We won't blame you if you thought the Mammut box set was made for quality Cuban cigars. The engraved wooden box, perked up with a polished humidor and lined with velvet, was for a pair of glasses made from Siberian mammoth ivory dating back 20,000 years.

Precious materials, including mammoth ivory, 48,000-year-old Kauri wood, 18ct gold and diamonds, are used to create one-of-a-kind, high-end eyewear. Glasses are now more than mass-produced, corrective tools.

"Customers nowadays are definitely more knowledgeable about eyewear," says Pazo Ho, creative director of Visual Culture, which carries luxury eyewear brands including Hakusan Megane, Moscot and Oliver Goldsmith.

Ho, who started off as an apprentice in a local eyewear shop about two decades ago, witnessed its evolution first-hand.

"Mass-produced products took the luxury out of eyewear and people mainly bought glasses for practicality," Ho says.

The past five years or so have seen a significant change in the high-end eyewear market, thanks to the launch of luxury retail concepts, the growing diversity of high-quality, handmade products and the impressive purchasing power of mainlanders.

Puyi Optical was one of the earliest players to experiment in high-end eyewear back in 2002. Now, with more than 20 shops in Hong Kong and across the mainland, Puyi offers luxury eyewear, some of which cost a whopping HK$6 million.

"The market for high-end eyewear is still a niche market, but we definitely have interested clients," says owner and group CEO Jeffery Yau.

Referring to LOTOS, a German eyewear brand that produces 18ct gold frames with studded diamonds, which can set you back from HK$1 million to HK$6 million, Yau says he's seen clients who buy four pairs at the same time.

The demand for luxury eyewear is also strong on the mainland. Hong Kong-based Dennis Chan, whose Optic Master stores focus mainly on the mainland, has also seen a surge in high-end eyewear sales.

"Brands like LOTOS have been doing so well with their gold and diamond-studded eyewear on the mainland that other brands have began to follow suit," says Chan, who has more than 10 boutiques on the mainland.

Rich consumers on the mainland love top-quality glasses with unique designs.

"They want to be different and to have unique pieces that no one else has," Chan explains.

Such demand has made luxury eyewear an overnight success. Luxury glasses have turned into fashionable accessories.

"Just like suits, shoes and watches, eyewear has become a key accessory," says Visual Culture's executive director Stephen Yeung. "A pair of glasses can transform your look."

Chan and Yau know eyewear collectors who own more than 500 pairs of glasses. Knowledgeable customers have developed even more sophisticated tastes.

"They are not satisfied with fashion brands because they're too common," Chan says.

Instead, they look for special designer brands, such as Italian label FEB31st. The brand produces frames with 31 different layers of Kauri wood and are completely customisable.

Other made-to-order styles include Oliver Goldsmith, available at Visual Culture. The brand's fans have included celebrities such as Audrey Hepburn, John Lennon and Grace Kelly. A bespoke order takes about four months to complete. Materials, colours and measurements can all be personalised for about HK$6,000 to more than HK$10,000. American eyewear brand Smith & Norbu also offers bespoke options.

To satisfy client demand, Puyi Optical opts for collaborations with other high-end luxury brands from jeweller Tiffany & Co to fashion brand Victoria Beckham.

"Our clients are very sophisticated and are looking for products that they won't be able to find elsewhere," Yau says.

Craftsmanship, brand history and creativity are some of the criteria high-end eyewear retailers look for.

"We visit independent eyewear designers in Europe and Japan. Many of their frames are handcrafted in-house," Ho says.

Yau also reckons the appeal of handmade frames among high-end collectors. "Some of the bejewelled frames can take up to four months to complete," he says.

Luxury, however, isn't only about the hefty price tags. Retailers are providing a deluxe shopping experience from shop concepts to customer services.

Puyi Optical recently opened a new concept called the Vault in Pacific Place for a more intimate and exclusive shopping experience.

"We want to send the message that eyewear is precious and needs to be handled with care," Yau says.

Many of Puyi Optical's shop managers and buyers have been in the industry for years and used to run their own shops.

Prospects are bright for high-end eyewear. More luxury brands from fashion houses to high jewellers and supercar manufacturers are jumping on the bandwagon.

"When we first started in 2002, it was difficult to convince customers about the notion of luxury eyewear, but now an increasing number of luxury brands are venturing into the business," Yau says.

With the launch of hi-tech Google glasses, Chan says there might be potential for new clientele.

After all, eyewear is definitely on the fast track forward - it's time to invest in a luxury pair and work it into your daily wardrobe.



Pazo Ho (below left) and Stephen Yeung
Creative director and executive director at Visual Culture
Main shop: 21 Lan Fong Road, Causeway Bay
Shop known for its modern décor

Jeffery Yau (below)
CEO of Puyi Optical
New concept store: Shop 344, Pacific Place
Shop known for its vault-design concept

Dennis Chan
CEO of Optic Master
Flagship store: B127, KK Mall, Shen Nan Dong Lu, Shenzhen
Shop known for vast choice of contemporary designer brands