Recent Or Vintage, The Rolex Datejust Deserves Your Attention
For whatever reason, the Rolex Datejust glides past almost invisibly. Perhaps the reason is that it’s so ubiquitous. Or is it overshadowed by its catalog mates with more tool-like intentions? Whatever the reason, this watch is a standard and deserves a bit more credit.
Yawn, another Rolex Datejust. They’re truly everywhere and if you’re not seeing an actual example, someone is probably wearing some sort of imitation. The watch has been such a “go-to” choice for white-collared professionals that it has caused so many other brands to release a copycat or a nearly dead-on competitor over the past 30 to 40 years. As watch enthusiasts, we tend to focus on the sportier models from the brand, but the “DJ” moves the metal.
Changing dates at midnight since 1945
The Rolex Datejust first appeared back in 1945 and the innovation it brought seems rather commonplace today. In addition to a water-resistant “Oyster” case with a screw-down crown, the Datejust featured a date complication that changed instantly around midnight. Other brands, and you can see this on vintage watches from decades later, used movements that began advancing the date wheel well prior to 12:00. The change even went past the hour. Again, this doesn’t seem like a big deal today, but it was back then. Notably, the Datejust also introduced the beloved Jubilee bracelet as well as the Cyclops magnifying lens. The latter addition came along in the ‘50s.
Changing thoughts on the Rolex Datejust
I began taking a shine to watches sometime in high school and, of course, I learned about Rolex. However, I learned about a lot of other brands, and one wasn’t necessarily above another. Still, at some point towards my senior year, I started to look intently at the Rolex Datejust when we’d visit the local mall. Even though two-tone watches were all the rage, yellow gold just wasn’t my thing. Plus, it was a lot more expensive. At that time, Rolex made a few versions of the stainless Datejust. A sporty smooth bezel, a steel “engine-turned” version, and the famous white gold fluted model. Plus, the Oyster or Jubilee bracelet was an option. I can’t remember which “textured” bezel I liked, but I remember wanting a dark gray dial with stick indexes. Sadly, reality kicked in and a Datejust at age 18 was not going to happen. Then, I forgot about the Datejust for a while.
From Explorer back to the Datejust
I’ve told the story (you can read the article here) about how I purchased an Explorer after college graduation back in 1998. Whereas a Rolex Datejust was attractive to me, something sportier and plainer was more appropriate once I hit the working world. An Oyster bracelet looked more utile, and the lack of an ornate bezel seemed less eye-catching. What I later realized, though, is that the two watches were awfully similar in terms of specs and usability.
We often talk about how stainless sports models from Rolex are amongst the few generally accepted watches for all occasions. I don’t know who makes these rules, but I guess we’re all a little guilty of proliferating the message. What’s more undeniably true, though, is that the Rolex Datejust is the watch that can do it all. When I look back at my old Explorer, this watch used the exact same case as the Datejust. Water-resistance ratings differed at one point (the Datejust was good for 50 meters at one point), but they’re now all good for 100 meters.
The Rolex Datejust, no matter the configuration, does look more formal. Maybe that made it stodgier to me when I was in my early twenties. Tastes change, though, and I now see these watches for what they are: truly durable pieces that can go anywhere and do anything. Aside from adding some new diameters, the Datejust is also a watch that Rolex has basically left alone. That’s a good thing in my view because even the slightly blockier 36mm models from earlier in this decade still look pretty good. Furthermore, when equipped with a Jubilee, are amongst the most comfortable watches in existence.
I’ve had several conversations about the Rolex Datejust with friends regarding collectability. I think one thing to keep in mind is that well outside of the collector world, a Datejust is a highly desirable, aspirational object. Therefore, it will always have value and should prove relatively easy to unload depending on the color, condition, etc. Will we ever see skyrocketing prices like we do on the sports models? I’m not so sure.
Values are up, but not like sports models
If you’ve been following vintage or even recent Rolex Datejust models, they’ve increased in price along with almost everything else. I blame that partially on the lack of availability and ever-rising retail prices of current models. As sports model prices have skyrocketed beyond the reach of most, some have turned their attention to the Datejust. They’ve realized that this luxury “sedan version” of a Rolex brings all the excellent qualities of the sportier models at a lower price with a lot more selection.
That selection, by the way, is one of the things that put me off from buying a vintage Datejust for years. The number of dials, bezel, and bracelet combinations is so staggering that it’s hard to understand whether one is buying something correctly. We know Rolex isn’t of any help in verifying this so that just adds to the discomfort. The good thing is that there are so many pieces for sale that there’s little reason to rush a purchase.
Condition is key
Condition is also something to watch with a Rolex Datejust. It seems that a lot of previous owners followed the servicing suggestions well. That sounds like a good thing, but the result is often polished cases and service dials. As mentioned before, there is no reason to buy into this unless the watch somehow appeals to you. On that same front, worn bezels and stretched bracelets are issues that afflict the majestic Datejust. Models like the kooky Turn-O-Graph (a sub-line within the Datejust family) or the fluted variants often show serious signs of wear.
As far as desirability, the 160x series that lived from roughly 1959 to 1981 is a real favorite for collectors. These watches feature a “pie pan” dial that offers a step down towards its edge. Plus, the watches use tritium and acrylic crystals to offer some of that magic warmth. The following series of watches, such as the 16030, melded modern touches like a quickset date but kept acrylic for the non-gold models. Similar to the sports watches, people tend to favor either dark (black, gray, or blue) dials. Exotic renditions exist such as the Roman numeral “Buckley” dials as well as the Turn-O-Graph. If a Rolex Datejust is in your sights, chances are that half the battle will be determining which model you desire.
I haven’t been overly specific on diameter in this article, but my focus is on the 36mm variant. While newer ranges have offered larger sizes, I’ve never quite loved the proportions of these pieces. On the other hand, I know that more selection has opened the Rolex Datejust to those who like larger watches. If you choose a 36mm model, especially a vintage model, you’ll be met with a supremely comfortable watch that begs to be worn. These pieces almost feel like nothing on the wrist, but they certainly look like a whole lot more than that. With timeless looks and high levels of comfort, it’s easy to see why so many never purchase another watch after picking up a Datejust. As an example, my grandfather’s mid-90’s 16234 that I now own was his “only watch” for many years.
Most luxury brands also offer some sort of dressy sports watches, but I can’t think of a competitor as pervasive as the Rolex Datejust. Watches like the Nautilus or Royal Oak sort of apply, but they’re also multiples more expensive. Other brands make great watches, and some might even say they’re more “interesting,” but the Datejust has managed to outlive them all. If you’re not into Rolex, none of the above will likely apply to you. If you are, though, and you’ve had it with the sports watch surge, a nice recent or vintage Datejust just might be your answer. What are your thoughts on the Datejust?