Why I Bought The Rolex Day-Date 18238 — And The Long Journey It Took To Get There
The first time I ever laid my eyes on a Rolex Day-Date was when I was a student. I thought it was quite an impressive watch, and ever since then, I somewhat played with the idea of getting one when the time was right. And just the other week, the time was finally right, and I bought myself a Day-Date 18238.
The Rolex Day-Date debuted in 1956, and to this day, not much about the watch has changed. That’s the power of such an icon, but perhaps it’s also the reason why it is such an iconic watch after all. This watch does not need much introduction. You probably know or have seen it many times. The Rolex Day-Date is only available in yellow gold, rose gold, white gold, and platinum, except for (supposedly) a handful of prototypes that Rolex made in steel.
Rolex Day-Date 18238 with President bracelet
Mainly in the US, the Day-Date model is often referred to as the “Rolex President”. Officially, “President” refers to the type of bracelet you see here, though the watch was also available on an Oyster bracelet. The “President” nickname also refers to the US Presidents who wore this watch. Where I live in the Netherlands, it’s more common to refer to it as Rolex Day-Date. Everyone will know which watch what you’re talking about. We did a historical overview of the Rolex Day-Date here.
I don’t come from a family of watch enthusiasts. The timepieces that were (and still are) in the family are mainly Omega watches. I don’t think anyone in my family or the people around us in the 1980s and ’90s had a Rolex watch. When my interest in watches started to grow in the second half of the 1990s, the Rolex Day-Date was one of those icons that I considered top of the bill. Sure, it’s not a Patek Philippe, a Breguet, or a Vacheron Constantin. But there was something about a gold Day-Date that made it the king of the hill in my opinion.
My first Day-Date encounter
In the early 2000s, I had my first close encounter with one. It was actually Gerard from our team who had one in his private collection (he used to own one of the best watch shops for 15 years). It was a Day-Date ref. 18038 with a tapestry dial… And just like that, he gave me the watch to wear for a few days! At the time, I clearly felt way too young to wear such a watch. Of course, that was due to the high value (I think the retail price of a Day-Date 18238 was around €17,000 at the time) and the fact it was made of precious metal. But most importantly, the feeling that I didn’t “earn” such a watch really made it seem out of my league.
In 2002, I got a 36mm Datejust as my first watch from the Rolex brand. A vintage GMT-Master 1675 followed, and then I bought a pre-owned Sea-Dweller 16600. In the years after that, several other references followed. They were always sports models, though, and never a Day-Date. The desire for a Rolex Day-Date took a back seat, mainly because I felt I wasn’t ready for one.
In recent years, however, my interest in owning gold and bi-color watches has increased. In 2014, I bought my first gold Speedmaster, and in 2017, I got the rose gold Globemaster. Finally, in 2019, I added the Speedmaster Moonshine (yellow) Gold version to my collection. I noticed I liked wearing gold and stopped caring about what others might think of it. That also might be an age thing, of course.
It starts to make sense to buy gold watches
These days, some of the steel Rolex models cost as much or even more than watches in precious metal. Now it’s actually making sense to explore (and buy) gold watches. I don’t have to explain to you the crazy demand for Rolex watches and how it has become virtually impossible to buy any of them at retail price. It surprised me that the Day-Date is lagging in value development, considering how disturbing that development is for other models. In the grand scheme of things, the Day-Date is suddenly an interesting watch to consider. That’s especially true if you’ve had a slight crush on it already.
Which Day-Date reference to pick?
I’d been eyeballing the Day-Date quite often in recent years. I had also taken my time to decide whether I wanted something vintage or modern. The Day-Date ref. 1803 (with caliber 1556) is probably the most common vintage reference. However, I decided that I didn’t want to have a watch that features a day and date indicator without any form of quick-set. The ref. 1803 was succeeded by the 18038 (in 1978), and that was the watch Gerard lent me years ago. This Day-Date reference was the first to have a single quick-set date feature (thanks to caliber 3055) and a sapphire crystal instead of a Plexiglass one. There are plenty of Day-Date 18038 models on offer, and it shouldn’t be too difficult to find one with a good President bracelet.
