G.O.A.T.: The Rolex Datejust

G.O.A.T.: The Rolex Datejust

The enduring design that is instantaneously recognizable and the archetype that comes to mind when people think of the luxury wristwatch.
The enduring design that is instantaneously recognizable and the archetype that comes to mind when people think of the luxury wristwatch.

Ask any man who knows watches about his favorites, and he would be remiss not to bring up a single Rolex. Still, while models like the Submariner, Daytona and the Sky Dweller are lauded for their history, attention to detail and utility, there is a reason why the classic Datejust is Rolex’s best-selling model of all time. Despite or maybe because of its uncomplicated design, the Datejust has found favor with many celebrities, athletes and world leaders. For those immersed in the world of horology, the Datejust is timeless and a nod to a simpler time. In addition, the timepiece is available in a broad range of customization options, making it unexpectedly personal but still appropriate for everyday wear no matter who you are.

The subdued elegance of the Datejust may explain why it’s sometimes overshadowed by the flashier sport models, but take a closer look, and there’s no mistaking why this model is known as “the classic watch of reference.” The Datejust is for the confident wearer that isn’t interested in superficial displays of wealth but still wants to signify his arrival to those in the know. Moreover, for many watch enthusiasts, incomparable craftsmanship and dependability are inextricably linked to this model. As a result, the Datejust is the rare luxury watch that never feels gauche.

A Storied History

Developed in 1945 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Rolex, the Datejust was a technical feat at launch. It has been worn by historical luminaries such as Winston Churchill, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., President Eisenhower and Sammy Davis Jr. It was the first self-winding waterproof wristwatch with a changing date window (located at 3 o’clock on the dial). Initially only available in yellow gold on a Jubilee bracelet, this new technology, coupled with the model’s oyster case, fluted bezel and unique Cyclops lens (added in 1953) over the date for easy reading, has charmed wearers of watches ever since. While these attributes may come standard on many of today’s luxury watches, it’s important to remember that the Datejust paved the way for newer models. The recent discourse around this model has had some naysayers arguing that the Datejust is an “old man’s watch.” However, this quintessential watch never feels dated and, unlike other signature styles, still feels decidedly modern, making it popular with men and women of all ages.

Stainless steel Rolex Datejust with blue dial
Rolex Datejust 126334, a stainless steel automatic wristwatch with date

Distinguishing Features

Unlike other Rolex models, the Datejust was not purpose-built. Instead, the Datejust is renowned for its versatility and casual elegance, pairing well with everything from blue jeans to a bespoke suit. The bracelet is available in Oyster or the elevated Jubilee bracelet. It is manufactured in three sizes today: 31, 36 and 41mm. While the 31 Datejust is suitable for those interested in a more understated accessory or those with less wrist real estate, the most popular sizes favored by men are the latter two. The 36mm model was the original size of the Datejust, so this size in particular has an incredibly rich and diverse inventory on the vintage and secondhand market. Rounding out the selection, the 41 Datejust was launched in 2016 to replace the Datejust II, another 41mm model that premiered seven years earlier. These models were produced to meet consumers’ interest in larger watches. While the Datejust 41 retains the same size as its previous incarnation, the new model has a slimmer profile, invigorating a clunky style.

Steel and Gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust with champagne dial
Rolex Datejust Reference 16013

Datejust Highly Desirable Models

The earliest reference, 4467 (known as Ovettone to collectors), was only available for four years after its initial production in limited quantities in 1945. In the years since its debut, 12 references belong to the Datejust, which are all collectible and rare. Reference 16013, made from 1977 to 1988, has found favor with many savvy buyers since it is nearly identical to the current references but much more moderately priced.

Personalization is embedded into the DNA of Datejust. After all, settling on a particular color, finish and material for the dial, bezel and bracelet is half the fun. Mother-of-pearl and diamond-set dials are popular, as are laser-etched palm, jubilee and fluted motifs. As a result, Datejust has always been embraced by the general public, despite its association with dignitaries and influential people.

The Datejust is Rolex’s oldest model line, still produced and improved upon today. Its extensive variations ensure that the watch speaks to generations of watch aficionados. Although Datejust is considered an elevated everyday watch, its caliber, innovation and precision prove that the timepiece is anything but ordinary.

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