Review: The Rolex Datejust ref. 16233
If there is an archetypal Rolex visual, it is the meeting of steel and gold known as Rolesor. The term, first patented by the brand all the way back in 1933, can be used to describe a watch with any of the three colors of the precious metal—but it is the yellow gold version specifically that is so symbolic.
Combine that two-tone palette with the sweeping lines of the Datejust, and you have a model that screams the name of the manufacture louder than any other.
It is a look which has been ever present in the lineup since the 1950s, seen sometimes as the height of fashion and at others as a retro throwback.
The watch itself is among the least altered model of any in Rolex’s portfolio—on the outside at any rate. The ref. 162XX series kicked off in 1988 (taking over from the ref. 160XX range), with the yellow Rolesor ref. 16233 picking up where the ref. 16013 left off. As is usual with the Datejust family, it was a new caliber which prompted it.
However, even the updates to the movement on this occasion were minimal and it was far more about gently evolving the components already present than it was about introducing anything too revolutionary.
Rolex, as always, were striving to make their engines as cutting-edge as possible, ensuring they stayed right at the forefront of what was achievable in terms of accuracy, reliability and resilience.
Apart from that though, there was very little to choose between the outgoing series and the incoming, bar a couple of tweaks here and there. The watch was still the perfect everyday companion piece and a bridge between Rolex’s all-out dress models and their legendary Professional Collection.
With its 36mm Oyster case, waterproof to 100m, it was more than tough enough for any situation, and its styling and exhaustive dial color options remained a byword for versatility. The Datejust matches with everything, whatever the circumstances.
Below we take a look at the ref. 16233, a continuation of that essential Rolex spirit.
Rolex Datejust ref. 16233 Metals and Bezels
The ref. 16233 was the direct replacement for the ref. 16013, which is sometimes known as the American Psycho Rolex. If you’ve seen the movie, and its antihero Patrick Bateman, you will have a good idea of the look of the watch.
The ref. 16233 is an almost identical model, with stainless steel making up the case and the outer links of the bracelet, and yellow gold forming the bezel, winding crown and center links.
As with all modern day Rolex, the reference number tells us certain details about the piece, with 162 being the code for a 36mm Datejust with the new Cal. 3135 movement, and the 33 denoting the kind of bezel and the metal used for it. In this case it means the surround is the classic fluted style, and is forged in 18k gold. On the older ref. 16013, it could have been either 18k or 14k.
Fluted bezels are another of those features which are very characteristic of Rolex as a manufacturer. The numerous facets catch the light and add a hint of luxury and flamboyance to the piece. Whereas they are now purely decorative, they actually evolved from the original coin-style edging which served a useful purpose, in that they gave watchmakers a way to grip the bezel as they screwed it down onto the case.
By this time in the Datejust’s development, there were two other designs available; a highly polished smooth type, and what is known as engine-turned. This last looks fairly similar to the fluted, but are even more elaborate, consisting of ornate patterns engraved around the circumference. Last seen on the 34mm steel Date models in the mid-2000s, they are no longer an option anywhere in the Rolex lineup.
Rolex Datejust ref. 16233 Movements
The ref. 162XX series of Datejusts adopted the Cal. 3135, trading in the Cal. 3035 which had been in use since 1977. That had been the movement to bring the high beat 28,800vph balance frequency to the men’s collection, giving the signature eight-ticks-per-second glide we now associate with Rolex watches.
In truth, the similarities between the two calibers far outweigh the differences. Practically identical in size and with the vast majority of components retained, the Cal. 3135 benefitted from a full balance bridge as opposed to a balance cock for the older model, and was also fitted with a larger balance wheel, both of which increased stability. In addition, the jewel count went from 27 to 31 while the power reserve remained at 50 hours.
Beyond that, the Microstella regulating system stayed the same, as did the handy Quickset function, allowing the date to be forwarded independently of the hour hands.
