A Technical Perspective The Rolex Cyclops Lens

Not just a magnifier but a hallmark of (almost) all Rolex watches with date, meet the Cyclops lens.
ic_query_builder_black_24px | ic_dehaze_black_24px By Xavier Markl | 4 minute read

Some love it, others hate it. Whether you like it or not, the Cyclops is a signature Rolex feature. Born for utilitarian purposes, this polarising innovation was designed to enhance the date aperture and magnify the typical Rolex date display – the Rolex Datejust with its date window was introduced in 1945. Named after the one-eyed giant of Greek mythology, the Cyclops was patented by Rolex in the early 1950s and introduced in 1953 on the Datejust.

Why was the cyclops invented? Some sources state that Hans Wilsdorf made it because his wife had difficulties reading the date on her watch – Editor’s note: we are referring to his second wife Betty Wilsdorf-Mettler, since his first wife May Wilsdorf-Crotty passed away in 1944 at the age of 62 (the information was not confirmed by Rolex).

A 1945 Rolex Datejust – The Datejust was the first to receive the Cyclops in 1953, however, the first generation (as shown here) did not feature it.

In a February 1953 letter, Wilsdorf writes “I am convinced that the new tropical case with the new crystal, and the optical magnification, will give us something new.” In 1955, in light of this conviction, Rolex issued a release published in the press to protect the innovation. The warning to the competition stated: “To all watchmakers: we draw your attention to the fact that the watch crystal with the specially shaped magnifying lens is a Rolex exclusivity protected in Switzerland and abroad. We will not hesitate to instigate legal proceedings against any counterfeiting.”

The Cyclops was soon extended to all Oyster models with a date display. The GMT Master and the Day-Date were equipped with it as of their launch in 1955 and 1956. The only exceptions were the Deepsea models, for technical reasons related to the shape and thickness of the crystal.

Originally, the Cyclops lens and the crystal were one single piece moulded from Plexiglas. As of the 1970s, watchmakers started to equip watches with scratch-proof resistant sapphire. Sapphire crystals were first used with reference 5100 (OysterQuartz) in the early 1970s before progressively spreading throughout the brand’s line-up. The Cyclops, therefore, evolved, becoming an extra piece of sapphire, produced separately and glued to the crystal. Since 2005, it also features double-sided anti-reflective coating to avoid glare. Rolex mentioned for a long time a 2.5x magnification on their website but this is no longer the case. And this alone is a subject of controversy among hardcore Rolex fans.

Rolex Datejust 41 steel ref. 126334 oyster
The current Rolex Datejust 41 with a Cyclops over the date window.

The Cyclops magnification is truly appreciable especially when you get older. And there are innumerable fans of the ‘black hole’ effect around the date. But the Cyclops also comes with drawbacks. Its detractors will complain about the bubble shape on top of a flat surface, arguing that it distracts the overall harmony of the watch’s design. The slightly raised lens would also be more subject to scratches.

So Cyclops or not Cyclops? The subject is still hotly debated – which tells you a lot about the fact that Rolex is a brand like no other. For instance, when the Sea-Dweller was equipped with a Cyclops for the first time in 2017, it sparked a major controversy among Rolex fans and became one of the most debated topics at Baselworld that year. For 50 years a clean crystal had been a distinguishing feature of the Sea Dweller. Rolex explained to us that, if the Sea-Dweller wasn’t equipped with a Cyclops in the past for technical reasons (due to the domed shape of the crystal and issues with the high pressure on the watch at great depths), it was now possible to have such a magnifier on the SD… “why not do it if we can? The Cyclops is, after all, a signature element of all our watches with date window.”

Rolex Sea-Dweller 43mm 126600 - Baselworld 2017 Review
Rolex Sea-Dweller 43mm 126600 – a watch that generates debate, as this version was the first to include the Cyclops, otherwise absent from the Sea-Dweller since 1967.

