In the beautiful Jura mountains of Eastern France, in the small town of Morez, there is a big museum. It’s dedicated to a rarely-seen industry that’s staring you in the face, and whose products change our view of the world. Spectacles, of course!
Metal-working trades began to develop in the 16th century along the banks of the Bienne river around Morez. There was ample wood for fuel, accessible iron ore deposits, and the stream was fast enough to drive waterwheels that powered the hammers, mills and furnaces needed. A clock-making industry grew around that, which later spawned the craft of enamelling, for clock faces among other applications. Both enamellers and lens-makers use the same ingredients and glass-producing processes.
The ingenuity of a nail-maker
But necessity is the mother of invention. A French nail-maker by the name of Pierre-Hyacinthe Cazeaux broke his (English-made) spectacles in 1796. His ingenuity led him to perfect the process of drawing out his iron nails into progressively longer and thinner strands until the nail became a wire. This he bent into circles and loops to form the frame to repair his glasses. Other craftsmen followed his lead, and soon the valley had a thriving industry. Little did he realise it, but Monsieur Cazeaux had sowed the seeds of a local industrial speciality – today up to 80% of French glasses come from this region!
The Musée de la Lunette (‘The Eyewear Museum’) rightfully occupies a dominant position in the centre of Morez, and presents every aspect of the history and development of this key industry in an absorbing series of displays. See the progression from nail to wire frame, and the ingenious machines that produce them; watch videos and interactive displays that show how the eye works and what the spectacle lens does.
Glasses for a Dalai Lama
A part of the museum is dedicated to the Essilor – Pierre Marly collection, bringing together innumerable designs that have been conceived over the centuries. They include a silver-mounted model for a Dalai Lama, blue-tinted folding sunglasses from 1797, glasses with window-wipers on them, glasses made to clip onto a bowler hat, and Ray-Bans from the 1930s. The exhibits also include devices that use lenses in a different way – there is a good collection of ornate opera glasses, scientific instruments and telescopes.
Designer style, high fashion, jewels and quality are much in evidence. The displays illustrate how, these days, spectacles have become not so much an optical necessity but a fashion statement. The likes of Harry Potter put glasses on the fashion map, and actors like Johnny Depp cut a sartorial dash with well-chosen frames.
For those engaged in academic research into the history of optical discoveries, the museum holds in its archives some valuable documents by French, English and other scientists dating from 1645, including a translation into French of Sir Isaac Newton’s Optical Papers dated 1720. The Eyewear Museum is clearly taking its responsibilities seriously. But it also gives the visitor a fascinating view through the lens of an eye-catching collection. Those studying fashion, design and materials will be inspired by the diversity and artistry displayed in these everyday articles. You will likely spend a lot more time here than you expected.
Musée de la Lunette (the Eyewear Museum)
Place Jean Jaurès
+33 (0)3 84 33 39 30
Geneva Airport from airports across the UK and Europe
Dole Tavaux Airport from London Stansted, every Saturday from 22nd Dec 2018 to 30th March 2019 *NEW*
Basel-Mulhouse Airport from airports across the UK and Europe (for the northern part of the Jura mountains)
Most major car rental companies are represented at these airports.