“Happy Birthday Mr. President…”
Ever wonder about the backstory of your favorite Rolex? Well, stick with us. This is the second of a series of posts featuring histories of significant Rolex models. You’ll find all the reference numbers connected with each model here. In all, Rolex has introduced nearly three dozen models since 1950. Over the next several weeks, we’ll touch on each of them.
We covered the Datejust and its siblings here the other day. Now let’s turn to another of the top three watches that define the Rolex brand – the Day-Date.
The Day-Date, also known as the President (for dubious reasons we’ll get to in a minute) is a bit of a paradox. On one hand it’s certainly a luxurious watch, with its precious metal case and bracelet, ironic water resistant traits, and chronometer certification.
On the other hand, like Chevys in the 1960s, it’s undoubtedly the most customized watch ever produced. Factory and aftermarket dial variations abound. Diamond bezels were available right from the start. But now, jeweled bezels are available with every precious gemstone you can imagine – diamond, colored stone, or any combination thereof. It takes almost no effort at all to have a unique President that no one else on the planet is wearing.
Rolex introduced the President in 1956 as a last ditch attempt at a somewhat complicated watch. Earlier endeavors at complication (e.g. a moon phase) sat unwanted on dealers’ shelves. Interestingly, the Day-Date, with its display of the day, fully spelled out, in an arcing window at 12 o’clock, was a hit.
Rolex introduced hacking in 1972. This convenient feature allowed owners to synchronize their watches with a known accurate time source and take full advantage of that chronometer-level accuracy.
The first quick-set Presidents came along in the late 1970s. This new feature ended owners needing to twirl the hands innumerable times just to get the day and date to line up. This coincided with the introduction of a sapphire crystal, which replaced the old plastic crystal. The new modification increased durability – mainly scratch resistance – and water resistance, from 165 ft (50m) to 330 ft (100m).
Double-quick set watches appeared in 1990. These Day-Dates allowed even quicker resetting of day and date at the end of most months.
Rolex introduced the Day-Date II in 2008. Like the Datejust II, the 41mm Day-Date II is a larger watch than its older 36mm brother, in keeping with modern style trends. Much of that additional real estate comes in the form of a wider bezel. Not all President admirers care for the new proportions.
The Day-Date Masterpiece is a 39mm version of the Day-Date. The Masterpiece is available in gold or platinum. It features a diamond bezel and unique dials of mother of pearl, meteorite, or unique colors not used in other Rolex models. The bracelets accompanying the watch are unique to the Masterpiece collection. They are manufactured in one-, two-, or three-color combinations of gold and platinum.
So now you know about the history of the Day-Date. But back to the question we alluded to early on. How did the Day-Date come to be known as the President? Well, Rolex reportedly gave one to then-President Dwight Eisenhower. But this watch has never surfaced. As we’ve discussed here before, Ike wore a yellow gold Datejust which Rolex gave him in 1951.
And Marilyn Monroe famously – and unverifiably – gave President Kennedy a Day-Date the year before his death. The watch exists (as seen about half way down the page here), but no one has ever been able to tie it to either Kennedy or Monroe. In fact, the serial number on the watch in question apparently places its manufacture two years after the deaths of Monroe and Kennedy.
Lyndon B. Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy in the White House, was well-known to have worn a Day-Date. And other world leaders and captains of industry have worn the watch. Rolex has called the familiar three-section link bracelet, the President bracelet, but they themselves only once referred to the watch as “The Rolex President,” in a 1984 ad featuring sports agent extraordinaire, Mark McCormack.
Thus, has the Day-Date become The President.
Keep checking back on the Beckertime blog for future posts on the Submariner, the Explorer, the Milgauss, the GMT, and other watches Rolex has produced over the last several decades.