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Rolex President Ultimate Buying Guide

Paul Altieri

If there was ever a single watch that could be seen to represent the ultimate in success and achievement, it is the Rolex Day-Date. Should you ever be in any doubt as to just how revered it is in horology circles, proof can be found in its unofficial nicknames, the ones used more often than its formal title; for many, the model will always be better known as the Rolex President or the Rolex Presidential.

Now comfortably into its seventh decade, the Rolex President has been recognized as the flagship offering from the industry’s principal watchmaker throughout all that time. Unashamedly elitist, you will never find anything as workaday as stainless steel anywhere in the President’s history. From day one, only the finest precious metals available – either solid 18k gold or the shimmering luxury of platinum, have been deemed worthy. As with its contemporary, the Datejust, the Rolex Day-Date’s audience has evolved over the years. Whereas it was once the sole reserve of titans of industry or heads of state, these days you are just as likely to see a current model adorning the wrists of pro athletes, Hollywood royalty, or hip hop moguls – anyone, in fact, looking to tacitly announce to the world that they have ‘made it.’

Rolex President

Rolex President Ultimate Buying Guide Day-Date 40

Key Features:

– Precious metal construction (18k gold or 950 platinum)
– Chronometer-certified movement
– Self-winding technology
– Rolex President bracelet
– Date display (additional day display on select models)
– Screw-down winding crown and case-back
– Available in gem-set configurations
Click here to learn more about the luxury watch known as the Rolex President.

To cater to a fan base that varied, the number of metal, dial, bracelet, and bezel combinations in which the Rolex President is offered is staggering. Owners can be the unassuming type or a shameless showboater, and there will be the perfect match in the lineup for them somewhere. As you would expect, that much gravitas comes with a somewhat hefty price tag. The Rolex President may be many things, but cheap isn’t one of them.

However, what you might not know is just how affordable a vintage or pre-owned example can be. For such an exclusive watch, and one with so much breeding, the cost of entry to its very special club is astonishingly low. Below, we have put together a handy guide covering everything you need to know about the Rolex Presidential, one of the true legends of watchmaking.

The Rolex President History

Like many of Rolex’s greatest creations, the President made its debut during the 1950s. By this stage in the company’s development, it had built a reputation as the manufacturer of some of the most hardworking and reliable, yet stylistically simple, time-only watches money could buy. The Datejust, released in 1945, was the main outlier in the range, its revolutionary day of the month function representing just about as complicated as the brand seemingly wanted to get.

However, the 50s brought with it a period of innovation never seen before, and the Day-Date was the pinnacle as far as Rolex was concerned. The era that introduced the tool watch icons that are the Explorer, the GMT-Master, the Submariner, and the Milgauss, also gave us the definitive luxury dress model in 1956 – the first self-winding, waterproof watch ever made to display both the date (in its three o’clock window), as well as the day of the week (written out in full) in a separate aperture at the 12 o’clock.

The double calendar feature was a huge step forward, and this new creation benefitted from the decade or so of mechanical improvements already poured into the Datejust. Its movement could immediately adopt the cam and jewel system perfected in 1955 for the Datejust’s third generation, causing the instantaneous midnight date change rather than the hours-long switchover from former versions. Additionally, the model was granted its own dedicated bracelet design (again, as the Datejust had been upon its release), confusingly, known as the President bracelet. A sort of amalgamation of the brand’s other two bands, it took the Oyster’s three-link design and made them semicircular in structure, just like on the Jubilee.

As is often the case with new Rolex releases, the earliest references of the Day-Date were here and gone in the relative blink of an eye while finishing touches were made to aesthetics and engineering. The debut models, the ref. 6510 and 6511, fitted with smooth and fluted bezels respectively, were in production for less than a year. The follow-ups, the ref. 6611 (fluted bezel), ref. 6612 (smooth bezel) and ref. 6613 (diamond bezel) were the first to gain COSC certification thanks to their updated balance wheel and Microstella regulation system. Even so, they had also been superseded by 1959, when the celebrated ref. 18xx arrived and stuck around until the end of the 1970s.

