An ocularist is a trained professional who fits and manufactures custom designed Ocular Prostheses (artificial eyes). An ocularist is also qualified to fit Scleral or Haptic Shells (an artificial eye shell which fits over a blinded eye).
In South Africa all professional ocularists are members of the Ocularist Association of South Africa (OASA) and some are also members of the South African Optometrists Association (SAOA).
As far as what ocularists specialize in, there are two varieties of ocular prosthesis: The first ocular prosthesis is a complete replacement of the damaged or missing eye, known typically as an artificial – or glass – eye. The second is a variation of the first, known as a haptic scleral shell, which is a thin hard shell which is worn over the damaged eye.
Although the first artificial eyes were made of glass (hence the term "glass eye"), for about the last fifty years most artificial eyes have been made out of plastic, typically polymethyl methacrylate, more commonly known as acrylic. These acrylic ocular prosthetics are typically molded by the ocularists to provide the wearer with the greatest possible level of comfort. With proper care and cleaning, the prosthetic can last as long as a decade.
The fabrication process for a custom made eye typically includes taking an impression of the eye socket, shaping an acrylic shell, painting the iris and then fitting the ocular prostheses. To create the effect of a natural eye the ocularist inserts the artificial eye and ties the muscles to it. What this amounts to is a small ball in the eye socket which is surrounded by muscle tissue. The muscles continue to move around this ball, similar to how they moved when the real eye was in. However, the new eye will not move very much. The reason for this is that the muscles in the eye socket aren't attached to the new artificial eye like they were to the old one.
The patient will wear their first artificial eye only for about six months. The reason for this is that the muscles and tissues in the eye socket will slowly adapt to the new eye. After the six months, the ocularist will fit the patient with their permanent eye.
Among the groups in South Africa who specialize in the above technology and methods are the Art Eyes Association. They are a Pretoria, Johannesburg and Bloemfontein based group of ocularists and are members of both the Ocularist Association of South Africa (OASA) and the South African Optometrists Association (SAOA). They are creators of custom designed ocular prosthesis (artificial eyes) and scleral shells (haptic lenses over blinded eyes), and they specialize in making exceptionally realistic and quality artificial eyes.
They take a personal approach to their work. In their own words, their greatest goal is to help all their patients, young and old, to "lead enriched, productive and happy lives".
ArtEyes are also able to make artificial eyes for babies and small children, which is a healthy investment to make, because if the eye shell is fitted immediately and enlarged periodically, it stimulates symmetrical orbital tissue and bone growth in order to restore facial balance. In children the fusion of the orbital bones only occurs at approximately 12-13 years of age.
The ocularists aim is, through an eye prosthesis, not only to restore lost eyes, but also to buoy the spirit of the patient.