Oakley’s new frameless sunglasses are strong enough for Olympic athletes
With no frame to support them, the Oakley Kato sunglasses rely on lens structure to make them sturdy.
It looks as though the 2021 Olympic Games will actually happen this year. And while the athletes are clearly the stars of the event, we typically get a healthy amount of new athletic gear to ogle as well. This year, Oakley announced a new pair of sunglasses called Kato, which relies on a formed lens to completely nix the need for a frame.
Oakley Kato lenses
From the front, the Oakley Kato sunglasses are basically entirely lens. Rather than supporting the lens with a frame, Oakley has formed the lens itself into a sturdy structure that can stand on its own. The lens flares around the nose and juts out to form a flange at the top of the lens in order to provide extra durability.
This modified shape provides support where a frame typically would without the need for extra material that can block a view or separate from the lens under heavy activity. Oakley is notoriously secretive about its manufacturing, but the company says it had to drastically alter its processes in order to accommodate the lens’s unusual shape. Those changes include obvious adjustments like creating new molds. They also, however, required Oakley to adjust the way it adheres the different elements that create the lens itself.
Sunglass lenses typically begin as thin layers of substrate, each of which handles a specific purpose. For instance, a lens may have a structural layer of glass or in this case polycarbonate. Then, there’s often a layer of tint to give them color, UV protective material, a polarization layer, and optical coatings to fight reflections. In this case, Oakley needed to modify some or all of these in order to accommodate the face-hugging shape.
The rest of the fit
Underneath the lens, Oakley offers several different nose bridge options to accommodate various facial shapes. They swap in and out so wearers can try them all to find the most comfortable setup. Ideally, the Kato lens will sit extremely close to an athlete’s face.
Oakley’s new Rake system allows the temples to adjust as well. A small door on each side of the glasses conceals a locking hinge that can adjust the angle of each temple. So, if a person’s ears sit higher or lower on their head, the Kato sunglasses can still sit where they’re supposed to on the face. It always seems a little risky to add moving pieces to something meant to be worn during heavy activity. But, Oakley claims the locking mechanism will hold the temples firmly in place.
Oakley’s long history of weird sports sunglasses
You will certainly see some athletes rocking the Kato lenses at this year’s Olympic games. Oakley has a storied history of interesting–and often pretty weird–new models debuting on sports’ biggest stages.
Back at the 2000 Olympic Games, Oakley introduced its extremely pricy Over The Top glasses. They sported circular lenses and unusual temples that reached straight back over the top of an athlete’s head rather than above their ears. They looked like something out of a superhero movie.
You can currently order a pair of Kato sunglasses starting at $291, which isn’t cheap, but sounds like a bargain compared to the $2,000 Over The Top models.