Hoop spring pince nez, one of the most practical types of antique eyeglasses without temple from a contemporary viewpoint, eventually gave rise to Oxford glasses. These pince nez appeared in the later 19th century and continued in use until the wearing of this style of glasses gradually fell out of favor after the First World War. They keep many features of the hoop spring but add some of their own – and again, it is the way they grip the nose that is their most distinguishing trait.
Oxfords can be rimmed or rimless, and have two lenses, one with the expected loop for a safety ribbon. An arched “hoop” style bridge sits atop many of them, connecting the two eyerims or lenses. This is made out of flexible, springy metal, usually steel, whose curvature causes it to flex inward, pushing the eyerims together towards each other. There are also plaquettes, though these are mounted on the eyerims themselves and not the bridge – a critical distinction.
Hoop spring pince nez have an arched, C-shaped bridge. This is mounted between the eyerims or lenses, and has a very short mounting stem projecting horizontally on each side (in most cases) to support the lenses. The plaquettes are long, and are hinged directly to the bridge – that is, they are attached to the tips of the inverted metal “C” and slant down and outward from it, conforming to the natural slope of the nose’s sides.
Oxford glasses are vintage eyeglasses with a more gently-arching, longer bridge that connects the tops of the eyerims or lenses like a rainbow over two hills. The plaquettes are totally separate from the bridge and stick out from the inner sides of the eyerims on a short stem.
Managing expectations of style and comfort with Oxford glasses
Oxford glasses are usually chosen as a stylistic decision. There can be no doubt that, like all pince nez versions, they are highly idiosyncratic and instantly recognizable as an unusual type of antique eyeglasses. Oxfords are heavy and richly decorated, in contrast with the Spartan elegance of hoop spring pince nez, so which you opt for depends partly on your fashion ideas and what looks best with your face structure, clothing choices, and so on.
Oxford glasses are fine collector’s glasses because of their tendency to be decorative and very striking in appearance. They are probably the archetypal pince nez in terms of the vintage eyeglasses likely to be depicted in films on the noses of keen British big game hunters, sinister First World War general officers, early 20th century intellectuals or doctors, and the like. They are, in short, the first image many people think of when they first hear the word “pince nez”.
Oxford glasses are somewhat behind their hoop spring, astig, and hard bridge kindred in terms of comfort, however. They are heavier and the plaquettes are not as well situated to provide a comfortable grip on the nose. Generally, they are best when worn for short periods and kept mainly for their considerable historical interest and even more notable aesthetics.