First introduced in 1945 to celebrate the brand’s 40th anniversary, the Rolex Datejust was the world’s first self-winding chronometer wristwatch to display the date of the month through a window in the dial. Today, the vast majority of all date-displaying watches depict the date in this manner; however at the time, this approach was revolutionary and completely set the standard for date-complications – a standard that still remains with us today. Current prices in 2019 for the new Rolex Datejust 36 start at $8,200 in steel, and $12,700 for the Datejust 41 in Oystersteel and yellow gold.
Many of Rolex’s most famous collections of watches consist of timepieces specifically developed for a certain sport of lifestyle activity. However, this mentality – having a different watch for different activities – was really only something that Rolex started to embrace during the 1950s. Instead, when the Rolex Datejust was first invented in the mid 1940s, Rolex’s primary objective was to create a reliable and accurate watch that could be worn all day, every day, throughout whatever conditions that its owner might encounter.
The Datejust is the best selling Rolex watch of all time.
Consequently, while many Rolex watches possess certain traits or features that make them specifically tailored to a sport of environment, the Rolex Datejust is just a classically-styled timepiece that displays the time and date, and does little else beyond that. However, while the Datejust may initially seem rather commonplace compared to its sports watch siblings, it is the timeless and instantly recognizable aesthetic of the Rolex Datejust that has made it a true industry icon and the best-selling Rolex watch of all time.
Available in as many different variations as there are grains of sand on the beach, the chameleonic Rolex Datejust has been with us now for over 70 years. Although it may have lost its brand flagship status little more than a decade after its release, quietly relinquishing the baton to the ‘one-extra-complication’ Day-Date in the fifties, it has remained the model most people think of when they hear the name Rolex.
The Rolex Datejust is a watch that has been in production for decades.
Now comfortably into its eighth decade, the elder statesman has reached that enviable age – able to quietly go about its business with nothing left to prove, but still capable of a touch of grandstanding if grandstanding is called for.
A design of enduring brilliance, the Datejust is as relevant today as when it first appeared, the same year WWII ended. Through all that time, its appeal has remained universal; it has never been old fashioned, some quaint relic from another age in which your father or grandfather would wear the Rolex Datejust because it was a watch for everyone.
Its modest dimensions, before last year’s inflated 41mm examples put in a first appearance, has also seen it spread its charms across the sexes. While the Lady Datejust, originally a 26mm model and now 28mm, has been a female favorite since it was launched in 1956, the modern-day trend for oversize pieces has seen the traditional men’s versions adorn more women’s wrists than ever before.
Neither as dressy as a President or Cellini piece nor as out and out tool-like as a Submariner or Daytona, the Datejust sits easily between the two spheres; the ideal blend of style and substance and with enough varieties in size, metal and finish to be the only watch you’d ever realistically need.
Whether you want a Rolex that makes a statement, or you simply want that one piece that goes anywhere and lasts for a lifetime, the Datejust is perhaps the most intelligent choice.
The Datejust is a collection with many unique variations.
What Does a Datejust Cost?
The longest unbroken production run of any model in the Rolex stable means there is a glut of Datejusts on the pre-owned market.
While the basic DNA has stayed true to the groundbreaking original, the first waterproof, self-winding watch with a date function, the sheer number of different interpretations on that initial blueprint leaves us with a giddying selection to choose from – and start at a price point that represents an incredibly affordable buy-in to the world’s leading watchmaker.
Whether your budget reaches into the stratosphere or is altogether more grounded, there is a Datejust with your name on it. Below we’ve put together a price scale to give you some idea of what you can reasonably expect to get for your money.
And, as always, our customary word of caution on infiltrating the vintage watch market. While the good guys are in abundance, there are still plenty of wrong ‘uns lurking out there, happy to relieve you of armfuls of cash on inferior Frankenwatches or, worse still, all-out fakes. Always do your seller research and be ready to walk away if things start smelling iffy.
Always purchase through a reputable dealer.
The Rolex Datejust for Under $5,000
Improbable as it may seem for the thoroughbred model from the most respected watch manufacturer ever, and especially one with the Datejust’s pedigree, superb examples can be found very easily for way south of the $5K mark.
In terms of outright value, it’s hard to think of any reference that offers more for your money than a steel or Rolesor ref. 1601. Launched in the fifties, and finally being replaced some 20 years later, the Rolex 1601 is among the all-time great Datejust models and sits well within budget.
