Tortoiseshell glasses were an original Stealth Wealth symbol. Rooted in rarity, the frames first appeared in the upper echelons of society in the 1920s, and they have remained a staple ever since. From King Louis XIV to Steve McQueen and Daniel Craig, we chart the star-studded story of the style.
Tortoiseshell Glasses: The Ultimate Luxury
Originally procured from hawksbill turtles, tortoiseshell has been woven into objets d’art since 18th century, when French cabinetmaker André-Charles Boulle gilded King Louis XIV’s commissions with delicate inlays.
By the 1920s, modern opticals had entered society. Optometrists turned to tortoiseshell to create their most exquisite frames, which became a mark of wealth and style.
And their popularity has never dipped: Jackie O’s oversized tortoiseshell sunglasses, Steve McQueen’s blue-lensed wayfarers, and Richard Gere’s round tortoiseshell glasses are framed in optical history.
Real tortoiseshell was still used up until 1973, when CITES – the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species – outlawed the practice. In its place, manufacturers turned to acetate.
At Cutler and Gross, we are proud to work with masters of acetate production. Granules of colour are tumbled together, mixed with resin, sliced into sheets, and then left to cure. Like waiting for a whiskey to reach its peak perfection, this process cannot be rushed. The longer the curing time, the stronger the result.
And there’s beauty in the unpredictability of tortoiseshell acetate; the patches of light and dark form of free accord. Each mark is different to the next.
Mr Cutler’s Favourite
Tortoiseshell sunglasses and prescription glasses have been a key player for Cutler and Gross since we first began. Marie Wilkinson, Cutler and Gross Style Director, shares why:
“They have an understated elegance and act like a neutral that sits semi-translucently on the face. It can be an infinite number of shades, and that’s part of the joy. I love the soft striated pattern of Havana, as well as the deep jewel-like tones of Dark Turtle.”
It is no surprise then that Cutler and Gross customers including the likes of actors Donald Glover and Joseph Quinn, British fashion designer Giles Deacon, and Daniel Craig in his latest film ‘Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery’ chose to don our tortoiseshell sunglasses and glasses.
Find Your Fit
Our easy-to-use Face Shape Frame Finder will help you discover your style. Alternatively, explore our collection of tortoiseshell cat eye sunglasses, light tortoiseshell glasses, aviator frames and more at one of our stores here.