Review: The Rolex Date ref. 15200
Rolex’s Date and Datejust models are as closely related as the names suggest, sharing the same core design and functionality. The main difference, as it has been since the beginning, is in their respective sizes.
Where the Datejust was originally a 36mm watch (and the series now includes 31mm, 36mm and 41mm—with a 28mm Lady-Datejust) the Date filled a gap and has only ever been a 34mm piece.
It is strange that such a seemingly insignificant change in dimensions should have such a profound effect on each range’s popularity, but the fact remains that the Datejust is arguably the most esteemed model in Rolex’s history, whereas the Date is often completely overshadowed.
More recently that has shown signs of changing. After the race to create ever bigger watches which began in the 1990s, trends are now favoring more restraint, and the Date’s smaller case is being recognized as the ideal wear for both men and women.
Officially known as the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date (‘Oyster’ the name of the brand’s waterproof housing and ‘Perpetual’ the title given to their self-winding movement), it has followed its bigger brother in aesthetics as well as engineering. Upgraded movements granted to the Datejust over the generations have also made it into the Date, either simultaneously or after a slight delay.
While it may be modest in its complications, in an everything-you-need-nothing–you-don’t kind of way, it is still among the finest three-hander watches available, backed up by its manufacturer’s peerless reputation.
The ref. 15200 arrived in 1988, boasting an improved caliber over its predecessor and not much else, the basic styling of the watch nailed down decades ago. As the series before the latest iteration, the 152XX range has just about every modern addition you could ask for, but at a price on the preowned market that is extremely attainable.
Below we take a look at this recent vintage, one of the most tempting bargains currently out there.
Rolex Date ref. 15200 Metals and Bezels
Apart from the sizes, the only other thing to really tell the Date and Datejust apart is the amount of variety offered in their makeup.
The Date, as the less fashionable of the two, has always tended to be given fewer options in terms of things like metals, bezels, dial colors and bracelets.
The ref. 15200 is a purely stainless steel watch—the 316L grade Rolex used up until the new millennium before progressing to the insanely tough 904L of all its contemporary pieces. In the real world, there is little to choose between the two types, with 316L still highly resilient and employed by just about every other manufacturer in the world.
On top is a smooth polished bezel, giving an attractively minimalist frame to the dial. In fact, the watch as a whole is studiedly underplayed, lending it a wide ranging versatility.
Others in the ref. 152XX family had little extra touches of flamboyance. The ref. 15210, for example, was fitted with an engine-turned bezel, a style no longer part of the Rolex design book that features decorative patterns engraved into the surface.
Elsewhere, the ref. 15223 was Rolex’s own mix of steel and yellow gold, known as Rolesor, while the ref. 15238 was forged in all 18k yellow gold. Incidentally, this was the last time either of those options were made available on the Date, with the modern-day range made up only of stainless steel pieces, or steel with a white gold bezel.
Rolex Date ref. 15200 Movements
The ref. 152XX replaced the ref. 150XX which itself had only been in production for a few years. That was the series that introduced the first so-called high beat caliber to the Date, the Cal. 3035, with the now-standard 28,800vph balance frequency.
With the ref. 152XX, starting in 1988, the movement was upgraded again to the Cal. 3135, the longest running and most widely used of all Rolex’s engines.
In truth, the differences between the Cal. 3035 and Cal. 3135 were minimal to say the least and the new caliber represented more of a subtle evolution over its forerunner than anything else.
Both the size and basic architecture are identical between the two, and features such as the Microstella regulating system, Quickset function for the date and the Breguet overcoil on the hairspring were all carried over. The subtle improvements were really confined to the Cal. 3135 picking up a larger balance wheel and a full balance bridge rather than a balance cock.
Jewel count also increased, going from 27 to 31, and the power reserve was upped to 50 hours rather than 42. Any adjustments were all in the name of the brand making a very good movement even better, and keeping it at the cutting-edge of what was possible for a traditional mechanism.
The Cal. 3135 is something of a legend in horology, one of the most reliable and robust calibers ever built. Its physical proportions, 28.5mm in diameter and 6mm in height, give it an inherent durability, perfect for use in a watch designed to be worn all day every day, as Rolex models are.
As a testament to just how right they got it, the current references of both the Date and the Submariner are still powered by it, some 30+ years later.
Rolex Date ref. 15200 Dials
While not given quite the same breadth of selection as the larger and more prevalent Datejust, the Rolex Date still has plenty of different dials to choose from.
In general, steel watches from the brand have a more conservative range of colors, and so you will find the majority of ref. 15200 pieces with understated black or white faces that match well with the neutral tones of the rest of the case and bracelet. Other suitably low-key offerings are the silver and grey dials, or Rolex issued an attractive sunburst blue which is especially popular.
By the time this reference was issued, 34mm models were just as sought after by women as men and so there are a number of more feminine shades included in the lineup, such as salmon pink and even some with floral patterns.
Hour markers ranged from plain batons through to Roman or Arabic numerals. With this being an entry-level model, diamond accents on the indexes were not an official option, however you will likely find examples on the preowned market with gemstone enhancements on both dial and bezel. These are third-party additions, custom fitted by independent watchmakers, and as such Rolex will refuse to service the piece when the time comes. By no means a deal breaker, these modified watches can offer great value for money as well as a wider choice of styles; you just have to be conscious of the fact that maintenance will have to be carried out elsewhere.
As for luminescence, two separate types were used during the lifespan of the ref. 15200. The earliest pieces will still have tritium on the handset and hour markers, a substitute for the highly radioactive radium used previously. While tritium is also radioactive, it is at a much safer level than before and poses no risk to health. Watches with this substance will be marked under the six o’clock index with ‘T SWISS T’, ‘T Swiss Made T’ or ‘Swiss T<25’.
From the early 90s onwards, Rolex switched to the completely non-radioactive Luminova, a photoluminescent material that is not self-illuminating, meaning it has to be ‘charged’ by natural light before it will glow. These examples are marked simply ‘SWISS’ on the bottom edge.
Covering the dial on all models is a sapphire crystal, a replacement for the acrylic crystal used on vintage watches. It provides a higher level of protection and is virtually scratchproof.
Rolex Date ref. 15200 Bracelets
The Rolex Date ref. 15200 was formerly offered with two bracelet alternatives. The five-link Jubilee is the band created especially for the original Datejust reference from 1945, an intricate and beautifully comfortable wear that adds a taste of dressiness to the watch as a whole.
The other option was the Oyster, a three-link bracelet that has been used on nearly every Rolex model at some point or another and one that gives an altogether more muscular aspect. The Oyster band is the most common band on the ref. 15200
With the slightly smaller case size, the Date’s lug width comes in at 19mm versus the Datejust’s 20mm, and tapers down to 14mm at the clasp for the Oyster band.
The ref. 15200 was released around the time Rolex was working hard on improving the quality and sturdiness of their bracelets, and both those fitted to the Date are excellent. However, it is still just too early for the introduction of solid end links (SEL) and the center links on each are also still hollow.
Even so, they offer plenty of security on the wrist and any signs of stretch will be kept to a minimum.
Although the Rolex Date has always languished in the shadows compared to others in the Classic Collection due to its size, these days the series is enjoying a minor resurgence.
Possessing all the superb qualities of the Datejust, and able to do the same job, the reduced dimensions have given it a new lease of life as a unisex offering.
The ref. 15200 is an ideal gateway into Rolex ownership, a watch that can be worn to any occasion, formal or informal, and with its adaptability, it can match any outfit.
— Featured Photo Credits: BeckerTime’s Archive.