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How to Swap Out Lenses in Vintage Glasses

If you are new to wearing vintage eyewear, whether antique spectacles or retro sunglasses, the process for purchasing and wearing fashionable vintage eyewear with your preferred lenses may be somewhat different from your usual process of buying glasses online or through your optometrist and having the lenses already inserted when you receive them.

Vintage glasses will often come in one of three ways. If they were previously worn, they will likely already have a pair of sunglass lenses or prescription lenses in them, although unless you are very lucky, it is probably not a prescription that matches yours. New old stock vintage glasses, which are glasses that were never sold to a customer, may still have the demo lenses. Other vintage glasses may come without lenses at all if the original lenses cracked or were already taken out in preparation for sale.

As long as your vintage prescription glasses meet a few requirements, you can add in any lenses of your choice.

Which Vintage Glasses Can Fit Modern Lenses?

The first step when picking out vintage glasses to turn into a pair of everyday prescription glasses, vintage sunglasses, reenactment glasses, or simply a fun accessory – and the most fun step in the process – is to choose a frame style and design that you like. 

Shopping online is a great option for this because of the wide selection available and your ability to narrow down your options to the styles you are interested in. But it was also possible to find great vintage glasses at places like antique stores, estate sales, and flea markets.

While you are looking, you will want to keep these features in mind to increase the chances that your optometrist can successfully change out the lenses and that you will have a comfortable pair of glasses to wear afterward:

  • Size – Because many antique glasses are one of a kind, you need to be sure that the individual pair will fit your face for both comfort and suitable vision correction. Check out our measurement guide for how to measure for your glasses. With older glasses, especially from the 19th century, some frames were crafted specifically for the wearer, so the measurements may be non-standard.
  • Choose Ophthalmic Frames – Ophthalmic frames are those meant for prescription lenses, but are also suitable for tinted lenses and non-magnifying lenses. These glasses were made to have lenses replaced so the prescription could change. The majority of vintage glasses you find today will have a form of frames largely because cheaper non-ophthalmic sunglasses were not made to last and are no longer easily available.
  • Consider Your Material – While small points of wear are not usually an issue on vintage glasses, and in fact part of their charm, cracks or weak spots could put the glasses at risk when the optometrist is changing out the lenses or keep them from standing up to everyday wear. For this reason, you may want to choose a more durable material like gold or nickel alloy that is slower to wear. Plastics are fine unless there are significant scratches or cracks. Genuine tortoiseshell or horn glasses will tend to be more of a risk.
  • Limitations with Drill Mount Frames – A drill mount frame is one in which the lenses are attached via holes drilled through them. This has a few limitations on which prescriptions can be used and may not work if you require a more unique prescription.

If you do find your perfect pair of glasses, but there is some damage or you are unsure about the lens mount, you can always see if your optometrist can attempt to change the lens anyway, but know that there is slightly more risk of permanent damage to the frames.

Once you have found glasses with the right look and quality, you will need a professional optician to handle the lens replacement. You can work with your optician if you have one or find one in your area. There are also several companies online that will allow you to mail in your glasses to have the lenses changed and then send them back to you.

In our inventory Eyeglasses Warehouse, the majority of our genuine vintage glasses are ready for ready to have the lenses switched and be adapted for your daily wear since we have carefully chosen each pair of glasses for their quality and wearability. If your priority is style with need for function, we also offer some fun options for non-ophthalmic vintage sunglasses that make for stand out eyewear. Find your next pair of vintage glasses in our inventory today.

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