This was the series that earned the watch its nickname when United States President Lyndon B. Johnson was famously pictured wearing his example. From then on, it became the immediate go-to for those who held the highest positions of power, including a number of other U.S. Presidents. It also contributed to a narrowly missed scandal when Marilyn Monroe presented JFK with a Rolex President following her steamy rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ in 1962. The watch was quickly disappeared by an aide but surfaced again at auction in 2005 where it sold for $120,000.

Consequently, the ref. 18xx was the range that really cemented the Rolex President’s external design, and the Day-Date is the collection that has perhaps altered the least over the generations, as far as its styling is concerned. While the upgrades to the internal mechanisms across the watch’s various iterations have been significant, (outwardly at least) a model from the present-day range shows only a gentle evolution from one from the 1960s.

Rolex President Ultimate Buying Guide

From then on, the Rolex President settled comfortably into its role of grand old statesman and expanded to include precious metal versions of the Midsize and Lady-Datejust – both of which were fitted with the brand’s luxurious President style bracelet. Any changes were confined to increasing the endless variety of different dial options to cater to an ever-growing following, as well as making the movement more accurate and convenient. The first of the five-digit references, the ref. 180xx was unveiled in 1977, which not only brought the balance frequency up to the present Rolex standard of 28,800vph but also added a Quickset function. Now, the date numeral could be adjusted independently via the winding crown, without having to spin the main hands through 24-hours.

It would take until the follow-up in 1988, the ref. 182xx, before the next logical step was taken, and a Double Quickset was built in, allowing for autonomous control over both the date and the day of the week displays. With that inclusion, the final piece of the puzzle was really put in place and the Rolex Day-Date secured the reputation it still holds; the watch against which all other dual calendars are judged. Nowadays, the Rolex President holds such an established position in the horology psyche that its continued success is assured. However, there have been a couple of shakeups to this highly consistent line of timepieces.

In 1977, Rolex was finally forced to react to the quartz crisis as it laid waste to about two-thirds of Switzerland’s traditional watch manufacturers. Rolex’s response was the Oysterquartz watches, battery-powered versions of both the Datejust and Day-Date, with sharp angular cases and incredible precision. Additionally, in 2008, the brand responded to the years-long call for a larger version of the President when it launched the Day-Date II. The 41mm size was a welcome upgrade over the classic 36mm case diameter, but the proportions of the watch’s different elements split opinion. The bezel was significantly wider, and while the case grew bigger, not every component increased proportionally in size.

Overall, the chunky new look had as many detractors as admirers, and the model was shelved in 2015 to make way for the Day-Date 40. This piece, although shaving off a millimeter in diameter, returned to the more graceful profile and proportions that the majority of fans loved.

Today, the Rolex President continues to epitomize all that is best about the brand. It may not be the most complicated creation by modern standards, but there is very little else available that carries with it so much elegance and self-assurance. Its devotees are as enthusiastic as ever, and with modern-day changes in taste, its audience now includes almost as many women as men. Furthermore, the Rolex President has profited from the watchmaker’s relentless drive for perfection, and its movements sit at the forefront of what is possible within the realm of mechanical watchmaking.

Rolex President Ultimate Buying Guide Day-Date II

How Much is a Rolex President?

A brand new Day-Date lies near the top of the list for the most expensive offerings in Rolex’s contemporary catalog. With only precious metal options available, the lowest-priced version still comes in at tens of thousands of dollars, which is a significant chunk of anyone’s money – even by luxury watch standards. With that in mind, that investment does secure you what is perhaps the most archetypal of Rolex President visuals: a 36mm yellow gold watch and bracelet, with fluted bezel, baton markers, and the brand’s iconic President bracelet. At the other end, a 40mm model in 950 platinum and awash with diamonds will cost into six figures.

However, as we said at the beginning, it may come as a very pleasant surprise as to just how accessible this flagship collection of Rolex watches can be. Unlike many of today’s stainless steel sports models, the demand for Rolex President watches has never been so disproportionally high compared to supply that there have been multi-year waiting lists at retailers (largely due to the premium price point that these watches occupy). Consequently, there has rarely been a supply shortage to drive up prices and demand 0n the open market. This means there are plenty on the pre-owned market, and some can be found for extremely competitive prices.

