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Watch Review

Rolex Day-Date Reference 1803

Paul Altieri

Although most collectors tend to gravitate towards Rolex’s various sport watch lines, the Day-Date is the quintessential status symbol timepiece that has grown to universally represent success and personal achievement.

Day-Date Reference 1803
The Day-Date is a status symbol for those who have the watch.

History of the Day-Date

Building on the success of the Datejust, in 1956 Rolex released a new flagship watch: the Rolex Day-Date. Only available in 18-karat gold or platinum and fitted with Rolex’s “President” style bracelet, Rolex’s Day-Date was the first watch to display both the date and the day of the week (spelled out in full), through windows in the surface of the dial.

Day-Date 1803
The History of the Day-Date began many years ago, 1956 to be exact.

In 1958, Rolex released the third iteration of their Day-Date watch, the reference 1803. Building upon the success of the original Day-Date, the reference 1803 was very much the same watch; however it was built around Rolex’s new and improved 1500 series of movements.

Stopped by the 18038

The reference 1803 remained in production for twenty years until it was discontinued with the arrival of the reference 18038 in 1978. The reference 18038 also marked the introduction of a sapphire crystal and a quick-set date function (for just the date feature) to the Day-Date line of watches, and represents the point in the Day-Date’s history when it first began to take its contemporary form.

Day-Date Reference 1803
The Day-Date 1803 halted its production when the 18038 came out.

Designing the Day-Date Reference 1803

Although Rolex has manufactured a 36 mm Day-Date for over sixty years, the reference 1803 possess a few traits and design elements that help visually distinguish it from later-era Day-Date watches. Most notable among these characteristics is the acrylic crystal that was fitted to the 1803 and its predecessors before Rolex switched to using synthetic sapphire for their Day-Date crystals.

Additionally, many of Rolex’s reference 1803 Day-Date watches were fitted with “pie pan” dials – something that was not done on later Day-Date references. The “pie pan” nickname comes from the actual shape of the dial surface; the outer edge angles downwards, giving the dial the shape of an inverted pie pan. Although “pie pan” dials can also be found on the reference 1803’s predecessors, as well as early Datejust watches, its distinct shape gives the reference 1803 an unmistakably vintage appearance.

On the wrist, the reference 1803 wears very similar to Rolex’s contemporary 36 mm diameter Day-Date watches; however the reference 1803 is appreciably lighter than its more modern counterparts, largely due to the different design of its President style bracelet. Rolex’s contemporary Day-Date watches are fitted with Presidential bracelets with solid links; however, the Presidential bracelets originally fitted to the reference 1803 Day-Date had hollow links that resulted in a noticeably lighter overall package.

Day-Date Reference 1803
The Pie-Pan dial is seen in the slant on the outer rim of the dial.

While the additional complication on the Day-Date does offer users some added functionality, the relatively primitive 1500 series movements inside the reference 1803 do not have quick-set features for either the date nor the day of the week. For those who wear their watch daily or keep it on a winder when not in use, the lack of a quick-set will impact their ownership experience very little. For those whose watch may stop for an extended period, a brief re-setting session may be required in order to get both the date and day of the week properly set before use.

As it is considered vintage, the only place to purchase a reference 1803 is in the pre-owned market. The very last brand-new reference 1803 Day-Date watches were sold by authorized dealers during the very early 1980s, and although “unworn” reference 1803 watches are still known to surface at auction, they will still be considered pre-owned as they were already purchased from an authorized dealer many years ago.

Rolex Day-Date 1803
The pre-owned market for watches can still be difficult to work with, so find yourself a reputable dealer.

Since prospective buyers of a reference 1803 will be confined to the pre-owned market, it is imperative that they purchase their watch from a trusted and verified source. Many reference 1803 Day-Date watches have had their dials refinished or had parts replaced with cheap aftermarket alternatives throughout the decades. Much of this will be near impossible to tell from online photos. Consequently, the easiest and most important thing buyers can do to get themselves some peace of mind when purchasing a pre-owned reference 1803 Day-Date is to buy it from a reputable and trusted source.

One of the easiest ways to spot a counterfeit reference 1803 Day-Date is to check the actual material of the watch and bracelet. As Rolex’s flagship timepiece, the Day-Date has only ever been craft from precious metals. Gold and platinum are both very expensive, and it is highly unlikely that a counterfeit watch would possess this level of quality and luxury. If the entire watch and bracelet are made from anything other than solid 18-karat gold or platinum, the watch is likely a fake.

Don't be fooled.
Fake Rolex watches can easily fool many people.

The reference 1803 is an excellent option for those who would like to own Rolex’s iconic luxury watch, but who would also prefer their watch to have a distinctly vintage look and feel. Although it lacks certain traits and features that make its contemporary equivalents more convenient for infrequent use, the reference 1803 is the classic vintage Day-Date that has become an internationally recognized symbol of success and personal accomplishment.

Paul Altieri
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