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Rolex Datejust: The History of the True Industry Icon

August 5th, 2019
rolexdatejust-history

The Rolex Datejust is indeed one of the most symbolic watches of the Rolex collection. Rolex’s influence on the world of horology is nearly impossible to understand without mentioning the iconic Datejust. Although the simple, durable and robust Datejust holds a keystone position in the Rolex’s catalogue, the watch does not certainly receive equal attention and applaud as many other Rolex timepieces like the Submariner, Daytona or GMT-Master.

Regardless, the Rolex Datejust has played a significant role in the enduring and worldwide success of the brand. The watch has indeed served as the backbone of the Rolex’ catalogue and is also a must-have watch for many watch aficionados and collectors across the world.

A Quick Look At Rolex History – Wilsdorf & Davis 1905

The history of the world’s most popular Geneva-based manufacturer starts in Kulmbach – a Bavarian city where the founder of Rolex, Hans Wilsdorf, came to the world in 1881. Wilsdorf completed his commercial studentship in Germany and then went to England at the age of 24. He started to work in the watch industry in Switzerland. Nearly every manufacturer was producing only pocket timepieces, but Hans Wilsdorf dreamt of wristwatches that were not considered enough masculine at that time.

While Wilsdorf was adamant about making watches that are elegant and reliable, he collaborated with his brother-in-law Alfred Davis and founded ‘Wilsdorf & Davis’. The company at the time, imported the Swiss movements of Hermann Aeglar to England and fitted them in robust watch cases manufactured by Dennison and others. However, the company required a suitable name to commercialise and globally recognised.

The legend says that Hans Wilsdorf coined the name ‘Rolex’ in 1908 and it is believed to be a pure invention. There is no such confirmed theory that could illustrate his inspiration. However, Wilsdorf shifted the company to Bienne, Switzerland, due to the First World War. On 17th January 1920, the company was registered officially as Montres Rolex SA.

One of the most significant features that Rolex has continued to maintain since its inception is the accuracy. Even the watches manufactured by Rolex in 1910 had the proof of chronometer testing, and today, nearly all Rolex watches are chronometer-certified by the COSC.

Rolex Datejust – The Beginnings

One of the Rolex’s significant innovations was the ‘Oyster’ water-resistant case. In 1931, Rolex released the Oyster Perpetual housing an automatic movement.

To commemorate the brand’s 40th anniversary in 1945, Rolex was looking forward to designing a watch that would be different from other timepieces of the time. As a result, the brand introduced the world’s first self-winding, waterproof watch with a date window at 3 o’clock position on the dial. And, this iconic model of the reference 4467 was the Rolex Datejust.

However, the date window might today appear as a common complication in many watches. But, it was the Rolex Datejust that indeed set the standard for the way date functionality on wristwatches should perform. The date disc changed automatically over at midnight, and all thanks go to an intermediate gear and a spring mechanism.

While the watch debuts the brand-new Jubilee bracelet, it was originally named as the ‘Jubilee Datejust’. The initial Datejust reference was available only in 18ct gold, and it exhibits the brand’s patent water-resistant Oyster case along with a fluted bezel. Moreover, the watch sported a domed case-back for accommodating the bigger Calibre 710 movement.

The Early 1950’s Rolex Datejusts

It was not until the 1950s when Rolex launched Datejust references 5030 and 5031 in stainless steel and bi-tone ‘Rolesor’ versions. And, the legendary name ‘Datejust’ began to be printed on all Datejust dials. Nearly one decade after its initial launch, Datejust received one of the significant aesthetic update – the date magnifier.

After nine years of production, Rolex debuted its brand-new Cyclops lens on the Datejust in 1954. The magnifying lens sits right above the date window, thereby increasing the readability by two-and-a-half times. The Cyclops lens is today standard on Rolex timepieces and is one of the proprietary characteristics of the brand.

However, the watch was available only in yellow gold at the beginning but later, was introduced in steel, Rose gold or two-tone editions. With the high accuracy, automatic winding, Oyster case and date display, the Rolex Datejust served as a highly practical and excellent watch, thereby becoming a spontaneous success. Moreover, the screwed case-back (known as ‘bubble-back’) and rotor shape made the watch highly water-resistant.

