To appreciate Vuarnet’s recently re-launched range of glass-lens sunglasses, you first have to appreciate the job sunglasses are supposed to do.
Sunglasses need to protect your eyes from the sun, of course. Most do that by blocking ultraviolet radiation, which can cause temporary irritation and long-term damage to your retinas. Vuarnet tops that by also protecting your eyes from infrared radiation (or heat), prolonged exposure to which can lead to cataracts.
Additionally, in a visual and functional touch that defines the Glacier model, leather shades cloak the gap between the frames and your face, sealing out glare. Want to remove them? A magnet holds them to the arm, and a quick squeeze drops their wire frames out of the glasses.
Sunglasses also need to maximize your ability to see the environment you’re operating in. They do this by cutting the amount of light that reaches your eyes, damping it down to manageable levels. But, depending on the color of the lenses, they can also affect color perception and enhance contrast. Additionally, lenses can reduce glare by partially blocking light from certain angles: polarization. Vuarnet is the only sunglass maker to create it own lenses from glass, in house. That leads to exceptional optical clarity, but also allows them to tailor their performance across different portions of the lens—the upper part filters light from the sun, while the lower piece cuts reflected light from the sea, snow, or ground. And they do that while leaving the center optically clear.
Sunglasses also need to maintain their performance as you sweat. Vuarnet’s lenses are treated with a hydrophobic and oleophobic coating that prevents both build up of moisture—fogging—and oils from your body or sunscreen.
And sunglasses need to last. Especially if you’re paying $540 or more for them. Vuarnet’s glass is virtually scratch proof, the lenses are surrounded by an acetate “bumper” to protect them in drops, and overall construction is very solid. They’re built to last a lifetime, and many customers who bought Glaciers during their original release in the 1980s are still wearing them today. A modern update will help these even more: a neatly integrated leather leash clips securely to the earpiece, preventing loss.
Sunglasses also need to fit well, stay on your face as you move, and wear comfortably. This is where we ran into trouble with the Glaciers. Chris (the handsome fella in the photos), has a much smaller head than I do, but both of us found the arms too wide-set to remain securely perched. Chris had to tie the leash tightly behind his head to hold the Vuarnets on, while I could just get by by pulling my ears to the back. Neither is a comfortable, long-term solution. And while the arms were too wide set for either of us, the leather shades proved too narrow for my face, uncomfortably squeezing my temples. Complete with thick glass lenses and metal frames and arms, the Glaciers are also noticeably weighty. Heavy enough that you never forget you’re wearing them.
While climbing North Palisade in the Sierra Nevada last weekend, Chris found that the Glaciers provided extraordinarily clear vision no matter the lighting conditions, remaining fog and sunblock free throughout. Contrast created by the amber lenses enhances his ability to see features in ice and snow and the graduated shading, imperceptible from the inside, eliminated glare. But the glasses continually slid down his face, making them frustrating to wear.
Back in Los Angeles, that extraordinary clear, high contrast vision leant an unexpected ability to make out the edges and flow of smog banks. What was once simply amorphous haze becomes, with the Glaciers on, a delineated area of moisture and pollution, eddying around the base of the hills. But I can’t wear them for long with the need to tweak my ears backwards to keep them on.
So, testing complete, the Glaciers are going back in their luxurious case in favor of the Salt + Aether Explorer sunglasses. Those are fitted with glass lenses made in Germany by Zeiss and benefiting from most of the Vuarnet’s attributes, but not suffering from their weight penalty. The flexible titanium frames add to the lightness, while allowing a totally customizable fit. And their integrated plastic side shades don’t interfere with fit, while still blocking glare and wind. I’ve had mine nearly a year, and they remain as good as new.
Are the Vuarnets for you? We'd recommend trying them on before you buy. If they do fit, they could be the last pair of sunglasses you'll ever purchase.