The Fresnel lens reduces the amount of material required compared to a conventional spherical lens by breaking the lens into a set of concentric annular sections known as Fresnel zones.
In the first (and largest) variations of the lens, each of these zones was a different prism. Though a lens might look like a single piece of glass, closer examination reveals that it is many small pieces. It was not until modern computer-controlled milling equipment (CNC) could turn out large complex pieces that these lenses were single pieces of glass.
For each of these zones, the overall thickness of the lens is decreased, effectively chopping the continuous surface of a standard lens into a set of surfaces of the same curvature, with discontinuities between them. This allows a substantial reduction in thickness (and thus weight and volume of material) of the lens, at the expense of reducing the imaging quality of the lens.