Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Guide to Adusting the Fingerpiece Pince-Nez and Note on the Hoop Spring


[This is a guest article written by a good friend. It is long but very informative and written by an expert with many years of pince-nez experience. All readers are encouraged to submit articles for publication on pince-nez as this is a community forum.]

Adjustment of a Fingerpiece Pince-Nez

The introduction of the fingerpiece pince-nez eyeglass around 1903 in the USA and Europe was a giant technical advance in the development of eyeglasses. This new type of eyeglass was called a fingerpiece because of the small lever type tabs or fingerpieces which were located on either side of the bridge. They were part of the ingenious mechanism which connected to a tiny coiled spring on a screw which held a small arm attached to a nose guard. By using just the thumb and forefinger to pick up the pince-nez or eyeglass: one placed it at the proper position on the bridge of the nose. Removing the fingers caused the spring powered nose guards to contract and grab the sides of the wearer’s nose bridge where the pince-nez would, if properly adjusted, stay securely but very comfortably attached. A perfect fit meant that even the most violent head movements would not affect the stability of the pince-nez which would not shift, slip, tilt or wobble.

The main two advantages that the fingerpiece pince-nez had over the earlier hoopspring or C bridge type was the ease in clipping it on or removing it from the bridge of the nose. The fact that the bridge (a saddle bridge) like a spectacle bridge was inflexible meant that the lenses always remained in a fixed or stationary position. This was particularly advantageous if the lens prescription contained any astigmatism correction or if bifocal/trifocal lenses were used.

The saddle bridge fingerpiece eyeglass or pince-nez became, during the 1905 to 1920 period, by far the most popular type of eyewear in North America and much of Europe particularly among younger people age 15 to 35. The rimless fingerpiece was the height of style.

It was only in the very late 1920’s and early 1930’s that various types of different bridge designs appeared in fingerpiece mountings or frames which “copied” the latest styles in spectacles.

It is most interesting that the widespread myths concerning pince-nez which are so widely held today… were and are in reality, completely opposite. The biggest myth of course being the lack of comfort and security.

The proper fitting and adjustment of a fingerpiece pince-nez was a bit more difficult than with other eyegasses and spectacles. Opticians had perhaps as many as 30 different size fingerpiece mountings (for rimless) or frames for rimmed pince-nez. Once the proper size mounting or frame was determined and fitted there would be very slight adjustments made to the nose guard. Even the most tiny adjustment of nose guards could result in supreme comfort and amazing security or a painful feeling and a pince-nez which threatened to dislodge itself from the bridge of the nose with a quick or sudden movement of the head.

Since the skilled opticians who fitted and adjusted a pince-nez to the individuals nose bridge with great success have long ago died or retired. People today who want to wear a fingerpiece pince-nez often have to adjust the nose guards themselves for a perfect fit.

This isn’t "rocket science" but it’s not exactly easy either. If one is careful and follows the advice below, success should be the result. The procedure is similar for a rimmed or rimless fingerpiece.

1: One must start with a frame or mounting which is near the right size. With any pince-nez, smaller is better than larger in regard to frame width or, with a rimless, the distance between the outer edges of the lenses. Too much width means one can more easily dislodge or completely knock the pince-nez off.

2: Distance between nose guards is of course the most important thing. Since it’s the nose guards alone that keep the pince-nez on the bridge of the nose.

3: One needs a pair of small,very thin needle nose type pliers. They have very thin, long tapering blades.

4: Use extreme caution when making any adjustments to the nose guards. Very tiny adjustments done with care are better than a large adjustment. One can always go back and re-adjust. Whether adjustments are to increase the width or decrease the width between nose guards, the same principles apply. Use slow and careful adjustmnets because it is dangerous to overdo the adjustment and find that you have to go back adjust in the opposite direction.

A fingerpiece pince-nez looks extremely delicate. This is not the case if the item is in great condition when you start out. Given the fact that metal has some flexibility, it will take delicate bending up to a point.

5: The proper use of pliers etc. is extremely important. If you took a fingerpiece mechanism apart, you’d notice that the fingerpiece, arm and nose guard are all one piece. The spring and screw make up two additional pieces. Because the fingerpiece arm must rotate or pivot underneath the spring and screw, one must use great care not to disturb this smooth movement by extreme bending of nose guard arm etc.

