What is a Rolex Cyclops? A Complete Guide
What is a Rolex cyclops? The Rolex cyclops is something that splits opinions. Some people love it, others hate it. However, it is there for a reason. It has also come to become an iconic element of Rolex watches, closely associated with the brand.
The cyclops is not developed for aesthetical reasons, but rather for practicality and function. At the same time, some people do enjoy the looks of the cyclops on Rolex watches. Today, it can be found on almost all Rolex watches in the brand’s collection, and with that said, Rolex clearly sees great value in it.
The name cyclops comes from the one-eyed giant of Greek mythology.
In this article we’re zooming in on the Rolex cyclops, discussing its history, and why it is used.
Rolex Cyclops history
The Rolex cyclops was first introduced in 1953 and patented in the early 1950s. So have other manufacturers such as Panerai, Chopard, Omega, Tag Heuer, etc. used (or use) it? Because the patent granted back then has long since expired.
The first watch to use the cyclops was the Datejust. The Datejust model was first released in 1945 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Rolex company, and the introduction of the cyclops 8 years later was a step in the right direction of improving the model.
It is said that Hans Wilsdorf developed the cyclops because his wife Betty Wilsdorf-Mettler had difficulties reading the date on her watch, but this information has not been confirmed by Rolex.
In releasing the cyclops, Wilsdorf wrote in a letter in February 1953:
“I am convinced that the new tropical case with the new crystal, and the optical magnification, will give us something new.”
In 1955, Rolex wrote a letter to protect their new innovation :
“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.”
Following the Datejust, Rolex introduced the cyclops for all watches in the Oyster collection featuring a date function. The Day-Date featured the Cyclops when it was first launched in 1956, and the GMT-Master also had it at its launch in 1955.
The only two watches not to use the cyclops were the Deepsea and Sea-Dweller due to practical and technical reasons since the crystals are so thick. However, this would come to change further on – but more on this further on.
At the time of the launch of the cyclops, sapphire crystals were not really used in the watch industry, and therefore, the cyclops – just like the crystals – were made in acrylic glass.
Rolex cyclops sapphire crystal
In the 1970s, Rolex started introducing sapphire crystals for its watches. At the same time, Rolex started developing the cyclops in sapphire as well. Since acrylic scratches so easily, it meant that both the crystal and cyclops got scratched, which naturally negatively affects the legibility of the date and the time. The issue with a cyclops made in acrylic is that if it is scratched, damaged, or changes shape, it will also affect the magnification. This is why, on many vintage Rolex watches featuring an acrylic cyclops, the magnification of the date is not very sharp. Instead, since the shape of the cyclops has changed over the years, the date can look quite odd.
This is why, eventually, Rolex started making the cyclops in sapphire. And to avoid glare, Rolex also started treating the cyclops with an anti-reflecting coating in 2005. This started with the release of the 50th anniversary GMT-Master II. Previously, Rolex had only applied anti-reflective coating on the upside of the cyclops, which meant it could glare and make it difficult to read in some lights.
On the Older Rolex watches with acrylic crystal, the cyclops lens is molded into one piece. Since this is not possible to do in a good way with sapphire due to its hardness, the Cyclops is actually a separate piece of sapphire glued to the crystal.
If you are really unlucky, the cyclops can, therefore, fall off the crystal on the new sapphire versions – especially after a hard hit.
Magnifies By 2.5 Times -most of the time – Rolex magnification issue
Rolex wrote on their website that the cyclops magnifies the date 2.5 times, but this information can no longer be found. One reason may be to prevent counterfeits, but another reason is that not all cyclops magnify 2.5 times. A different reason is that different models have different magnifications. This is why we have written ”most of the time”.
What do we mean by this? Well, after having dealt with a large number of Rolex watches, we can confidently say that not all cyclops are made equal.
For a brand like Rolex, this can be considered quite strange considering it is known for accuracy and precision, but even the slightest micro-millimeter will have an effect on the level of magnification from the cyclops.
As an example, have a look at the two watches below.
