ARTLURKER

A Miami based contemporary art newsletter / blog

Hump Day Cool Finger: Oakley C Six Carbon Fiber Sunglasses

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Machining a solid block of carbon fiber may not be the best way to use the material from an engineering standpoint but cutting across the fibers is what lends Oakley’s flagship C SIX its unique look.

Before reading further, read this.

The extremely well crafted, but information deficient text that you just read was the Oakley company’s cool way of introducing their new carbon fiber sunglasses, which after much anticipation finally became available two days ago.

Aptly, they’re calling the design the C Six (‘C’ being the chemical symbol for carbon and ‘Six’ being carbon’s atomic number – the number of protons contained in an atomic nuclei of carbon). The first glimpse we had of the glasses was on Lance Armstrong’s face when he sported them, together with his artist designed custom Trek Madone roadbikes, at this years Tour de France, but now, to paraphrase Oakley’s tag line, “a vision has become a reality,” at least for some.

For almost a year now all we have known about the sunglasses has been derived from a few speculative articles and Oakley’s statement of “Over 20 hours of CNC machine time. 80 layers of carbon fiber. 96 man hours for one pair,” which pretty much placed the sunglasses tantalizingly out of reach for most consumers. Cool!

The company that have been commissioned to make the sunglasses, Crosby Composites, has been involved with, if not dominated, the motorsports engineering world for over 20 years, but we’ve seen glasses made of carbon fiber before – in spring of this year Tag Heuer released reading glasses made out of carbon fiber – so whats all the fuss about? If anything Oakley for once are following rather than setting a trend.

They key it seems lies in the material. Duh!

Somehow it is difficult to recall when carbon fiber first entered the consciousness of the consumer, but the fact remains that despite probably never owning, much less holding something made from it, the vast majority of us seem oddly captivated by this mysterious material. Perhaps this stems from a century long love affair with the automobile industry, perhaps its because you can’t buy it at Home Depot. Whatever the catalyst, it seems that this fabric, made of the most elemental of elements, has mankind under some kind of spell.

From the days of the M-Frame Sunglasses Oakley’s style has grown into something very edgy and defined. Their products, their corporate culture and their “ways of doing things” have all amounted to a top name brand with a cult following, albeit a fairly elite one. The fact that the Oakely company has B-52 ejection seats in its corporate headquarters, a black corporate jet and a corporate tank amuse and thrill Oakley fans no end. But before you get swept away with everyone else salivating over something you don’t quite understand here are a few key criteria by which to judge these sunglasses that may or may not change your mind about them:

1. The way the material is used.

2. Why the material is used that way.

3. If a pair of sunglasses is a considerate application for such an expensive material.

Addressing the first two criteria explains very simply why C Six look the way they do. Instead of using the material in the ‘correct’ way, by layering and molding the shape for strength, Oakley, in a move that no doubt had a good number of industrial engineers spitting blood, instead machined the frames out of solid billet blocks of carbon fiber using advanced CNC drills, spinning at 10,000 rpm for 24 hours. This begs the obvious question, why? Surely there is a good reason for such an extravagant and costly process? Sadly, no. Oakley do this simply to attain a unique surface quality. How does this impact the material and is it a considerate use in regard to structural integrity and consumers? Sadly, the answer is again no.

In creating these sunglasses Oakley have found not only the best way to ruin the properties of their chosen material, but also make their sunglasses almost completely inaccessible to the public. In addition, despite experts telling us that the sunglasses are seventy five percent lighter than if they were made using steel and ten fold more resistant to lengthening, creep, functional fatigue, and corrosion, we imagine that because of their method of production, thinner more elegant styles such at the Juliet have had to be substituted for the larger, flatter shapes that we see in the C Six. Spin doctors at Oakley will no doubt tell us that this makes the sunglasses more hardy to rough treatment and that their robustness echoes the durable quality of the material, but considering that we know that the integrity of the material has been compromised, or at least its potential has been bastardized by an impractical production method we can assume that what they really mean is that bigger shapes are just easier to manufacture.

With regard to these sunglasses, the word ‘cool’ takes on a very specific meaning. One might very well refer to Oakley sunglasses as being cool, but the kind of cool we are alluding to is not born of an admiration for the qualities of the sporting industry, the application of technological developments to the acceleration of the human body, or even what in popular and niche cultures alike is considered to look good, but rather the Oakley company’s aping of the standoffish side to luxury and the understated yet arrogantly reserved and egotistically driven nature of many of those who are disposed to enjoy it.

Ultimately for us the sad thing about these glasses is that they finally confirm Oakley as ascribing not primarily to a utility culture, as we think they purport to, but to a status quo culture.

Naturally, the C Six’s lenses employ Oakley’s panoply of optical technology, including XYZ lens geometry, Iridium coatings and hydrophobic/oleophobic surface treatments, but they’re only making 250 of them, and charging $4000 for each pair. Cool. If this is all just too over the top, but unlike us you haven’t been totally turned off the idea of polluting yourself with this company’s affluent effluent then you might be interested to know that there’s the slightly less outrageous aluminum version of the C Six priced at just $1,500. Yes, we feel the same way!

Carbon Fiber sunglasses too expensive? Why not make your own? Carbon Fiber Gear blogger, Paul Carpenter did, although instead of 96 hours his took 3,360 hours!

This post was contributed by Thomas Hollingworth.

23 Comments

  • Shaw

    Thanks for the astute dissection of the sideways feint that the material and design of this Oakley product incorporate.

    For sunglasses, plastic is adequate, metal is adequate for the task. There is no higher standard, even Oakley on its website rates the two frames as equivalent (alloy and carbon). Cutting the fibers, although offensive from a purist isotropic standpoint, does not cause the product to fall below the strength needed. Machining for 24 hours, however, excessive, 4000 dollars excessive.
    Compression molding of random carbon fiber chop would accomplish the same thing, and have near zero waste, a similar cosmetic fiber finish. Google the Audmars Piquet Carbon fiber watch for some jpegs of this process of near net shape manufacture.

    Of course the Oakley design is just an over the top celebration of excess in manufacturing in the same way that the swoops and curves of the aesthetic design are needless and excessive.

    I am guessing though that Oakley could not get defense company to make the carbon fiber for them? Imagine the adverts from Oakley touting the connection between badass stealth carbon fiber helicopters and their badass Blackwater employee sunglasses.

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Hump Day Cool Finger: Oakley C Six Carbon Fiber Sunglasses