It’s the question every Rolex collector has heard many times and the one they hope they never have to answer: if you could only wear one watch for the rest of your life, which would it be?
I won’t pretend it would be an easy decision. Actually let’s face it, for some collectors, it would be their own personal Sophie’s Choice moment. But just as an exercise, I going to start the ball rolling and answer the question myself—and then you can all use the comments section to tell me why I’m wrong!
If you could only wear one watch for the rest of your life, which would it be?
The Datejust 116234
If you’re only going to be wearing one watch from now on, it needs to be one that you can wear in any situation. A watch equally at home in the boardroom as it is by the pool.
For me, that will always be the Rolex Datejust 36mm ref 116234.
With its first iteration released in 1945 to celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary, the core design of the Datejust has barely changed over the seven decades it’s been in continuous production. And the reason for that is simple: they got it right first time.
There haven’t been many over the years, but there are a small handful of designs that were pretty much nailed right out of the gate, leaving very little to be done with them over the subsequent decades, bar delicate tweaks and subtle improvements.
They are the ones that have stood the test and ravages of time and transcended anything as ephemeral or subjective as fashion.
Where watches are concerned, the Rolex Datejust is perhaps the most convincing example.
The first iteration was released in 1945, this is a more modern variation of the reference.
The one other design, from any arena, that immediately springs to my mind that has stayed so true to its roots is from the automobile world, in the shape of the Porsche 911—and the two share certain parallels.
Both are masterpieces of understatement and restraint. Both can be used every day, both look comfortable anywhere, and they have become so iconic that they’re embedded in the subconscious.
In the same way that you immediately picture a 911 when you hear the name Porsche, for many people, the Datejust is Rolex. Remove all the name badges and branding, and the two are still unmistakeable.
Like all ageless designs, the Datejust was also ahead of its time. On its release, it became the first waterproof wristwatch in the world to contain a self-winding mechanism and display a date aperture. In 1954, it received its only significant modification with the addition of the magnifying Cyclops lens over the date window—another world first.
In 1954, it received its only significant modification with the addition of the magnifying Cyclops lens over the date window. (credit: Andi 24.4°)
Since then, the 36mm Datejust has developed a more broad-shouldered, solid look than the somewhat delicate original. Its slender hands and markers look well protected in a piece that has real weight and substance, without being bulky. It is the perfect example of functional aesthetics.
The movement has gone through a number of upgrades over the years as well, until it’s reached today’s, Rolex developed, calibre 3135—certified to the exacting standards of the COSC. Like the Datejust itself, it’s unfussy and wholly reliable.
The number of possible combinations of bezels, dials and bracelets for the Datejust number in the dozens.
Available in 18-karat gold, stainless steel or Rolex’s own Rolesor, a mixture of the two, you have the choice of Oyster bracelet or the five-piece Jubilee band that was specifically designed for its launch in 1945.
Like all ageless designs, the Datejust was also ahead of its time.
Perhaps the secret to the success of the design is the fact that, whatever permutation you choose, it is still the watch that can match any occasion. The timelessness of the design gets you in anywhere.
So, out of the entire catalogue, why that particular piece? Why not the Submariner? Or the Sea-Dweller? Why not the bigger Datejust II?
Don’t get me wrong; if someone told me I could only wear one of those for the rest of my life, it wouldn’t be the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.
But personally, I think the Datejust 36mm ref 116234 has the most versatility. It has an understated modesty I like, while still being tough enough to handle anything.
I admit it doesn’t have the additional features that have made the sports models the world-leaders they are. It doesn’t have the Sea Dweller’s helium escape valve for instance. That’s ok. I don’t do a whole lot of commercial oilrig diving.
Realistically, the 100 meters of waterproofing provided by the Datejust’s Oyster case is all I’ll ever need.
What I lose in escape valves, I gain in an iconic design that pairs just as well with casual wear on the beach as it does peeking out from under the sleeve of a tuxedo. It’s a design that hasn’t changed much in 70 years because it hasn’t needed to.
Is the Rolex Datejust 36mm ref 116234 the only watch you’ll ever need? Well, that’s up for debate.
But it is, for me, the one that comes the closest.
Over to you
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this. If you could only wear one watch, what would you choose? Let us know in the comments section below.