The most affordable Rolex President watches are in the ref. 18xx family – the collection that ran from 1959 all the way up to 1977. This was where the Rolex President really found its feet and laid down the architecture for everything that followed, including (post-1969) introducing the hidden Crownclasp on the bracelet.

The ref. 1803 is the most prevalent, and therefore the least expensive Rolex Day-Date you will find. Amazingly, excellent examples in yellow gold can be had for very reasonable prices when paired with leather straps. Those in 18k white or rose gold were made in smaller numbers and thus command higher rates.

With that in mind, those prices are for Day-Date watches on leather straps. If you want your Rolex President on the eponymous metal bracelet, the asking price grows considerably. You can easily add a further 40% for each one. After that, the rise in cost is directly proportional to age. The closer you get to the current collection, the more you will pay.

If we take a 36mm, yellow gold example on the President bracelet from each generation as a standard, we can examine the price increase by era:

– Ref. 1803 — Starting Price Approx. $13,000
– Ref. 18038 — Starting Price Approx. $14,300
– Ref. 18238 — Starting Price Approx. $16,250
– Ref. 118238 — Starting Price Approx. $22,100
– Ref. 128238 — Starting Price Approx. $39,000

The Rolex Day-Date 40 is still a relatively new addition to the brand’s catalog and so prices remain high – even on the pre-owned market. The short-lived Rolex Day-Date II, with its 41mm case and extra bulk, has actually become a sought-after watch (given that it is the largest Rolex President ever created) and examples will likely cost about the same as the newer Day-Date 40 on the secondary market.

However, one interesting option – and certainly among the most striking versions of the Rolex President available, is the Oysterquartz Day-Date. Although rare, and a fascinating chapter in the brand’s history, these quartz-powered watches can sometimes be picked up for a good deal on the pre-owned market, which represents an excellent value proposition among Rolex Day-Date watches – especially considering how uncommon it is to encounter these models compared to their mechanical movement siblings.

Rolex President Ultimate Buying Guide Day-Date 36

Buying New vs. Pre-Owned

Whether you should buy your Rolex President new or pre-owned is a question we come across a great deal. There are pros and cons for each, and we will layout the arguments for and against below. First and foremost, the price.

As we all know, the minute you leave the store with anything, particularly a luxury item, its value often takes a tumble. There are a few exceptions to that rule (especially if we look at Rolex’s stainless steel sports watches) but the Day-Date isn’t one of them. This is one instance where its precious metal-only construction actually works against it. Gold and platinum pieces are always hit harder by depreciation than steel models. The much higher retail price means that there are far fewer people in a position to buy them, resulting in significantly lower demand on the pre-owned market.

That is good news for consumers. As we saw above, the starting price for the latest 36mm Day-Date, the ref. 128xxx, is a healthy price on the secondary market. Go back one generation further, to the ref. 118xxx, and it will cost less than half the price of a new piece, while still benefitting from most of the modern conveniences that Rolex have added over the years.

You can think of it like buying a sports car. As soon as there’s a few miles on the clock, the price drops like a stone. As far as the financials are concerned, buying your Rolex President pre-owned is something of a no-brainer. So, what about the looks?

Rolex is famed – and sometimes criticized, for the constancy of its designs. For the vast majority of the longest-serving models in their roster, the fundamental styling of each has barely changed since the very earliest examples. The manufacturer, for the most part, simply got it right first time and saw little need to drastically alter anything. While it frustrates some horology fans, who would like to see a little more experimentation, it lends the entire canon of Rolex watches, past and present, a cohesion few other brands can match.

