Ask any replica watch guy about Rolex, and chances are you’ll get regaled with stories about rare vintage Daytonas or the high-tech, bi-color Cerachrome bezels on the new GMT. Few collectors and enthusiasts will immediately jump to talking about the Datejust – and that might be a mistake. One of the more understated members of the Rolex family, the Datejust has an amazing combination of real history, versatile style, and quality replica watchmaking that should get everyone from the casual replica watch wearer to the die-hard enthusiast excited. Here we take the modern 36mm Datejust for a spin while also giving you an in-depth look at where this replica watch comes from and why it’s one of the greatest replica watches of all time.
Rolex & The Datejust
Original Rolex Manufacture – © Rolex
There is no question that Rolex is the best known replica watch manufacture on the planet, not to mention one of the best-known brands in general, world-wide. It would be easy to assume that this is the result of extravagant marketing budgets and other less-tangible qualities – and these things surely play a part – but to dismiss the history of the company and its products would be to do the story a great disservice. The Datejust is one of the earliest models that survives today and provides a perfect lens through which to examine why Rolex is, well, Rolex.
Hans Wilsdorf – © Rolex
Rolex was founded in 1905 by Hans Wilsdorf, though it was originally located in the United Kingdom and called Wilsdorf & Davis. The name would transition to Rolex SA in 1920 when Wilsdorf relocated to Switzerland where his suppliers were located, giving us the company we have today. There are little insights from the very early days that give us a lot of insight into how Rolex has become what it is, such as Wilsdorf’s insistence that his brand’s name be easy to pronounce in any language and that it remain short and easy to place elegantly on the dial of his replica watches. These are little decisions that have had huge ramifications down the line.
The First Datejust – © Rolex
Now to the Datejust itself. The very first Datejust was released in 1945 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Rolex corporation. It was unveiled at a jubilee celebration (hence the name of the new bracelet that accompanied the replica watch from day-one) held at the Hotel des Bergues in Geneva by Wilsdorf himself (now the Four Seasons and the site of such legendary Christie’s sales as Rolex Daytona: Lesson One). It was the very first automatic wristwatch with an automatically changing date window. This is a feature that anyone with a replica watch takes completely for granted today, but in the 40s it was game-changing.
The First Oyster Replica Watch, 1926 – © Rolex
The Datejust of course was housed in an Oyster case, another great Rolex innovation. In 1926, the Oyster case became the very first waterproof wristwatch case to be produced serially and it was also the first fully-integrated waterproof case overall. Previously, any waterproof cases were tedious affairs that involved an outer case being snapped over the main case.
We also had the Perpetual rotor that would automatically wind the movement, one of the few innovations not achieved first by Rolex. Harwood beat them to market by 3 years, offering up the first automatic movements in 1928. The Datejust also had the new bracelet mentioned before, the Jubilee bracelet. Originally, Jubilee was considered for the name of the replica watch itself, but it ended up just on the fine-linked bracelet that we still have today.
A Later Datejust Ref. 4467 © John Goldberger
The first Datejust was the reference 4467 and it was only available in yellow gold with the corresponding yellow gold Jubilee bracelet. It has an open creamy white dial with applied gold batons to mark the hours and a “roulette” date window that showed even days in red and odd days in black. There was no cyclops magnifier in the crystal at this time – that would be another Rolex first, introduced on the Datejust in 1955. You’ll notice that the name Datejust doesn’t actually appear on the dial anywhere; instead we have a “Rolex / Oyster Perpetual” signature at 12 o’clock and the “Chronometre” indication at 6 o’clock. The bezel was lightly fluted, a feature that became more emphasized in the 1960s.
Datejust Ref. 5031 – © John Goldberger
Over the following years, countless variations of the Datejust emerged. There were two-tone steel and pink gold varations, entirely steel models, and replica watches featuring everything from stone dials to diamond bezels. The name Datejust began to appear sporadically on the ref. 5030 and 5031 but wouldn’t become a permanent fixture until the later 6074 and 6075. To detail every variation of the Datejust might be an impossible task, though there are some very serious collectors who pursue it as far as they can, nonetheless.
