Perhaps the most often seen and easily spotted luxury timepiece, the Rolex Datejust enjoys an unparalleled history of global renown, notable ownership, and exciting variants.
Perhaps the most often seen and easily spotted luxury timepiece, the Rolex Datejust enjoys an unparalleled history of global renown, notable ownership, and exciting variants. For all these reasons and more, it’s one of the best buys in watches, without a shred of a doubt. Today we explore its origins, distinguishing features, and the multitude of ways the watch can be configured.
When it comes to watches, few are more iconic than the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust. Released in 1945 to celebrate Rolex's 40th anniversary of producing watches, it has been a staple in the Rolex catalog ever since, making it one of the longest-running production models. Similar to other icons of mechanical design, like the Porsche 911, the overall design of the Datejust has been slowly iterated on, while still sticking very closely to the original design.
When Rolex introduced the Oyster Perpetual Datejust it was the first waterproof self-winding chronometer wristwatch to display date by a window located at 3 o'clock on the dial. While it seems simple now, this was a huge innovation for the time. The backdrop to Rolex’s glorious release was the end of World War II. Many of Europe's citizens had struggled to recover from the ravages of the war, but, following the Datejust's debut, the world experienced prosperity the likes of which hadn't been seen before. To the relief of Rolex, both the European and North American economies boomed, creating immense demand for Rolex watches.
After World War II, in 1946 Rolex honored the production of its 1,000,000th official chronometer watch by giving it away. Hans Wilsdorf decided to give it to Winston Churchill. The watch can be spotted in many photographs, adorning his wrist. Continuing this trend of presenting Rolex watches to distinguished individuals, Rolex presented the Datejust to Dwight Eisenhower in 1951 as a way to celebrate the successful conclusion of World War II. Martin Luther King was also famously photographed wearing a solid 18k gold version, though less is known of the origins of this particular Rolex watch. The watch became so well known it was included in Rolex ads in the early 2010s to celebrate the role he played in the Civil Rights Movement.
Rolex designed the Oyster Perpetual Datejust to be the perfect everyday watch. Unlike models like the Submariner or Daytona, this watch doesn't really have a tool functionality. The entire design focuses on legibility and as the name suggests, indicating the date. When the Datejust was released it was the first self-winding, waterproof chronometer wristwatch to feature the date function. While it may seem commonplace now, this was a revolutionary development upon its introduction. Modern Datejust models will all offer 100 meters of water resistance. This is an ample rating for jumping in the pool or hanging out on the beach, but it isn't recommended for any form of diving or deep water adventures. As always, it's critical to make sure the crown is fully screwed in before jumping in the water.
While the Rolex Datejust has come in a wide range of sizes over the years, the main three to focus on are 31 mm, 36 mm, and 41 mm. The 31 mm is ideal for more feminine wrist sizes and has been worn by some of society's most elegant women, ranging from actresses to first ladies of the United States.
The 36 mm size is truly one of the most iconic unisex watches, and for decades was the largest size it came in until the release of the Rolex Datejust II in 2009. When it comes to value, this is the biggest area to consider as vintage, 36 mm examples of the Rolex Datejust can be found for well under $10,000. Out of the three sizes, this is without question the most widely seen, and benefits from being able to double as an elegant dress watch.
Lastly, we have the Datejust 41. Referred the Datejust II for some years, Rolex decided to scrap the "II" and just integrate it into the normal Datejust name, while readjusting its proportions to better reflect the original design. For those wanting a sporty and modern feeling dress watch that can also do weekend duty, the Datejust 41 is likely the one for you.