Nowhere is that more in evidence than with the Rolex Day-Date. From the start of the ref. 18xx series in 1959 all the way up until now, the Rolex President has gone through only the most minor visible adjustments. A piece from the 1960s has a very similar shape to one from this year. The watch’s basic silhouette is as traditional as it is possible to get, and it really acts as little more than a blank canvas. Its hugely varied assembly of admirers is then free to stamp their own unique personalities on each one through their dial, bezel, and metal choices. Therefore, between the consistency in appearance and the lower cost of an older model, a pre-owned Rolex President makes a lot of sense. If you can have a watch that looks pretty much a duplicate of the latest example for a fraction of the price, why not? So, is it ever worth buying a brand new President?

That all depends on personal sensibilities. There’s no doubt saving a bunch of money feels good, but so does really treating yourself, and few places cater to that quite as well as a good Rolex authorized retailer. The boutique or authorized dealer experience is something we all should indulge in at least once. Knowing you are the first person to snap that Crownclasp closed, filling in your name on the paperwork, and having the peace of mind that no one else has worn your watch before is, of course, wonderful. Additionally, you can avail yourself of the brand’s full warranty and you have the absolute assurance you are buying a 100% genuine watch – factors a pre-owned dealer will struggle to match.

Vintage Rolex President Ultimate Buying Guide

Rolex President References

There have been seven generations of the 36mm Rolex President so far – as well as the Day-Date II, the Oysterquartz, and the new Day-Date 40. Below, we list the different references of each one, with their years of production and various options.

36mm Rolex President Watches

18K Gold Models (36mm)


Year: 1956-1957

  • 6510 – Smooth Bezel
  • 6511 – Fluted Bezel


Year: 1957-1959

  • 6611 – Fluted Bezel
  • 6612 – Smooth Bezel
  • 6613 – Diamond Bezel


Year: 1959-1977

  • 1803 – Fluted Bezel
  • 1804 – Diamond Bezel
  • 1806 – Morellis Bezel


Year: 1963-1977

  • 1802 – Smooth Bezel
  • 1807 – Bark Bezel


Year: 1963-1977

  • 1811 – Florentine Bezel


Year: 1977-1988

  • 18028 – Smooth Bezel
  • 18038 – Fluted Bezel
  • 18039 – Fluted Bezel (white gold)
  • 18048 – Diamond Bezel
  • 18049 – Diamond Bezel (white gold)
  • 18078 – Bark Bezel
  • 18079 – Bark Bezel (white gold)

REFERENCE: 182xx/183xx

Year: 1988-2000

  • 18208 – Smooth Bezel
  • 18238 – Fluted Bezel
  • 18239 – Fluted Bezel (white gold)
  • 18248 – Bark Bezel
  • 18249 – Bark Bezel (white gold)
  • 18308 – Bark Bezel w/Diamonds
  • 18338 – Diamond Bezel & Lugs
  • 18348 – Diamond Bezel
  • 18349 – Diamond Bezel, Tridor Bracelet (white gold)
  • 18368 – Baguette Diamond Bezel
  • 18378 – Diamond & Ruby Bezel
  • 18388 – Diamond Bezel, Lugs & Dial
  • 18389 – Diamond Bezel, Lugs & Dial (white gold)
  • 18948 – Diamond Bezel, Masterpiece Bracelet


Year: 2000-2019

  • 118205 – Smooth Bezel (rose gold)
  • 118208 – Smooth Bezel
  • 118209 – Smooth Bezel (white gold)
  • 118235 – Fluted Bezel (rose gold)
  • 118238 – Fluted Bezel
  • 118239 – Fluted Bezel (white gold)
  • 118338 – Diamond Lugs
  • 118339 – Diamond Lugs (white gold)
  • 118348 – Diamond Bezel
  • 118388 – Diamond Bezel & Lugs
  • 118389 – Diamond Bezel & Lugs (white gold)


Year: 2019-Current

  • 128235 – Fluted Bezel (rose gold)
  • 128238 – Fluted Bezel
  • 128239 – Fluted Bezel (white gold)
  • 128345 – Diamond Bezel and/or Dial (rose gold)
  • 128348 – Diamond Bezel and/or Dial
  • 128349 – Diamond Bezel and/or Dial (white gold)
Platinum Rolex President Ultimate Buying Guide

