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).
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.
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.”
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.
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.