In 1955, the brand introduced a limited edition version of the Datejust known as the ‘Turn-O-Graph’, later nicknamed as the ‘Thunderbird’. Rolex presented this unique ‘Turn-O-Graph’ to the United States Air Force pilots after they returned from combat missions. The only feature that made it different from other models was the Turn-o-Graph rotating bezel after which the timepiece was named.

The Late 1950s Rolex Datejust

By the late 1950s, the Rolex Datejust received another significant update that was more technical rather than aesthetic. Besides technical modifications, Rolex equipped its Calibre 1560 within the Datejust. However, the name ‘Datejust’ permanently appeared on the dial and the features like the bezel, hands, hour markers, crystal and the Cyclops lens appear pretty the same that we can see on the contemporary Datejust timepieces.

1950’s Rolex Datejust

Moreover, Rolex also introduced a ladies version in the Datejust collection during the late 1950s. Although the Lady Datejust measures smaller than the men, the overall design is almost similar to the men counterpart. However, the brand continued to update the movement of the Datejust model throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1965, the very popular Calibre 1570 replaced the earlier movement. Rolex then introduced the ‘quick-set’ date feature along with a brand-new Calibre 3035 movement. However, the ‘quick-set’ complication allowed the wearers to adjust the date display independently without having to adjust the hands that display the time.

Although these Datejust references retained the 36mm case size, many subtle updates in design and the new-generation movement made them disparate from its predecessors.

The crystals on this generation of Datejust timepieces are also made of acrylic. But the ‘pie-pan’ sloped style dial is replaced by an entirely flat-surface dial like the ones Rolex used today.

In the 1970s, with the inception of the Quartz Crisis, the brand released a quartz movement housed within the Datejust Oyster-Quartz ref. 17000. However, Rolex launched a new generation of Datejust timepieces later in 1988, equipped with its upgraded Calibre 3135 movement.

When it comes to functionality, the Calibre 3135 was nearly identical to its previous generation movement. However, the updated movement offered little refinements that ensured better reliability and timekeeping.

Additionally, the crystal on the new-generation of Datejust timepieces is made of synthetic scratch-resistant sapphire instead of acrylic like all previous Datejust collection.

The Modern Rolex Datejust

While the Datejust’s case shape became more masculine over the years, other features of the watch like the hands, dial and Cyclops stayed practically unaltered. Besides, the Oyster or Jubilee bracelets offer the timepiece an elegant and timeless look. At the beginning of the 2000s, Rolex launched an all-new polished and flat bezel for replacing the fluted bezel.

However, the size also stayed the same over the decades until the brand introduced the current Rolex Datejust II in 2009. The case size grew to 41mm from the standard 36mm, regardless bearing pretty much the same elegance and style of the basic Datejust model.

Moreover, the new generation Datejust watch was equipped with the Rolex Calibre 3136 movement. Although the movement was significantly modified, it was not entirely renewed. Besides, the Rolex Datejust II featured an Oyster bracelet. The manufacturer released three new editions of the Datejust in 2014. With coloured dials, the watch proved its timeless and versatility spirit once again.

However, the over-sized Rolex Datejust II reappeared in 2016 under the same name ‘Datejust 41’ but with a new movement, reference number and minor aesthetics modifications. The Rolex Datejust 41 watch is still in production along with its other siblings with watch-case size ranging from 28mm to 41mm.

Today, the current Datejust collection is available with more bezel, dial, bezel and metal options in comparison to any other Rolex collection. Indeed, the Rolex Datejust continues to be one of the most famous and coveted watches of Rolex. Thus, if you are looking to ‘sell Rolex Datejust watch’ or ‘sell my Rolex Datejust’ for cash, you are likely to receive the most competitive market price of your watch from any potential watch buyers in London.

Also Read:

5 Exclusive Rolex Cerachrom Bezels

A Comprehensive Guide to Rolex Serial Numbers

The History of Rolex Cosmograph Daytona

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