Sunday Morning Showdown: Gateway Rolex — Oyster Perpetual Vs. Datejust
In our Sunday Morning Showdown, two of our writers go head-to-head in an epic showdown for the ages. Strong opinions and hysterical hyperbole are welcome (so feel free to join in with the fun in the comments section below). And don’t forget to let us know which watches you’d like to see torn to shreds/effusively exalted next week. We’ll try and feature as many of our readers’ choices as we can. Today’s match-up is all about smart/casual steel watches from the Crown. Ben and Jorg select an “entry” level Rolex each between the recently introduced Oyster Perpetual ref. 124300 and the Datejust ref. 126300.
In previous editions of our Sunday Morning Showdown series, both the Rolex Datejust and the Rolex Oyster Perpetual came up against two Grand Seiko heavy hitters. The polling was total carnage with rather surprising results. In both battles, the Swiss Coronet took a severe beating from the Japanese Lion.
During The Dress Wars, the legendary Rolex Datejust was out-voted by the Grand Seiko Snowflake SBGA211. When it came to the Beater Battle, the Grand Seiko SBGH281 delivered a first-round knockout to the Rolex Oyster Perpetual 114300. Today, we’re pitting two watches from Rolex against one another. No matter the result, a Rolex will win and redeem itself after the battering(s) sustained at the hands of Grand Seiko.
What a difference a year makes
Six months after those Showdowns dropped, the bar has been raised. The Rolex Oyster Perpetual has had somewhat of a renaissance since the new generation models were released in September 2020. The Oyster Perpetual went from shy guy to pretty fly seconds after the launch. With the new OP model’s introduction, it seems Rolex hit the sweet spot for many enthusiasts. Perhaps it was the series of vibrant colors in sizes ranging from 28mm to 41mm. As a result, the Oyster Perpetual suddenly became a hot tamale.
For decades, the Datejust has been the perfect entry-level Rolex.
People have been praising the 41mm Oyster Perpetual as a brilliant move from the Geneva brand. It supposedly fills a void left behind by the aging Datejust. But is that really possible? The Rolex Datejust is an icon that carved out its own unique spot in watch history. For decades, the Datejust has been the perfect entry-level Rolex suited to almost any situation. It makes it hard to believe that the young buck Oyster Perpetual would take the spotlight from the good ol’ DJ.
For this battle, our writers choose the maximum diameter size of 41mm for both the Datejust and Oyster Perpetual. Our Dutch dandy Jorg will be tipping his hat to the 41mm Oyster Perpetual ref. 124300. Meanwhile, our Barbour-clad Brit Ben will be doffing his cap to the 41mm Datejust ref. 126300. A smooth bezel Datejust, no less — so the only gold in this fight is found on the hands and indices.
Ben took the win with 52% in last week’s Showdown with the GMT-Master II “Batman”. But it wasn’t exactly a gentle glide to victory. In fact, part deux of the GMT wars suffered some serious turbulence with barely an ounce between the Grand Seiko SBGJ237 and GMT-Master II. It seems the war is not over, and a sequel to end the trilogy may be in the works. But for now, let our writers tackle the task of entry-level Rolex watches.
Jorg — Rolex Oyster Perpetual ref. 124300
Let me start by congratulating you on last week’s victory, Ben. After taking three wins in a row, a win for your “Batman” was to be expected. But I was surprised to see how close it ended up. It shows that people seem to like the new Grand Seiko SBGJ237 quite a bit. And I can only say once more; go and try on that watch because you will be amazed by how great it is. But enough about last week, on to this week’s clash of our two Rolex models.
Ben: Well, I’m just glad to end your streak and get a win under my belt. I think Vin Diesel said it best; “It doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile, winning is winning”.
Rob: Since when did we quote Vin Diesel on Fratello?
Ben: What are you doing here, Nuddsy? Get back to writing love letters to Forstner and leave us in peace…
Jorg: Thank goodness that shut him up… For a long time, I did not really care much for the Oyster Perpetual, to be frank. Especially the previous generation 39mm Oyster Perpetual ref. 114300 was a bit of an oddball watch. Up until 2018, that model came in a selection of exotic colors like Red Grape, Olive, Blue, and Grey. And while I really like the Blue and Red Grape versions, Rolex ruined the designs with the minute markers having contrasting colors. Purple and red, blue and green, grey and blue — a horrible display of frivolity. Only when the basic black dial and white dial versions were introduced did a certain sense of relevance return to the OP. And don’t even get me started on the highly-polished indices seemingly disappearing against the sunburst dials.
A renewed energy
So I guess the previous generation Oyster Perpetual was never really on my radar. Especially when considering the prospect of owning the Explorer I, if ever an offer were on the table. After the wall of sound that was the new Rolex Submariner, that was a whole 0.4mm bigger, the dust settled enough for me to take a closer look at the new OP. Many others were also captivated by the 41mm Oyster Perpetual ref. 124300. As you know, Ben, the Submariner has always been high up on my list of personal grails. But the new generation Submariner is not exactly a shock to the system considering the model’s legacy.
