Making a spectacle: Design Museum Holon explores the recent history of eyewear design

Design Museum Holon with decorative glasses
’On the Tip of Your Nose’ decorative glasses, by Dana Ben Shalom
(Image credit: Dana Ben Shalom)

In 12th century China, flat panes of smoky quartz were held up against the eyes as a very early form of sunglasses. Vision aids like magnifying panes and crude convex lenses date back even earlier. Glasses, at least in the intricately designed form that we know them today, did not come into focus until the 18th century, which is where Design Museum Holon's 'Overview' exhibition sets off.

The upper gallery is filled with over 400 examples from collector Claude Samuel dating from the mid-1700s to the 1980s – the first time they have been seen in a museum. Samuel's diverse collection marks key turning points in eyewear's evolution, from early opera binoculars to iconic Elton John specs, delivering on curator Maya Dvash's aim to 'examine cultural milestones and the central role eyeglasses played in defining social and cultural phenomena'.

Sunglasses with contemporary design

Sunglasses, by Pierre Cardin, 1960, from the Claude Samuel collection.

(Image credit: Eli-Bohbo)

Working down through the museum's floors, increasingly contemporary examples appear, with the lower gallery offering myriad interpretations of the question, 'What are eyeglasses?' from 50 Israeli designers.

Take Omer Polak, whose collection of four colourful pairs of glasses each represent a character from the Tel Aviv neighbourhood of Florentin. His studio is surrounded by carpentry workshops that manufacture tables and kitchens, usually made from Formica-covered plywood. Polak references these manufacturing technologies and materials in miniature for his 'Florentin 001' collection, comprising layers upon layers of scrap Formica collected over the years, re-imagined into a novel fabric.

colourful pairs of glasses

’Florentin 001’, by Omer Polak

(Image credit: Omer Polak)

Other notable examples include Gilli Kuchik and Ran Amitai of Baker Studio, who concentrated on the simple motion of folding glasses for their designs. The innovative, collapsible 'Elastic Hinge' glasses channel the structure of tent poles, with flexible thread passed through ducts inside the frame and temples.

The exhibition concludes by looking forward, with Design Museum Holon's in-house Design Lab engaging with the future of eyeglasses through an interactive display of virtual reality units. Created in collaboration with Holon Cinematheque, visitors are welcome to watch a host of virtual reality films with the futuristic glasses on. With VR production proliferating in 2016, it seems eyewear (despite its impressive history) could be on the verge of its most exciting moment yet.

’Framework’ glasses

’Framework’ glasses, by Michael Tsinzovsky

(Image credit: Michael Tsinzovsky)

gold art-nouveau ’Folding Lorgnettes’ and vision examination lenses

Left, gold art-nouveau ’Folding Lorgnettes’, 19th century. Right, vision examination lenses, from the USA, late 1800s. Both from the Claude Samuel Collection.

(Image credit: Eli Bohbot)

Brass opera binoculars from England

Brass opera binoculars from England, 1981, from the Claude Samuel Collection

(Image credit: TBC)

Eyewear design samples

’Famous Windows’, by Luka Or

(Image credit: Luka Or)

Sunglasses design

Sunglasses by Pierre Cardin, 1960, from the Claude Samuel Collection. 

(Image credit: Eli Bohbot)

Metal and ivory phoropter test glasses

Metal and ivory phoropter test glasses, from England, mid-1800s, from the Claude Samuel Collection

(Image credit: TBC)

Colourful ’Elastic Hinge’ glasses

’Elastic Hinge’ glasses, by Gilli Kuchik and Ran Amitai of Bakery Design Studio

(Image credit: Gilli Kuchik and Ran Amitai of Bakery Design Studio)


’Overview’ is on view until 29 April. For more information, visit the Design Museum Holon website


Design Museum Holon
Pinkhas Eilon St 8
Holon, 5845400


Elly Parsons is the Digital Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees and its social platforms. She has been with the brand since 2015 in various roles, spending time as digital writer – specialising in art, technology and contemporary culture – and as deputy digital editor. She was shortlisted for a PPA Award in 2017, has written extensively for many publications, and has contributed to three books. She is a guest lecturer in digital journalism at Goldsmiths University, London, where she also holds a masters degree in creative writing. Now, her main areas of expertise include content strategy, audience engagement, and social media.