Review: The Rolex Datejust ref. 16018
By 1977, the year the first of the five-digit references were introduced, Rolex’s Datejust series was probably the most well-established model in the brand’s portfolio.
Dating all the way back to 1945, it had been a revolution on its release, its instantly changing date, self-winding movement and waterproof casing marking it as a true originator.
With the launch of its fourth generation however, it was becoming more of the elder statesman of the collection. That elegant, robust aesthetic was deeply-rooted in the psyche, the embodiment of what a watch should look like and so most of the changes between it and the prcevious iterations were confined to the interior.
The ref. 160XX was the range that debuted a high beat caliber frequency on the Datejust, ensuring that flowing glide to the seconds hand and giving the watch as a whole a boost in both timekeeping accuracy and shock protection. It also brought with it the Quickset feature, adding a significant convenience in a watch meant to be worn everyday.
Beyond that important upgrade though, there was no real reason to start altering what was so obviously a winning formula. The ref. 160XX was released in the usual mind-bogglingly diverse array of different metal, bezel, dial color and bracelet combinations that had become the model’s calling card—a piece designed and created for anybody and any taste.
This, as before, would become a massively successful release from Rolex, but one which was relatively short lived. The series would itself be replaced just over a decade later in 1988, again to fit in a new movement.
That leaves the ref. 160XX as one of the more underrepresented examples of vintage Datejusts, and the ref. 16018 especially. But, even as the top-of-the-line model, the all-gold piece is still highly attainable as a preowned buy.
Read on below for more details.
Rolex Datejust ref. 16018 Metals and Bezels
With the exception of platinum, the mens Datejust has long been forged in every type of metal Rolex uses. That runs the gamut from stainless steel, the two-tone Rolesor and each of the three flavors of gold.
In the case of the ref. 16018, the exclusively 36mm model came head to toe in 18k yellow gold, a dramatic statement piece that offers plenty of attention-grabbing potential.
Similarly with the bezel, which is the ornate fluted type, among the oldest styles Rolex uses. Its tooth-like ridges catch the light and draw the eye.
It is perhaps the archetypal look of the brand’s dress watches, and gives the impression of wearing a solid gold ingot on the wrist.
Others in the ref. 160XX series offered different takes on the same basic architecture. The ref. 16008, for example, was identical in every way except for being fitted with a smooth bezel.
That reference number format continues across the range. The ref. 16009 and ref. 16019 were the white gold pieces (smooth and fluted surround respectively) while the ref. 16003 and ref. 16013 were in Rolesor, with steel cases and yellow gold used for the bezels, crowns and center links of the bracelet.
The steel models were slightly different. The ref. 16000 was in all steel with a smooth bezel, but the ref. 16014 had a steel case and white gold fluted surround (all Rolex fluted bezels are made from gold of some description).
And one other, slightly more unusual and no longer available option; the ref. 16030 was stainless steel with an engine-turned surround, a different take on the fluted design which features a decorative engraving repeated around the perimeter. Perhaps too visually similar, it is no longer part of Rolex’s offerings in the modern era.
Rolex Datejust ref. 16018 Movements
With the Datejust’s looks more or less set in stone, the big news about this new series revolved around the movement.
The outgoing range had been powered by that vintage watch-lover’s favorite, the Cal. 1575—an immensely well-respected and extremely strong mechanism which had provided great service since 1965.
However, much like the outward design of the watch, the movement in the ref. 160XX series also shared plenty of similarities with the one it replaced.
The Cal. 3035 was the first caliber fitted to a men’s Datejust to beat at 28,800vph, faster than the 19,800vph of the Cal. 1575 and now the standard frequency across the entire catalog.
The 4Hz, eight-ticks-per-second rate gives a smooth sweep to the watch’s seconds hand, as well as granting more stability overall. Yet beyond that, it was pretty much business as usual.
Rolex tend to make small, repeated, incremental improvements to already well-proven setups, and so it is with the Cal. 3035. Most of the features of the Cal. 1575 are also found here, such as the Microstella regulator and the free sprung balance and Breguet overcoil. The cam and jewel system, which had already been in use for decades and allows for the trademark instantaneous midnight date change was also carried over and is, in fact, still used today.
