With a rich history spanning several decades, the Rolex Datejust represents one of the most iconic timepiece collections of all time. Since its debut in 1945, the Datejust has remained a staple as both an everyday luxury watch and a prominent mark of personal achievement. This timeless versatility has cemented its status as a popular first Rolex for budding watch enthusiasts.
Yet with such an extensive production run, determining the ideal references for new collectors can pose some challenges. This list serves to highlight five quintessential Datejust editions that modern consumers can still reasonably obtain in today’s vibrant pre-owned market. Ranging from sporty and affordable vintage models to contemporary statements crafted from precious metals, each embodies the watchmaking prowess and resilient spirit that have defined this collection over nearly eight decades and counting.
From historic mid-century designs to recent launches embracing modern proportions, the selections ahead provide an overview of the Datejust DNA – one that has captivated the wrist of luminaries ranging from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Roger Federer. For inaugurating your own horological journey, these versions make fine starting points to experience Rolex’s most flexible icon firsthand.
As the very first Datejust variation to debut the iconic fluted bezel in 1956, the ref. 1601 makes an ideal entry point into Rolex collecting. Manufactured from the late 1950s all the way until the late 1970s, well over one million pieces were produced during its impressive run. Its 36mm stainless steel Oyster case strikes that perfect balance between contemporary and vintage appeal. Meanwhile, the legendary Jubilee bracelet design provides exceptional comfort for all-day wear.
Within the ref. 1601 series exists a range of collectible dial variations sure to catch the eye of Datejust fans. Most feature the traditional Rolex baton hour markers and stick hands for a clean aesthetic. However, certain examples flaunt more ornate rectangular, dagger, or alpha hands paired with Roman numerals. Exciting accent colors also emerge amid glossy black and silver dials, including rich champagne, deep gray, and light blue options. Even two-tone examples boast gold hour markers and hands for an added touch of luxury. We especially like the rose gold Rolex Datejust 1601 model. With so many configurations to explore, the ref. 1601 makes Datejust collecting fun and accessible to newcomers.
Debuting in the mid-1970s, the successor ref. 16013 Datejust surely captured the free-flowing spirit of the era with a sportier edge. Rolex outfitted it with an engraved steel bezel for textural interest. Waterproof screw-down pushers also enabled convenient quickset date functionality for the first time. Yet the enduring 36mm proportions maintain a versatile attitude fit for business or leisure.
Previously gloss dials gained new intricate facets as well, as Rolex introducing their signature linen and pyramid motif designs still coveted today. But the rare matte dial variants render far more exclusive, like the sleek grey “Buckley” or coveted “tapestry” styles. Pairing these with two-tone fluted bezels on Jubilee or Oyster bracelets creates several alluring combinations for collectors to uncover. Ranging all the way until 1988, over two million ref. 16013’s were created. Making it widely accessible on multi-thousand-dollar budgets, this reference channels vintage appeal into a youthful Rolex statement.
Representing an evolution for modern versatility throughout the 1990s and early 2000s reign, the ref. 16233 Datejust marries contemporary engineering with ageless aesthetics. It debuted Rolex’s synthetic sapphire crystal and superlative 3135 movement while retaining the immortal 36mm Oyster case diameter. The signature fluted bezel gained an updated more substantial feel as well. This robust construction coupled with new white gold hour markers and hands to prevent tarnishing makes it very enticing as an everyday luxury watch.
Dials also reflected more lustrous appeal, from textured slate options to the coveted “Linen” design with its vertical gilt lines. Two-tone models on Jubilee or Oyster bracelets add a level of opulence. Most coveted are rare dial examples like the electric blue “Serti” dial with diamond hour markers or the Tiffany & Co. collaboration pieces. With both sports and dress sensibilities blended into an everlasting profile, the ref. 16233 continues to captivate collectors around the globe thanks to millions of examples produced over its lengthy lifespan.
Ushering in the 21st century Datejust offerings is the ref. 116234. While retaining the enduring 36 mm case size, the new reference bears robust improvements fit for contemporary collectors. Introduced in the early 2000s, the 116234 is among the first Datejust editions to feature Rolex’s caliber 3135. This movement brings the Parachrom hairspring and double-pivoting balance wheel for stellar chronometric performance. Models after 2009 also introduce the paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring for heightened resilience to magnetism and shocks.
Visually, the ref. 116234 impresses as well with its lustrous yellow Rolesor or Everose two-tone finish options on Jubilee or Oyster bracelets. Bold faceted lume plots and hands prevent tarnishing thanks to 18k white gold construction. An array of glossy, matte, and textured dials in monochrome or accent colors provide fresh appeal too. Most prestigious are the gem-set pieces like the emerald bezel and champagne Serti dial “Leopard” model. With over a decade of availability, the 116234 combined modern Rolex engineering prowess with the Datejust’s versatile charm.
In the present era, Rolex sets their sights on the future while upholding the foundational Datejust identity in the contemporary 41mm ref. 126234. Launching in 2018, the larger case size pairs elegantly with the refined new generation caliber 3235 ticking inside. Said calibre drives chronometer-certified accuracy within 2 seconds per day thanks to the patented Chronergy escapement. This architecture, finished entirely in-house, promises extraordinary reliability and efficiency for years of almost perpetual use.
Along with the increased presence, the ref. 126234 introduces new dials with intricate geometric hour markers. Pairing these with either smooth or fluted bezels expands the combinations. One also gains the convenience of the Easylink extension system inside the Oyster or Jubilee bracelets. With choices of steel, Rolesor two-tone, or precious white or Everose gold, the modern Datejust has entered a new golden era while upholding the enduring allure that has captivated watch enthusiasts across many generations over nearly eight decades and counting.
From era-defining early examples that set the tone for modern watchmaking to contemporary releases embracing larger proportions, the Rolex Datejust watch collection indeed covers broad horological ground. Yet each reference encapsulates that perfect balance of versatility, functionality, and enduring luxury which has remained in style since 1945. For new and seasoned collectors alike, charting the Datejust journey firsthand by adding these references promises enjoyment and inspiration for many years on the wrist thanks to their resilience. Truly the quintessential watch, these models demonstrate why Datejust continues to proudly mark special achievements for luminaries ranging from trailblazing leaders to athletes at the top of their sport and more.