Review: The Rolex Lady-Datejust ref. 69173
While it is true that Rolex’s Lady-Datejust range are essentially scaled-down versions of the men’s watches, the two series have quite different personalities.
Since the full size models gave up their flagship status to the Day-Date in 1956, they have been positioned as more of a halfway point between out-and-out dress piece and the brand’s legendary professional collection.
They have both a simple elegance that makes them the ideal match for more formal wear, but with an unassuming strength which means they don’t look out of place when called upon to be used as a tool watch.
The Lady-Datejusts, on the other hand, are very much all about delicacy and finesse, something to accentuate an already sophisticated outfit.
Much of that is down to their styling and diminutive proportions. Until relatively recently, a 26mm example was as big as you could get—positively tiny by modern standards. Today those dimensions have increased to keep in line with current fashions, and the series starts at 28mm. In fact, that is the only model officially called a ‘Lady-Datejust’ in the contemporary collection, but the Rolex website also lists the 31mm, 34mm and even the 36mm (once the only men’s size available) pieces on its ‘Women’s’ pages.
The ref. 69XXX, only the third generation of the watch, came out in 1983, ending the 13-year run of the four digit ref. 69XX series. As with most of the updates across the Datejust’s history, it was the inclusion of an all-new movement which prompted the change. Outwardly, there was very little to distinguish one series from the other.
It carried on where its predecessor had left off, maintaining its record as the best-selling model Rolex produces. No other watch, not even brand icons like the Submariner, the GMT-Master, the Daytona, not even the men’s version, outsells the Lady-Datejust.
Below we take a look in a bit more detail at the archetypal women’s Rolex, the ref. 69173.
Rolex Lady-Datejust ref. 69173 Metal and Bezels
As with all Rolex reference numbers, ref. 69173 gives certain information about the watch’s makeup. In this case, the last digit indicates a yellow Rolesor finish—Rolex’s own description of their blending of yellow gold and stainless steel. The precious metal is used on the crown and the bracelet’s center links as well as the bezel, and the fourth numeral, 7, designates that as being the fluted type. It has been one of the brand’s most recognizable signature color schemes since it was first used, fittingly enough, on the original 36mm Datejust about three years into its run, around 1948.
Obviously, this being one of the Datejust series, there were a host of alternatives released at or around the same time, and each variation garnered a different number.
So the ref. 69174 is the white Rolesor model (although the gold is restricted to the bezel only on those) while the ref. 69179 is solid 18k white gold.
All yellow gold models with fluted bezels were given the number ref. 69178, and those with factory fitted diamond surrounds have ref. 69138.
There were also a number of fully stainless steel pieces, such as the ref. 69160 which covered both the highly polished smooth bezel type as well as ref. 69240 which has what are known as ‘engine turned’ bezels, which describes a bezel engraved with an intricate pattern, sometimes called guilloché.
Rolex Lady-Datejust ref. 69173 Movements
Strangely, the calibers that power Rolex’s range of women’s watches don’t seem to attract the same level of praise as those driving the men’s collection. If anything, they are even more impressive, having to do the same job and remain as unfailingly accurate but in a much more concentrated size. That reduction means tolerances become ever finer and less forgiving.
The Lady-Datejust ref. 69173, as well as all its various permutations, were fitted with the Cal. 2135, and kept it throughout their entire production runs, up until 1999.
It was only the second generation of Rolex’s fully in-house Cal. 2000 series, the first of which were used inside the previous four-digit iterations.
The vast majority of the Cal. 2135’s components were carried over from the outgoing Cal. 2035. It retained the Glucydur balance wheel, made from an antimagnetic and temperature resistant alloy of copper and beryllium, as well as the previous Nivarox hairspring with Breguet overcoil and Kif shock absorption system. The frequency stayed at the now-standard 28,800vph and the power reserve remained at 42-hours.
It did, however, manage to cram in one important upgrade inside its minute 20mm x 5.83mm dimensions. It introduced the convenience of a Quickset function, allowing the wearer to advance the date by simply pulling out the crown to a second position and winding it to forward the days of the month.
If all that wasn’t notable enough, the Cal. 2135, and its no-date companion, the Cal. 2130, still hold the record for the highest first time pass rate for accuracy of any movement certified by the COSC, the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute.
Rolex Lady-Datejust ref. 69173 Dials
Besides the variety in metal and bezel type, the bewildering number of different dials inherent to the Lady-Datejust series has long been their biggest selling point.
By the 1980s and the arrival of the ref. 69173, that range had become truly astonishing. Rolex seemed to be making it their mission to build a watch that appealed to just about every possible sensibility, whether the wearer in question wanted something discreet and quietly refined, all the way through to some in-your-face grandstanding.
The champagne dial, paired with that two-tone case, is the classic Rolex visual, and similarly black, white and silver each have an ideal all-encompassing versatility.
Added to that, the brand issued an array of distinctly feminine shades in delicate pinks and purples, some even with intricate patterns.
One interesting edition occurred on the Datejust’s 40thanniversary in 1985. The brand issued the so-called Jubilee dial, featuring a repeated ‘Rolex’ monogram engraved across the entire face. It was included on both the men’s and women’s model and is actually still an option in the current collection.
And, underlying the watch’s more opulent nature, many dials were made from semiprecious stones. Materials such as mother-of-pearl, lapis lazuli or malachite, for example, where each example is absolutely unique, proved to be a major draw for their exclusivity.
Hour markers could be anything from Roman or Arabic numerals, simple stick batons or, more often than not, beautiful handset diamonds.
Finally, one other innovation that debuted on the 691XX series, the former acrylic crystal covering the dial was retired and replaced by the scratch-resistant sapphire crystal Rolex had first used on the Ref. 5100 Beta 21 quartz prototype in 1970. As with all of the brand’s date watches since the mid-50s, bar the Sea-Dweller, it featured the Cyclops magnifying lens over the date window.
Rolex Lady-Datejust ref. 69173 Bracelets
The traditional finishing touch to any of the Datejust range, especially the yellow Rolesor versions, has always been the five-link Jubilee bracelet. Like the dial, it was brought out to mark a 40thbirthday, in this case to the Rolex company itself in 1945. In fact, the original men’s Datejust was built to celebrate the brand’s four decades in the business.
It certainly gives the piece a more formal air, and it is the most elaborate of the trio of metal bracelets on offer.
The three-link Oyster was another popular option, a less fussy alternative that still managed to look graceful on a female wrist.
The Lady-Datejusts have been an enormously successful series of watches for Rolex. Even today, they continue to be the number one choice for women all over the world who are searching for the ultimate in chic refinement.
The ref. 691XX range carried on an already strong tradition which began all the way back in 1957, and brought with it extra touches of convenience and finesse.
Their enormous popularity also ensured they were made in great quantities, leading to some extremely attainable prices on the preowned market.
— Featured Photo Credits: BeckerTime’s Archive.