Feature, Lenses, Products, Report

Independents are turning to Tokai Optical

Two independent practice owners are unanimous in their appraisal of the premium multicoating technology behind – or rather, in front – of Tokai Optical lenses.

A consultation with an unfamiliar patient in a practice where he was locuming provided optometrist Mr Seok Lee his first encounter with Tokai lenses – and it left a lasting impression.

“I was astonished at the condition the patient’s lenses were in because they were near pristine with no scratches, despite being a few years old. Usually, you would expect to see some marks and scratches – normal wear and tear – on lenses of that age,” Lee said.

The thickness of the lens – or rather the lack thereof – also made Lee sit up and take notice.

“Her prescription was around -10.00D, but the lens looked like -6.00D, it was so thin,” he says.

Intrigued, Lee quizzed the patient and discovered the lensmaker behind the thin, clear lens was Tokai Optical. Since setting up a subsidiary in Australia in 2019 – after previously using a distributor – the Japanese ophthalmic lens company has been cementing its position in the independent optical market with premium lens and unique multicoating technologies.

For Lee, the encounter remained in the back of his mind. After working in more than 100 optometry and ophthalmology practices across Australia and New Zealand, and dealing with several different lens suppliers, he opened his own full-scope independent practice in Queensland last year.

When Lee took over the lease of a former giftware shop in The Village, in the Brisbane suburb of Upper Mount Gravatt, and transformed it into STUDIO OPTOMETRY, he also sought the support of a buying group. As part of the buying group, Lee initially used the group’s preferred lens supplier as his main supplier, and Tokai as his secondary supplier, but a second encounter with Tokai lenses gave him pause.

“Lens suppliers often give practice owners a complimentary pair of glasses fitted with their lens, so you can see for yourself, so to speak,” he says.

“As an optometrist who wears glasses, I often bump the front surface of my glasses on the slit lamp, and the lenses usually get scratched as a result. When I opened STUDIO OPTOMETRY, I received a pair of glasses with Tokai lenses, and was so impressed, I decided to make them my primary lens supplier. Tokai’s scratch-resistant coating is superior – my lenses aren’t scratched despite frequent contact with the slit lamp.”

First-hand experience with Tokai Optical lenses led STUDIO OPTOMETRY in Brisbane to make the manufacturer its primary lens supplier.

It’s that first-hand experience of superior quality coating that makes recommending Tokai lenses to his patients easy, says Lee.

“Unlike some other lensmakers, who have two or three different coatings on a scale of ‘good, better, best’, Tokai has six varieties of coatings, but they don’t vary in quality, they vary in application, to suit each patient individually,” he says.

Tokai’s specially designed coatings include USC (Ultra Shield Coat), ESC (Eternal Skin Coat), BDC (Blue light Damage Control), and NRC (No Reflection Coating), to name a few.

Breaking new ground

For Mr Justin Chiang, a trained optical dispenser who heads up the company’s Brisbane-based subsidiary, Tokai Optical Australia, quality multi-coat is vital.

“To ensure wearers have the best vision possible and the lens lasts as long as it should, Tokai Optical sees multi-coat as essential instead of optional,” he says. “Therefore, every single Tokai lens comes with a premium multi-coat as standard.”

Tokai Optical’s origins date back to 1939 and have been focused on producing superior-quality ophthalmic lenses. The Optical Division established in 1998 helps improve the coatings on ophthalmic lenses.

“The division produces high-performance optical coating products needed in high-end medical, bioengineering and nanofabrication instruments. Many of them require very high-precision coatings and can be up to 160 layers,” Chiang explains.

“For example, Tokai developed a light concentrator that contains 2000 mirrors with 2.5m in diameter that is used to effectively concentrate Cherenkov radiation. The concentrator is attached to a large-diameter telescope used in the Cherenkov Telescope Array project, one of the world’s largest gamma-ray observatories.”

Harnessing this advanced technology, Tokai Optical can produce some of the industry’s the most premium quality and durable multi-coats in ophthalmic lenses, he says.

“There are many benefits of having multi-coats on ophthalmic lenses but the key function most people know about is to reduce the reflection produced from the lens surface,” Chiang says.

“This type of multi-coat is known as anti-reflective coating. An ophthalmic lens without an anti-reflective coating can reflect from 8% and up to 17% of light depending on the lens’ refractive index.”

