Sunday Morning Showdown: Rolex Datejust Vs. Cartier Santos
In this week’s Sunday Morning Showdown, two classics compete — the Rolex Datejust and the Cartier Santos. To be a little more precise, it’s the Rolex Datejust 116234 and the Cartier Santos Galbée XL 2823. Both are versatile watches that can be worn every day and were produced during approximately the same period.
Daan is the owner and defender of the Cartier Santos Galbée XL. I have to admit that I don’t own the Rolex Datejust 116234 myself, but a four-digit reference from 1969 instead. However, I briefly owned a slightly younger Datejust reference 16200 at some point and have been eyeballing a 16234 for a long time. I could have also picked a reference 16234 for this Sunday Morning Showdown, as it might match the Santos Galbée XL a bit better in terms of today’s market price. However, the newer Datejust reference 116234 corresponds to the production years of the Santos Galbée XL.
Battle of the golden pandas
But before we jump into today’s battle, let’s look at how last week’s Sunday Morning Showdown went. We saw two golden chronographs against each other in the ring. It was Rolex versus Omega, Daytona versus Speedmaster. I expected this to end much closer than it did, but it seems like the Speedmaster community is quite strong here on Fratello. The Moonshine golden Speedmaster took the victory with 64% of the votes against 36% for the golden Daytona. Based on the comments, though, I think both watches are quite close to each other. Let’s see if this week’s Rolex can win against Cartier.
RJ: Rolex Datejust 116234
The Datejust has been around since 1945, and aside from those first references with leaf-shaped hands and no Cyclops (that came “only” in 1954), the watch hasn’t changed that much over time. Though it has been available in various sizes over the years, 36mm remains the classic size and is still available today. The reference 116234 was introduced in 2005 and produced for the following 15 years. You will see that the design of the lugs changed compared to its predecessor (16234), making them a bit bulkier. Rolex also updated the clasp. Inside was Rolex’s default three-hander with date, caliber 3135. You could also find this movement in most other concurrent three-hand watches from the Geneva brand, including the Submariner Date, Sea-Dweller, and Yacht-Master.
Rolex 3135 vs. ETA 2892-A2
It’s here where I would say that the Rolex has the edge over the Cartier Santos Galbée XL. Even though Cartier’s caliber 049 (based on the ETA 2892-A2) is certainly a good movement, there are some differences. The Rolex caliber 3135 has a full balance bridge fixed on both sides and a longer power reserve. Instead of having a regulation screw on the bridge (like the ETA 2892-A2), Rolex uses Microstella screws on the balance wheel. In theory, these differences in movement construction and design should result in better performance. I reckon it is barely noticeable, if at all, but I prefer the more-refined design of the caliber 3135.
White gold and steel
The Rolex Datejust 116234 has a steel bracelet and case, except for the fluted bezel, which is made of 18K white gold. It gives the watch a very nice shine, and the white gold also ensures some contrast with the polished Oyster case. The Jubilee bracelet also has a classic combination of polished center links and brushed outer links.
Rolex’s Jubilee bracelet is among the most comfortable bracelets I’ve ever owned, and one can debate whether a President isn’t even more comfortable. Still, those are only available in precious metals. This six-digit Rolex Datejust reference was also the first to have a steel Jubilee with a concealed clasp.
So many Datejust 116234 dial variations
The reference 116234 translates into a combination of steel and white gold, but the dial variations are almost endless. Above, you see a dial with diamond hour markers, not only aimed at women but also at men who appreciate them. Without being able to configure the watch yourself, as you can with some brands, you are still able to purchase something that’s right up your alley.
There is a variety of dial colors (and finishing) used in the 116234, as well as the choice of Roman numerals, Arabic numerals, and stick hour markers. One might think the Rolex Datejust is a bit of a boring watch, but you can buy the right version for yourself. Would you like something sporty? A blue or black dial might be best. But if you’d like to have one that’s a bit more toned down, try one with a silver or white dial.