The Rolex Datejust comes on three different bracelets. When browsing the pre owned market on Bezel, the most common bracelets will be either the Oyster or Jubilee bracelet, both storied and iconic in Rolex's history. The first and most widely associated with the watch is the Jubilee bracelet style. Featuring a 5-piece link design, it offers a classic look with a hint of sport. It is worth noting that upon the introduction of the Rolex Datejust in 1945, it came on the Jubilee bracelet, which was a brand new style of bracelet for Rolex at the time. Making sizing the bracelet a breeze, older models feature micro-adjustment holes on the clasp, allowing for easy adjustment with a small tool. Modern versions of Datejust watches feature Rolex's Easy-Link system, that can expand or contract the size of the bracelet by 5 mm. Out of all the offerings, the Jubilee bracelet offers the best balance between sport and dress, and is renowned for being incredibly comfortable on the wrist.
The second type of bracelet offered is the Oyster bracelet. Seen on virtually every watch offered in Rolex's sports watch line, the Oyster bracelet is understandably the most robust and visually sturdy of all the options. With polished center links and a matching polished clasp, this style tends to show quite a few scratches over time, though many view this wear as adding to the charm and personal patina of the timepiece. Similar to the Jubilee bracelet, modern Oyster bracelets also have the Easy-Link feature.
The last option is the Presidential style bracelet. While this bracelet is best known for being fitted to the Rolex Datejust's bigger and more complicated brother, the Rolex Day-Date, it is currently offered on the 31 mm Datejust, along with some vintage 28 mm timepieces. This bracelet offers the least functionality with no ability to adjust on the fly but is unmatched in its elegance.
While on the topic of configuration options, the Rolex Datejust is offered with three different bezel options – smooth bezels, fluted bezels, and gem-set bezels.
Upon its introduction in 1945, the Rolex Datejust was sold exclusively with a fluted bezel. This style continues to be the most popular and widely seen bezel for the Datejust. On all fluted bezel watches, the bezel is produced in precious metal, with options including yellow gold, white gold, and rose gold. This means even stainless steel models fitted with fluted bezels feature a touch of precious metal elegance that only a fluted bezel can offer.
As diamond-set watches came into popularity, Rolex added the diamond-set bezel option. Naturally, Rolex Datejust watches fitted with gem set bezels command higher prices. There are however jewellers which produce aftermarket diamond bezels, vaguely affording the appearance of factory-set diamonds, though in almost all cases, the fitting of such a bezel on a Datejust models devalues the watch by a large amount. This is due to the low quality of the stones which are generally used, and the fact the bezel has to be drilled in order to set the stones.
Similar to the Oyster bracelet, the smooth bezel is the most sporty of the three options, with its lack of embellishment. Also similar to the Oyster bracelet, is how smooth bezels are the most susceptible to scratches and wear over time. This is the only bezel found on Rolex Datejust watches produced in Oystersteel.
Similar to its many sizes, Rolex Datejust watches can also be bought in several different materials. Oystersteel is Rolex's name for its proprietary alloy of stainless steel. Along with Oystersteel (904L stainless steel) and models produced solid 18k gold models, Rolex also offers their newest models in two tone amalgamation of gold and steel called Rolesor. Rolesor styles integrate steel and yellow gold, steel and white gold, and Everose Rolesor, making use of the brand's proprietary pink gold alloy. While there are dozens of combinations of metals to choose from, the most well-known is two-tone Rolesor featuring yellow gold and stainless steel.
Depending on the size, the Rolex Datejust features either the calibre 2236 (found in 31 mm models) or the calibre 3235 (found in the 36 mm and 41 mm models). This is a self-winding chronometer movement that is accurate to roughly 2-seconds a day. It is made in-house by Rolex and offers a shock-resistant, reliable way to measure time, with chronometer rated accuracy.
Whether looking to purchase your first or tenth watch, you want to focus on buying what you like. Having said that, watches are expensive and most need to consider the long-term value of these items. The Rolex Datejust is considered a prestigious watch that has proved to be a well-established investment with continual demand for the iconic model. This can be supported by cross referencing retail prices over the years, and the corresponding values of those same watches in today's pre owned market.
As it stands today, if you can get a Rolex Datejust at retail price, you're in a very good position with minimal risk from an investment standpoint. Due to the fact it is such an iconic and well-known watch, they are great for holding long-term value with the potential to appreciate.
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