A Day-Date 18238 from the 1990s
I say this because, in my search, the condition of the bracelet was incredibly important. The gold President bracelets are often a victim of stretch, and I wanted one that was still very tight. In 1988, Rolex introduced the ref. 18238, which featured a double quick-set day/date thanks to caliber 3155. I’ve tried them all, and I felt best with the Day-Date 18238. That’s not only because of the double quick-set, but it’s also because the era of this reference (1988-2000) plays a role for me personally. I have fond memories of the 1990s, and somehow, that seems to be a valid aspect to me as well. A slight doubt that I had was that the 18038 is a bit thicker, which I like. But the pros of the 18238 won out in the end.
But, as always, I didn’t pull the trigger on one, as there was not really a need to do so. However, a few weeks ago, I was at this watch get-together with my colleague Daan, and along with around 40 watch collectors and enthusiasts, there were a bunch of Rolex Day-Date watches there. I tried a few of them, and I became convinced that I really needed to get one at some point. Furthermore, my preference would still be a yellow gold Day-Date 18238. I just didn’t realize that this “some point” would be only a few weeks later.
Sealing the deal
One evening, while I was at the Watches And Wonders show in Geneva, I saw that one of the guys from the get-together was offering his Rolex Day-Date on his Instagram stories. It was the same Rolex Day-Date I’d seen and tried on my wrist just a few weeks before. I shot him a note, and the next day, while I was actually in a car from the Rolex HQ (for a Tudor factory visit, but more about that in another article) to the Watches And Wonders location, I received a message back, and we sealed the deal.
The only thing I needed to do was get another President bracelet link. The watch “only” came with 22, and my guess was that I needed 23 of them to have a proper fit. Normally, these Day-Dates came with 24 links. A quick note to our in-house watchmaker Paul, however, fixed that issue, and the gold link for the President arrived before I got home from Geneva.
Then, that same week, the seller of the Day-Date and I decided to do the deal before the weekend started, and we met somewhere convenient for the both of us. It’s always nice to talk watches with another enthusiast, so we sat down and did exactly that for a while. Shortly after, I was off, heading back home with the Rolex Day-Date reference 18238 on my wrist. With 22 links, it was a little bit tight, but it was manageable, at least for the drive home. Once home, I decided to add the 23rd link for a perfect fit on my 19cm wrist.
Why not sooner?
The watch has an amazing presence on the wrist, even at “just” 36mm. The President bracelet also ticks a lot of boxes. It might be the honeymoon period I am having with the Day-Date, but I just keep wondering why I didn’t pull the trigger earlier. Well, I guess I answered that question at the start of this article. Although I have and have had my fair share of Rolex watches, I have no desire to own any of the current references over the Day-Date I just purchased, even if I could buy one at retail price.
I don’t care
Last week, someone reminded me of a bunch of famous people that also own a Rolex Day-Date, but I was never interested in this watch for that reason. I have little interest in US Presidents (or those from any other country, for that matter). I am also bad at remembering or naming any actors (here in the office, they keep being surprised I don’t know actor X or actress Y). Our King has a Rolex Day-Date in white gold that he occasionally swaps for his Omega Speedmaster Professional, but that’s also something I don’t really care about. I just think it’s a cool-looking watch. A bit mythical, even. To me, the Day-Date is still Rolex’s flagship, even though other models are in higher demand or have more complicated movements.
Owning the Rolex Day-Date 18238
One of my other observations is how this watch wears so incredibly different from my Rolex Datejust on a Jubilee bracelet while sharing the same case shape and 36mm diameter. The Day-Date feels a bit thicker (I didn’t measure it, but it’s probably the case) and the President bracelet adds quite a bit of heft and mass to the whole thing. It’s just a blast to wear this watch, and it makes me smile from ear to ear.
As a watch collector and enthusiast, the Rolex Day-Date 18238 is probably not an everyday watch for me. However, it could very well be the only watch one needs to have or wear. One way or the other, finally owning this watch feels a bit like a personal milestone.
Have you had a similar experience with any of your watches? Share your milestone pieces in the comments below.