Rolex Date and Cyclops Lens: A Brief History

Second only to the time itself, the date display is the most practical feature on watches. Today, it’s a common and even taken for granted fixture, but back in 1945, Rolex’s take on the date function was considered ingenious. In fact, it would change the face of watches forever.

Learn more about Rolex’s influence on the date window as we know it today; and the signature Rolex feature that followed – the Cyclops.

 

The Rolex Datejust and the Date Window

The history of the Rolex Datejust is well-documented. First introduced in 1945, the Datejust not only commemorated Rolex’s 40th anniversary, it also presented a milestone in watchmaking. It was the first self-winding watch to feature a quick-changing date window, whose date automatically changed at midnight.

Before the Datejust came along, the date function was already in place and in use in many watches. It was usually in the form of a calendar dial on the periphery of the watch, with a separate hand or pointer to indicate the date. Rolex’s approach, however, set the standard for how the date display should look and function on a watch.

 

Datejust Gold
Rolex Datejust circa 1953 (photo: Christies)

With the Datejust’s approach, only the current date is shown on the dial, through a disc that has 31 markings, and jumps at midnight. This date is shown on a square aperture at 3 o’clock, because most wearers have the watch on their left arm, making it easier for the date to peek out from under their sleeve. Simple and practical, this format has persisted almost universally, and continues to endure today.

 


 

The Cyclops Lens: A Rolex Hallmark

In 1953, Rolex introduced an enhancement to the date window, called the Cyclops. Named after the one-eyed giant of Greek mythology, the Cyclops lens is placed outside of the watch crystal, on top of the date aperture, in order to magnify the date. Lore has it that it was made for Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf’s wife, who couldn’t read the date easily.

 

Datejust II Steel Gold Arabic Numeral Watches
Rolex Datejust II Steel Yellow Gold Black Dial and Steel White Gold Blue Numerals Watch

By 1955, Rolex had already patented the specially shaped magnifying lens, and it was soon applied to Rolex watches that had a date display. The Rolex GMT-Master and Day-Date were already equipped with the Cyclops when they were launched in 1955 and 1956.

The Submariner followed in the 1960s, beginning with reference 1680. This was considered as the Submariner’s cross over from specialist tool watch to accessory but the “No Date” version was retained and continues to be produced today.

 

Submariner Yellow Gold Steel Watches
Rolex Submariner Yellow Gold and Steel Yellow Gold Black Dial Bezel Watches

The Cyclops also evolved through the years. The original Cyclops was made from Plexiglas, a transparent acrylic used in place of glass, but as watchmakers transitioned to scratch-resistant sapphire, the Cyclops also evolved as an extra piece of sapphire. In 2005, Rolex began adding anti-reflective coating on Cyclops lenses to avoid glare.

 


 

Cyclops or No Cyclops?

Today, the only Rolex watch that has a date display, but is without the Cyclops, is the Rolex Deepsea Sea-Dweller. Made for saturation diving and with depth ratings of up to 12,800 feet, the extra thick crystal and high pressures endured by the watch make it a challenge to add the Cyclops.

Previously, the Rolex Sea-Dweller was also exempt from the Cyclops; but that changed in 2017 with the 50th anniversary model or reference 126600 (below at center).

 

Seadweller and Seadweller Deepsea Watches
Rolex Seadweller Deepsea D-Blue Dial, Rolex Seadweller 50th Anniversary 43mm Watch, Rolex Seadweller Deepsea Steel Watch

The addition of the Cyclops on the Sea-Dweller line was a hotly debated topic in Baselworld and among the watch community. First, because the Rolex Sea-Dweller had been Cyclops-free for 50 years; and second, because not everyone is a fan of the Cyclops. Many watch collectors argue that it distracts from the overall harmony of the dial and makes the watch more prone to scratches due to its raised bubble shape.

It’s undeniable though, that together with the quick-changing date window at 3 o’clock, the Cyclops is a hallmark of Rolex watches. Beyond its utility, it has become one of Rolex’s design language characteristics; and a Rolex just wouldn’t be a Rolex without it.

 

 

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