Essilor has announced the launch of a new range of progressive lenses, the Varilux S series, based on new technologies that are intended to enlarge the field of vision for presbyopes without amplifying the swim effect, while reducing the time that they need to adapt to a new environment. Available in two versions, the new range will be rolled out in Europe and the U.S. over the balance of this year, and in the rest of world in the course of 2013.

Describing the new range as a “revolution” that has been warmly welcomed by the opticians who have tested it since June, Essilor management said last Friday that it is creating a new segment that could come to represent between 10 and 20 percent of its sales of progressive lenses in the future. The basic version will be priced between 10 and 15 percent higher than Essilor's Varilux Physio line. The premium version, called Varilux S 4D, should carry a further price supplement of around 5 percent.

The Varilux S series has required 10 years of research. It uses 14 patents and three new proprietary technologies. The first one, Nanoptix, is a technology that decomposes the surface of the lens into thousands of microelements, thus minimizing the sensation of loss of balance often experienced by wearers of progressive lenses. The new SynchronEyes technology integrates the differences in vision between the wearer's right and left eyes in the calculation for the first time, improving spatial perception and edge-to-edge clarity.

In addition, the premium version of the range uses 4D technology that allows the integration of the time factor in vision correction for the first time, by taking into account the dominant eye, i.e. the eye arriving first on the target. This new feature allows the wearer to experience faster visual reaction time, resulting in better reflexive vision. Opticians will be able to offer highly customized Varilux S 4D lenses to their customers by measuring 15 different parameters in less than two minutes through Essilor's new Visionoffice station.

To produce the new lenses, Essilor has developed, together with its fully owned Satisloh subsidiary, a redesigned manufacturing process and a new and faster method of digital surfacing, covered by five patents, which is considered to be five times more accurate than the present one. The process has already been tested at a laboratory in the U.S.

It's clear that Essilor's acquisition of Satisloh in 2008 gave it a major advantage in developing the new technologies ahead of its competitors. We have learned only now that Norbert Gorny, who left as chief executive of Carl Zeiss Vision at the end of 2008, was appointed president and chief executive of Satisloh last April, in charge also of edgers and optometric solutions worldwide. He remains senior vice president of Essilor for central Europe, a job he assumed when he joined Essilor at the beginning of 2011. He also sits on Essilor's executive committee, next to new personalities including Eric Perrier, the group's R&D manager, and José Tadeu Alves, who oversees all the Latin American countries.

On the other hand, Hoya Corporation, which has been working mainly with Schneider generators, is set to launch a new series of high-tech progressive lenses as well next week.

The innovative features of the Varilux S series appear particularly well suited to improve intermediate vision and to follow moving objects. They should also lead more presbyopes to adopt progressive lenses in order to compensate for the reduction in the flexibility of their crystallines in view of their new daily requirements. A recently conducted study shows that about 72 percent of today's presbyopes use computers, 85 percent use e-mail and 40 percent read the press on either a tablet or a smartphone.

According to Essilor, the number of presbyopes is rising by 2 percent a year, twice as fast as the world population, indicating that they will reach 2.3 billion by 2020, up from 1.5 billion in 2000 and 1.9 billion at present. Sales of progressive lenses are growing at an annual rate of about 6 percent, reaching an annual level of 150 million units, yet only an estimated 12 percent of the presbyopes around the world have adopted progressive lenses so far, leaving strong market prospects in the segment.

Around 400 million pairs of glasses worn worldwide are fitted with Varilux lenses of one kind or another. A French company that is now part of Essilor launched the first progressive lens in 1959. Today, Essilor and its subsidiaries allocate around €150 million to R&D, and the pace of new product introductions has accelerated in recent times. After launching its new Optifog solution one year ago, the company introduced its Crizal UV anti-reflective treatment last March, and more is in the pipeline, according to company officials.

In the U.S., Essilor has launched a new version of its Definity dual-sided progressive lens. In Japan, its Nikon-Essilor subsidiary has introduced a special lens that reduces the blue ray radiation emitted by computers.