Italian manufacturers' sales of sunglasses abroad shot up in the first 6 months of this year thanks to Luxottica's acquisition of Ray-Ban, to De Rigo's acquisition of the Spanish General Optica chain and to Marcolin's acquisition of the French Cébé group, rising by 90.7 percent to 715.9 billion lire (e369.8m-$329.5m). The revenues contributed by these recent acquisitions in fact boosted the turnover of the reporting producers.

Without these recent purchases by the major players in the Italy's eyewear industry, its total foreign sales would have risen by a more modest and realistic figure of around 20 percent, close to the 14.4 percent increase recorded for exports of corrective eyewear frames.

These honorable performances clearly confirm that the Italian eyewear industry is recovering again after the dark 1998-99 period. In total, the industry's export sales rose by 44 percent to 1,386.9 billion lire (e 716.3m-$638.2m) in the first half of 2000. Imports also shot up, by a full 55 percent, but their value was almost four times lower. It rose to 382.9 billion lire (e197.8m-$176.2m). Anfao, the Italian industry's trade association that compiled these figures, concludes that the domestic market is still flat in terms of apparent consumption.

Anfao stresses nevertheless that small and medium-sized manufacturers remain the Italian industry's main weakness, despite the fact that they have been able to benefit from the current boom in the market by producing under contract for the larger Italian manufacturers. According to Anfao, the Italian eyewear industry has also benefitted from the recovery of the Asian markets and the devaluation of the euro. On the other hand, the domestic market is being invaded by growing quantities of cheap pre-mounted sunglasses and prescription glasses, imported mainly from the Far East.

Most of these imported items, to exclusion of those sold in supermarkets and hypermarkets, actually have the European Union's certification, yet tests conducted by Certottica have shown that they don't conform to minimum standards and are thus a potential health hazard.