It’s no secret that Rolex watches evolve slowly over the years. Rolex collections do not undergo revolutionary design changes but rather small, yet vital, improvements. And this is a big part of the appeal of Rolex watches—they maintain their signature looks. At first glance, there’s not much difference between a Datejust from the 1970s and a Datejust made today. Of course, if you take a closer look, there are important—mostly technical—differences between Rolex watches from different eras. Today, we delve into the stainless steel midsize Datejust to uncover what improvements have taken place over the last 50 years.
Signature Design Traits of the Stainless Steel Midsize Datejust
What hasn’t changed over the decades is the overall style of the stainless steel midsize Datejust. Regardless of the production time period, this particular Rolex model sports a 31mm Oyster case, a stainless steel construction, a date window at 3 o’clock (for which the collection is named after), and a Cyclops date magnification affixed to the crystal protecting the dial. The watertight Oyster case offers 100 meters (330 feet) of water resistance due to the Twinlock screw-down winding crown, the screw back caseback, and the bezel securing the crystal onto the watch.
While the stainless steel midsize Datejust is instantly recognizable thanks to some design hallmarks, there is certainly plenty of variety within the collection too. For instance, bracelet options include a dressy five-link Jubilee bracelet or a sporty three-link Oyster bracelet. There’s also a choice between a sleek smooth bezel, a more formal fluted bezel, and in some cases, a precious diamond bezel. Dials come in an assortment of colors, patterns, and materials and finally, indexes can be Roman numerals, Arabic numerals, baton style, or even diamond-set.
Rolex introduced the first Datejust model in 1945 as a men’s watch with a 36mm Oyster case. This was later followed by the first Lady-Datejust in 1957 with a 26mm Oyster case. Finally, the Rolex midsize Datejust joined in the 1960s, offering a size option in between the men’s and the ladies’ Datejust.
Brief History of the Evolution of the Stainless Steel Midsize Datejust
Early models of the stainless steel midsize Datejust carry the 68xx reference numbers. For instance, there’s the stainless steel midsize Datejust ref. 6824 with a matching steel smooth bezel and there’s the steel Datejust ref. 6827 outfitted with a fluted white gold bezel. Like most Rolex watches, these particular models run on automatic movements but they do not include the quickset date function. This means the wearer has to continuously turn the center minute and hour hands around the dial to set the appropriate date. Furthermore, as vintage models, the stainless steel midsize Datejust ref. 6824 and ref. 6827 watches come with acrylic crystals. These models were in production until the mid-1980s.
To replace the four-digit 68xx models, Rolex unveiled the stainless steel midsize Datejust models with five-digit 682xx reference numbers in the mid-1980s. There’s the Datejust ref. 68240 with a smooth bezel and the Datejust ref. 68274 with a fluted white gold bezel. This time, these updated models include the scratch-resistant sapphire crystal on the case. Moreover, they also boast the quickset date function where the date is set independently from the time, thus offering more practicality for the wearer.
In the late 1990s, Rolex launched new versions of the stainless steel midsize Datejust equipped with the famed Cal. 2235 automatic movement—the one still used in current midsize Datejust watches. From this era, there’s the Datejust ref. 78240 with the smooth steel bezel and the Datejust ref. 78274 with the fluted white gold bezel.
For the new millennium, Rolex presented the latest midsize stainless steel Datejust family a heavier bracelet and enhanced clasp. Today, there’s the Datejust ref. 178240 with a smooth steel bezel, the Datejust ref. 178274 with a fluted white gold bezel, the Datejust ref. 178384 with a diamond-set bezel, and the Datejust ref. 178344 with a smooth bezel dotted with diamonds.
Regardless of the date of production or reference number, the midsize stainless steel Datejust is a solid everyday Rolex watch boasting iconic design elements and impressive technical abilities at accessible price points in the secondary market.