Sunday Morning Showdown: Rolex Datejust 36mm Bicolor Watch
In this Sunday morning column, 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. This week, THE classic among classics gets treated to the original mano-a-mano format. Ladies and gents, it is time for the Rolex Datejust 36 to be rated or hated.
Last week’s contest between the Rolex Milgauss and Omega Railmaster always had the whiff of a foregone conclusion about it. RJ and I discussed the likely outcome and while I conceded that he was probably right that Ben would walk away victorious, I still couldn’t shake the feeling Jorg’s arguments for the Railmaster deserved to take home the crown. But sentiment has no place on Sundays. We’re here for blood and blood is what we got. Specifically, the blood of the Omega Railmaster drenching a scorecard that reads 54 plays 46. Unlucky, JW.
This week, the two most cantankerous members of the team face off once more to win your favor. The Celtic Clurichaun wrestles with the Hungarian Horntail over one of the most transcendent watches ever designed. The Rolex Datejust 36mm in steel and yellow gold.
We were flinging a couple of ideas around the virtual office this week, trying to settle on a subject for this week’s Sunday Morning Showdown, when the perfect candidate fell into our laps. Well, into Balazs’s lap, to be precise. His watchmaker is the soon-to-be-former owner of the Rolex Datejust 36 you see in these images (this exact piece). Before he listed it for sale, he decided to lend it to his curious buddy for a short stretch. Needless to say, the big B was not impressed…
He shared some images with me in passing and I leaped out of my chair. “I love it,” I professed. “How much?” Thus ensued an expository conversation that resulted in what you see before you. I love it; he hates it. I’m right; once again, he’s wrong (sorry, mate).
Balazs: Ok, wait. Let me give it a twist. Let’s ask the readers what they think about You sporting one. So guys, can you imagine our beloved Rob with this 36mm two-tone…for the lack of a better word, thing on his wrist? Let us know in the comments below. Sorry, please carry on.
Rob: Hold up, you think it wouldn’t suit me? Specifically me? How dare you. I’m every bit the used car salesman (one of our readers accused me of that just recently, in fact). What don’t you like about it on my wrist? It can’t be the size, surely? Is it the gold? Do I not deserve gold, B? Do I not deserve to have nice things? And the Rolex Datejust 36 is not just a nice thing. It is, quite possibly, the nice thing.
You see, a bicolor Rolex Datejust is, in my experience, one of two things to all people. It is either an instant hit or it is a slow burner. I am sure that some detractors have reached the end of their roads without changing their minds, but I contest that had they been given another ten, 20, 30, or maybe 100 years on this Earth, they’d come round eventually.
In fact, I must confess that I am a member of the latter camp! Throughout my childhood, I recognized the Rolex Datejust in gold and bicolor configurations as the most meretricious, gaudy, God-awful tacky trinket a man could wrap around his wrist. I didn’t know it was a Rolex, then. Much less did I know of its significance. But I saw it so frequently on every kind of person that scared the bejesus out of me and I did not like it one bit.
Even when I made the watchmaking industry my home it took some time to get onboard. Years later, even after I’d graduated as a real-life watchmaker working on real-life movements, with a real-life appreciation of what made them good and bad, I struggled to accept the Rolex Datejust 36. And then, all of a sudden, it changed.
I don’t know what was behind this sudden shift. But it was intensely sudden and powerful and unexpected and, to this day, perplexingly unexplained.
Well, I kind of agree with you Rob, on many things, especially the last parts. Oh, and of course, the “scaring the bejesus” part too. I also love the Datejust…in theory, at least. To me, it is a classy and elegant piece that one can easily dress up to make it a tuxedo watch. Throw it on a leather strap and you have a great casual piece that you can wear with jeans and a T-shirt. Its versatility is really amazing.
The one problem I have with this model, though, is its size. And I don’t just mean two-tone Datejusts in 36mm. I mean all of them. As someone who has a relatively large wrist, having a 36mm watch on me looks moderately ridiculous. That ridiculously only intensifies with a two-tone case…
Let me dissect what you just said above about two-tone Rolex Datejust models. You hated them because you saw them everywhere and you didn’t like the look. But now that you appreciate watchmaking at what goes into a Rolex for that matter all of a sudden you’re loving it?
Rob: No, that’s just the point. My appreciation for it doesn’t come from how well-made a watch it is at all (and it is a really well-made watch). I think that I have come to appreciate not just how important it is, but why. It is an archetype. It is a trailblazer. Because of the Datejust so many other things exist. And while my natural tendency is to look to the end of evolution’s dance to find the new “optimum”, there is something to be said for going all the way back to the beginning and marveling at the massive leaps taken by today’s incrementally improving forerunners.
And I don’t want that to sound like I am in any way overlooking flaws in this watch because of its history. The truth is that I see no flaws. This is a legend for good reason. It has been the standard-bearer for the industry’s standard-bearer for generations. Models from this era (the ’80s) represent the perfect maturation of concept and style. It is a throwback, yes. But it is glorious in the same way that Magnum-Rolex-wearing-PI’s mustache is glorious — it never gets old.
Balazs: I appreciate what you’re saying, I love Rolex, hell I even love the Datejust (again, in theory). My second problem is with that look. To me, a two-tone Datejust looks outdated. I know you’d agree with me that a great many watches from the ’60s and ’70s are elegant, sometimes bulky, and colorful but definitely full of character, right?
Rob: Yeah, I guess…
Balazs: Well a two-tone Datejust from 1980 (where this particular watch is from) is exactly not that. If I look at it, I imagine a gentleman in his 60s who wore this watch probably every single day for decades. In my mind, he’s worn it to the point where the watch was just dangling around on a stretched out Jubilee bracelet, full of scratches and dings, and God knows what else between the case and the end links. I can’t shake that feeling. It is most certainly a fuddy-duddy throwback with no place in a modern catalog. Much less the catalog of a supposed market leader like Rolex. The days of the 36 being the top dog are long past. The 41mm version is the new cock of the roost. The king is dead; long live the king. But what will the Fratelli say?