Essilor Mourns Passing of Bernard Maitenaz, Inventor of the First Varilux Progressive Lens

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Bernard Maitenaz
CHARENTON-LE-PONT, France—Essilor announced that Bernard Maitenaz, the inventor of the Varilux progressive lens that improved the lives of millions of presbyopes globally and redefined an entire industry, has passed away in his home city of Paris, at the age of 94. Maitenaz’s pioneering work revolutionized the eyecare industry and transformed people’s lives: to date, more than 700 million Varilux lenses have been sold since 1959. 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, Essilor said.

Maitenaz was one of the founders of Essilor Group in 1972. At the helm of the company between 1981 and 1991, he oversaw a period of major international growth, which turned Essilor into the world’s leading lens manufacturer. 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.

In a personal tribute message, Paul du Saillant, chairman and CEO of Essilor International, said: “The entire Essilor family is truly saddened by the loss of our honorary chairman, friend and colleague, Bernard Maitenaz. 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. We owe Bernard enormously, and he will remain a source of inspiration for generations to come. On this sad day, our thoughts are with his family, sons and grandchildren.”

Born in Joinville, near Paris, Maitenaz graduated with degrees in engineering from both Arts et Metiers in 1946 and Ecole Superieure d'Optique in 1947. He began his career in the 1950s with Societe des Lunetiers, the French company that would eventually become Essilor. The young mechanical engineer sought to improve the design of bifocals, giving rise to the idea of the progressive lens.

In 1959, after seven years of conducting research to design an ophthalmic lens with a variable focus, Maitenaz created Varilux, the world’s first progressive lens. His invention innovated lens science to advance and set new standards of performance for vision and vision care for presbyopic patients.

For his tremendous contribution to the field of vision, Maitenaz achieved significant stature in numerous areas of research and technology:

• He taught optical engineering at the Ecole Supérieure d’Optique in Paris. He was also technical education advisor at the Ministere de l'Education nationale, and president of the Centre d’Enseignement et de Recherche in Paris.
• He served as a member of several boards of directors, particularly with the Ecole Superieure d’Optique for over 10 years, and with the Ecole National Superieure des Arts et Metiers from 1990 to 1994. He was a board member of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) from 1992 to 2003, and was a member of the Conseil pour les Applications de l'Academie des Sciences (CADAS).
• He received numerous 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 the recipient of the 2014 Apollo Award, the highest award presented to the general public by the American Optometric Association, which honors individuals or organizations for distinguished service to the visual welfare of the public.