A firecracker made of glitter straight to the face.
On the contrary, the new Oyster Perpetual was a firecracker made of glitter straight to the face. Increasing the size is not always a recipe for a great design for classic Rolex watches. Especially when the 40mm mark is exceeded. But increasing the case of the jumbo Oyster Perpetual from 39mm to 41mm was a stroke of genius. At 41mm, it still feels like a classy and elegant statement piece, rather than a unwieldy clunker of a watch. And there are multiple reasons for that.
Don’t trust the spec sheet
The first is that the case size did not actually expand by a full 2mm. It never works out by just beefing up the outer dimensions without considering the inner proportions. On top of that, the lug-to-lug size is almost identical to the previous 39mm version. And the dial size? You guessed it, Ben. It’s not even a full 1mm bigger. As with the Submariner, Rolex markets the OP as a 41mm watch on the spec sheet to attract customers with a preference of watches over 40mm. All the while, the watch retains most of the same wrist presence as the previous generation. It’s clever engineering and trickery to achieve this, albeit with a bit of fudging on the dimensions.
Ben: I’ve got a good set of Mitutoyo calipers if Rolex ever want me to take proper measurements of its watches. My “40mm” Daytona is actually around 38.3mm, for instance.
Anything but boring
The principle of balancing elements and searching for the right proportions also goes for the dial. I know you will have something to say about the dial design of the new Oyster Perpetual. I read your article on Rolex design flaws with great interest, and I agree with some of your observations. But before we get into the space between the elements, I have to give Rolex credit for changing the design of the hour markers at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. Rolex has found a way to prevent the new Oyster Perpetual from becoming boring like the previous generation with the new double hour markers. On top of that, it’s a simple but very clever design change to overcome the potential emptiness of an increased dial size.
A slightly larger Coronet seems to have solved a big part of the issue.
On the topic of the space between the Rolex coronet at 12 o’clock and the Rolex Oyster Perpetual wording on the dial, I agree with you. While it’s hard to believe that they didn’t try, a slightly larger Coronet seems to have solved a big part of the issue. When it comes to the gap between the text on the upper and lower half of the dial, I don’t feel the annoying itch you do. But as with all design, seeing is knowing. Let’s have a craft beer together as soon as we can to explore whether there is a better option.
Ben: There’s no better option than craft beer.
A big step forward
Jorg: Moving on. I have to compliment Rolex for the new dial colors. For the 41mm Oyster Perpetual, Rolex chose to introduce two basic dial colors. First, a black dial version with a sunray finish and white gold hour markers. It seems like an obvious must-have for Rolex as it will draw in a crowd. But the choice for a silver dial with a sunray finish and yellow gold markers is the big winner here. I really am not a big fan of white dials in general, so I applaud the step of omitting the white dial in favor of this much classier cream dial. When it comes to the more vibrant yellow, green, and turquoise colors available, the forest green color is my clear favorite.
The movement will not be a deciding factor in this battle.
Lastly, we have to mention the new movement as well. However, it will not be a deciding factor in this battle as both the 41mm Oyster Perpetual and the 41mm Datejust essentially are powered by almost identical calibers. Rolex updated the Oyster Perpetual movement to the Caliber 3230, where the Datejust is powered by the Caliber 3235 that has the namesake date complication. But it does bring the two watches closer together than ever before. And in my opinion, the Oyster Perpetual is the more attractive watch in the 41mm size — both in price and design. At €5,600, the Oyster Perpetual is a classy statement that is easily the best out of the two entry-level Rolex watches. Just adding the date bumps the price of the Datejust up to €7,500.
You see Ben, my problem with the 41mm Datejust is its overall design. When I was talking about beefed-up versions of smaller models, the 41mm Datejust is very much one of them. It feels big, chunky, and lacks elegance against the 36mm version. Everything you don’t want from a Datejust. So tell me Ben, why do you favor the Datejust?
Ben — Rolex Datejust 41
If we’re talking beef, we have to talk about the Datejust II. Does anyone remember this watch? Specifically, the reference 116300. The Datejust II model name has sort of vanished from the lexicon of Rolex enthusiasts. Mostly as the watch really jumped on the early noughties bandwagon of big is best. In my view, to the detriment of the Datejust.
Jorg: You’re right Ben, the Datejust II was a cut of prime beef.
Ben: A prime cut left in the sun too long, perhaps. Applying the “II” signature to a Rolex model comes with some weight and the Datejust II could never live up to its own hype. The GMT-Master II that won last week, humble brag #1, was deserving of the moniker thanks to the movement innovations. The Explorer II also dedicated many new spelunking features for cave-dwellers tracking day/night cycles that didn’t come with the Explorer I. For the Datejust II, all we got was some movement upgrades within a rather cumbersome case.