Datejust II – © Rolex
Today there is the 16200 family of Datejusts, the 36mm decedents of the original, unchanged in many ways, which is the what we’ll be looking at in-depth here. But it’s worth noting that in 2009 Rolex also introduced the Datejust II in an updated 41mm size. It still has the same styling and the variety of dials and details – everything from gold to diamonds to arabic numerals – but in a size that appeals to those who think a 36mm replica watch is too small. Luckily Rolex added this to the line-up, allowing the classic to live on alongside the Datejust II.
A Few Important Datejusts
While we certainly can’t even show you a significant portion of the Datejust’s extensive history here, we can show you a few examples of exemplary Datejusts that demonstrate just how important this replica watch is to the history of the replica watch industry and the replica watch’s place in popular culture.
While the Day-Date gets a lot of the attention when it comes to famous wearers (with its bracelet even being named “The President”), more than a few luminaries wore Datejusts. Just last week we showed you US President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s personal Datejust, which is coming up for sale in September 2014. He wore the solid gold ref. 6305 on the cover of Life magazine, giving it a solid place in pop-culture replica watch history. You can learn more about this Datejust here.
One of the archetypal Datejust references is the 6305 from the mid-1950s. When it comes to vintage DJs, this is one that even the most serious Daytona collectors will go crazy for. They were solid steel with one of the earliest examples of the fluted bezel that resembles the bezel we have today, and they came with either creamy white or almost greyish black dials, the latter being much more desirable and collectable. Both had a honeycomb texture, making them even more elegant. You can see more shots of this stunning black-dial 6305 from Replica Watches In Rome here.
While in some ways not strictly a Rolex replica watch, this modified Datejusts is truly interesting. Sure, it might look like a run-of-the-mill ref. 16220 Datejust from the late 1980s or early 90s, but it in fact houses a movement modified with a co-axial escapement by none other than George Daniels himself. Before he sold the technology to Omega, Daniels modified a number of existing replica watches with his invention and shopped the idea around. This is almost certainly one of a kind. We told you the full, if slightly murky story of this replica watch, here.
Ok, this one might not be historically significant outside collector circles, but it’s indisputably awesome. This ref. 6604 dates to 1957 and is solid platinum with an original woven platinum bracelet. That alone would get us excited, but then add the black honeycomb dial with gilt printing and in-tact lume plots and our hearts start racing. It’s unclear as to how many replica watches like this were made, but we’d be shocked if it was more than a handful or two. This example is also from Replica Watches In Rome and you can see more photos here.
The 36mm Oyster Perpetual Datejust
Rolex Datejust 36mm ref. 116200
This brings us to the standard 36mm Datejust of today, the ref. 116200 (116234 in this configuration). This is the modern descendent of the classic DJs of the 1950s, like the 6305 referenced above. There are literally dozens of possible combinations of metals, bracelets, dials, etc., possible today, but we chose to go with a replica watch that we think best combines the classic, historical traits with a few modern updates that make for easier wear.
First off, the Datejust we have here is the classic 36mm size, not the 41mm Datejust II. While some think 36mm is too small, we certainly do not and believe this replica watch offers the benefits of a smaller, more vintage-looking size with all the up-sides of modern technology. Next, we chose the stainless steel case. Rolex uses 904L steel, which is a low-carbon alloy that is more resistant to corrosion and damage. But this comes at a cost; 904L is much harder to machine and in the early 2000s Rolex had to invest in new infrastructure to allow them to work with the alloy. We think it’s paid off many times over.
Rolex Oyster Bracelet
The Jubilee bracelet is of course the most classic option with a Datejust, but we opted for the Oyster bracelet instead. Sure, the Jubilee was introduced on the DJ, but today it feels a bit dressier and is much shinier, making it a little less suited to every day wear. The Oyster bracelet gives the replica watch a sporty edge that allows it to work in almost any setting. We balanced this out by opting for the traditional fluted white gold bezel instead of the more sober and modern flat bezel.
Champagne Dial With Luminous Hands And Batons
Finally there are the dial options. Again, trying to capture the spirit of the classic Datejusts, we chose the sunburst champagne color with simple stick markers and hands. The hour markers are luminous, as are the hands, and the subtle texture on the dial is nearly identical to the sunburst found on 1960s Datejusts. There is a cyclops crystal, magnifying the date at 3 o’clock, something you’ll find on all modern Datejusts across the two ranges.