6: The distance between nose guards is deceptive. When the pince-nez is laying flat on a table or in its case, the nose guards may seem impossibly close together. One might be tempted to think.. I could not get this pince-nez to fit on my nose bridge! You must take the pince-nez and press gently on the fingerpieces to open the guards to their full width to judge overall width.

7: Nose guard width adjustment. One must not equate nose guards on spectacles with those on any type of pince-nez because they serve different purposes. Nose guards on a fingerpiece should grab the sides of the nose bridge in a higher up position than typical spectacle guards. It’s important to adjust nose guard width first before nose guard grip or angle. Again, gentle and gradual use of the pliers. Just a bit of adjustment each time. Clip the pince-nez on each time to gauge progress.

If the angle of the nose guard seems wrong, use extreme care in gently bending the guard arm or guard. Excessive or forceful bending of any parts could result in the part snapping off!

8: Nose guard grip. The nose guards should rest flat so that they cover the flesh on the sides of your nose bridge with the same amount of pressure. They shouldn’t dig in at an odd angle but should rest evenly. Using very gentle minor adjustments with the pliers on each nose guard soyou can get the angle you wish. Generally the top of the nose guard is tilted at an angle closer to the face. This is an individual matter. One can adjust the guards, again with great care, by tilting the top of the guard forward toward the pince-nez bridge. This will make the guards grip the nose bridge closer to the edge which makes the top of the guards more visible and the nose bridge narrower and more prominent which is a great look. This is all dependent on the individual and the design of the pince-nez mounting or frame.

9: Nose pads. Silicone nose boot style nose pads can be extremely effective in achieving maximum comfort and security.

In certain cases, the nose pads may not work as well as the original nose guards. There are many variables and so much depends on the individual’s nose bridge. There are those people who have an absolutely ideal nose bridge on which to attach a pince-nez. Such nose bridges are usually narrow to average in width and have a good deal of depth. Such depth allows for a good deal of flesh for the nose guards to grab onto. If nose guard width seems a bit narrow then the pince-nez could be clipped on a bit further forward on the nose bridge. If guard width seems a bit wide then clipping the pince-nez further back, closer to the face may work out better. Using the nose pads on the guards of course decreases the width between guards.

When applying or removing nose pads, hold the pince-nez by one guard only with one hand. The nose pad has some elasticity and it should be stretched gently before applying it to the nose guard. Most often the wider end of the pad should be pulled over the top of the guard with the other hand. Still holding the pince-nez by just the guard, stretch the pad over the bottom part of the nose guard. If the bottom of the guard seems too close to the frame, it may be better to apply the end of the pad over the bottom of the guard first and then stretch it to fit over the top of the guard. Nose pads should be removed in much the same way.

Some individuals find that the nose pads are better with the wider part over the bottom of the guard. It’s all an individual matter. Adjustments with pliers to nose guards is accomplished easier and more effectively without the nose pads. One should keep in mind the decrease in nose guard width caused by the nose pads.

10: Springs, the all important springs. They are what makes a fingerpiece work but they are extremely fussy litlle objects. They hate to be touched! Test out a fingerpiece by holding it by the outer edge of the frame or lens, then with thumb and forefinger open the levers or fingerpieces all the way. Release your fingers and watch the nose guards close with a snapping sound. The spring tension should be quite strong and the contraction of the spring nose guards should be quick with no hesitation in their movement.

If movement is sluggish or hesitant, try loosening the spring screw slightly until smooth movement in guard contraction is evident. If a spring itself seems to lack the necessary tension, it can be tightened with great care. This is an extremely delicate operation which can result in damage or breakage to the spring or a broken spring end which would, in effect, render the nose guard totally useless.

Tightening a spring should only be done as a last resort. Gently take the straight end of the spring where it touches the inner edge or the frame or with a rimless mounting the little ) shaped thing. Move spring away forward just a tiny bit (not up or down) with the very end of the pliers, allowing the spring to be as close as possible to frame or lens. Pull very gently toward the outer edge of frame. You’ll see spring move a very tiny bit (hardly noticeable) and become tighter. The edge of the spring should be allowed to return to the same position it was in before tightening it.

The guard arm shouldn’t move up and down even if nose guards themselves pivot a bit. Look to see the springs in action. They should not move, especially the end of the spring as it should remain stationary over the inner edge of frame or lens. The end wrapped around the nose guard arm should also do the same.

