When It Comes to Artificial Eyes O. Robert Levy Is Without Peer
Born in Los Angeles the son of an optometrist father and bookkeeper mother, Levy received a B.S. degree from Southern California College of Optometry in Fullerton. In 1946 he went to work at American Optical, which pioneered the development of prosthetic eyes. In 1949 he launched his own practice—seeing patients by day and fashioning eyeballs after hours. "Before the newer plastics eliminated the problem," he recalls, "it sometimes took all night to make one without air bubbles." Today's prosthetics are made of methyl methacrylate, an acrylic that is also used to make dentures. Levy, who employs a staff of five, charges $800 for one eyeball and $950 for a scleral lens, which, like a large contact lens, fits over and masks a damaged natural eye.
Known for his meticulous realism, Levy requires as many as three visits by a patient just to achieve the proper color mix. He applies the acrylic-based paint with a sable brush to the disk-shaped iris, then places it into a spherical mold, adds white Lucite and the "eye" is then baked. Later "veins" are painted on and a clear plastic laminate is added to duplicate the cornea.
"The greatest compliment is when people don't notice our work," says Levy. "We had one patient who said her eye doctor's nurse wanted to put drops in both her eyes to dilate the pupils."