Its pie pan dial, where the very outer rim of the watch face drops back slightly, is one of the only characteristics that identify it at a glance as a vintage piece. In all other respects, the 1601 looks like a contemporary model, outwardly at least. Inside, the earliest examples contained the Cal. 1565 movement, from the 1500 series of calibers that have been fan favorites since their inception. It was superseded in 1965 by the Cal. 1575, which brought with it the convenience of a hacking feature. While neither movement contained the Quickset date function, they were both COSC certified and have more than stood the test of time – many experts consider them amongst the most reliable and accurate movements ever made.
For our $5K, you will have no trouble sourcing a ref. 1601 in exceptional condition – the biggest problem you are likely to experience is choosing between the vast range of dial and metal options on offer. Stainless steel models are the most prevalent at this price, the perfect everyday watch and one with the inherent robustness to become a treasured family heirloom. You’ll also find plenty of steel and gold Rolesor specimens, some even with the added luxury of diamond-accented hour markers—beautiful pieces with a little extra presence and great investment purchase.
The Datejust Scale has a large range.
Between $5,000 and $10,000
A step up in budget brings us into the realm where the majority of vintage Datejust’s dwell. Here, alongside solid pieces in steel and Rolesor, you’ll come across stunning models in 18k white, rose or yellow gold.
It is also populated with many examples of the highly regarded, yet short-lived, Datejust II. Launched in 2009, the huge jump in size to 41mm from the traditional 36mm marked the biggest cosmetic change to the ageless design since the Cyclops lens made its debut some 60 years ago.
Not only did the dimensions of the case inflate, the bezel widened and the dial features thickened, taking full advantage of the additional room. The bracelet, however, stayed the same width, causing the lugs to broaden and giving the whole watch a more masculine solidity.
Inside, the Cal. 3136 is the updated version of the Cal. 3135 still used in the 36mm Datejust today. Filled with the latest tech from the pioneering Swiss manufacturer, it benefits from the Parachrom Bleu hairspring and Paraflex shock absorbers that have become a standard-issue throughout the Rolex lineup.
While it was discontinued in 2016 to make way for the 41mm version of the traditional Datejust, which kept the same relative proportions as its smaller siblings, the Datejust II has gained a strong following, attracting lovers of the original who wanted a version more in keeping with the modern-day trend for larger watches.
Available in 904L steel and Rolesor, the Datejust II is set for future classic status, and flawless examples are well within reach for less than $10k.
The Datejust is made from high-quality material making it very valuable.
The Rolex Datejust for $10,000 and Beyond
By the time we hit five figures, some very special and historically important models come into view.
Rolex has never been shy about festooning their creations with luxurious extravagance, and solid gold Datejusts dripping with precious stones can reach exorbitant sums.
At more realistic prices, some of the very earliest iterations from the forties and early fifties, bubble-backed and non-Cycloped, make for a fascinating addition to the catalogs of dedicated Rolex collectors. Although they take a bit of finding, the first of the breed – the ref. 4467 – is still out there, with prices ranging from the low $10k’s northwards, depending on rarity and condition. The genesis for Rolex’s best selling watch ever, it laid the foundation for everything that followed.
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Choosing Your Datejust
The model you decide to go for is dependent on a host of factors, such as budget, availability and, of course, personal taste. However, it’s worth considering the provenance of the watch itself.
Datejusts have a well-deserved reputation for being an especially tough contender, particularly for a non-sports watch.
While that is clearly a point in its favor, it also means vintage examples won’t necessarily have been handled with kid gloves by previous hosts. With its versatility, the Datejust was meant to be worn with anything, making them more often a daily companion rather than an adornment for special occasions.
As such, pre-owned models can often have picked up some bruises in an earlier life, and it’s something to be aware of and watch out for.
Other than that, it really is the truly great all-rounder and an outstanding example of the watchmaker’s art. After 70 years in production, forged from eight different metal combinations and with more than 100 dial options, if you can’t find a version to suit you, chances are you’re not looking hard enough.
Robust enough to be the ideal choice for those looking for the one good watch that will last a lifetime, and with enough tiny variations sprinkled here and there across the vast range to appeal to the hardcore Rolex savant, the Datejust is the real deal – and far more attainable than you might imagine.