Sticker shock: Why are glasses so expensive?

One factor: the world's largest eyewear company, the Italian firm Luxottica, controls a big chunk of the business

The following is a script from "Sticker Shock" which aired on Oct. 7, 2012, and was rebroadcast on June 16, 2013. Lesley Stahl is the correspondent. Shachar Bar-On, producer.

For many of us, summer means a new pair of sunglasses. But bet your eyes popped when you saw the price tag. If you don't go to places like Walmart or Costco, you could easily be spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars for a pair that cost just $30 10 years ago. Talk about sticker shock!

And it's not as though things have changed that much: they're still made of a couple of pieces of plastic or wire, some screws and glass. Why should a pair of glasses cost more than an iPad? Well, as we first reported in October, one answer is because one company controls a big chunk of the business.

Never has there been so much choice: Ray-Bans, Oakleys, glasses for running, and skiing, and even reading. A staggering variety of colors and designers. You'd think the competition would force the prices down.

One reason it hasn't is a little known but very big Italian company called Luxottica. If you own a nice pair of specs or shades, they're probably theirs. Luxottica is the biggest eyewear company on earth. It shuns publicity, but CEO Andrea Guerra invited us in for a look. And it was eye-opening.

Lesley Stahl: Do you have any idea how many people in the world are wearing your glasses right now?

Andrea Guerra: At least half a billion are wearing our glasses now.

Luxottica started here as a small tool shop in Agordo, a dot of a town in the Italian Alps, when frames were still made of mountain goat horns. This was the factory in 1961. This is what it looks like today.

Last year, Luxottica made 75 million pairs of sunglasses and optical frames. They don't make prescription lenses. We saw mountains and mountains of glasses in boxes headed to China, India, Brazil, and, above all, to the U.S.

Lesley Stahl: But they're very expensive. They can be very expensive.

Andrea Guerra: They can. This is one of the very few things that are 100 percent functional, 100 percent aesthetical, and they need to be on your face for 15 hours a day. Not easy, and there's a lot of work behind them.

Luxottica's product manager Isabella Sola explained that the company revolutionized how we see glasses.

Lesley Stahl, wearing sunglasses: You think I look cool?

Isabella Sola: Yes. I think so.

Lesley Stahl: I think I look cool too.

It wasn't that long ago that glasses were uncool. You only wore them if you absolutely had to.

Lesley Stahl: I can remember, not that many years ago, my mother telling me that men will never ask me out if I wear my glasses. I was to go blind if I wanted dates.

But Luxottica took this medical device and turned it into high fashion, by making deals to conceive and create high quality, stylish specs for nearly every brand and label you can think of.

Isabella Sola: We have Prada. We have Chanel. We have Dolce Gabbana. We have Versace. We have Burberry. We have Ralph Lauren. We have Tiffany. We have Bulgari...

They're not even called "glasses" anymore. They're "eyewear!"

Lesley Stahl: Do people really wear this?

Isabella Sola: Yes!

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