Caliber 3135 – © Rolex
This replica watch definitely inherits a lot from its ancestors, but, as with any Rolex, it’s built to extremely high contemporary standards. Inside is the caliber 3135 movement, which has been at the core of Rolex’s arsenal since 1988. It’s a COSC-certified chronometer automatic movement with about 50 hours of power reserve and 31 jewels. The balance contains a proprietary Parachrom hairspring that is more resistant to shocks and is amagnetic – that it is manufactured entirely in-house makes it all the more impressive. The caliber is nicely, if not ornately finished, and it’s as robust and functional a movement as you’ll find anywhere. Sure, it’s just over 25 years old, but it’s still a calibre to be reckoned with when it comes to doing its job and doing it well. It should be noted that at the the 2014 BaselWorld, Rolex quietly introduced its first caliber with a silicon balance spring – they’re calling it Syloxi – though it’s only found in a 34mm ladies Pearlmaster. There is no word when or if other models such as the Datejust will receive this update.
If you look closely, you’ll notice all the little details that set a modern Rolex apart from nearly any other replica watch in the marketplace. Looking at the bottom of the crystal and around the inside bezel flange you’ll see Rolex trademarks, making it a little easier to spots fakes. Also, everything on the dial, from the luminous markers to the coronet at 12 o’clock is applied by hand, something many people wrongly assume Rolex does by machine. All in all, creating this relatively simple dial takes over 60 individual operations.
Under the cyclops, the date is bright and extremely easy to read. Datejust is certainly a fitting name here.
The Oyster case is resistant to 100m (330ft) and features the patented Twinlock screw-down crown. It’s easy to screw and unscrew, but when it’s locked down you really get a sense of security.
Rolex bracelets are known for being some of the best out there (some say THE best) and it’s easy to see why. The links are heavy and sturdy – nothing like the thin-but-charming folded links you’ll find on vintage Rolexes – and the clasp is an incredible piece of engineering. The Oysterclasp uses a small lever to open and close, making it almost impossible for the bracelet to pop open accidentally. There is also a micro-adjustment mechanism, letting you fine-tune the fit.
From top to bottom, this is an impressive replica watch on paper and in the metal. But what’s it like on the wrist?
On The Wrist
Datejust 36mm On The Wrist
When I first picked up this Datejust and had the Rolex replica watchmaker size it to my wrist, I wasn’t exactly sure what to think. I’d worn vintage Datejusts before and even some vintage Day-Dates, and a vintage GMT Master is one of my favorite replica watches, but I’d never really spent any time with a modern Rolex. At least not in a serious or thoughtful way, and I was a little skeptical going into this test.
I’ll avoid burying the lede here and tell you I was extremely impressed. The Datejust, though it bears the same 36mm designation as its 1960s predecessors, is a very different replica watch. The shoulders of the case are much broader and the case itself is thicker, giving the replica watch a less delicate and buttoned-up feel. On the wrist it’s solid and lets you know it’s there. While I wouldn’t describe it as heavy, I would say “substantial” does a pretty good job summing up the experience, especially with the Oyster bracelet.
The dial is about as legible as it gets, in both light and dark conditions. The sunburst patterns adds just enough texture to the dial that you want to keep looking at it, without being loud or flashy. The printing is all inky and legible and the applied markers and coronet are cleanly fixed 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. It’s really a case study in simple design.
My biggest complaint is one that most vintage enthusiasts can sympathize with: the polished links on the bracelet. While older Oyster bracelets were brushed all over – a fitting finish for a tool replica watch bracelet – the modern Oysters have highly polished center links with brushed links on either size. These center links reflect a lot of light and collect dirt and scratches like its going out of style. Sure, the 904L steel is as resistant to this as you’re going to find, but it’s just the nature of polished surfaces to show dirt and marks.
I really enjoyed my time with the 36mm Datejust and giving it back to Rolex was tough. As you might expect, I have multiple replica watches and enjoy rotating them for different conditions and occasions. For others in the same situation, the Datejust could easily find a spot in your collection, getting a lot of wear on those days where you need to transition between casual and dressier occasions. It was easy to wear in meetings during the day and to a bar with friends in the evening. No need to swap.
