Review: The Rolex Lady-Datejust ref. 69178
Not only is the Lady-Datejust the archetypal women’s Rolex, it could legitimately be described as the one truly essential women’s watch from any brand.
Of course, there are significantly fewer lady’s models out there on the market and so competition is far lower than among men’s watches—just one reason so many women are now wearing pieces originally created for a male audience. However, that takes nothing away from the unprecedented success of the Lady-Datejust series, which has actually been Rolex’s biggest selling range ever.
The ref. 69XXX emerged in 1983, only the third generation of the family of watches that debuted in 1957, some 12-years after the full size men’s Datejust made its entrance. At the time, the entire collection was presented in a diminutive 26mm, as opposed to today’s offerings which start at 28mm (the lone model still officially called a Lady-Datejust) and now include 31mm, 34mm (known simply as The Date) and even 36mm—all listed on the ‘Women’s’ pages of the Rolex website. Only the relatively new 41mm is missing, still obviously thought of as an exclusively men’s piece, although by no means too large for modern female tastes.
True to form, the ref. 69XXX was released in a number of different metals options and the usual utterly bewildering array of possible dial, bezel and bracelet combinations, much like previous iterations. In fact, as far as outward aesthetics were concerned, there was little to choose between the incoming references and those they replaced, with the biggest changes reserved for the movement. Yet, even there, there were far more similarities than differences with the new and old calibers; the upgrade doing little more than adding some small but welcome conveniences.
Of all the various models in the collection, the ref. 69178 is arguably the most classic Lady-Datejust look. Small, elegant and perfectly formed, it has just enough flamboyance to its personality to attract appreciative glances without overpowering.
Below we take a closer look at this beautiful Rolex watch.
Rolex Lady-Datejust ref. 69178 Metal and Bezels
By the eighties, Rolex had brought a certain Swiss regimentation to their numbering system which had previously been somewhat lacking.
So the 69178 reference tells us the basic information we need about the watch, with 691 describing a Lady-Datejust model of the series powered by the Cal. 2135 movement.
The final digit, 8, is to denote the piece is forged from 18k yellow gold, and the 7 indicates it is topped off with a fluted bezel, one of the oldest traditional types Rolex uses.
The fluted surround actually evolved out of the original coin-edged style, a design that was developed for a practical purpose in that it gave watchmakers a way to grip the bezel as they screwed it into the case to form a watertight seal.
Along with the solid gold model, others in the series included the ref. 69173, with Rolex’s own blending of yellow gold and steel known as Rolesor. As well as that came the ref. 69174, another Rolesor piece but using white gold that was confined only to the bezel (the yellow Rolesor has the precious metal on the bezel, crown and central bracelet links).
The ref. 69179 was purely 18k white gold and the ref. 69138 had factory-fitted diamond bezels on a yellow gold case.
There were also more understated and cheaper versions in stainless steel, such as the ref. 69160. That number covered examples with both smooth polished bezels as well as those with what are called engine-turned, which feature intricately engraved patterns, alternatively titled guilloché.
Rolex Lady-Datejust ref. 69178 Movements
Obviously the most notable difference between the men’s and women’s Datejust models is their respective size, with the lady’s watches being vastly smaller. That, understandably, leads to their internal movements having to be similarly pared down—something that gives rise to severe challenges for Rolex’s engineers.
However, not only does the caliber inside the ref. 691XX match the accuracy and resilience of the far larger one in the same period’s men’s Datejust, but actually exceeds it in some respects.
The Cal. 2135 was in the second crop of movements from Rolex’s Cal. 2000 collection and was the replacement for the original Cal. 2035 found in the previous four-digit reference series of the watch.
But while it offered a few upgrades, the majority of components in the older caliber were carried over into the new. So elements such as the Glucydur balance wheel, made from an alloy of copper and beryllium that left it antimagnetic and impervious to temperature-induced shape change, was retained. Likewise for the Nivarox hairspring with Breguet overcoil and Kif shock absorbers. The 28,800vph frequency was the same, now the standard speed for all Rolex engines and, interestingly, it was introduced onto the Lady-Datejust several years before the men’s.
The one main difference, and it was apparently big enough for the model to be granted an all new series, was the introduction of the Quickset feature. This gave the wearer the ability to alter the date, in its little window at the three o’clock, independently of the hour hands. Pulling the winding crown out to a second position unlocked the function, and meant it was no longer necessary to the spin the main hands through 24-hours to advance the numeral.
Beyond that there was clearly no need to mess with a winning formula, and the Cal. 2135 manages to pack an incredible level of performance into its diminutive 20mm x 5.83mm dimensions. Most impressively of all it, and the no-date equivalent used in the Oyster Perpetual range, the Cal. 2130, still hold the record for highest first time pass rate for timekeeping precision at the COSC, the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute.
Rolex Lady-Datejust ref. 69178 Dials
With so few watches in the rota dedicated solely to women, the Lady-Datejust has always had a certain amount of heavy lifting to do in order to appeal to as many diverse tastes as possible.
To that end, it has long been issued with a staggering selection of dials, differing in both colors and materials.
Arguably the most classic Rolex look is a yellow gold watch with matching champagne face, leaving the owner wearing what appears to be a solid ingot on the wrist. But while that much gold could leave the watch looking flashy and garish, the tiny 26mm size leaves it just the right side of ostentatious.
Elsewhere, contrasting shades like black, white or silver break up all that glimmering precious metal nicely, leaving the whole thing a little more understated.
You will also see plenty in more delicate tones, such as faded pink, as well as vignette dials which start out relatively light in the middle before darkening to near black around the outside.
Further offbeat versions are easily found too, made with all manner of semiprecious stones such as mother-of-pearl, malachite or lapis lazuli—their biggest draw being the one-of-a-kind nature of their individual surface patterns.
In 1985, the original Datejust celebrated its 40th birthday and to acknowledge it, the brand introduced the Jubilee dial which featured the Rolex name repeatedly engraved across the entire face. It became a popular addition to the collection, particularly in the logo-obsessed 80s, and is still a fixture in the modern day range.
As for hour markers, they could be either Roman or Arabic numerals, plain stick batons or, seeing as the ref. 69178 was the top of the line model, beautiful handset diamonds.
Another welcome first with the series was the introduction of a sapphire crystal to cover the dial, taking over from the former acrylic, the harder mineral adding a greater protection as well as being more scratchproof.
Rolex Lady-Datejust ref. 69178 Bracelets
The ref. 69178 was officially released with a choice of any of the three metal bracelets in Rolex’s inventory, unlike the men’s Datejust which only had two.
Because of its sportier nature, the three-link Oyster was actually the least common, although it still makes for a graceful addition.
The five semicircular-link Jubilee, created specifically for the inaugural Datejust reference from 1945, brings more of an intricate counterpoint to all that gold, but it is the striking President bracelet which is found far more frequently with this particular reference.
Really a mix of the best of the other two examples, in that it has three oval links, it is the perfect accompaniment to such a beautiful watch. Models with this style of band are known as Lady-Datejust Presidents.
The ref. 691XX really carried on where the previous series had left off, continuing the Lady-Datejust’s phenomenal success in the market. By the time it arrived, all the outward design elements had been more than nailed down and all that was really required was to keep appealing to as many people as possible, while adding a touch more convenience to an already record-breaking movement.
It did its job superbly, taking the range all the way up to 1999, and stayed as Rolex’s best seller the whole time.
The solid yellow gold ref. 69178 was the flagship model, a wonderfully elegant piece of pure luxury. Yet, even with all that precious metal it remains an attainable preowned purchase.