Obituary: Bernard Maitenaz
The “pioneering” inventor of the Varilux progressive lens, and one of the founders of Essilor Group has died at the age of 94
25 February 2021
Optometry Today is sad to report that Bernard Maitenaz, the inventor of the Varilux progressive lens and one of the founders of Essilor Group, has died at the age of 94.
Paul du Saillant, chairman and CEO of Essilor International, commented: “The entire Essilor family is truly saddened by the loss of our honorary chairman, friend and colleague, Bernard Maitenaz.”
Described as a “pioneer and inventor,” Mr Maitenaz has been recognised for his impact on the profession. In a tribute, Essilor shared: “His passion for optics, unwavering faith in its future and valuable contributions have made him one of the most iconic figures in the optical industry.”
Mr Maitenaz graduated with degrees in engineering from Arts et Métiers in 1946 and Ecole Supérieure d’Optique in 1947 before becoming a member of La Société des Lunetiers as an engineer.
As a 33-year-old engineer in 1959, Mr Maitenaz became frustrated with his father’s bifocals and, wanting to improve his sight, “took on the task of creating a lens that would provide presbyopes with comfortable vision at any distance,” the company described.
Envisioning a progressive lens, Mr Maitenaz presented the idea to La Société des Lunetiers in 1953, and in 1959 after eight years of research, the first Varilux lens was commercialised.
“Bernard Maitenaz’s pioneering work revolutionised the eye care industry and transformed people’s lives: to date, more than 700 million Varilux lenses have been sold since 1959,” the company shared.
Mr Maitenaz went on to become one of the founders of Essilor Group in 1972, leading the company between 1981 and 1991, in which the company said: “He oversaw a period of major international growth.”
Through his career, Mr Maitenaz held many positions, including teaching optical engineering at the Ecole Supérieure d’Optique (Institute of Optics), technical education advisor at the Ministère de l’Education nationale (Ministry of National Education), and president of the Centre d’Enseignement et de Recherche in Paris.
He served as a member of several boards of directors, including with the Institute of Optics for over 10 years, and with the Ecole National Supérieure des Arts et Métiers from 1990 to 1994. Mr Maitenaz was also a board member of the French National Centre of Scientific Research from 1992 to 2003, and was a member of the Conseil pour les Applications de l’Académie des Sciences (CADAS).
Mr Maitenaz received several accolades for his contributions to optometry, including an honorary Doctorate of Ocular Science from New England College of Optometry in Boston in 1988, and an honorary Doctorate Honoris Causa from the School of Optometry of the Montreal University in 1993.
He was also the recipient of the 2014 Apollo Award by the American Association of Optometrists. This is the highest award presented to the general public by the association, recognising individuals for service to visual welfare of the public.
Essilor Group shared in a statement, “His commitment to Essilor continued well beyond his retirement, as Honorary Chairman of the Essilor Board of Directors, and as founding member of the Valoptec shareholders association.”
Mr du Saillant commented: “A true pioneer and inventor at heart, Bernard will also be remembered for the values with which he led Essilor between ‘81 and ‘91, and which he promoted within Valoptec throughout his more than 70-year career.
“Without him and the invention of the Varilux progressive lens, the optical industry and Essilor would not be what they are today,” Mr du Saillant added, continuing, “We owe Bernard enormously, and he will remain a source of inspiration for generations to come.”
Reflecting on his own experience of the Varilux brand and its impact, Dr Ian Beasley, AOP’s head of education and OT clinical editor, commented: “When I started my career in optics as a fledgling lab technician sometime back in the last millennium, I grew up with the Varilux II.”
“While there is now a plethora of designs on the market, even 30 years on, the legacy of the Varilux brand will always be the ‘Hoover’ of progressive lenses in my mind,” Dr Beasley said, adding, “Mr Maitenaz’s early work in the field has undoubtedly provided a foundation on which others have built, to improve the lives of millions of presbyopes around the world.”
Mr Maitenaz was born in 1926 and died at the age of 94 this year.
Concluding, Essilor shared: “Our thoughts are with Bernard’s family, children and grandchildren.”