The Best Boring But Brilliant Watches In The World — Rolex Datejust
The Rolex Datejust is arguably the most recognizable luxury watch in the world. The combination of a Cyclops, fluted bezel, and Jubilee bracelet are symbols of luxury that even the untrained eye will spot instantly. For once, calling this watch an icon is an understatement. But is the Datejust an exciting watch? Well, it’s not as prestigious as the flagship Day-Date, and it also lacks the raw sex-appeal of the Submariner. Based on that observation you could call the Datejust neither fish nor fowl, bland, and even boring. But can you really do that?
I know one guy that will completely disagree with me when I say the Rolex Datejust is a boring watch. That guy is Thomas van Straaten who very recently wrote a book with the title Vintage Rolex Datejust Buyer’s & Collector’s Guide. In his eyes, the Datejust is the ultimate watch. He might be right. But when something is ultimate or perfect it’s also boring – imperfection catches the eye, perfection is like water off a duck’s back. But maybe I should stop using the word “boring” and look for another angle when dealing with the perception of the Datejust.
The best boring but brilliant watches in the world — Rolex Datejust
So please allow me to rephrase and state that the Datejust is a cliché. Yes, it is the mother of all modern wristwatches, and it’s also a can-do-all, once-in-a-lifetime kind of watch, but do you feel butterflies when you spot one in the wild or put it on the wrist? I don’t. But what I do feel is reassurance. The Datejust is a comforting feel-good watch. It’s also a watch that gives you a confidence boost. It confirms you made the right (watch) choice. It helps you show the world you’re doing more than okay. But does it rock your world horologically? I really don’t think so.
Nothing but respect
Let’s make a comparison, like I did in my story about the Patek Philippe Calatrava. Whenever I see a Ferrari, I feel a tiny bit of excitement – not as much as when I was a young boy, but still. When I see a Porsche 911 I don’t feel anything, but there’s respect. Respect for a well-engineered masterpiece. A car that always stayed true to its origins. I sense the same when I see or wear a Datejust. I have nothing but respect for the way it has evolved since it debuted in 1945 without losing its original DNA – a Datejust is very much a 911 for the wrist IMHO – but it doesn’t make my heart race.
The Sun and the Datejust
Allow me to make yet another comparison, because even though I don’t find the Datejust very exciting, the success of the watch is without discussion. The problem with humans is that we often take things for granted. And that’s why I would like to compare the Datejust to the Sun. Please hear me out.
… and the world of watches would quite possibly stop turning without the Rolex Datejust.
Because just like the Sun that rises in the east and sets in the west, the Datejust is an inevitable fact. But on Earth life without the Sun is impossible, and the world of watches would quite possibly stop turning without the Rolex Datejust. The collection is the backbone of Rolex, the biggest, most dominant manufacturer of luxury watches in the world. Without the Datejust the world would be a different place. I’m not saying dinosaurs would roam the land, but maybe another Swiss brand would be wearing the imaginary watchmaking crown.
The features of a legend
Back to the watch itself. And that poses a problem, because talking about the Datejust is sort of impossible. One look at the Datejust section on the Rolex website reveals a plethora of variations. A 31mm steel Datejust with a smooth bezel, pink dial with stick indexes, and Oyster bracelet is basically incomparable with a 41mm steel and yellow gold version with slate gray dial and Roman numerals on a two-tone Jubilee bracelet. The most historical and continues size is 36mm. It all started with the 36mm Datejust ref. 4467 from 1945. The watch lacked a Cyclops (the small magnifying glass was introduced eight years later), but shows a fluted bezel – way more subtle and more coin-like than the current ones – and a Jubilee bracelet.
From elegant to buff and back again
If the ref. 4467 is the original 911, the executions with smooth bezels, Jubilee bracelets and different dials that followed over the years are like a Targa, GTS, and 4S version of the 911. The 41mm Datejust II (ref. 1163xx) that debuted in 2009 was like the introduction of Porsche’s first SUV, the Cayenne. The words “big” and “bulky” come to mind when you see the first Cayenne’s and the Datejust II. The Datejust II traded elegance for a buff look. It didn’t work. In 2016 the Datejust II was replaced by the current Datejust 41 (ref. 1263xx) that lost some weight – it became a tad thinner – and gained back a lot of the original sophistication.
Maybe XL should have been L
My favorite Datejust in the current line-up? Well, none. When Rolex decided to follow the trend of XL watches they introduced the 41mm Datejust II. And 41mm is just too big for a watch like the Datejust. A watch that already has a lot of presence in a 36mm case.
… a 41mm Datejust looks like a 44mm watch and, also because of the very reflective fluted bezel and prominent Jubilee bracelet, that is just too much to handle.
I see it this way: a Medium 36mm Datejust has the charisma and presence of a Large 39mm watch. Subsequently, an XL 41mm Datejust looks like a 44mm watch and, also because of the very reflective fluted bezel and prominent Jubilee bracelet, that is just too much to handle. The proportions don’t feel right to me. A 39mm version would do the trick if you ask me, but that’s a size that doesn’t sit well with Rolex. Okay, the previous 39mm Explorer wasn’t great, but the Oyster Perpetual 39 was superb and was axed nonetheless.
Reassurance and comfort in troublesome times
I see it this way: 36mm is historically correct but too small for the modern man, 41mm is only effective to show off and too big to honor the original elegance of the Datejust. 39mm would be better if you ask me. But that doesn’t mean I’m right from a commercial perspective. Far from it. Try going to your AD and buy a steel 41mm Datejust with a blue dial. I get it. In difficult times, people seek security, comfort, and ease – another cliché that is oh so true. And no other watch delivers all that in abundance but the Rolex Datejust.
For Thomas van Straaten’s book, please visit this Kickstarter page.
If you want to know about all the current Datejust models, please visit Rolex’s official website.
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