Apart from the speed increase, the other big change was the introduction of the Quickset function. An innovative and helpful inclusion, it meant the date numeral in the watch’s three o’clock window could be forwarded just by using the crown, pulled out to its second position. So rather than having to wind the main hands through 24-hours to forward one day, now the digit would jump after just one-and-a-half rotations of the winding crown.
But aside from those upgrades, and the switch to a fast rotating barrel that upped the power reserve to 50 hours over the previous 48, there was very little to choose between the two movements.
It is for that reason that the Cal. 3035 is referred to, in collector circles, as merely a high beat Cal. 1575.
Rolex Datejust ref. 16018 Dials
As one of the premium examples in the ref. 160XX series, the solid yellow gold ref. 16018 was given a wide ranging selection of different dials.
Most common, and the color found on many gold Rolex Classic watches, was the champagne dial. Matching the tones of the case and bracelet exactly, it offers a seamless continuity all over.
Away from that though, really anything goes. The 1970s were particularly experimental and so you will see a number of oddities in amongst the standard-issue faces.
So apart from the usual conservative options such as white, black, silver and grey, there are pieces on the market with bright blues, reds and greens and others cast from exotic materials. They are relatively few and far between, but models with dials made of wood burr, lapis lazuli, mother-of-pearl or Tiger Eye stone crop up on the preowned scene fairly frequently.
The more orthodox faces sometimes had some distinctive feature added as well, with the likes of the textured dials prime examples. These could take a number of forms, with two of the most popular being the tapestry design, with its succession of smooth vertical lines across the surface, and the linen dial, with an interesting crosshatch effect.
Also during this period, Rolex was still, rarely, allowing very select retailers to add their names to the watches, with the so-called Tiffany dials a case in point. These have the name of the legendary jewelers above the six o’clock index, an addition that usually comes with a significant price premium for collectors.
Similarly, the brand would occasionally supply special order pieces for certain handpicked individuals, most commonly Middle Eastern royalty, and include that person’s official crest. You may come across some of the ref. 16018 series with, for instance, the emblem of the Sultanate of Oman on the dial; a little touch that distinguishes the watch from the everyday.
One key difference between the faces on this series and the preceding one comes in their shape. The former four-digit Datejust range had what are known as ‘pie-pan’ dials, where the outer edge is recessed and gives the impression of an upside-down plate. On the ref. 160XX, the dial is completely flat.
As for hour markers, these could be anything from plain stick batons, Roman or Arabic numerals or, for the ultimate in luxury and statement, diamonds.
Luminescence, although used sparingly, was tritium for the whole of the range’s run. While still radioactive, it is far safer than the radium it replaced and is considered perfectly safe.
And lastly, the crystal covering the dial changed during production, starting out with the domed acrylic beloved by purists, which was phased out in favor of the more modern and tougher sapphire crystal by the end of the series’ tenure.
Rolex Datejust ref. 16018 Bracelets
With its all yellow gold construction, there is no doubt the ref. 16018 is at the more dressy end of the Datejust scale than some of the other models. The less showy pieces, those in steel or Rolesor, would generally be issued with one of two bracelet choices; the formal Jubilee or the sporty Oyster.
For the ref. 16018, the five-link Jubilee is the band used far more often. The most intricate bracelet Rolex makes, it was created specifically for the Datejust in 1945, and its construction allows it to conform perfectly to the shape of the wrist, making it extremely comfortable.
However, you will also see plenty of models on a President bracelet as well, the three semicircular-link band usually reserved for the Day-Date. Most usually an aftermarket addition, it suits the vibe of the watch extremely well.
Although by this stage in Rolex’s development they had moved on from the earlier riveted bracelet construction, they was still a few years away from using all solid links as they do today. The bracelets on the ref. 160XX series will have solid outers and hollow center links. It means they are lighter in weight than a modern specimen, but still offer plenty of security.
Finally, lug holes on the solid gold Datejust had been phased out during the previous generation, leaving this one a bit more involved when it came time to swapping bracelets.
The ref. 16018 is about as classic a Rolex as you can get. The Datejust itself is their most successful and widely-recognized creation ever, and a solid gold example is the epitome of the brand. While it may be more affected by the whims of fashion than some of its more neutral companions, yellow gold remains the king of precious metals and always comes back on trend.
— Featured Photo Credits: BeckerTime’s Archive.