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What Is a Loupe? What You Need to Know!

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Loupes Diamond

Ever since the creation of the magnifying glass back in 1262 by Roger Bacon, there have been many adaptations to the device. Today, there are dozens of magnifying glass designs intended for different purposes. One specialized type of magnifying glass is the loupe. Loupes are small, simple magnifying glasses that are designed to help individuals see small details closely. They often have higher magnification than glasses and standard magnifying glasses, and they are designed so you can wear them very close to the eye. 

To learn more about a loupe, keep reading. This article tells you all you need to know about a loupe, when it is used, and its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s get started.

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How Does It Work?

Loupes tend to work in a very simple way. They do not have an attached handle like standard magnifying lenses. Instead, it includes a focusing lens or lenses inside a cone or opaque cylinder. This design allows for the detailed work to be blown up to a large size.

To use a loupe, users will place the device directly over or in front of the detail work they want to see and bring their eye close to the lens. Users can then easily move the cone around to see all the different details on the object.

Sometimes, loupes come with a cylinder casing so that the lens is protected when not in use. For these designs, you will then fold the lenses into the protective case whenever you are done using the device.

dental loupe
Photo Credit: Piqsels

What Are the Different Types of Loupes?

There are three main types of loupes: simple lenses, compound lenses, and prismatic lenses. These different loupe types refer to the lens or number of lenses within the housing.

  • Simple Lenses: Simple lenses use one lens. They are mainly used for low magnification designs due to optical aberration.
  • Compound Lenses: Compound lenses use two lenses to control optical aberration. It is used for higher magnifications as a result.
  • Prismatic Lenses: Prismatic lenses have more than two lenses with prisms for maximum magnification.

Where Is It Used?

Loupes are specialized tools that are mainly only in certain professions where precision work is needed. The most common uses for loupes include jewelry, watchmaking, ophthalmology, and dentistry. 

Male jeweler evaluating diamond ring
Photo Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

Gemologists and Jewelers

Most people are familiar with loupes as they are used by jewelers. Jewelers often use a handheld loupe to magnify gemstones. Ten times magnification is the standard used by the Gemological Institute of America when grading diamond clarity. Occasionally, stones will be looked at using a higher magnification.


Because watchmaking involves such fine detail work, watchmakers use loupes to make mechanical watches. Everything from the making of the mechanism to the details of the watch requires a loupe. Some high-quality watch brands also produce high-quality loupes because of how frequently they use them.

product photography of a watch
Photo Credit: mattyphotographyy, Pixabay


Many surgeons use loupes while performing surgery on small structures. Ophthalmologists especially used loupes, but loupes can also be used in the fields of neurosurgery, plastic surgery, vascular surgery, and cardiac surgery.


Most people don’t realize this, but dentists and dental therapists use binocular loupe glasses almost every time they look at your teeth. Dental loupes are often placed on regular glasses. The loupes are the protruding lenses. Many dentists also have a light at the bridge of the nose. This design allows dentists to work in your mouth with both hands while seeing the contents of your teeth close.

Image Credit: Pixabay


Other Uses

Although the four uses above are the most common, there are some other uses for the loupe. Here are some other fields where the loupe comes in handy:

  • Art
  • Photography
  • Geology
  • Numismatists
  • Coin collectors
  • Archival conservation

Advantages of Loupe

The biggest advantage of the loupe is that it allows you to see incredibly fine detail work up close. When dealing with small objects like watch mechanics or cavities in teeth, this intense magnification is required in order to work effectively. As such, loupes are highly beneficial in certain fields and tasks.

More so, there are different types of loupes so you can customize magnification. There are also different loupe designs so you can use the device while still having your hands free. Once again, this customization is helpful in different fields because it ensures that you can still perform the task while magnifying the details.

Disadvantages of Loupe

Because loupes are designed to magnify small details, this magnifying is only helpful in certain scenarios. If you want to see something far away or want to see more than just a few details at a time, a loupe will not help you much. You will need to opt for a completely different magnifying system.

The reason why loupes are not helpful in all fields is that the magnifying of small details obscure other aspects of the magnifying device. For example, its field of depth gets obscured as you increase the magnification of the device.

What this means is that a loupe is not going to be helpful whenever you are looking at something that requires a depth of field. It also will not be helpful when looking at a wide-angle since it is specifically designed to look at small detail work.

You’ll also have to be careful when purchasing a loupe because some simple lenses have issues with optical aberration. Optical aberration is whenever the light spreads out instead of focusing on a single object. For this reason, low-quality loupes or simple lenses can only be used for low magnification purposes.

magnifying glass 2 divider Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

When were loupes created?

There is some debate about when loupes were created. Loupes used for gemstone purposes may date all the way back to the Roman emperor Nero from 37–68 CE. However, magnifiers for scientific purposes were designed much later in 1250 by Roger Bacon. Surgical loupes date to 1876, and the first spectacle loupe wasn’t created until 1912.

Is a loupe a magnifying glass?

Yes. A loupe is a type of magnifying glass in that it can allow you to enlarge certain objects. However, it has a different design than standard handheld magnifying glasses. Most loupes do not have a handle.


man using jewelers loupe
Image Credit: Andrey_Popov, Shutterstock

What is the use of loupe?

Loupes are used whenever small details need magnification. They’re often used in fields like jewelry, watchmaking, surgery, and dentistry.

Why is it called a loupe?

The word “loupe” was borrowed from the Middle French language. The middle French word comes from the old French word that means “sapphire lens” or “imperfect gem.” From there, this old French word was applied to the loupes we use and see today. 

man holding jewelers loupe and diamond
Image Credit: Nejron Photo, Shutterstock

Can you use a loupe with glasses?

Back in the day, you could not use loupes with glasses. However, you can now build custom-made loupes that can work seamlessly with your prescription glasses.

magnifying glass 2 divider Conclusion

Once again, a loupe is a type of specialized magnifying glass that allows viewers to see the detail work up close. Although this device is not helpful in all fields, it is helpful in fields like jewelry, watchmaking, surgery, dentistry, and other fields where detailed work is a must.

The good news is that there are different designs for loupes to ensure that there is the perfect loupe for every task. From standard single lenses to multi-prism lenses, there are many lens designs. Likewise, there are different holding or use designs so users can see the details up close while still performing the task at hand. Needless to say, loupes have come a long way since their creation.

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Featured Image Credit: Levon Avagyan, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.