The Rolex Datejust: Making of an Icon

by John Wallis


August 03. 2017 - by John Wallis

There are watches that are more famous, expensive or glamorous. There are watches that are trendier or more popular for a year or two. But when it comes down to finding the absolute classic, the true icon of haute horlogerie, it's hard to think of a better showcase for Swiss watchmaking than the Rolex Datejust.

The watch was born in auspicious circumstances. Released in 1945, the new model was made to celebrate the company's 40th anniversary with a handsome minimalist design, a first unveiling of the Jubilee bracelet, and a groundbreaking new complication: the date window. Ubiquitous today, date displays were almost unheard of for wristwatches at the time. The arrival of the Datejust was to have a game-changing effect on the industry.

But even after date windows became common in Swiss watches, the Datejust continued to represent one of Rolex's most desirable and highly regarded watch families – a legacy it has maintained for over 70 years. Rolex Datejust changes have been relatively few and far between; today's models use a design mostly unaltered from the 1945 Rolex Datejust original. The look and feel of the watch is so classic and timeless that the brand has been loath to alter it substantially.

That's not to say there haven't been any changes at all. The watch has been sold in a wide range of variations since its launch, using different case and bracelet materials, consistently upgraded calibres (including quartz versions) and more recently, larger diameters. But whatever form it takes, one thing stays the same: the Datejust heritage. Standing the test of time, transcending fashion, this is a watch that can be worn every day, passed from generation to generation, or resold with no fear of depreciated value.

Whether new, used or vintage, it's hard to go wrong – here are some of our favourites:

The top Datejust models at CHRONEXT

Datejust 36 - Reference 116234

The 116200 family of Datejusts are the quintessential modern versions. Here, you will find all the finest details of quality and finishing, making this iconic watch the best that it can be. There are myriad options to be found for sale when it comes to combinations of different materials, sizes, bracelets, dials and more. This example is a ref. 116234 – known for its superb Rolesor case integrating steel with white gold in the crown, bracelet, and best of all, the gorgeously fluted bezel. The dial, meanwhile, cuts to the core of pared-back Datejust design, with its delicate minute track and hand-applied indexes.


Datejust 41 - Reference 126333

For almost all of its history, the Datejust has stuck faithfully to its classic, well-proportioned 36mm case size. But in 2009, Rolex finally bowed to modern trends and offered an enlarged version: the 41mm Datejust II. More recently, the Datejust II was phased out in favour of an updated ref. 126300, simply called Datejust 41. While the bigger models are not as traditional, they cater to the tastes of many collectors, and retain all of the Datejust's vaunted quality and design beauty. This version is another stunning Rolesor – even more striking in yellow gold with a diamond-studded champagne dial.


Datejust 26 - Reference 6916

Unlike many top watch manufactures, Rolex has always been good to its ladies' watches. The original Oyster Perpetual was launched on the neck of record-setting Mercedes Gleitze when she became the first British woman to swim the Channel. Rather than treating them as eye-candy jewellery, Rolex women's watches are equipped with the same quality of case and movement as any other. The Datejust has long been especially popular among women who know their horology. This magnificent vintage model, hailing from the late 80s, makes it clear why. Its 26mm two tone case and bracelet, dark dial and fluted bezel look as great today as they did years ago.


Datejust 36 - Reference 116200

One of the qualities that makes the Datejust such a fascinating and endlessly collectible watch is that – despite its timeless and relatively straightforward appearance – it can be found in so many diverse variants. The devil is in the detail, and discovering new combinations of different materials, dial colours, index styles and more exotic elements like precious stones makes for a greatly enriched collector's experience. This watch showcases one delightful example of a flower-pattern dial with no indexes or minute track other than an oversize 6 and 9. The floral illustrations are intended to recall the intricate cogs of a timekeeping mechanism.


Datejust II - Reference 116300

While this is undeniably a Datejust, just as good-looking as any other, the difference between this watch and the previous is fairly dramatic (by Datejust standards, at least). For starters, it's a Datejust II – as mentioned above, the new family launched in the late 00s in a larger case size of 41mm. One has to see it side by side with a 36mm watch to appreciate the difference those 5mm can make. This example makes an even greater statement with its stunning brushed rhodium dial and large blue Arabic numerals. The effect is one of bold modern stylishness – a timepiece sure to attract attention.

John Wallis

by John Wallis

Living and working in London, John has been writing about watches since graduating university. He got his start at SalonQP, London's finest watch show, where he was inspired by the breadth and creativity of the modern industry. His fascination with mechanical horology has only grown from there.

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