Rolex Decades: The ‘50s Day-Date Versus the ‘60s Day-Date -

Rolex Decades: The ‘50s Day-Date Versus the ‘60s Day-Date

Rolex’s Day-Date entered the collection in 1956 and has remained the premier offering from the world’s leading watchmaker ever since.

Like the Datejust, from which it took over flagship duties upon its release, the Day-Date was a revelation; the first waterproof, automatically winding wristwatch to display the day of the week written out in full.

Yet, the formative years of the model which would go on to be nicknamed the President were fairly settled, comparatively speaking. Just as the Sea-Dweller was able to avoid a turbulent start to life because of the work Rolex had already put in on the Submariner, so the Day-Date built on the foundations laid down by the Datejust.

We have covered the Datejust’s first decade in production in a separate article, but it is worth noting that from its arrival in 1945 to the end of the 1950s, it went through about a dozen different iterations as things were tightened up and fine-tuned. With the Day-Date, it would be into only its third reference from its debut to practically the start of the 1980s.

However, there is still plenty to talk about and explore, so let’s delve into the rarified world of Rolex’s commander-in-chief.

The ‘50s Day-Date Versus the ‘60s Day-Date: The History

Day-Date Ref. 6510/1
Key Features:

Production: 1956
Case Size: 36mm
Materials: 18k Yellow/Rose/White Gold. Platinum
Movements: Cal. 1055
Bezel: Fixed. Smooth (ref. 6510). Fluted (ref. 6511)
Crown Guards: No
Dials: White/Champagne/Black
Crystal: Plexiglass

The first Day-Date launched only a few years before the death of Rolex’s founder, Hans Wilsdorf in 1960. It would become the great visionary’s crowning achievement.

From the outset, it was clear this watch was meant to head the portfolio; its 36mm classically tonneau-shaped case has only ever been cast in either 18k gold or the shimmering luxury of platinum.

*Interestingly, there were a tiny—and I mean tiny—number of stainless steel prototypes of both the ref. 65XX and follow-up ref. 66XX Day-Dates produced. One or two are even still in existence*

The debut references came with either a smooth bezel on the ref. 6510 or a fluted surround on the ref. 6511. The latter is now very much the calling card of the Day-Date and by the time it was fitted to the ref. 6511, it had progressed from the coin-edged styling found on early Datejusts into the wider corrugations we are familiar with today.

Also, again as with the Datejust, the Day-Date introduced an all-new bracelet. Where the earlier model had brought us the five-link Jubilee, the President brought us the President, consisting of three semi-circular links, also only ever made in gold or platinum.

The bracelet is where some of the confusion over the watch’s nickname has occurred. For the record, the Day-Date has never officially been called the President, but the band has. But, it wouldn’t get that title until 1965 when Lyndon B Johnson wore his yellow gold Day-Date and Rolex, never known to miss a marketing opportunity, started running adverts lauding it as ‘The President’s Watch’. Some fans think the name came from when Dwight D Eisenhower was seen sporting an all-gold Rolex. He did, in fact, wear one, but as it was presented to him by the brand in 1951 as the 150,000th model to roll off the line, five years before the Day-Date surfaced, we know it was a ref. 6305 Datejust.

Up front, dial selection was limited compared to today. Customers could take their pick from either white, black or gold (champagne) and, although the hour markers were more or less the baton type we know today, the handset was still the retro Dauphine style. All the dials on the early Day-Dates were the so-called ‘pie pan’ type, where the outer edge sank down to resemble an upside-down dish, and all used radium lume.

Inside both the ref. 65XX references ticked the Cal. 1055. Relatively bulky, it necessitated the bulbous case back indicative of vintage Rolex. Unfortunately, it was a fairly rudimentary caliber and didn’t build up enough power reserve to switch both the day and date over at midnight. As a result, the initial models only stayed in production for one year before they were retired to make way for an upgrade.

The ‘50s Day-Date Versus the ‘60s Day-Date: The Follow-Up

Day-Date Ref. 6611/2/3
Key Features:

Production: 1957-1959
Case Size: 36mm
Materials: 18k Yellow/Rose/White Gold. Platinum
Movements: Cal. 1055
Bezel: Fixed. Fluted (ref. 6611). Smooth (ref. 6612). Diamond-Set (ref. 6613)
Crown Guards: No
Dials: White/Champagne/Black/Silver
Crystal: Plexiglass

The second generation Day-Dates, the ref. 66XX series retained the Cal. 1055 but Rolex fitted the movement with a new free-sprung balance and their proprietary Microstella regulation system. Those updates earned the watch COSC chronometer status and so became the first to be qualified to wear the SCOC label on their dials—Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified. The previous incarnation had been marked just Officially Certified Chronometer, or OCC.

