Review: The Rolex Datejust ref. 16030
In many collector’s eyes, Rolex’s ref. 16XXX family represents the last of the vintage Datejust models, and the all-steel ref. 16030 especially.
By the time the series was released in 1977, the name was already more than 30-years old, having been launched the same year World War II ended. It took over from the four-digit ref. 16XX references—the range that had really finalized the overall design for the Datejust—and took it all the way up to 1988.
As has usually been the way at Rolex, the switchover was centered around a new movement being introduced, and it was a particularly important one this time.
Beyond the internal mechanics though, it was pretty much business as usual for one of the brand’s longest serving and most successful creations. It was the Datejust which had really cemented Rolex’s prime position in the market, a revolution on its debut and a watch celebrated for its simple, stylish aesthetics and true t-shirt to tuxedo versatility.
With an almost uncountable number of different metal, bezel and dial combinations available, it was near impossible not to be able to find one that suited any taste. Just as with the current collection, there was a model for everyone, from the shy and retiring type to the overt grandstander. What’s more, as the Datejust sat in that middle ground between out-and-out dress piece and robust tool watch, it could realistically be described as the only timepiece anyone really needed.
The ref. 16030 somehow managed to be understated but include a little touch of flamboyance that set it apart from others in the lineup. Below, we take a look at this superb reference in more detail.
Rolex Datejust ref. 16030 Metals and Bezels
The Datejust ref. 16030 was the direct replacement for the previous ref. 1603, which had been in production since 1959.
As with that watch, the reference number for this new generation was used to describe a piece with a 36mm stainless steel case, topped with a steel, engine turned bezel.
No longer an option at Rolex, having been phased out across the whole collection by the end of the 2000s, engine turned bezels are ones machine etched with an ornate pattern. On the ref. 16030, the surround looks relatively similar to Rolex’s long-serving fluted design and at first glance the watch can easily be mistaken for another reference in the series, the ref. 16014. However, on that particular model, the bezel is forged from white gold—the ref. 16030 is made only from steel.
The crenelated surround is one of the very few details that ages the watch, a lovely vintage touch that many collectors hope Rolex will reintroduce in some form or another in the contemporary range. At the time though, it wasn’t as popular as either the fluted or the smooth bezels on offer for the Datejust, leading to fewer examples being made. That leaves the ref. 16030 as one of the rarer models on the preowned market, giving it a touch of exclusivity.
Rolex Datejust ref. 16030 Movement
By far the biggest change between the ref. 16XXX series of Datejusts and the generation before it lies on the inside.
The preceding references had actually used two different movements during their run, the Cal. 1565 and the Cal. 1575. Both were fairly similar save for their balance frequencies; 18,000vph and 19,800vph respectively. The Cal. 1575 also introduced the hacking function about halfway through its run.
Interestingly though, the Lady-Datejust range had been using a caliber with a speed of 28,800vph (the Cal. 2035) for a number of years by the time Rolex finally got around to building a men’s movement capable of it. That engine was christened the Cal. 3035, and it was the one to power the ref. 16XXX models.
This high beat, eight ticks per second frequency is now used in every Rolex watch and it is what gives that silky smooth glide to the seconds hand which has become symbolic of the brand.
Beyond that, the new caliber brought in one other major upgrade over the outgoing Cal. 1575—the Cal. 3035 was the first automatic movement to include a Quickset feature.
Alternatively known as the ‘rapid calendar advance’ it gave wearers the ability to change the date by pulling the crown out to its second position and turning it counterclockwise, with one-and-a-half turns forwarding each digit. Previous movements had entailed winding the hands through an entire 24-hours to achieve the same thing. This deceptively simple innovation had been incorporated into every dated Rolex by 1983.
Further incremental improvements can be found in the brand changing to a fast rotating barrel, which gave the drive train more stability as well as upping the power reserve to 50 hours over the former 42. And it acquired one extra jewel, taking it up to 27.
Otherwise, the Cal. 3035 can be thought of as the high beat Cal. 1575, with the two sharing many components. There is even very little to choose between them in dimensions, with the later caliber coming in at a little over half a millimeter thicker than its predecessor, even with the addition of the Quickset mechanism.
Rolex Datejust ref. 16030 Dials
Compared to the more lavish examples of the ref. 16XXX series, those in all gold or Rolex’s own mix or gold and steel known as Rolesor, the dials issued for the ref. 16030 were relatively conservative.
The steel construction of the watch lent itself better to the brand’s traditional palette of black, white and silver rather than the brightly vibrant colors found elsewhere in the range.
However, just as with the ref. 1603 before it, there are no shortage of dials which have been professionally refinished in a range of vivid hues. You can easily find third party customized models with extravagantly painted faces, and many with diamonds and other precious gems added to hour markers and bezels.
Of course, Rolex are notorious for refusing to service anything not in its completely original condition, so you will need to find an independent center to look after the watch should you decide to go for one of these modified pieces, but they are simple enough to locate.
Among the officially issued dials though, there are still some outliers; comparatively scarce pieces that make for a refreshing change from the standard.
The Datejust has always looked good with a textured dial and the ref. 16030 came with both tapestry (smooth vertical stripes) and linen faces (a delicate crosshatching effect). Neither of these types appear in the modern range.
Another favorite is the so-called Buckley dial; its large hand painted Roman numerals the perfect match for the watch’s timeless lines.
And a bit of searching could well turn up one of the examples made to special order for various organizations, particularly Middle East military bodies. These tend to have the crest or emblem of whichever establishment commissioned it on the dial, giving it a real touch of individuality.
Finally, two further details about this reference which lead it to being recognized as the ‘last of the vintage’ series. To begin with, the ref. 16XXX family was the one which phased out the open 6 and 9 numerals in the watch’s date display—a subtle change admittedly but one which many collectors look out for. And secondly, it was also the last to have a Plexiglass dial covering; the following generation of the Datejust were updated to the scratchproof sapphire crystal still in use today.
Rolex Datejust ref. 16030 Bracelets
Like its predecessor, the ref. 16030 came on either the three-flat link Oyster bracelet, or else on the band made especially for the Datejust right at the beginning of its run, the five-semicircular link Jubilee.
Both are acknowledged as two of the finest bracelets ever made for a luxury watch, the Oyster lending a more sporty look overall, while the Jubilee has a touch of formality. Each type has hollow center links, with solid outers, so they have an inherent strength but are not immune to stretching. The end pieces, the ones that connect the bracelet itself to the case, are also hollow on these models, so they have that slight vintage rattle that appeals to many fans.
However, swapping and changing bands is fairly straightforward. There are lugholes present which makes it easier to manipulate the spring bars, and the lugs themselves are 20mm in width, a widely used size with all third party bracelet manufacturers.
It gives what is, internally, a modern watch a lovely retro feel, particularly with the acrylic crystal on top. As such, it is the ideal blend of old and new—modern engineering inside old school cool.
Best of all, because the Datejust has remained one of, if not the, most popular Rolex models, there are a huge number of them on the preowned market, leading to some very affordable prices.
Head over to our online store to find out for yourself just how attainable these beautiful watches are.
— Featured Photo Credit: BeckerTime’s Archive.