Review: The Rolex Date ref. 1500
Rolex’s Oyster Perpetual Date range is one of the more confusing in the brand’s canon. In fact, the whole of the brand’s dress watch collection from the fifties and sixties can get genuinely perplexing.
First released in 1950, the Rolex Date acted as something of a midpoint between two other models, both released five years earlier. Measuring the same 34mm as the era’s Air-King, it had the added convenience of a date function like its most obvious sibling, the 36mm Datejust.
Also like the Datejust, the Date was an automatically winding watch (while the initial Air-Kings were manually-wound) and it too had a number of different dial and bezel options, although not quite as extensive as its bigger brother. To further muddy the waters, there was another very similarly styled piece unveiled around the same time, called the Oysterdate. 34mm and hand wound, it was fitted with a non-chronometer movement (again like the Air-King) while the Date and Datejust have always been COSC-rated.
It is perhaps easier to think of the Rolex Date as a smaller, more modest version of the Datejust—the quality of engineering and the materials used are consistent across both, but the former is better suited to a smaller wrist and is generally a less expensive option.
The ref. 15XX series was launched in 1962, and this second generation became one of the longest-running in the watch’s history. It shared a movement with the Datejust all the way up to the end of the 1970s, but while the DJ then received its first high beat caliber, the Date had to wait a little longer for its upgrade.
The range had several editions, with the ref. 1500 being a particular fan favorite.
We take a more detailed look below.
Rolex Date ref. 1500 Metals and Bezels
While there were a number of different metals used for the ref 15XX series of Rolex Date watches, the 34mm case of the ref. 1500 was fully stainless steel. It underlines the model’s status as among the so-called entry level pieces from the brand, and that understated nature was complemented by the fact it was topped by a stainless steel or yellow gold smooth polished bezel.
The combination gives the whole piece a real minimalist appearance, which lends it a certain amount of versatility over some of the more outlandish choices—there isn’t really any situation where the watch would look out of place.
By contrast, the ref. 1503 and ref. 1507 from the same run were cast in 14k and 18k gold respectively, both with fluted bezels. The ref. 1505 was the half-and-half gold and steel blend known as Rolesor, fitted with an engine turned surround, all of which were designed to attract the eye far more.
Engine turned bezels are ones engraved with decorative designs, visually quite similar to the traditional fluted type. The 15XX series also had a stainless steel model with one (the ref. 1501) and the Date range was actually the last of Rolex’s offerings to feature it, before being phased out around 2005.
Two other super rare versions came about in the 60s. The ref. 1502 had a delicate Florentine finish and the ref. 1504 had a quite bizarre geometrically patterned bezel, unique to the series.
Rolex Date ref. 1500 Movements
Mirroring the four-digit Datejust references of the same period, the ref. 1500 Date swapped movements during its run.
It started off with the Cal. 1565, one of the second generation calibers from Rolex’s lauded Cal. 1500 family. As with the majority of the brand’s engines at the time, it had a balance frequency of 18,000vph, along with a stone lever escapement, a free sprung balance wheel and a Breguet overcoil on the hairspring. However, it did introduce the cam and jewel system, the element responsible for the instantaneous and very precise date change at midnight, which is still in use today. Before then, the changeover had taken several hours.
In 1965, a new movement displaced the Cal. 1565, retaining much of its technology but upping the speed to 19,800vph. Called the Cal. 1575, the faster rate offered an increase in timekeeping accuracy as well a little more stability.
Then in 1972, the Cal. 1575 received a hacking function which stopped the seconds hand when the crown was pulled out, allowing for an easier and more precise setting.
It would see the ref. 1500 through all the way to 1983 when the range was finally granted its first truly high beat caliber, the Cal. 3035, which had been driving the Datejust for six years by then. That was also the mechanism that brought with it the Quickset, giving independent control over the date function. Neither the Cal. 1565 or Cal. 1575 had the feature, meaning the wearer had to move the hands through 24-hours in order to advance the day.
Rolex Date ref. 1500 Dials
Low-key examples of both the Date and the Datejust have tended to be offered with a smaller array of dial options. Where the gold and Rolesor models are more often bought by those not averse to adding a touch of flamboyance to their wrists, and were available with some of the bolder colors, the neutrality of the stainless steel pieces worked better with more subdued tones.
So the officially released range focused heavily on dials of silver, white, black and grey, keeping the watch toned-down and unpretentious. However, as is frequently the case with the most affordable pieces from Rolex, they are ripe for customization. The vintage market is swarming with models fixed with professionally refinished dials, in just about any color you can imagine. Likewise, hour markers are often accented with aftermarket diamonds, which was never formally an option from the brand itself on the ref. 1500. (They stuck to the standard Arabic or Roman numerals, or plain batons).
The quality of these modified watches obviously varies depending on who carried out the work, but the best of them are very good indeed and well worth a look.
It does mean, though, that Rolex will refuse to service the piece when the time comes and you will need to locate an independent watchmaker.
There are also a smattering of limited edition versions. During the 60s and 70s the brand was still open to cobranding their watches with various organizations, and the Date ref. 1500 was sometimes awarded to long serving employees of various organizations, usually as a retirement gift. You will occasionally find pieces with another company logo on the dial next to the Rolex signature.
Several military forces, as well, were issued with their own examples, particularly in the Middle East. Of them all, it is the ones with the crest of the United Arab Emirates that tend to surface most regularly.
Again in the 1970s, the brand started to use 18k gold for hands and indexes on their watches and to signify the fact added a tiny (σ), or Sigma, symbol at the bottom of the dial, especially on the steel examples. It was only done for a few years, meaning the Sigma dials are relatively rare and increasingly sought after.
Finally, we are still in the era of the Plexiglass acrylic crystal rather than the later sapphire, a real vintage touch beloved by purists. All models are complete with the Cyclops magnifying lens.
Rolex Date ref. 1500 Bracelets
It will come as no surprise that the Date ref. 1500 is most often fitted with either the three-link Oyster bracelet or else the Jubilee, the five-semicircular link band designed specifically for the first Datejust in 1945.
Both are fine bracelets, and each adds something to the watch’s character.
The no-nonsense utility of the Oyster brings a tough, sporty aspect, while the buttery-soft Jubilee is a more intricate creation and makes the whole thing more formal.
During the reference’s long extended production run, the links changed from riveted to folded to oval, depending on when it was made.
And another welcome period detail; lug holes were present on all models.
Although Rolex is one of the more conservative of the luxury watchmakers, they still make plenty of pieces that scream, ‘Look at me’.
The Date ref. 1500 is not one of those. Bordering on the humble, its 34mm dimensions and stainless steel construction are beautifully underplayed. What’s more, precisely because of both those qualities, it is an ideal unisex model, looking just at home on a male or female wrist.
Among the lesser known creations from the brand’s history, prices are extremely reasonable too. Head over to our online store to check out some of the best guaranteed authentic examples.
— Featured Photo Credit: BeckerTime’s Archive.