Listen, I don’t dislike the Santos Galbée XL at all. I would love to get one at some point, preferably in gold and steel. But when compared to the Rolex Datejust 116234, I’d go with the latter without a doubt. That’s not because it says “Rolex” on the dial or due to the current demand for anything Rolex, but just because, to me, it’s the mother of all modern wristwatches. It’s a classic, and everyone should try it at least once.
Daan: Cartier Santos Galbée XL
Just as RJ ended with a respectful note towards the Santos, I’ll also start my argument with a lot of respect for the Datejust. It has been in the Rolex catalog for so long now, and the brand has been able to modernize it while maintaining its original charm. Its Jubilee bracelet is a true classic and is indeed one of the best and most comfortable bracelets ever designed, especially with the concealed clasp. And even though I fully agree that the Rolex in-house 3135 movement is superior to the ETA movement inside my Santos Galbée XL, I’d still like to argue that the mother of all modern wristwatches is the Santos, not the Datejust.
You might already know the story, so I won’t take up too much space here, but the Cartier Santos Galbée XL was inspired by one of the first wristwatches ever made, the Cartier Santos-Dumont from 1904. It was designed for Louis Cartier’s friend, Alberto Santos Dumont, who was one of the first pilots around. He wanted to be able to tell the time while flying without having to remove his hands from the controls, and thus, one of the first wristwatches ever was born. Over the years there have been many different iterations of the Cartier Santos, but the one on this bracelet with its square bezel is my favorite.
The mother of all modern wristwatches was square!
This bracelet might not be as articulated as the Rolex Jubilee, but it’s still one of the most comfortable bracelets in my collection. And speaking of a concealed clasp, there isn’t even a logo interrupting its design at any point. When people try my Santos on, they even have to ask how and where to open the bracelet. Now that’s what I call concealed! And its curved links perfectly match the curved design of the square case. In combination with the characteristic Roman numerals on the dial, I truly feel that this is an iconic design.
In fact, I expected it to be so iconic that I’d want to save it for special occasions. I honestly didn’t think I would want to wear this watch on any given day, but for some reason, its design works in any situation. The Roman numerals make it dressy enough for more formal occasions, and the all-steel case and bracelet make it sporty enough for more casual days. Of course, this is something that could be said about the Datejust as well, but I think the square Santos is the more original option here.
Elegant without trying too hard
And, above all, it is the more elegant choice, especially compared to the bulky updated lugs of the 116234. Besides, the designers at Rolex can try to give the Datejust as many variations of Roman numerals as they want, but I still think they should be reserved for Cartier. La Maison just does them so much better! I must admit, a white gold bezel like the Datejust’s is very nice, but nothing beats the screws in the Santos’s bezel and bracelet. In terms of alignment, they’re all over the place, but to me, this imperfection adds that French stroke of elegance. The Datejust is almost too perfect.
The one imperfection in some people’s eyes might be the magnifying lens on the Datejust. I must admit that I like it a lot. It’s so characteristic of Rolex and the Datejust, and it certainly beats that very uncarefully cut-out date window on my Santos. But I’ll just treat that as another one of those weird French imperfections. While I’m wearing the Santos, I don’t notice it, but I could certainly do without it.
Get ready to vote!
In another article, I explained how my Santos actually replaced a vintage Rolex Datejust 1603, so of course, I’m going to tell you to vote for the Cartier Santos Galbée XL today. But I have to agree with RJ that both are great watches. And even though not everyone loves Roman numerals, especially in combination with a square design, I’d still recommend you to try out a Santos once. Its wearability will surprise you, I’m sure of that!
So who will you vote for in today’s Sunday Morning Showdown? Will you go with RJ’s perfect Rolex Datejust 116234, or will you vote for Daan’s elegant Cartier Santos Galbée XL? We would love to hear why you voted for one or the other in the comments below!