Otherwise, these follow-ups were outwardly almost identical to the references they replaced, but Rolex did add a third bezel option, just to up the luxurious factor even more. Joining the fluted bezeled ref. 6611 and the smooth bezeled ref. 6612 (no, I don’t know why they changed the numbering convention either), the ref. 6613 was the first diamond-bezeled Day-Date. More often than not, the 46 round gems on the surround would be supplemented with a further 10 on the hour markers, with only the three o’clock and 12 o’clock missing to make way for the dual calendar functions.

The handset also evolved on the follow-up. The Dauphine hands soon gave way to the similar Alpha style (the base on the latter narrows while on the former they continue their shape all the way down) and finally to the standard batons of contemporary Rolex dress watches.

If you do any research on the ref. 66XX series, you may come across the ref. 6611B. These had a minutely thicker bridge plate on the movement than other versions, by roughly 0.1mm, and are immensely rare.

The ‘50s Day-Date Versus the ‘60s Day-Date: The President Hits its Stride

Day-Date Ref. 18XX
Key Features:

Production: 1959-1977
Case Size: 36mm
Materials: 18k Yellow/Rose/White Gold. Platinum
Movements: Cal. 1555/Cal. 1556
Bezel: Fixed. Fluted/Smooth/Diamond-Set/Morellis/Bark/Florentine
Crown Guards: No
Dials: White/Champagne/Black/Silver
Crystal: Plexiglass

In 1959, the ref. 66XX made way for a series which would secure the Day-Date’s reputation as the ultimate in aspirational watches.

The ref. 18XX range is to the Day-Date what the ref. 16XX is to the Datejust. This is where Rolex poured everything they had learned so far into a model which would see it through the next 20 years with minimal interference.

Most notable was one of the first variations released, the ref. 1803. This piece, with its fluted bezel, is the vintage Day-Date. It was actually the reference worn by President Johnson, so the one that earned the watch its nickname. It was also the one owned, extremely briefly, by JFK, gifted him by Marilyn Monroe following her infamous rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ in 1962. Kennedy immediately ordered an aide to ‘get rid of it’ fearing a scandal, but the watch surfaced in a 2005 auction where it sold for $120,000.

While the case remained relatively unchanged, the caliber was updated with the introduction of the Cal. 1555, from the first family of movements Rolex produced in-house.

Crucially, at 7.03mm high, the Cal. 1555 was significantly slimmer than the outgoing Cal. 1055, although it was still the thickest of all the Cal. 1500 series. But it meant the Day-Date could lose its convex case back for the first time and enjoy a more svelte profile.

The 18,000vph mechanism was officially a 25-jewel movement, although there were an additional three or four in the calendar complication. It shared the same setup as the rest of the family, utilizing a free-sprung Nivarox hairspring with Breguet overcoil and a balance wheel regulated by Rolex’s patented Microstella screws. KIF Flector shock absorbers provided the protection and it had a decent power reserve of 42 hours.

However, although it had no Quickset function for either calendar complication, it did allow for an instantaneous midnight change for both.

Around 1965, the Cal. 1555 was uprated to the Cal. 1556. Ostensibly the same, it brought the balance frequency to 19,800vph for the first time in the Day-Date’s run.

The ‘50s Day-Date Versus the ‘60s Day-Date: The ref. 1800 Variations

It is with the ref. 18XX series that we see the first signs of the President’s now enormous range of options materializing.

Many of the more outlandish, such as the famous Stella dials, came out in the 1970s and so fall outside our era, but the ‘60s produced plenty of variety too.

Released at the same time as the fluted bezeled ref. 1803 came the ref. 1804 with diamond surround and the ref. 1806, with a linen finish dubbed Morellis.

A little while later in 1963, the ref. 1802 brought the smooth bezel, while the ref. 1807 released the same year had a tree bark-like surface, usually carried over onto the central bracelet links. Finally, in 1966 we got the ref. 1811 with its Florentine crosshatch detailing.

As for the dials, alongside the usual monochrome and champagne came some understated greys or blues, and Rolex started issuing some dials in mother-of-pearl or with various textures to introduce depth to the watches. These last, usually fitted to examples with the Morellis or bark bezels, produced some highly distinctive models.

In 1969, the Day-Date’s last real external update took place when the President bracelet received a new clasp, the Crownclasp. Thanks to its innovative fold-over mechanism, it meant, when closed, the join was barely visible, giving the impression of one continuous loop of metal. Only a small Rolex coronet remains and acts as the lever to open the bracelet back up.

The Day-Date is quite rightly considered a legend of horology, and much of that standing was secured by the ref. 18XX series.

It was the collection that put much of what we associate with the President in place and all Rolex have had to do since its introduction has been to periodically replace the interior mechanisms as improvements have been made.

The watch still stands as perhaps the most aspirational status symbol from any manufacturer and has long since crossed the divide from being worn exclusively by the most stolid establishment figures to being the go-to for anyone who has become a major success in their respective field.

Whether movie star, elite athlete, hip hop mogul or indeed religious leader, the great and the good all wear a Day-Date.

Featured Photo: BeckerTime’s Archive.

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