The Datejust was the first Rolex that I had to get my hands on. More specifically, I pined after the Rolex Datejust 16013 from 1983. Yes, the one with a diamond-studded dial. If you’re going to buy a Rolex, why not go all out? The next watch on my list was a 1977 Datejust 1603 with a silver dial. This watch is the perfect timepiece for both everyday wear and more stylish occasions. I’ve been less impressed by newer Datejust releases, particularly the 41-mm Datejust II and last year’s 36-mm two-tone version with Everose gold and an Oyster bracelet. I was, therefore, anxiously awaiting the new release of the traditional 36-mm version with a black dial and Jubilee bracelet.
Similar to last year, many media outlets and social media accounts focused on the new GMT-Master II at Baselworld 2019, overshadowing Rolex’s other new releases and watches from other brands. It’s understandable to some extent, considering the model’s rarity (in large part thanks to Rolex’s production strategy), the controversy surrounding the switch from the Oyster to the Jubilee bracelet, and the general hype surrounding the watch. At first glance, the new Rolex Datejust ref. 126234, successor to the 16234, pales in comparison; it doesn’t even have a nickname! The Datejust ref. 126234 is “simply” a timelessly elegant watch – a safe bet.
Rolex Datejust: A Well-Rounded Timepiece
You don’t have to go out on a limb to claim the Datejust epitomizes Rolex. It’s graceful, robust, and exudes a certain level of authority. This is only accentuated by the numerous innovations that Rolex has introduced to different Datejust editions over the years. The date display and subsequent quick-set date feature are just a few of the important developments that were first released in the Datejust line. The very first model debuted in 1945, when ref. 4467 went down in history as the first watch to feature a date window. At midnight, the watch automatically moved the calendar forward by one day. The famous Cyclops lens didn’t enter the scene until 1954, making the date much more readable. While the Datejust name had yet to appear on its dial, this model did contain all of the Genevan manufacturer’s milestone developments to date and was released to mark the company’s 40th birthday. The watch featured in an Oyster case, a perpetual movement with a patented automatic mechanism, and chronometer-level accuracy. The timepiece seemed to have it all: a diameter of 36 mm, date display, water resistance, and stainless steel case with the choice of a white gold or yellow gold bezel.
In keeping with tradition, Rolex has barely altered the design of the Datejust over time. It’s a story of evolution rather than revolution. Rolex exclusively updated their automatic movements in the years to follow and introduced sapphire glass in the early 1970s. In 1977, Rolex added the quick-set mechanism, which saw the end of setting the date via tedious winding. This is yet another example of Rolex’s step-by-step process of innovation. The Datejust collection is now one of Rolex’s most diverse. It contains watches made of a range of materials with various dial colors, as well as Roman or Arabic numerals.
Current Datejust Models
In 2009, Rolex released the Datejust II, a 41-mm watch that marked the first deviation from the model’s characteristic 36-mm case. Many argue the larger size is much more contemporary and a long-awaited improvement, but in my opinion, the increased size detracts from the Datejust’s elegance and fine proportions.
I was, therefore, pleased to see Rolex update the Oyster Perpetual Datejust 36 in 2018, equipping it with the new 3235 caliber. This year saw the release of a Rolesor Datejust 36 with a stainless steel bezel, white gold accents, and black dial. I like this combination in particular because it’s less common to see Datejusts with black dials in my experience. This version is also much better suited to everyday use and more affordable than the 2018 edition made of Everose gold and stainless steel. The watch marks a return to Rolex’s roots. It’s a perfect unisex size at 36 mm and robust yet elegant. When compared to the latest – at times extravagant – two-tone models or sports models like the Sea-Dweller or Yachtmaster, the Datejust is a more understated choice that will never go out of style. This watch is the best example of what many watch enthusiasts love: continuous evolution, small optimizations, and detailed adjustments as opposed to everything new.
Sapphire glass protects the black sunburst dial and completes the 100 m (10 bar, 328 ft) water-resistant case. Every new Datejust model is powered by the in-house caliber 3235. This automatic movement has a power reserve of 70 hours and is certified as a Superlative Chronometer, meaning it deviates a maximum of +/-2 seconds per day. For me, however, the highlight of any Datejust is the Jubilee bracelet. The three inner links are polished, while the outer links are satin-brushed and thus less susceptible to scratches. The distinguished look and traditional features all remain, but the inner workings have been updated to the latest technology available. The bracelet can be adjusted by 5 mm on the wrist using the Easylink extension system. If you already own a vintage edition, you’ll notice how it differs from modern examples. Vintage models have a more lightweight appearance than contemporary timepieces with their more substantial band. However, the new bracelets are more durable (i.e., flexible) and come with practical additional features.
While disappointment is too strong a word, I must say that as a fan of vintage Datejusts like the ref. 1601 (including models with a black dial) and ref. 1603, none of the more modern Datejust models have ever drawn me toward purchasing a new watch. I’ve found them too heavy, too extroverted, and thus too far from the appeal of the original model. But it’s a whole other story with the ref. 126234! In my opinion, it’s the perfect blend of traditional design and modern technology.