Review: The Rolex Date ref. 15010
The ref. 150XX series of the Rolex Date comes from around the same era as both the Datejust ref. 160XX and the Day-Date ref. 180XX ranges.
All three are exemplified by the same things—they were the debut five-digit references of their particular collections, each containing the first high beat movement given to their respective models, and the new calibers all unveiled the convenience of the Quickset date function.
In addition, none were in production for very long before being updated again. The Datejust and Day-Date pieces got an 11-year run (1977 to 1988) while the Date, which had started to lag behind by this point, started in the early 1980’s and began to be phased out by the end 80s.
The ref. 150XX, like the rest of the Rolex Date series, has a diameter of 34mm, really the only main difference between it and the 36mm Datejust. In almost every other respect, the two are one and the same.
There are the usual extensive choices in metals, dial colors, bezel types and bracelets, designed to appeal to as wide-ranging an audience as possible. Among those are some variations which no longer have a modern day equivalent, and the ref. 15010 is such a watch.
Between that, the comparative rarity of the range as a whole and the fact that the Date’s smaller size has seen it become a popular unisex piece, it all adds up to a highly desirable and attractively priced option on the preowned market.
Read on below for more details.
Rolex Date ref. 15010 Metals and Bezels
While they are two very similar styles of watch, the Date has long tended to be issued with a more restricted number of options than its larger brother, the Datejust.
It is seen as an entry-level model, and as such the majority, including the ref. 15010, have been cast in stainless steel. During this time in Rolex’s development as a brand, they were still using the same 316L steel as the rest of the industry, before they graduated to the 904L alloy of more recent years.
That being said, 316L is more than tough enough for a watch meant to be worn everyday, and is still the industry-standard for just about every other manufacturer in business today.
On top of that 34mm case sits an engine-turned bezel, something which isn’t an option in the current lineup. It features a series of decoratively etched grooves around the circumference, adding just a subtle touch of flamboyance to the otherwise nicely understated model.
It’s unclear why Rolex doesn’t include any engine-turned surrounds in their portfolio anymore. One reason may be because of its resemblance to another well-liked style, the fluted bezel, but whatever it is, the Date was the last model range to have it, before it was finally retired sometime around 2005.
The ref. 150XX series included a handful of other varieties as well. The ref. 15000, for instance, was also a steel piece but with a smooth bezel, giving it the most unassuming look of all. At the other end, the ref. 15038 was the premium offering, forged from 18k yellow gold, while the ref. 15037 was made from the less expensive, but harder, 14k—another option which has since been discontinued.
Rolex Date ref. 15010 Movements
With a model like the Rolex Date, whose aesthetics are so firmly established, really the only major changes between the various generations are all on the inside.
So it is here as well, with the ref. 150XX ushering in the first of the 28,800vph frequency movements, in the shape of the Cal. 3035.
The previous iteration of the watch, the four-digit ref. 15XX, was actually powered by two different calibers during its long 20-plus year run; the Cal. 1565 and Cal. 1575, working away at 18,000vph and 19,800vph respectively.
Although both, and the latter especially, are considered among the true greats from the brand, it was the new Cal. 3035 that brought with it the now-trademark eight-ticks-per-second glide to the hands that is so typically Rolex.
However, beyond that increase in balance speed, the basic architecture of the incoming caliber was also well proven. Like the movement it replaced, the Cal. 3035 benefitted from a free sprung balance with Breguet overcoil, Microstella regulating system, and it also carried over the hacking function which had been introduced onto the Cal. 1575 in the early 70s.
But it did have one, very handy, feature not present on any of the watch’s previous mechanisms. The Quickset allowed for the date numeral in the three o’clock window to be advanced independently using just the crown, instead of having to spin the main hands through 24-hours.
Beyond that though, and apart from including a fast rotating barrel which upped the power reserve to 50 hours from 42, there wasn’t much else Rolex needed to do in order to keep their movement at the cutting-edge of what was possible at the time. For that reason, you will often see the Cal. 3035 referred to in collector circles as simply a high beat Cal. 1575.
Rolex Date ref. 15010 Dials
With the neutrality of the ref. 15010’s stainless steel case, Rolex tended to stick with issuing a fairly low-key selection of dial colors.
You will find most models have the silver or the monochrome of black or white, with other, fewer examples given a blue or champagne dial.
As the reference was among the lowest priced in the range, you won’t find some of the more outlandish shades or materials that you would on the yellow gold or Rolesor watches. Similarly, diamond hour markers, which were an option on some of the top-of-the-line models, are also absent.
That being said, as you search through the preowned market, you will indeed see plenty of the ref. 15010 with gemstone enhancements or the likes of a mother-of-pearl face.
These will be customized pieces, a practice that is becoming more and more popular. Having your Rolex watch modified by a third party obviously opens up a huge number of different possibilities, allowing you to tailor it to exactly your own requirements.
The quality of the work will vary depending on where it is carried out, but the best of them are extremely good. However, you need to be aware that Rolex themselves won’t service an altered watch and you will need to find an independent center to maintain it. That shouldn’t put you off in any way. There are many of these places around (BeckerTime being one) and they are generally cheaper than the official facilities.
As for luminescence, during this era the brand was still using tritium, technically a radioactive substance but one at a far lower level than the radium it replaced and perfectly harmless.
And covering it all is an acrylic crystal, a feature much loved by purists. This would be the last range of the Date to have them, before they were substituted for the modern sapphire type.
Rolex Date ref. 15010 Bracelets
The Date, and the Datejust, bridge that gap between tool watch and all-out dress model. As such, they were usually issued with a choice of either the sporty three-link Oyster bracelet or the more formal five-link Jubilee.
It is surprising just how much difference to the overall look the band can make, one that is sometimes overlooked.
As you explore the ref. 15010 models available on the market, you will also see many fitted with leather straps, an option that suits the personality of the watch very well.
The metal bracelets from this period had hollow center links, with solid outers, unlike the all-solid links in use today. It gives the band a certain heft compared to previous generation Oyster bands, but they are still relatively lightweight.
And the 19mm lugs have holes, making swapping the bracelets easier as well as adding a nice retro touch.
The Rolex Date ref. 15010 is a wonderfully underplayed watch, one that has plenty of versatility and heaps of vintage charm.
With a size ideal for men and women and a bezel design not a part of the brand’s output anymore, it makes for a fascinating all-rounder with a surprisingly attainable price.
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— Featured Photo Credit: BeckerTime’s Archive.