11: Security and Comfort: Once the fingerpiece pince-nez seems adjusted perfectly one should test the security first by placing one hand over the outer edges of the frame or lenses, and tug or pull gently but with slight firmness. If the pince-nez doesn’t move in any way, it’s securely attached to the nose bridge. This is a very quick but effective test which should be habitual each time you clip the pince-nez on.

One should do the ultimate security test of shaking the head wildly both up and down and side to side. You only need to do this once. If the pince-nez doesn’t move in any way and remains securely attached to your nose bridge and most importantly feels comfortable then you have a perfectly fitted pince-nez.

Caution: always use the fingerpieces when removing the pince-nez. Never pull it off your nose. On the very rare occasion when a perfectly fitted fingerpiece pince-nez moves or tilts, it will not tilt forward away from the face by the top. It will tilt out from the bottom and the top will move closer to the face. The pince-nez may begin to wobble a bit but shouldn’t detach itself and fall. This will give you plenty of time to adjust it with thumb and forefinger.

With proper adjustment and care a fingerpiece pince-nez can last for many years. Successful wearing of a fingerpiece or any type of pince-nez will result in the wearer never wanting to use any other type of eyewear!

A Note on the Hoop Spring or C Bridge Pince-Nez Eyeglass

The hoopspring or C bridge type pince-nez eyeglasses were as popular during the 1888 to 1903 period as the fingerpiece pince-nez was during the 1904 to 1920 era. The hoopspring bridge was referred to as a spring. Its flexible nature, combined with fixed nose guards made it an effective type of eyewear which was easier to adjust than a fingerpiece pince-nez. The hoopspring had three disadvantages.

First, one had to use two hands (in most cases) to clip it on the bridge of the nose. One would grab the outer edges of the lenses with each hand and pull gently to open the bridge/spring. After placing the pince-nez at the proper position and removing the hands, the spring bridge would contract as the nose guards grabbed the sides of ones nose bridge to keep the pince-nez in place.

Second. Because the hoopspring pince-nez had lenses or a frame which sloped when not being worn, it was most important to obtain the proper angle of lenses/frame when the hoop spring pince-nez was attached to the bridge of the nose. Any slope should disappear and the lenses/frame should appear to be aligned perfectly straight. This is crucially important in regard to prescriptions which have an astigmatism component or bifocal/trifocal lenses. The introduction of the fingerpiece pince-nez eliminated this problem. Many times the lenses of a rimless hoopspring pince-nez were drilled a bit higher or lower than the exact center which helped to eliminate most of the slope.

The last disadvantage to the hoopspring was that with constant wear, the spring gradually can lose tension. This is very easy and simple to remedy. Just do the opposite as when clipping the pince-nez on the nose. Just push the lenses or frame close together so that the spring/bridge and nose guards become closer together. Use great care not to bend the lenses or frame at an off angle. Again, as always, do this with small, slow and gradual steps.

While the fingerpiece pince-nez became far more popular and stylish in the first two decades of the last century, the hoopspring still had its confirmed devotees. The slight revival in the late ‘20’s, early ‘30’s of pince-nez popularity (largely among individuals age thirty-five and above) saw the hoopspring type achieving as much of a renaissance as the fingerpiece type pince-nez. It’s interesting home many men in FDR’s cabinet wore a rimless hoopspring pince-nez.

Advantages of the hoopsring type pince-nez.

Appearance. The hoopspring, especially the rimless had a “cleaner” more minimalist look. The high position of the bridge/spring (either a high curved arch or a modified squarish look, gives to the wearer the appearance of having a longer nose and, as the case with most pince-nez, a more prominent nose bridge.

The hoopspring pince-nez is easier to adjust since the nose guards are in fixed position. One can adjust the guards by following the instructions above (in principle) concerning the fingerpiece pince-nez by using the part of the instructions which apply.

The better quality hoopspring pince-nez, when disassembled, could easily have parts replaced (e.g., a new spring, guards or straps). The inferior quality hoopspring have rivets rather than screws and thus couldn’t effectively be taken apart.

If successfully fitted, the choice of either a fingerpiece or a hoopspring pince-nez becomes largely a matter of personal choice.

Interesting Footnote
The terms eyeglasses and spectacles, now interchangeable, had a very precise meaning from the 1860’s to the late 1920’s. Eyeglasses meant pince-nez. Spectacles had temples. Yes, the term pince-nez was occasionally used in that era but it wasn’t until the 1930’s that it was used exclusively. Eyewear was unisex until the late 1930’s.

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