Some people love them, some people hate them. But whichever view one takes, it cannot be denied that the Cyclops is one of Rolex’s iconic features, a highly innovative invention designed to magnify the calendar window and highlight the time (1945. The Cyclops convex lens, named after the Sicilian giant Cyclops in Greek mythology, was patented by replica Rolex watches in the early 1950s and introduced with the Chronomat in 1953.
What led to the invention of the Cyclops convex lens? Certain sources claim that Hans Wilsdorf invented the Cyclops to help his wife read the date on his wristwatch (note: a reference to his second wife, Betty Wilsdorf Mettler, as his first wife, May Wilsdorf Crotty, had died in 1944), though of course this claim has not been confirmed by Rolex.
In a February 1953 letter, Wilsdorf wrote: “I am sure that the new Tropical case and mirror, as well as the optical magnifying element, will give us something completely new.” With this in mind, and in order to protect innovation, Rolex issued a “warning statement” in 1955: “To all watchmakers, we draw your attention to the fact that watch mirrors with specially shaped magnifying glasses are patented by Rolex, both in Switzerland and abroad. We will not hesitate to take legal action against any counterfeit.”
The Cyclops convex lens was soon extended to all Oyster watches with a date display, and the Greenwich and Day-Date models, introduced in 1955 and 1956 respectively, were also equipped with this feature. The only exception was the Deep Diver, which was not fitted with a Cyclops convex lens for technical reasons relating to the shape and thickness of the lens.
In the early 1970s, the sapphire crystal was first used on the Ref. 5100 Oyster Quartz, then extended to the entire range. Since 2005, Rolex has also applied an anti-reflective coating on both sides of the lens.
The Cyclops convex lens has attracted an untold number of fans to Rolex, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t voices on the opposite side. Critics have complained that air bubbles can cut through the flat lens and disrupt the overall harmony of the watch’s design, while the slightly raised lens is also more susceptible to scratches.
So for, or against? The topic has been in the midst of a heated debate. For example, the introduction of the Aquamarine, which was fitted with the Cyclops convex lens for the first time in 2017, sparked a great deal of controversy among the Rolex fan base and even became one of the most controversial topics at Baselworld that year, as the cleanliness of the crystal has been a defining characteristic of the Aquamarine collection for 50 years. Rolex explained that the Cyclops had not been fitted in the past for technical reasons (the lens is highly curved to cope with extreme water depths and high pressures), but that the problem had now been solved. “If you can, why not? After all, the Cyclops convex lens is an iconic element of all Rolex watches with date display windows.”
Currently, the only watch that has a date window but is not fitted with a Cyclops convex lens is the Deep Submariner. In order to achieve water resistance to a depth of 3,900 meters, the Deep Submersible is fitted with an extra thick sapphire crystal and therefore can no longer be fitted with a convex lens. We will have to wait for Rolex to come up with a new solution.
Searching the web, one can even see some attempts to remove the Cyclops lens from a Rolex (highly discouraged), and of course, some people have upgraded their watches with it. Beyond its practicality, the Cyclops lens has become one of Rolex’s most iconic features. Even though some of its competitors have used or are using them, such as Seiko, TAG Heuer and Cartier (some even place them underneath the lens), the Cyclops lens belongs only to Rolex. It’s safe to say that without the Cyclops convex lens, the Logbook would not be the Logbook model it is today.