At the recent Silmo show in Paris, Adlens announced a joint venture with Mondottica, based in Hong Kong, to distribute its variable-focus glasses in Europe and Turkey. The chief executives of Adlens and Mondottica, respectively Michael C. Ferrara and Bernard Nuesser, have signed a memorandum of understanding to set up the joint venture – Adlens Europe – by the end of 2012.
The CEO of Adlens, which is licensing this technology from its inventor, knew Michael Jardine, major shareholder of Mondottica, from the days when it was running the former Marine Optical in the U.S. This special lens business marks a new direction for Mondottica, a growing eyewear licensee of several brands which has also a collaborative relation with REM Eyewear for the European market and expects to close the year with sales of $40 million, compared with only $15 million three years ago.
After opening subsidiaries in Italy and the Netherlands and forming a joint venture in Russia, Mondottica is expanding its footprint in Europe by setting up a sales in Spain for all its brands and this new activity. The company has also opened an office in Japan and is going to cover the Latin American market from its office in Miami.
After seven years of research to get the product ready for market, Adlens has brought out a new concept of relatively affordable variable focus glasses that the user can adapt to the circumstance, according to his needs. Two different technologies are used, depending on the collection.
For the Hemisphere and John Lennon lines, two graduated lenses are superimposed, with a transparent silicon oil liquid between them. There are two small, removable levers on either side of the frame, which the wearer manipulates to bring what he is looking at into focus. The possible focus ranges from -4.5 to +3.5 diopters. Compared with traditional progressive lenses, this system gives a much wider range of vision for intermediate focus such as that required for working at a computer screen.
These glasses, which are basically sophisticated readers, will be distributed by Mondottica and retail in Europe at between €95 and €110 a pair. The partners in the European join venture are considering a proposal to set aside a portion of the proceeds from the sale of these special glasses for an African charity or to make some other kind of donation based on the principle “buy one, give one,” used by Toms in the shoe sector.
The other technology, used in the Emergensee collection, also uses two superimposed lenses, but in this case the lenses have different graduations and slide against each other, adjusting the focus obtained. As the name suggests, this collection has been designed as emergency eyewear for use when the wearer has broken or mislaid his glasses. The correction factor is lower, and so is the price of the glasses, which should retail for between €40 and €45 a pair.
The frame of the John Lennon collection is circular, with the design based on the glasses worn by the famous Beatle – Adlens has a licensing agreement with John Lennon's heirs for a specific collection. The Emergensee line has a rectangular frame, with the upper part serving as a “track” for the movement of the two lenses.
Back in 1998 in the U.K., the inventor, Prof. Joshua Silver, a physicist from the department of atomic and laser physics at the University of Oxford, began exploring the development of a prototype for variable focus eyewear. The idea found favor with a rich businessman and philanthropist from Hong Kong, James Chen, who set up Adlens in 2005 in partnership with Silver, investing $40 million in R&D to develop the concept of variable focus glasses.
Chen remains chairman of the company, but after four years of research with a team of engineers, physicists and optometrists, Silver decided to go back to his academic career. Dr. Rob Stevens, also a doctor in physics from Oxford University, took over as technical director, and began working on the “sliding lens” technology, based on the theories of Luis Alvarez, who received the Nobel Prize for physics in 1968, but who never managed to find the right materials for mass production. Together with Professor Rob Van der Heijde of VU University Hospital in Amsterdam, Stevens worked to resolve this problem and created the Emergensee glasses, continuously adjustable to provide instant vision correction. Emergensee glasses have been donated in areas of natural disaster, where they are proving invaluable. Since the creation of the first prototype, more than 30,000 variable focus glasses have been delivered to people in the developing world.
In February 2011 Adlens commenced manufacturing glasses at its base in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia becoming the world's first ISO 13485:2003 certified manufacturer of variable focus eyewear. In March 2011 Adlens launched its products in Japan.
Since its commercial launch, Adlens has sold almost 100,000 pairs of glasses, making it the global sales leader and the largest manufacturer of variable focus eyewear in the world. Building an understanding of its customers is a key focus of the business. Adlens listens and learns from its many consumers wearing its products around the world.
Adlens employs around 50 staff members in five locations: its Oxford headquarters and innovation center, sales offices in Boston and Tokyo, and its manufacturing base in Malaysia. Adlens currently has sales in Japan, China, India and Indonesia, the U.S. and Mexico.
A company with a similar name – Adlens Beacon – was set up in 2007 in the U.S., to produce eyewear with the same technology, but which some sources say has a lower range of variable focus. Adlens Beacon has nothing to do with Oxford-based Adlens; the Canadian Aspex Eyewear Group acquired a controlling stake in the U.S. company in April 2012, and is likely to put its product on the market under another brand name not containing the word Adlens (Eyewear Intelligence Vol. 13, No. 7 of April 30). Neither Aspex nor Adlens have made any further comment.