Aviator sunglasses have become so trendy, it’s easy to forget their traditional clientele: military pilots. What better time to remember that than this weekend? Saturday was National Aviation Day, after all.
So where do these fliers get their specs?
Randolph Engineering in Randolph has provided shades for the Air Force since 1982, as well as for the Army, Navy, and NASA.
Now they’ve brought their specs to the civilian market, using the same painstaking techniques.
“We’re riding a wave of aviator-style eyewear being fashionable for women and men. So we’ve merged form, fit, and function with fashion — an aviator frame built to military specifications but with different frame colors and lenses. We’re mixing it up,” says Peter Waszkiewicz, who started in the eyewear industry as a tool-and-die apprentice and whose father, Jan Waszkiewicz, co-founded the business.
The elder Waszkiewicz was a navigator in the British Royal Air Force during World War II, long before the aviator was fashionable.
“I’ve been with it since 1975, though all the peaks and valleys,” says the younger Waszkiewicz. “We’re the only metal eyewear manufacturer in the United States, and I think each pair is jewelry for the face.”
Indeed, these aren’t just any aviator glasses. Those worn by the military have Grade 3 gray lenses, which means they don’t distort color. There’s a bayonet temple, without a curve for the ears, designed so pilots can don them without removing a helmet. Each frame is made in the Randolph factory. Roughly 50 craftspeople work on each frame in a 200-step process, and it takes six weeks to make each pair.
“Our customers are fanatical,” Waszkiewicz allows.
Now, Randolph has branched out with stylish lenses and frames, in colors like rose and chocolate gold, paired with brown or gray-green lenses. (The military classic has gray lenses and gold frames.)
The aviators cost $180 and up, purchased on their website or through select retailers. Need a prescription? Not to worry. Many higher-end optical shops carry the glasses and can customize a lens.
“They’re an amazing pair of sunglasses, and over the years, it evolved into bringing them into the commercial market as well. We’re proud to have a relationship with the US military and proud to be handmade, with an American heritage,” says Waszkiewicz.Kara Baskin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.