There were a couple of idiosyncrasies though. To set the time with the Cal. 3135, the wearer turned the winding crown clockwise, while on the Cal. 3035, it had been counterclockwise. And that Quickset had been tightened up too. Whereas it had taken a full rotation of the crown to advance one numeral in the date window with the Cal. 3035, with the newer caliber, a complete turn skipped three numbers (again, counterclockwise rather than clockwise).
However, just because the Cal. 3135 was in use, it didn’t mean Rolex were through upgrading it. When it was first put into service it had a Nivarox hairspring, now laser welded in position instead of glued. But by 2000, Rolex had perfected a new type, made from niobium, zirconium and oxygen. Calling it the Parachrom, this completely in-house hairspring was antimagnetic and had a shock resistance reportedly 10 times greater than previously. By the time the ref. 162XX series of Datejusts had been superseded a few years later, the oxide coating had been made thicker, reacting with the air and turning the spring blue. Hence it was now called the Parachrom Bleu. Since then, it has been rolled out across the whole of the catalog.
The Cal. 3135 was a massive success for Rolex, and stands as one of its longest-running and most widely used calibers. At the moment, in fact, it is still powering the current Submariner, some 31-years after its debut.
Rolex Datejust ref. 16233 Dials
With the Rolesor models being among the best-selling and most admired versions of the Datejust, they tended to be issued with the greatest assortment of dials—all the better to attract the widest cross-section of customer.
The usual suspects of black, white, silver and grey are plentiful, but it is always the champagne which has matched especially well with the gold elements of the piece. It gives the whole watch that definite 1980s/American Psycho aura; one coming right back into fashion at the moment.
Like its predecessor, the ref. 16233 also had its fair share of other colors. A particular favorite is a deep sunburst blue which contrasts beautifully with the yellow bezel and is a real attention grabber.
Elsewhere, this reference continues the tradition of using some exotic materials on the faces to bring a definite uniqueness to the watch. You will find plenty of mother-of-pearl in the range, for example, each a one-off, along with various semi precious stones. But some of the eccentricities of the former series, such as wood and meteorite, had run their course by this time, at least as an official option.
There are a number of different hour marker styles to choose from too. The usual Arabic or Roman numerals are well catered for, as are the simple stick batons. And, of course, with this being one of the more luxurious variants, diamonds are not uncommon.
During its run, the ref. 16233 actually had three different kinds of luminescence on its indexes and hands. The earliest pieces were still using tritium, denoted by the ‘T Swiss T’ or ‘Swiss T<25’ script written right at the bottom of the dial, below the six o’clock. That changed to Luminova for just a couple of years from 1998 (labeled ‘SWISS’) and then, in 2000, switched again to Superluminova—basically the same substance but produced by a Swiss company. Those dials are marked ‘SWISS MADE’.
And covering the whole thing was a sapphire crystal, which had been phased in, replacing the earlier acrylic examples of the ref. 16013. Undoubtedly far stronger and much more resistant to scratches, sapphire is still used on the modern range, although some of the hardcore vintage fans prefer the acrylic.
Rolex Datejust ref. 16233 Bracelets
As with the past examples of the Datejust, the ref. 16233 came with a choice of two bracelets; the Jubilee and the Oyster.
Each give a distinctive look to the watch; the five rounded-link Jubilee is the more formal, while the three flat-link Oyster is utilitarian and tool-like. On both, the central links are hollow and cast in 18k gold, while the outer links are solid and forged in steel.
Interestingly, just as the luminescence had developed over the watch’s term, so did the case. The initial models still had lug holes, making swapping and changing bracelets relatively simple, but starting in the mid-1990s, Rolex began phasing them out. By the end of its run, the ref. 162XX had dispensed with lug holes altogether.
Even though the series came to an end in the mid 2000’s, the Datejust ref. 16233 is a thoroughly modern version of the watch, and one with the classic two-tone Rolex look.
Inside, the new caliber took an already formidable performer and managed to improve it even further, so much so that the Cal. 3135 has remained in use for more than 30-years.
Best of all, the piece’s universal popularity meant it was made in vast numbers, leading to no shortage of examples on the preowned market today, and at extremely realistic prices.
— Featured Photo Credits: BeckerTime’s Archive.