The first watch seems to have a 2.5 times magnification as it should:
Side by side, it becomes evident that these two watches do not magnify equally much:
The magnification issue is not what you would expect from Rolex.
A common tell for fake watches is that their cyclops magnification is off, and often way too small, but seeing that Rolex has a well-known magnification issue, just because the magnification is small doesn’t mean that the watch is fake.
The Rolex magnification issue was particularly common at the beginning of the sapphire cyclops stages because the brand had not yet perfected its craft. However, we still see Rolex watches every now and then that do not have 2.5 magnification, which goes to show just how difficult it is to get the magnification of the cyclops really is – even for Rolex.
But at least Rolex has significantly decreased the number of watches that seem to have a cyclops magnification issue today.
If you have a Rolex watch that has an obvious cyclops magnification issue and it is bugging you, it is possible to have it fixed by Rolex under warranty by changing the crystal (and the cyclops attached). In online discussions, some people say they would be very bugged by the small date magnification, whilst others say they wouldn’t care too much.
There are examples of Rolex watches that have really poor magnification (or close to none at all), and the issue with this is that the cyclops becomes pointless as it does not do what it is supposed to do.
But we should still have in mind that the watches with magnification issues are just a small fraction of all Rolex watches produced, which have the correct magnification. And the date magnification is truly a helpful feature as it does make it easier to read the date.
Rolex cyclops – a good thing?
There are opponents to the cyclops. The biggest critique about it is that it harms the symmetry and aesthetics of the watch. This is why some people prefer the Submariner no-date before the date version with cyclops. But this is a case of function before aesthetics as both a date function and the cyclops are helpful elements of a timepiece.
Today, the cyclops is an iconic design feature of many Rolex watches which makes them instantly recognizable. And if people wouldn’t appreciate it, Rolex simply wouldn’t continue to use it in its watches. Clearly, the benefits of it are far greater than the downsides.
Rolex cyclops in models
The Cyclops plays a central Rolex in Rolex’s watches with a date. As mentioned, the only watch with a date not to use the Cyclops is the Deepsea Sea-Dweller. Previously, the Sea-Dweller did not use a cyclops either, but in 2017, the Sea-Dweller was equipped with a Cyclops for the first time – the reference 126600.
The cyclops on the Sea-Dweller sparked a ton of controversy because, for 50 years, Rolex had kept the Sea-Dweller free from the cyclops, making it aesthetically symmetrical. Because the Sea-Dweller has a domed crystal, it was previously difficult to have a cyclops, but it was now possible for the brand to include the cyclops, so why not use it?
The only Rolex with a date function to still not use the cyclops is therefore only the Deepsea Sea-Dweller.
The cyclops has become an iconic signature of Rolex watches. In Rolex fashion, it is an upgrade that truly makes a difference for the wearer and brings the benefit of improved date legibility.
Some people dislike the cyclops since it, according to them, harms the aesthetics and symmetry of the watch. With that said, there are people who remove the Cyclops from their Rolex
Do you enjoy the cyclops? Share your thoughts in the comment section!
6 thoughts on “What is a Rolex Cyclops? A Complete Guide”
As I get older, magnification is wonderful.
It really is a great feature!
Hate the cyclops since it makes me feel as old as I really am. Love the clean look of my Submariner no-date. Makes me feel younger wearing it. It’s a matter of personal preference and I use a watch to know the time not the date.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
Yes, it’s certainly a matter of preference. Some people prefer it, some don’t. But ultimately, it’s a very practical feature that does exactly what it is meant to do.
I have been wearing a submariner since 1990. in my business I was around several products that were used for loosening bolts, nuts and lubing . Over the years my black timing ring faded away to reveal shiny aluminum underneath and during this process my cyclops fell off too. Now pushing 70 years of age I am considering putting the cyclop back on for ease of reading the date. As far as the black timing ring, had a new replacement one 20 years ago and lost it in my basement office. Back then it cost $85.00. Today they are $1100. So I will let that go. Maybe I will fine it someday before I die!
Thank you very much for sharing this story! Very interesting! And proof that Rolex watches can be lifelong partners that carry lots of history.