Currently, the only Rolex watch featuring a date but without a Cyclops lens is the Deepsea, which, considering its 3,900m water-resistance and the ultra-thick crystal on top, makes it impossible to have such a magnifier over the date – until Rolex finds the solution and gives the watch the same feature as the rest of the collection.

Rolex Deepsea 126660 - Baselworld 2018
The Rolex Deepsea 126660 is the only Rolex currently in production that features a date but no Cyclops.

Searching the web, you will even find stories of people removing the Cyclops from their Rolex (which we strongly do not recommend). Others, upgrading watches with a Cyclops. Well, beyond its utility, it is one of defining features of a Rolex (even if some of its competitors used or are now using it, Seiko, TAG Heuer, Cartier to name a few. Some even placed it under the crystal). The Cyclops simply screams Rolex! A Datejust would not be a Datejust without it.

More details at rolex.com.

15 responses

  1. Never been a big fan, but can appreciate that it’ll be a godsend for those with weaker eyesight. It’s part of what makes a Rolex a Rolex, though – that Deepsea just looks wrong.

  2. I have a Rolex with a cyclops, Sub 16610. But, I have regretted since long that I did not buy the no date Sub insted. From the perspective of the company they should obviously add it to as many date watches as possible since it is a so well known feature of the brand.

    But God, it is ugly…and so-so functional. It is indeed a magnifier viewing the date from a 90 degrees view. Have the watch slightly tilted, it is insted blockning the view.

  3. Sorry but no matter what anybody says the cyclops is Rolex at looks great

  4. Never liked it before and I don’t think I will change my mind in the future.

  5. I have a sub crystal on my gmt without the cyclops. Don’t like the cyclops look.

  6. Before reading I looked at the pictures and thought the 1945 datejust looks really nice before realising what it was. Perhaps they should make that again, a lot of the the current Rolex offerings look too bling . I would guess a lot of Rolex customers are getting on and the the cyclops is a practical solution to a real problem, unlike the diamonds on the bezel that make it look like an industrial drill!

  7. It’s a kludge, plain and simple. What’s a kludge? It’s an inelegant, but effective solution to a problem which comes with drawbacks. The Big Date complication exists. For what Rolex overcharges for their pieces, they should incorporate this much better solution to the problem into their movements. Rolex, if course, has no interest in innovating. The biggest innovation one can expect from them is a new bi-color bezel scheme.

  8. For me Rolex Datejust looks beautiful and never goes out of styles.

  9. I am a huge fan of Rolex and collect them. No cyclops for me. And the 50th Anniversary Edition of the SeaDweller with cyclop,was criminal.

  10. Rolex Cellini Date is the only Date suggested watch I would want from Rolex. Keep your fisheye

  11. Imaging the deepsea with a cyclops, my goodness! Who cares about the date. You got the mobile phone for that.

  12. For at least 20 years I yearned after a Rolex. When I could afford one, I thought and thought and thought about buying a Rolex, then decided I was uncomfortable with
    1. Being “Rolex Guy”
    2. Being ripped-off
    So I bought a Tudor Date + Day 36 instead. When anyone asks “Is that a Rolex?” I can truthfully say, “No. But it’s a good copy” I consider both the lens magnifier and the fluted bezel essential to complete the look.

    I would also like to add that the only brand-specific boutiques I have ever been looked-down on, were Rolex. Chopard, Lange, VC, PP. They all treated me with courtesy. Several Rolex personnel seemed upset that I even walked through the door. In one boutique I had to ask twice to try a watch on….and then the “salesperson” continued to hold the watch while I was wearing it!
    Compare this to the PP representative who smiled when I said, “I can’t really afford any of these watches, but is it ok if I have a look?” She replied, “No problem. One day you will. Let me know if you want to try any of our watches on your wrist.”
    Rolex undoubtedly have a couple of iconic designs, but they are so up themselves they have become a signifier of douchery.

  13. P.S. I don’t look like Willie Nelson and my personal hygiene is excellent.

  14. Cellinis also show a date without Cyclops by the way. Would require 31 of them :-). But indeed, note some Rolex show a date without Cyclops.

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