The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust is easily one of the brand’s most recognizable wristwatches, and the best-selling Rolex model of all time. It’s a mainstay in pop culture, appearing on numerous celebrities’ wrists, and it is the watch of choice among some of the world’s most prominent politicians and CEOs. But how, exactly, did the Rolex Datejust rise to such high esteem among the watch community? Let take a closer look at the Datejust history and its incredible transformation.
A Brief Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust History
The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust is the brand’s best-selling watch of all time. It first entered the market as the ref. 4467 in 1945 to celebrate the brand’s 40th anniversary, and was the first wristwatch to include an automatically changing date mechanism on its dial.
The ref. 4467 was presented in solid gold and fitted with a 5-link bracelet named after the Jubilee celebration itself. It also included a fluted bezel, a waterproof Oyster case, and a self-winding Perpetual movement – all of which are fixtures of the modern Rolex Datejust collection.
The first reference, however, looked a bit different than the collection that most are used to seeing today, as it didn’t yet have the ‘Datejust’ name printed on the dial. Instead, it only included the Rolex Oyster Perpetual distinction below the 12-hour marker. The fluting on the bezel was also not as prominent, and the crystal was not yet fixed with a Cyclops magnifier above the date window.
The Most Notable Rolex Datejust Innovations
Rolex set to work in the years that immediately followed the Datejust’s release. Many of its features were refined, transforming the Datejust into the watch that we know today. The ref. 6305 was introduced to the market in the 1950s, and was the first edition to include a more sharply fluted bezel that much more closely resembles the ones found on the modern Datejust watches that Rolex produced today.
Around the same time, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust also received an upgraded Cal. 1065 movement, which included a sleeker design that allowed the Bubble Back casebacks to be replaced by slimmer cases like the ones used today. The Cal. 1570 would replace the Cal. 1065 in 1965, which was then followed by the Cal. 3035, which would introduce a Quickset function a decade later during the 1970s. This movement was, of course, then replaced with the Cal. 3135, which would remained a staple of the Rolex catalog, powering Datejust watches until just a couple years ago.
1955 brought another important upgrade to the Rolex Datejust collection in the form of a refined date mechanism. The date mechanism in early models did not have the technology required to jump over instantaneously at midnight. Instead, it slowly switched over like the date complications found on many other non-Rolex watches. With the new date mechanism that was introduced in the mid-1950s, the date could now immediately jump over at the stroke of midnight. Today this feature remains one of the Datejust’s most defining characteristics.
Two-tone steel and gold editions were also added to the Datejust collection around this time in addition to the Cyclops magnification lens on the surface of the crystal. It’s also worth noting that during this era, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust was still equipped with an older-style acrylic crystal.
The Lady Datejust History
Rolex released a ladies variation of the Datejust in 1957 with a significantly smaller case and bracelet. This release would prove to be a brilliant move by Rolex as the Lady-Datejust would go on to become one of the company’s most successful models. Like the men’s edition, the Lady-Datejust has seen numerous upgrades, such as two-tone and solid gold options, improved movements, and 28mm and 31mm mid-size case options.
A Step Closer to the Modern Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust
As previously mentioned, the Datejust made a move towards using higher-beat movements around the 1970s with the addition of the Cal. 3035. That upgrade was followed a little over a decade later by the introduction of the long-running 5-digit Datejust with references starting in 162XX. This era brought with it the mighty Cal. 3135 and an upgraded scratch-resistant sapphire crystal.
The addition of a sapphire crystal and improved movement ushered the Datejust into the modern Rolex era. Shortly after the turn of the new millennium, Rolex unveiled the 6-digit Datejust. Even though the Cal. 3135 still powered this version, it was still a welcome addition with a redesigned case with thicker lugs and a slightly more modern aesthetic.
The Datejust II and Datejust 41
2009 brought about one of the Datejust’s most exciting upgrades in the form of the Datejust II. The watch featured a larger 41mm case size and a brand-new Cal. 3136 Perpetual movement. While this addition was certainly an exciting one, there was still much room for improvement, and, in 2016, a refined edition was released in the form of the Datejust 41.
The 2016 launch of the Datejust 41 introduced the world to a larger version of the watch that included slightly more tapered lugs for a less bulky appearance on the wrist. Despite still measuring 41mm in diameter, the case far more resembled a larger version of the 36mm model, rather than the altered case dimensions of the Datejust II. Internally, the new 41mm Datejust benefited from the new-generation Cal. 3235 movement, which offered users a longer 70-hour power reserve.
A Brand-New Generation of the Datejust 36
Although the Datejust now includes a 41mm option, the Datejust 36 has remained a constant within the Rolex catalog and was re-released in its current form a few years later in 2018. In addition to utilizing the newer Cal. 3235 movement, the current Datejust 36 also features modern amenities such as Chromalight lume, new dial options, refined case and bracelet proportions, and an engraved rehaut. It is the classic Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust, just in modern form with all of the brand’s latest and greatest technologies.
Even though the Rolex Datejust has been in production for over seventy years, its evolution is far from over. As long as it continues to be one of the brand’s most beloved and sought-after timepieces, the Datejust will continue to see improvements to its design. However, only Rolex knows which upgrades will be introduced to the collection next.