water and gas station sunglasses just don't perform near as well as my Costas out on the lake.
 

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Wow dude, you obviously have some unresolved sunglasses issues.

This article was on the yahoo homepage....I'm sure he looked reallll hard to find it.:histerica




I never thought there was much of a difference when you got over a hundred bucks. I'm sure $500 glasses work just as well as $100 ones.

My litmus test is how well they do on the water and gas station sunglasses just don't perform near as well as my Costas out on the lake.
i dont have any unresolved issues, if you are not aware we just went thru all this about a month ago. all i am saying LET IT DIE ALREADY!
 

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i dont have any unresolved issues, if you are not aware we just went thru all this about a month ago. all i am saying LET IT DIE ALREADY!
Who gives a shit. We "go through" the saginaw swap and 3G upgrade here on a daily basis. You don't see me whining about that.

If you don't like it, don't click.
 

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MARBLE GARGLER!
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I was able to save a cow's life one time with a pair of Oakley sunglasses, The cow could not shit and the cow was basically poisoning it self. The farmers 3 h.p auger/post hole digger would not start..... I was able to dig 40 lbs of shit out of the cows ass with my Oakleys... The wall of high pressure shit that was behind it was horendous !!! Wave after wave of surging slurry peppered with what can only be described as Tank turret bearings flew out of this cow ! Me not wanting to be "the big hero" and get praised and get a plaque with my name on it and all, dug my Oakleys out and left.... They werent even scratched-
 
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