Applying the applicable moniker to the Datejust
It reminds me of the Ferrari 599 GTO. Up to that point, Ferrari only assigned the GTO label to souped-up production cars to qualify for racing homologation. The 250 and the 288, for instance, were deserving of the GTO title. Whereas the 599 raced in the era where homologation was no longer required. Yet, the 599 was still undeservedly gifted the GTO moniker.
I feel the same with the Datejust II. The original 1945 Rolex Datejust was a diminutive and stylish automatic watch with a date window. However, the Datejust name was not printed on the dial until the 1950s. As soon as the cyclops adorned the Datejust in 1954, the template was set for the next fifty years. Sure, the variations ran wild, sometimes reflecting the era in which they emerged. But, the Datejust format was as reliable as the setting sun.
Cowering villagers could come out of hiding following the demise of the terrorizing Datejust II giant.
Yet, when the Datejust II landed, Rolex tried its best to shake the leaves from a bare tree. The lugs, the bezel, the markers; all of it was just way too brash and bold to be taken seriously. Conversely, the Datejust 41 was an absolute barnstormer when it was unveiled in 2016. Cowering villagers could come out of hiding following the demise of the terrorizing Datejust II giant. Maybe that was an exaggeration, but the Datejust 41 was re-energizing for those who swore-off the II’s in-your-face attitude. “How?” I hear you ask.
Jorg: Well, at least your hearing doesn’t need testing, but your eyesight might… I still see a jumbo case with fat lugs and a bezel that is too in your face to ever feel comfortable.
Ben: Well, the giveaway 41 name implies the diametric dimensions remain at a jumbo 41mm as per the Datejust II. You’re right, but it is how the Datejust 41 sculpts the elements around the 41mm case that returns the spirit of the early Datejusts that were once thought lost at this diameter.
The Datejust is not just Grandad’s watch
Even though the balance was restored, the Datejust 41 avoids the fallacy of only appealing to the stately customer. Beforehand, a bi-color Rolex Datejust was confined to be the “Grandad’s watch”. The Datejust 41 made strides to contain the DJ spirit with a broad demographic. For my choice, I forego the gold fluted bezel that would make it a Rolesor model. While it’s endemic to the Datejust, if I am to stand a chance of a successive win, I have keep things steel. The ref. 69200 Jubilee bracelet remains, however.
The Datejust and Jubilee are simpatico.
Last week, some of the comments made reference to the new Jubilee “Batman” actually being called the “Batgirl”. I voiced this in the comments, but I’ll make the point here. Calling it the “Batgirl”, because the bracelet is more flashy incorrectly assumes that makes it more feminine. But more than that, Batgirl’s costume was actually black and yellow. Therefore, the color scheme no longer aligns the cape to the black and blue bezel. I get the point that the GMT-Master II is better suited with the Oyster. But on the Datejust, the Jubilee bracelet is impeccable. Often when I see the Datejust on an Oyster bracelet, it takes me a while to recognize the watch. When I see a Jubilee, it’s hard to imagine the watch attached is anything but a Datejust.
Thoughts on the new Perpster
Now on to the new Oyster Perpetual. I ended up in hot water in my article on Rolex design flaws. I stand by my statements though that the spacing of the text in the OP’s vast expanse of the dial is less than stellar for a “hot tamale” watch. Without digging up old bones, I wish to mention another element of the OP41 that grinds my gears. The double-dash markers were only present in the 36mm version in the outgoing Oyster Perpetual generation. This time round, the dual indices have spread to the largest configuration.
When prospective buyers came to me with advice on which Oyster Perpetual size to buy, my recommendation was always the 34mm or 39mm. Simply because the indices on both sizes had single markers all the way round. With the new generation, my advice could only encompass the 34mm version.
Jorg: The previous Oyster Perpetual often gets praise for being the ultimate distillation of Rolex design simplicity. While optimizing that dial with a beer, we could also try single markers. The results will probably be lackluster but I’m open to trying. But if you bring up a white dial, there is no more beer for you!
Ben: You may enjoy the new layout, Jorg. But for me, it adds unnecessary bulk to the Oyster Perpetual dial. It makes me doubt my earlier claim during the Beater Battle that “the Oyster Perpetual is the distillation of Rolex’s most acclaimed innovations into a single watch.” Hardly a distilled design when needless additives get thrown in the mix.
Jorg: In principle, I completely agree with you, Ben. But what happens if all the basic elements like the case, the bezel, and the famous Rolex cyclops all fight for attention? Every time I look at the 41mm Datejust it feels like I’m stuck in a fever dream that I can’t get out of.
But time to wake up. Over to our readers on their preferred gateway Rolex. Vote and comment below.