The Rolex Day-Date – commonly nicknamed the ‘President’ or the ‘Rolex Presidential’ – has been the brand’s flagship offering since its debut in 1956. The first automatically winding, waterproof wristwatch to display both the date and the day of the week spelled out in full, it was always, and remains, the number one choice of the world’s elite. From its inception, the Day-Date has been constructed from only the finest precious metals – three flavors of 18k gold or the shimmering luxury of platinum – with stainless steel never playing a part, not even in the two-tone form of Rolex’s iconic Rolesor concoction.
The watch’s fan base reads like a Who’s-Who of the great and the good, the famous and infamous. From captains of industry to leaders of nations, through to titans of the music, sport or entertainment worlds, there is no better tacit announcement of having ‘made it’ than wearing a Day-Date on your wrist. So how do you join this exclusive and elusive gathering? Well, we have some good news for you there. The Rolex Presidential represents one of the most tempting pre-owned bargains out the brand’s entire catalog, offering some truly significant savings over the official retail price.
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A Brief Overview of the Rolex Presidential
Rolex has two main collections, the Professional and the Classic, with the Day-Date in the latter alongside other big names such as the Datejust and Sky-Dweller. While it is certainly a dress watch, it is also one of the most chameleonic models in the lineup, issued with so many different metal, dial color, bezel, and bracelet variations seen within the used Rolex market that it has almost countless personalities.
At one end, a white gold piece with a smooth, domed bezel and a neutral-color dial is about as understated as you could want; whereas in yellow gold with diamonds and sapphires swamping every surface, it is unashamedly grandstanding. In between, there is a combination to suit almost every taste, whether you are the proverbial wallflower or the life of the party. But through it all, the underlying architecture remains consistent. The basic shape of the Day-Date is perfectly conservative, very much a blank slate onto which Rolex drape all their various fineries.
Until 2008, the only size available for the Rolex Presidential was 36mm. That was the year the short-lived Day-Date II emerged, a 41mm addition to the range that granted the increased dimensions customers had been clamoring for, but one with individual proportions that split too many opinions to stay in production for very long. The thicker bezel and lugs on this larger model lost some of the Rolex President’s former elegance and it was replaced in 2015 with the Day-Date 40, losing a millimeter in size but returning to the former graceful profile.
The Rolex Presidential as a Pre-Owned Buy
There are a number of reasons as to exactly why the Rolex Day-Date makes such an enticing pre-owned purchase. First and foremost is the question of availability. Unlike the majority of their steel sports models, Rolex has never really restricted the supply of the President to their retail network, meaning that those who have wanted one (and who could afford it) have had few problems locating a new model. Therefore, a fair number of Rolex Presidential watches make it onto the secondary market fairly frequently, and there is no real shortage at retailers to drive pre-owned prices up above retail.
Secondly, the Rolex Day-Date’s stubborn choice of only precious metal construction is another explanation. Because precious metal watches are markedly more expensive than stainless steel models, far fewer buyers are in the position to purchase them, resulting in demand on the used Rolex market that is significantly lower than their less-expensive stainless steel counterparts. This means that you often have a pretty good chance of finding a used Rolex President at a significant discount compared to its original retail price.
And thirdly, the Day-Date’s iconic aesthetics have to be taken into account. There have been several generations of the Rolex President over the last 60+ years. With the looks more or less cemented from the get-go, new references have generally been announced to introduce a noteworthy upgrade to the watch’s movement rather than any major outward design alterations. Take a model from the original series and stand it up next to a contemporary example, and you will see relatively little difference in the styling despite the multitude of upgrades and advancements that have occurred over the years. So, if you can get a pre-owned watch that looks pretty much indistinguishable from the latest model for a fraction of the price, why wouldn’t you?
Which Rolex Presidential Should You Go For?
Take a look through any pre-owned watch dealer’s Rolex Day-Date selection and you will see the most accessibly priced examples come from the ref. 18XX family. This is one of the longest-running series of all the President iterations, launched in 1959 and not superseded until the end of the 1970s.
