On Randolph Engineering

I have to admit that I’ve always been an American Optical man when it comes to aviator sunglasses. They go for as cheap as $35 or $40 on eBay, and they’re made to the same military specs as Randolph Engineering (they had the contract themselves for a time).

A story like this, though, is pretty impressive. Dave read Derek’s post about RE and writes us:

You had a post about Randolph Engineering the other day.  Well, my grandfather was a career Air Force pilot, and when he passed away my dad gave me his aviators.  They were great except the nose piece was broken.  I tried taking them to a few eyeglass shops to fix them with no luck.  I eventually figured out they were Randolph Engineering glasses so I contacted the company.  They were unfortunately unable to fix the nose piece, but entirely unexpectedly they sent me a brand new pair in the mail.  They’re now the only sunglasses I wear and they are identical in every way (except the nosepieces apparently) to my grandfather’s pair, which must have been forty years old.

So, anyway, I think pretty highly of those guys.

That’s pretty impressive.

We Got It for Free: Randolph Engineering 

I’ve been thinking about doing a buyers’ guide to sunglasses and, fortuitously enough, Randolph Engineering contacted Jesse and me out of the blue. They said they wanted to send over some glasses for a review. Talk about good timing.

General review

First, let me give a general review. These are my first Randolph Engineering sunglasses, and I own two aviators besides these. Quality wise, Randolph’s feel much sturdier and better built. The frame is less flimsy and while the metal is flexible, there is a sturdiness to it that inspires more confidence. Relatedly, the glasses feel more secure when I put them on. All in all, my impression is that these are just better built. 

They also have better warranty coverage. Randolph has the same one-year warranty as their competitors, but in addition, all solder joints are guaranteed for life. Individual replacement parts are also available for order through the company. In general, I get the sense that these really are the kind of sunglasses that could last you a lifetime. Unless, of course, they get stolen. In which case it should last the thief his or her lifetime. 

I also really like how Randolph is the prime contractor to the US Dept. of Defense for military-style aviators. In other words, these are the aviators worn by US military pilots and NASA astronauts. I’m not too shy to say that makes me feel kind of awesome when I put them on. Besides the fantasy element, the military contract also gives me a bit more faith in the quality of their lenses, which I’ll talk more about in a bit. 

Specifics

Randolph’s sunglasses are all made-to-order. I was allowed to choose two, so I picked the Aviator in matte chrome, skull temples, and gray glass lenses, and the Concorde in bright chrome, skull temples, and AGX lenses. 

On first impressions, I favored the Aviator over the Concorde. In hindsight, I think this is because they were a bit more unique than my other teardrop aviators. After wearing both for a bit, I think I look better in the teardrop models. They have a stronger vertical shape that helps balance out my rounder shaped head. 

Additionally, I favor the bright chrome over matte chrome. If you’re going to wear awesome sunglasses, you might as well go whole hog. I also like the skull temples, but can see bayonets working well if you wear motorcycle helmets or something. Those are the style of temples pilots use, after all.

Lastly, there are the lenses. Gray will give you true color reception and are excellent for general use. Gray flash mirror is the same but has a mirror coating for a bit of style. In hindsight, I think I should have gotten those. AGX has a slight green tint that helps bring things into sharper contrast. It’s easier on the eyes during very bright days. Polarized gray is for even brighter days and environments with high glare. I can imagine these being ideal if you often go boating or skiing. Lastly, tan is for overcast or hazy environments. It has the advantage of giving a bit sharper contrast, much like the AGX lenses. 

I choose gray and AGX lenses and they’ve been working wonderfully. This is where the military contract really means something, in my opinion. I feel much more comfortable wearing these when I bike to school knowing that they’re designed to perform well enough for US military pilots. 

Conclusion

Randolphs cost about $115, depending on which model you get, and I think they’re worth the money. Their construction and warranty is better than their competitors, and I like that they have to meet more serious performance tests through the US Dept. of Defense. 

The company has also has a really awesome collaboration with Michael Bastian, the winner of this year’s prestigious CFDA award for Menswear Designer of the Year. Bastian has been wearing Randolph Engineering’s Intruder glasses since college, and putting them on his fashion show models since 2006, so the collaboration has been very natural. The special line has 15 artfully designed models. Some of these are built from Randolph’s current made-to-order options, and have been designed to reflect a “signature series.” The other models takes Randolph’s popular Aviator and Intruder models and makes them in white, yellow, red, black, or (my favorite) navy. I think they’re nice mix of fun and tradition, in a reserved way that still makes the frames very wearable. 

I’m still working a buyer’s guide for sunglasses, so check back in the next week or two for that. 

As the weather starts to warm, it’s time to start thinking about sunglasses.  Since every 22-year-old Pitchfork devotee in America is wearing Ray-Ban Wayfarers, it’s a good time to think about other classic styles, like aviators.
Aviator sunglasses were developed for aviators.  Fliers need comfort and performance, above all else, and where function is paramount, style is often a byproduct.  Above are aviator sunglasses by American Optical.  Randolph Engineering currently makes the military’s shades, but AO made them for decades before.  American Optical shades are made to high standards, but are surprisingly inexpensive - in the $50 range at your local surplus store (less if you look around).  They have high-quality glass lenses, solid hardware and are available in three sizes.  I know from personal experience that with a big face, it’s tough to find un-sized aviators that don’t look pinched.

As the weather starts to warm, it’s time to start thinking about sunglasses.  Since every 22-year-old Pitchfork devotee in America is wearing Ray-Ban Wayfarers, it’s a good time to think about other classic styles, like aviators.

Aviator sunglasses were developed for aviators.  Fliers need comfort and performance, above all else, and where function is paramount, style is often a byproduct.  Above are aviator sunglasses by American Optical.  Randolph Engineering currently makes the military’s shades, but AO made them for decades before.  American Optical shades are made to high standards, but are surprisingly inexpensive - in the $50 range at your local surplus store (less if you look around).  They have high-quality glass lenses, solid hardware and are available in three sizes.  I know from personal experience that with a big face, it’s tough to find un-sized aviators that don’t look pinched.