In other words, wearers can lose clarity by up to 17%. But with anti-reflective coating, the reflectance rate can be reduced to 0.8%.

“Tokai Optical has taken it further and reduced it to 0.19%, which is the lowest reflectance anti-reflective coating in the world,” Chiang says.

Known as No Reflection Coating (NRC), Tokai developed the multi-coat in response to increased reliance on screen-based communications and with an emphasis on two factors: reflectance and relative luminous efficacy.

As an optometry practice owner, it’s another quality performance characteristic that astonishes Lee.

“Tokai’s NRC is exceptional. My practice is located near an office building, so I get a lot of walk-ins, and I often recommend NRC for this patient cohort. When they pick up their new glasses, many remark on how clear the lens is,” Lee notes.

Apart from reducing the reflection on the lens, Chiang says multi-coats seal the lens surface and protect the lens material from moisture, acid or other chemicals that can possibly damage the lens.

“All Tokai multi-coat is high scratch-resistant, stain resistant, anti-static and super hydrophobic. In fact, Tokai Optical is the first lensmaker in the world to introduce hydrophobic (water repellent) coating,” he says.

With in-house R&D and strict quality control protocols, Tokai Optical can claim to effectively reproduce the most durable multi-coats in the industry.

“Tokai Optical developed a unique two-pronged lens coating test method comprising a scratch resistance test and a weathering test,” Chiang explains.

“The scratch test machine applies a 2kg weight on steel wool and runs through the lens surface 150 times. The weathering test method is to test the lens usage in reality and not only against scratch but also with other conditions.”

He continues: “The lens goes through the scratch test, soaks in sodium water over three days, and then goes into a machine with UV light, continuing with the splash of water, at a temperature of 39 degrees over 240 hours. This weathering test simulates the lens wear and tear as in real life for over three years.”

A lens to complement a premium service

For optical dispenser Mr Ethan Ong, supplier support, relationship and product quality determine which suppliers he and his business partner Mr Ivan Au, also a dispenser, chooses to work with.

Ethan is a co-owner of independent practice Eyemax Optical, a mainstay of Hopkins Street in Footscray in Melbourne’s west, for the past 18 years.

“What we look for in a lens supplier/manufacturer is the quality of the lenses, the breath of their products and the innovative coatings and tinting options a manufacturer can produce and apply to their lenses. Tokai satisfies our requirements by exceeding our expectations in providing an exceptional quality product for our patient’s needs,” he says.

Another facet of their business decision on selecting lens suppliers is how lenses integrate with their frame selection.

“Tokai produces the world’s thinnest resin lenses (index of 1.76) and also has an exceptional tint offering, which covers the full range of their lenses. A unique offering which we are very fond of is the ability to tint their 1.76 index lens up to an 85% tint, which is a game changer for people who have high prescriptions and are sensitive to thickness. The combination of aesthetics and quality optics are now achievable for our patients,” Ong says.

Optical dispensers Ethan Ong (right) and Ivan Au co-own Eyemax Optical in Footscray.

Ong and Au say they have been “very fortunate” to have had the opportunity to visit the manufacturing plant in Japan where they saw first-hand Tokai’s full in-house production.

“We were in awe of their meticulous production process, their dedication to innovation and research and development. Their uncompromising high-quality standard could be seen in every station and stage of manufacturing. The factory is immaculately clean and their unwavering attention to detail on every aspect of production is palpable. This reaffirmed our view on Tokai’s commitment to quality in which they have carved a niche for themselves as a bespoke manufacturer of lenses,” Ong says.

The fact that all Tokai lenses are manufactured in Japan is an additional selling point, Ong says.

“We have noticed that Tokai coatings are also superior, notably on their scratch resistance (USC) coating, where we have seen a significant reduction in complaints on fine scratches on lenses.

“Tokai’s non-reflective coating (NRC) is also very impressive as it has less visible reflections than that of other brands, making the lenses seem more transparent and clearer; our customers have commented on how much clearer their lenses are.”

Ong and Au also say their experience with the Tokai team in Brisbane has been “overwhelmingly positive” where support is always provided when needed.

“We sell more mid- to high-end frames and we want a lens product that complements our range. We look for an exceptional quality product which has a story to tell, and Tokai offers that product. Our patients rely on our expert opinion to recommend the best for them, and when it comes to lenses, our customer feedback for Tokai has always been exceptional,” Ong says.

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