Everybody likes a good watch review and we at Geneva Stripes are no different. However, when writing watch reviews, it is all too easy to spam you with a few commercial photos and then back that up with some technical details. That’s too straightforward – and at Geneva Stripes we like to give our readers something more than that. Be warned – there’s a lot to go throughbut watches are about the finer details and also history – today we look at the legendary Rolex Datejust.
It’s easy to assume that the awe surrounding Rolex, is due to mammoth marketing budgets and extravagant advertising but although undoubtedly these have played no small part in promoting Rolex to where it is today, it would a disservice to ignore the history of the company and the story of their products and in particular – The Datejust. It’s one of the more discrete members of the Rolex family, combining real history, versatility and quality watchmaking in a modern 36mm Oyster case. Simply put – it’s one of the greatest watches of all time.
Martin Luther King wore a Datejust
History of the Datejust
Before we review the Datejust it’s important to know what makes this watch special amongst watch lovers and to do that we need to take a brief look back at the history.
The Datejust was originally unveiled in 1945 at a jubilee celebration (hence the name of the bracelet) held at the Hotel des Bergues in Geneva to commemorate Rolex’s 40th Anniversary. It was an instant success due to 4 key features that at the time were truly innovative.
Without doubt the most groundbreaking feature of the watch was that it was the very first automatic wristwatch ever with an automatically changing date window. This meant that you did not have to manually change the date every day and although we take that for granted today, it was a game-changer.
Secondly, the watch was housed in Rolex’s revolutionary Oyster case, which in 1926, became the very first waterproof wristwatch case to be produced serially and also the first fully-integrated waterproof case overall. This made the watch extremely reliable – again something that we take for granted today. Although you will probably rarely need it, it’s nice to know modern Datejusts have a water resistant depth of 100m.
Mercedes Gleitze wore the Rolex Oyster while she swam across the English Channel (the watch was on a necklace rather than her wrist so the watch would be subjected to as little mechanical shock as possible)
Thirdly, it had a self – winding (automatic) movement in the form of a perpetual rotor and finally, the Jubilee bracelet design, aptly named, after the watch was unveiled at a jubilee celebration held at the Hotel des Bergues in Geneva, was timeless in design and has became a classic in its own right.
The original Rolex Oyster
To give you a sense of scale of these achievements – nowadays you see many watches which look similar to the Datejust in terms of size, the fluted bezel and bracelet to name a few design cues. The Datejust was the original. It’s the one that everyone copied and continues to copy to this day – a beautifully proportioned, true engineering masterpiece.
The 36mm Oyster Perpetual Datejust Reference 116234
In the review today I have a watch out of my own collection – the 116234, with a diamond rhodium dial, white gold fluted bezel and jubilee bracelet. It is important to note that other options for the Datejust are available including a polished steel case, Oyster Bracelet and the choice of lots of different dials.
Rolex Datejust 116234
First off, the Datejust here is the classic 36mm size and not the 41mm Datejust II. In my opinion, while some think 36mm is too small, I can assure you it isn’t. It’s one of those scenarios where less is more and the Datejust offers the benefits of a smaller, more vintage-looking size with all the up-sides of modern technology. Rolex uses top quality 904L steel, which although is harder to machine is more resistant to corrosion and damage. Rolex had to invest in new infrastructure in the 2000s just to allow them to work with the alloy.
The fluted bezel with the jubilee bracelet really catches the light
Inside is the caliber 3135 movement. It’s a COSC-certified chronometer automatic movement with about 50 hours of power reserve and 31 jewels. It’s just over 25 years old and sure that’s old but there’s a good reason for that – it’s really good at doing what it’s supposed to do.
Although not the prettiest, the 3135 is sturdy and robust
The modern dial is now laced with many small details making it a little easier to spots fakes and it’s is important to note that, everything on the dial, from the diamonds and markers, to the coronet at 12 o’clock is applied by hand. All in all, creating this relatively simple dial takes over 60 individual operations.
From top to bottom, this is an impressive watch on paper and in the metal. But what’s it like on the wrist?
Datejust 36mm On The Wrist
The dial that I have here has diamonds as the markers and therefore at night, its difficult to read at night, however due to it being matched with the rhodium dial, the diamonds catch the eye in the right light. It’s a good balance between being discrete but making a statement.
There are other dials which have luminous which means they work in both light and dark conditions. I would definitely consider these options if you plan to wear the watch as a daily wearer. The sunburst patterns adds just enough texture to the dial that you want to keep looking at it and wonder how they get such an effect and the printing is all sharp, inky and legible. The markers and coronet are fixed clean to the dial with a level of precision that explains why many wrongly think this must be handled by machines. The proportions of the hands, markers, and dial are all delicately balanced, with each element fitting perfectly with the rest – there isn’t anything that particular shines through. To Rolex’s credit – they have produced a watch that exceeds the sum of all its part. It’s really a case study in simple design.
But where the Datejust really shines is for people who wear the same watch every day. Let’s admit it, not everyone can or wants to amass a collection of different watches for different situations. For those people, the Datejust is an incredible choice. It’s solidly built, will (quite literally) outlast you, can be worn in any situation, and be relied upon to work under any conditions. I have bashed mine around numerous times and it really does show that luxury doesn’t come at the price of reliability. The Datejust is a watch you can be proud to wear any where, any time. Throw it on with a T shirt and jeans – no problem. Place it with a suit and tie, it performs effortlessly. It doesn’t get much better than that for an every-day watch.
As I have it configured here, the Datejust 36mm is priced at £7000, however they can start at much lower than that price and likewise can go the other side of the spectrum to well over £15 000. There are definitely reliable time and date watches out there for less, but you are still getting a lot for your money here. But, as always, if you think this watch is for you, there are still some other options to consider, so let’s take a look at what else might fit the bill.
Omega Aqua Terra packs a big punch in terms of value. Although the looks are a little bit sportier, it has a transparent casebook housing an antimagnetic movement with co-axial escapement which is chronometer certified and retails at £2000 less than the Rolex Datejust. It works well as a daily wearer and is a good option for someone who wants something different to a Rolex. However it has none of the history that the Rolex has and therefore lacks the heritage that the Datejust has amassed.
On the wrist, there is no doubt that the 36mm Datejust is a reliable companion that will serve you well forever. Not only this, but it is steeped in real history and has design cues that have not changed for over 8 years which make you smile as you notice them. If you already have some watches, it should already be in your collection and as a watch that you could perhaps wear as a daily wearer – it’s hard to match this watch due to its reliability, its good looks, its versatility and its history. You’re buying into the history and the future of one of the most iconic watches of all time, and there is something to be said for that. If you really want the Datejust, there is probably no other watch that will ticks all the boxes quite like the way it does. GS