The ref. 1803, a 36mm watch made from either yellow, white, or rose gold (and platinum very sparingly) and topped with a fluted bezel, is by far the most prevalent. You can actually pick up one of these pieces on a leather strap for as little as $6,000, which is an amazing price for such a vital piece of Rolex’s history. If you want your vintage Rolex Day-Date on the eponymous President bracelet, a three-piece semicircular-link band (again exclusively crafted from precious metal), prices start at just under the $10,000 mark, which seems like a bargain for a solid-gold Rolex watch.
So what, apart from the gulf in prices, are the main differences between that model and its modern-day equivalent? Look carefully and you will see that the vintage watch has slightly slimmer lugs than the new one. The crystal over the lens is made from acrylic rather than sapphire, and the bracelet will have hollow center links, making it lighter on the wrist than the current version. The most significant distinctions, however, are all found on the inside.
The ref. 18XX actually went through two movements during its term, the early examples powered by the Cal. 1555, and then from 1967, the Cal. 1556. The pair share the vast majority of elements, but the later movement beats at 19,800vph as opposed to the 18,000vph of the older mechanism. Then from 1972 onwards, a hacking function was added, allowing the seconds hand to stop when setting the time. However, neither was equipped with a Quickset function, the feature that gives the wearer the ability to set the date or day display independently from the time. With the ref. 18XX, changing the day or date display involves winding the main hands through 24-hours.
Compare that with a brand new model, powered by the next generation Cal. 3255 movement. This is the most recent result of Rolex’s typically relentless drive to perfect their every caliber, stuffed to the gills with the latest technology and materials, including the blue Parachrom hairspring and Chronergy escapement. Giving a superb and completely reliable performance, it also ticks away at the standard 28,800vph and comes with a Double Quickset, making the newer piece a lot more convenient than the vintage one. But set that against the price, which presently starts at around $33,150, and you have to decide whether or not the extra cost is worth it to you.
Later Rolex Presidential Models
The closer you get to the current production models, the more expensive the Rolex President becomes. The follow-up series from the ref. 18XX, the ref. 180XX, adds about $1,000 on the starting price, and the subsequent ref. 182XX from 1988 adds another couple thousand on top of that. These both contain movements with the high beat 28,800vph frequency, giving that trademark glide to the seconds hand. Additionally, these models also feature Quickset functions – the 180XX features a single quickset (date only), while the 182XX series features a double Quickset, allowing for both the day and date displays to be adjusted independently from the time-telling hands.
The ref. 118XXX range kicked off in 2000, virtually identical to the previous five-digit reference Rolex watches but with updated cases, bracelets, and clasps. These could well be the best of all worlds, featuring the thicker high-polish lugs and solid bracelets of the newer Rolex Presidential watches, but still significantly more affordable than their present-day counterparts. Beautifully styled and with a workhorse of an engine (the Cal. 3155), they are thoroughly modern but can be had for less than $17,000 – which is around half the price of the comparable model in today’s lineup.
So, is it ever worth buying a brand new Rolex Day-Date? Well, it’s really all a question of scale. The older the watch, the generally the less expensive it is. If you wanted a 36mm piece from the current ref. 128XXXseries, you might save a few thousand dollars on the pre-owned market for a model that is less than a year old. However, the difference in price may be small enough to warrant treating yourself to the whole boutique experience, being the first person to snap on that Crownclasp and getting your name on the warranty card. You then get the peace of mind of knowing that no one else has ever worn that watch, and you have Rolex’s full warranty behind the piece should you experience any issues with it.
For other Rolex Presidential models that have been in circulation for a few years, especially some of the larger 40mm and 41mm models, there are often substantial savings to be had on the secondary market. You could well find one for around $10,000 less than a new piece, which is a serious amount of money to save and a big incentive to buy a used Rolex President.
Rolex’s Biggest Bargain?
There’s no doubt that the Day-Date is one of Rolex’s, and horology’s, most iconic watches. Seen as the ultimate statement of prestige, it has a heritage and legacy that is second to none. However, it often comes as quite a shock to buyers as to just how attainable Rolex Presidential watches can be. Especially when you look for a nice used Rolex on the secondary market. You can join perhaps the most select club in the industry, wearing the model that has most definitely earned its nickname.
We stock both vintage and modern examples of this beautiful and iconic Rolex watch, so shop through our online store to take advantage of our everyday low prices and industry-leading selection!