The most expensive sunglasses in the Oakley line are not encrusted with diamonds and jewels. But at $4,000 for the shades, the Elite C Six model might as well be treated like gold. Released about a year ago, the extremely limited model is actually made of carbon fiber with a titanium spine. The company touts machining with 0.002-inch precision and a handcrafted process that rivals fine watch making.
I got the lowdown on the Elite C Six model at an Oakley press event last month in New York. An Oakley rep told of a process that starts at a U.K. factory where high-end Formula 1 race-car components are made. The Oakley shades get a spot in the company’s line between the milling of suspension components that will eventually go under the hood in one of the world’s fastest cars.
A solid block of layered carbon fiber is the base of the Elite C Six. The U.K. plant’s equipment cuts and mills for up to 24 hours straight with the aforementioned 0.002-inch precision to carve out, Michelangelo-style, the sculpted sunglasses frame inside.
The end product is a Space-Age sunglass that’s made of solid carbon. The whole package, frame and lenses together, weighs an insane 42 grams. There are titanium hinges and an internal spine for reinforcement of the carbon arms. Oakley adds its best optics, and — bam! — you have the $4,000 shades.
But who on Earth spends $4,000 on sunglasses? I asked that exact question to Andy McSorley, Oakley’s eyewear brand manager, and his answer was that the special shades are obviously made for an extremely affluent, niche market. “This would be anyone from a race car driver, exotic car owner, carbon-fiber bicycle rider, or sailing enthusiast,” he said.
The Elite C Six might be more museum piece — or conversation starter on your face — than performance sunglass. But they do carry the same optics and frame features as seen on some of the company’s sport-specific glasses. McSorley noted that Lance Armstrong wore the very first pair on the final stage of the 2009 Tour de France.
So if you’re Lance Armstrong, an oil sheik, or a tech billionaire, the Elite C Six might be for you. Oakley plans to make a total run of only 250 Elite C Six carbon glasses. For the slightly-less obsessed, the company offers an aluminum-frame version. Cost is only $1,500.
—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com. A version of this post ran originally on Gear Junkie’s blog on VentureThere.com.