Platinum Models (36mm)


Year: 1957-1959

  • 6611 -Fluted Bezel
  • 6612 – Smooth Bezel
  • 6613 – Diamond Bezel


Year: 1959-1977

  • 1803 – Fluted Bezel
  • 1804 – Diamond Bezel
  • 1806 – Morellis Bezel


Year: 1963-1977

  • 1802 – Smooth Bezel
  • 1807 – Bark Bezel


Year: 1963-1977

  • 1811 – Florentine Bezel


Year: 1977-1988

  • 18026 – Smooth Bezel
  • 18046 – Diamond Bezel


Year: 1988-2000

  • 18206 – Smooth Bezel
  • 18296 – Smooth Bezel, Diamond Lugs
  • 18346 – Diamond Bezel
  • 18366 – Baguette Diamond Bezel
  • 18386 – Diamond Bezel & Lugs
  • 18946 – Diamond Bezel, Masterpiece Bracelet


Year: 2000-2019

  • 118206 – Smooth Bezel
  • 118296 – Smooth Bezel, Diamond Lugs
  • 118346 – Diamond Bezel
  • 118366 – Baguette Diamond Bezel
Diamond Rolex President Ultimate Buying Guide

Day-Date 40

18K Gold Models (40mm)


Year: 2015-Current

  • 228235 – Fluted Bezel (rose gold)
  • 228238 – Fluted Bezel
  • 228239 – Fluted Bezel (white gold)
  • 228345 – Diamond Bezel (rose gold)
  • 228348 – Diamond Bezel
  • 228349 – Diamond Bezel (white gold)

Platinum Models (40mm)


Year: 2015-Current

  • 228206 – Smooth Bezel
  • 228396 – Baguette Diamond Bezel
  • 228236 – Fluted Bezel

Day-Date II

18K Gold Models (41mm)


Year: 2008-2015

  • 218235 – Fluted Bezel (rose gold)
  • 218238 – Fluted Bezel
  • 218239 – Fluted Bezel (white gold)

Platinum Models (41mm)


Year: 2008-2015

  • 218206 – Smooth Bezel

Oysterquartz Day-Date


Year: 1977-2003

  • 19018 – Fluted Bezel
  • 19019 – Fluted Bezel (white gold)
  • 19028 – Pyramid Bezel & Bracelet
  • 19038 – Pyramid Bezel & Diamonds
  • 19048 – Diamond Bezel
  • 19049 –  Diamond Bezel (white gold)
  • 19058 – Baguette-Cut Gemstone Bezel
  • 19068 – Diamond Bezel, Pyramid Bracelet
  • 19078 – Rainbow Gemstone Bezel
  • 19148 – Diamond Bezel & Bracelet
  • 19168 – Baguette-Cut Gemstone Bezel, Octopus Bracelet
Platinum Rolex President Ultimate Buying Guide Day-Date II

Rolex President Features and Options

It can be difficult to imagine a pillar of the establishment such as the Rolex President ever being considered radical. However, on its release more than 60-years ago, a wristwatch featuring a dual calendar display, and especially one with the day of the week written out in full, was precisely that.

Since then, the model has traded on its elite reputation rather than by adding more and more complications, and the current models still do the same job as the first. However, the upgrades and improvements over the generations have been relentless all the same. The Rolex Day-Date may be as buttoned-down and traditional as the Houses of Parliament, but its engineering is still very much on the cutting-edge. Below, we look at the features Rolex added to each new iteration of the President over the years, and where it has led to today.

Reference 65xx Series

  • Movement: Cal. 1055
  • Frequency: 18,000vph

The first self-winding, waterproof wristwatch ever made to display both the day (written out in full) and the date. It is available with a choice of 11 different languages and takes the position of Rolex’s flagship collection of timepieces.

