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Baselworld 2018: The New Rolex Datejust 126231

Paul Altieri

Ok, so we all knew this was coming down the pipeline this year, however, the new Datejust 36 brings forth a few more interesting changes than we had initially anticipated. Priced at $10,950 USD in Rolesor (Rolex’s pairing of Oystersteel and Everose gold) as seen here, the big detail of course is the updated caliber powering the Datejust 36—the Rolex caliber 3235 now brings the mid-sized Datejust up to modern specification, including an updated power reserve to 70 hours, matching the balance of the new Rolex calibers that have appeared recently.

Datejust 126231
The new Datejust 126231 has been upgraded.

Leveling up the Datejust 126231

Due to the different dimensions between the new caliber and its predecessor, a case redesign was also on the list for the new Datejust this year, albeit a subtle one. All told, the new piece now has a slightly different case profile and lug design, however without aligning the past and current models side-by-side, it’s fair to say that the changes to the case are somewhat nominal. This isn’t at all a bad thing, as the case shape and proportions of the Rolex Datejust 36mm have always seemed pretty spot-on. The applied Roman numerals on this particular piece won’t be to everyone’s taste, and while I personally prefer baton indices across the board, these applied numerals suit the two-tone piece well and are beautifully finished.

With smaller watches becoming a bigger trend than they’ve been in ages, Rolex refreshing the Datejust 36 was a very smart play. These days both men and women are finding greater appeal in the mid-sized case range, and offering the new model with a cutting-edge caliber will significantly bolster its position for those in the market. The caliber 3235 is a textbook example of Rolex’s ongoing innovation, features the brand’s Parachrom hairspring, crafted of an exclusive alloy of niobium and zirconium developed by Rolex themselves. Not only is it impervious to magnetic fields like the Milgauss and temperature variations, but it is also vastly more precise than a conventional hairspring when exposed to shocks. Further amplifying its shock resistance, the balance wheel is also mounted on Paraflex shock absorbers. Dressy as the piece is, Rolex doesn’t pull punches, ensuring all of its watches can take a proper beating.

Datejust 126231
The Datejust 126231 is a new watch that was overlooked by other watches, but it still holds as an elegant timepiece.

Inside the Datejust 126231

The other innovation lurking inside the new Datejust 36 is the brand’s new Chronergy escapement. One of a whopping 14 new patents found inside the caliber, Rolex decided to rethink the conventional design of the Swiss lever escapement, modifying the ratios between the escapement wheel’s teeth and its pallet stones. This and other modifications played a significant role in Rolex’s ability to increase the power reserve of this new caliber. All told, Rolex states that this new escapement is 15% more efficient than its predecessor, and its efficiency accounts for roughly half of the power reserve increase in the new caliber.

The second half of the equation is, of course, the caliber’s mainspring barrel. Not wanting to increase the size of its new caliber (though we do know that the dimensions of the 3235 are slightly different than the 3135 it replaces), Rolex’s movement engineers still found a way to eke a little more power out of the movement thanks to some relatively minor modification. By thinning the walls of the barrel by half (without compromising its integrity, of course), Rolex was able to fit a larger-capacity mainspring to the new caliber. Considering the casework of all pieces fitted with new calibers required modification anyway, Rolex could have easily opted for the “easy way out” of slightly increasing the size of their barrels, and we have to tip a hat to their engineers for finding this alternate means that is not only clever, but also more efficient in terms of production.

As it stands, the only major downside to this refresh of the Datejust 36 is the lack of selection. We know that given the vast array of SKUs in the Rolex catalog, they aren’t able to refresh an entire model range in one pass, but those wanting the latest-and-greatest Rolex tech in this case size are presently relegated to three very conservative/traditional Rolex designs. Alongside the model seen here, a champagne-dial two-tone model is also on offer with diamond indices, as is a Mother Of Pearl dial variant with diamond indices and a diamond set bezel (offered on a jubilee bracelet for good measure). We would have really hoped for a smooth bezel variant in steel for this year, which would be more on-trend than the present catalog. Rolex took this same approach when they rolled out the Datejust41, first launching the two-tone on jubilee and following it up with the smooth-bezel steel variants the following year. On the plus side, we now already have the first logical item to add to our Baselworld 2019 prediction list. As a trade-off, those wanting that smooth bezel aesthetic in something more contemporary might be tempted by the sexy new blue-dialed variant of the Tudor Black Bay 36 that also dropped cover at Baselworld in 2018. While not nearly as high-tech as the new Datejust, it’s also a steal at just over $3,000.

Paul Altieri