Today's artificial eyes

 

Sclera fitting set
Movie monster
Marking the veins
What colour is your eye? Is it blue, or brown, or green? Stop right there! It's a mistake to think only of the iris. This fitting set, shown on the right, is for matching the sclera or white part of the eye and if the ocularist gets that part wrong the result will be very noticeable. There can be wide discrepancies in scleral colour due to age or racial origin. With an increasingly diverse population and with foreign markets increasingly turning to British craftsmanship to meet their prosthetic needs this latter factor is growing in importance. Today's fitting sets contain a far wider range of colours.

In Britain today patients may obtain artificial eyes or cosmetic scleral shells (the distinction is increasingly blurred) from the National Artificial Eye Service centres based in hospitals, or privately from independent ocularists and, depending upon where a patient lives, their local health trusts may order the component parts from either source. Although thin cosmetic shells may prevent the need for a total enucleation of a damaged eye, full prosthetic eyes are still the more realistic since the maker can insert detail or colouration at several millimetres depth.

Of course, monsters don't share the same eye colouration as human beings. British private companies also enjoy a flourishing sideline in providing realistic eyes to Hollywood film companies and international waxwork museums. They may be called upon to represent a celebrity's eyes with complete accuracy, or to simulate eye injuries or to create highly original eyes for science fiction or fantasy films. Many ocularists are as accomplished at art as they are knowledgeable in the technical aspects of materials science. But what should a dragon's eye really look like? 

Today most human prosthetic eyes are produced by an impression moulding technique. A patient may make between three and five visits before they receive their new eye. Throughout history artificial eye makers have had to be meticulous and pay painstaking attention to detail. In our third picture an ocularist is using very fine silk to denote the blood vessels in the eye. Before final fitting the acrylic is 'cooked' under great pressure overnight.

Bio-compatible implants

Will artificial eyes one day grow into our bodies? Some modern examples of artificial eyes now interact with living tissue. Since the early 1980s, when Dr. Arthur Perry developed an extraordinarily bio-compatible implant made of marine coral, doctors have been able to provide a relatively complication-free, reliable way to achieve remarkably lifelike movement. The use of a form of Calcium Carbonate, hydroxyapatite, derived from natural sea coral has also proved revolutionary as it is very porous and blood vessels will grow over it. As the body absorbs the material it ceases in a way to be artificial. Unfortunately there have been some problems with the hard coral penetrating donor sclera (the white part of the eye) and there is still the need for an artificial iris and pupil so it seems likely that the ocularist will not be put out of business for some time yet.