Reference 66xx Series

  • Movement: Cal. 1055
  • Frequency: 18,000vph

This generation quickly replaced the first, improving upon the movement with a couple key upgrades. The caliber is updated with a new balance wheel and Microstella regulating system, helping it achieve greater accuracy and overall consistency

Reference 18xx Series

  • Movement: Cal. 1555/1556
  • Frequency: 18,000vph/19,800vph

A new, thinner movement (the Cal. 1555) allowed for the cases of the hugely popular ref. 18XX series to be proportionately slimmer. That caliber was superseded in 1965 with the Cal. 1556, which upped the balance frequency to 19,800vph, providing greater stability and precision. A hacking function was added in 1972, allowing the wearer to stop the hands, making it easier to set the time accurately. The hidden Crownclasp on the President bracelet debuts in 1969. Additionally, this was the series that introduced an enormous variety of different metal, dial, and bezel options.

Reference 180xx Series

  • Movement: Cal. 3055
  • Frequency: 28,800vph

Another new caliber, the first of the brand’s Cal. 3000 series to be fitted to a Rolex President, brought with it the now-standard 28,800vph. It produces the trademark 8-ticks-per-second sweep of all modern Rolex watches. It also had a Single Quickset function, allowing for the date to be forwarded using just the winding crown.

The number of languages available jumps from 11 to 24, rising again to 25 in the mid-80s. Additionally, the ref. 180xx replaces the former acrylic crystal over the dial with the tougher and more scratch-resistant sapphire. Together with the first appearance of Rolex’s Twinlock crown system, the Day-Date is now waterproof to 100m, up from the 50m of earlier references.

Reference 182xx Series

  • Movement: Cal. 3155
  • Frequency: 28,800vph

The next generation Rolex President watches was released to bring out another new movement. The Cal. 3155 included a Double Quickset feature, allowing for both calendar functions to be altered independently of the main hands. One other small change was the escapement being secured by a full balance bridge rather than the previous balance cock, but otherwise, the Cal. 3155 was deemed such a success that it powered every 36mm Day-Date up until 2019.

Reference 118xxx Series

  • Movement: Cal. 3155
  • Frequency: 28,800vph

The first of the six-digit Day-Date watches is virtually identical to the preceding series, including having the same movement. It is, however, given the brand’s patented new hairspring. An alloy of niobium and zirconium, Blue Parachrom is completely antimagnetic and highly resistant to temperature variations. It also provides around 10-times the shock protection of the Nivarox spring it replaces.

With that in mind, the biggest change overall is a strengthened bracelet and clasp. All links are now solid, including end links, adding about 30% to the overall weight. Aesthetically, the lugs here are slightly thicker and high-polished, whereas they were brushed on the ref. 18xxx series.

Reference 128xxx Series

  • Movement: Cal. 3255
  • Frequency: 28,800vph

The current iteration of the Rolex President is driven by an all-new caliber, the pioneering Cal. 3255. Rather than being merely a modified version of older movements, this has been redesigned from the ground up, with more than 90% of its components brand new. The self-winding module has been given high performance reversing wheels and a monobloc rotor mounted on ball bearings for the first time, allowing for faster winding. The improved capacity mainspring sits inside a modified barrel and gives up to a 70-hour power reserve.

Most significant though is the arrival of the Chronergy escapement, a heavily re-engineered form of the traditional Swiss Lever escapement, invented around 250-years ago. Rolex’s stripped down and skeletonized version improves the mechanism’s efficiency by about 15%. Furthermore, the number of languages available for the day disc is now 26: English, Spanish, Italian, German, French, Chinese, Danish, Basque, Catalan, Ethiopian, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Dutch, Turkish, Indonesian, Japanese, Latin, Moroccan, Norwegian, Farsi, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish and Arabic.
The flagship timepiece from the most successful watchmaker of all time was always destined to be special. What was once the only timepiece for any self-respecting bureaucrat has now become so chameleonic it can count figures as diverse Floyd Mayweather and the Dalai Lama among its admirers. Subtly elegant yet robust enough to be worn every day, and with a styling that defines the word ageless, the Rolex President is endlessly appealing. Best of all, vintage examples are now extremely affordable. For a selection of some of the best pre-owned models available, head over to our online store.

Gold Rolex President Ultimate Buying Guide
Paul Altieri
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