At the launch of Vogue Eyewear. Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Two of the world's leading eyeglass companies are about to merge, creating the closest thing to a monopoly the industry has ever seen, reports the Guardian.

Why it matters: "Around 1.4 billion of us rely on their products ... Last year, the two companies had a combined customer base that is somewhere between Apple’s and Facebook's," writes the Guardian's Sam Knight.

The merger...

  • Italy's Luxottica, the world's largest maker of spectacles, and France's Essilor, the biggest lens maker, are merging to form spectacles behemoth EssilorLuxottica.
  • EU and U.S. regulators approved the move on March 1.

By the numbers...

  • Their merger will form a $55 billion company, per Reuters, that employs more than 140,000 people and sells nearly a billion pairs of glasses and frames each year.
  • The scale of their businesses: Luxottica has 9,000 retail stories and makes glasses for Ray-Ban, Vogue, Prada, Oliver Peoples, Lenscrafter, Sunglass Hut, and it also runs John Lewis Opticians in the U.K.
  • Yes, but: "The new firm will not technically be a monopoly: Essilor currently has around 45% of the prescription lenses market, and Luxottica 25% of the frames."

The market...

  • About 70% of adults in developed countries use glasses to see better, and the market for glasses is $100 billion per year.
  • "In 2018, an estimated 2.5 billion people, mostly in India, Africa and China, are thought to need spectacles, but have no means to have their eyes tested or to buy them."
  • "The history of eyewear tells us that people do not, as a rule, start wearing glasses because they notice everything has gone a little out of focus. It is in order to take part in new forms of entertainment and labour."
  • "The mass market in spectacles did not emerge when they were invented, in 13th-century Italy, but 200 years later, alongside the printed word in Germany, because people wanted to read."

The backdrop...

  • "For a long time, scientists thought [myopia, or shortsightedness] was primarily determined by our genes.
  • "But about 10 years ago, it became clear that the way children were growing up was harming their eyesight, too."
  • "In the 1950s, between 10% and 20% of Chinese people were shortsighted. Now, among teenagers and young adults, the proportion is more like 90%. In Seoul, 95% of 19-year-old men are myopic, many of them severely, and at risk of blindness later in life."

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