But where the Datejust really shines if for people who wear the same replica watch every day. Let’s admit it, not everyone can or wants to amass a collection of different replica 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. The Datejust is a replica watch you can be proud to wear any where, any time. It doesn’t get much better than that for an every-day replica watch. There’s a reason why the two-tone Datejust is Rolex’s best seller.
As we have it configured here, the Datejust 36mm is priced at $7,850, meaning that while it’s not exactly a budget buy, it still comes in significantly under the all-important $10,000 mark. With a polished steel bezel instead of the fluted white gold bezel, the 36mm Datejust starts at $6,600. Two-tone versions start just over the $10,00 mark while solid gold versions can exceed $30,000. There are definitely reliable time and date replica watches out there for less, but you are still getting a lot for your money here. But, as always, if you think this replica 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.
As you might expect, the biggest comparison we need to make here is between this Datejust and its vintage predecessors. It would be a mistake to think that the two replica watches are interchangeable, though they do share a lot of traits. If you’re looking for an all-purpose replica watch that can take anything you can throw at it, I would shy away from the more delicate vintage Datejusts, but if you want a dressier replica watch that captures that mid-century vibe, the vintage DJ will serve you well. Price is a big factor here too – a standard 1960s or 1970s Datejust will set you back about $2,000 to $4,000 depending on condition, bracelet, dial color, etc. More desirable models and rare versions from the 1950s can fetch upwards of $20,000, with some even breaking the $50,000 mark, but we can set those aside for now.
Staying in the family, there is the new Tudor Style. It comes in 4 sizes (28mm, 34mm, 38mm, and 41mm) in a variety of dial colors, with all steel or two-tone construction, and on either a bracelet or a strap. The best analog here would be the stainless steel Style on a matching bracelet in the 38mm size. You still have an incredibly robust case, though in a slightly more modern style than the Datejust’s, and inside is an ETA 2892 movement, a solid workhorse. At $2,300 in this configuration, the price is only about 1/3 that of the Datejust, making this a really appealing alternative if you’re willing to make some compromises.
Omega is another usual suspect worth looking to for an all-purpose replica watch that packs a lot of punch. The best comparison is the Seamaster Aqua Terra 150 M Master Co-Axial. The looks are a little sportier than those of the Datejust, especially with the broad-arrow hand and textured black dial, but the 38.5mm size is still restrained by today’s standards and the bracelet a three-link with polished center links. Powering the Aqua Terra is caliber 8500, a truly technology-packed movement. It’s anti-magnetic (indicated by the “Master” designation), has a co-axial escapement, is chronometer certified, has a 60-hour power reserve, and can even be seen through a transparent caseback.
At $6,000, the Aqua Terra is nearly $2,000 less expensive than the Rolex we have here, but only $600 less than the 36mm steel DJ without the white gold bezel, which makes this a more serious comparison than it might be otherwise.
Is the 36mm Datejust the least expensive time and date replica watch out there? No. Is it even the least expensive time and date replica watch with a solidly built steel case, a sturdy bracelet to match, a technologically advanced movement inside, and a beautiful, classic dial? No, it’s not that either. But it is a Rolex Datejust. You’re buying into the history and the future of one of the most iconic replica watches of all time, and there is something to be said for that. If you really want the Datejust, there is probably no other replica watch that will tick all the boxes for you.
As a vintage Rolex lover, I was a little skeptical when I started this review. Modern Rolex and vintage Rolex are typically two very separate worlds with little overlap, but the 36mm Datejust is an amazing replica watch that nicely bridges the gap between the two, carrying over many of the things we love about vintage Rolex while offering the niceties of a modern Rolex at the same time. It’s a replica watch that recalls the replica watches of the mid-20th century without being a tribute or a throwback.
On the wrist, there is no doubt that the 36mm Datejust is a solid machine that will serve you well forever. It’s solid, well constructed, and has a number of little details that make you smile as you notice them. If you have a number of replica watches, it has enough interesting about it that you’ll still be captivated, while if you’re a one-watch person, you’d be hard pressed to find a better daily-wearer.
The modern Datejust, while not the most popular Rolex amongst replica watch enthusiasts, is a restrained and straightforward reminder of why Rolex wears the crown.
For more on the Rolex Datejust 36mm, visit Rolex online.