Rolex Decades: The ‘90s Day-Date Versus the 2000s Day-Date -

Rolex Decades: The ‘90s Day-Date Versus the 2000s Day-Date

Rolex’s current and former flagships, the Day-Date and the Datejust, have long been closely bound together, developmentally-speaking.

While the President debuted more than 10 years after the arrival of the first Datejust, by the time it launched most of Rolex’s traditional trial-and-error corrections had already been carried out and squared away. That left the two watches able to progress in tandem for the majority of their runs, and it is a pattern which continues today.

In our ‘Decades’ series, we last looked at the Day-Date between the 1960s and ‘70s. That period took in the entire 18-year reign of the ref. 180X reference, stretching from 1959 up to 1977, and saw the transition into the first of the five-digit families, the ref. 180XX.

The change was really predicated on the release of Rolex’s latest generation of movements, the Cal. 30XX. The new Day-Date was fitted with the Cal. 3055 while the Datejust received the Cal. 3035.

Both were superb calibers, with impressive accuracy and reliability. But, as anyone familiar with this era of the brand’s history will know, they were short-lived. By 1988, Rolex had upgraded the mechanisms enough to warrant giving them another number entirely, and the Cal. 31XX series was born.

And once that happened, it became necessary to update the watches into which they sat as well.

Below then is the recent history of Rolex’s Day-Date, taking in the 1990s and into the 2000s.

The ‘90s Day-Date Versus the 2000s Day-Date: The State of Play

Day-Date Ref. 182XX/183XX/189XX
Key Features:
Production: 1988-2000
Case Size: 36mm/39mm
Materials: 18K Yellow/White Gold. Platinum (ref. 183XX)
Movements: Cal. 3155
Bezel: Fixed. Fluted/Smooth/Bark. Diamond-Set (on ref. 183XX Series)
Crown Guards: No
Dials: White/Champagne/Black/Silver/Semiprecious Stone/Stella
Crystal: Sapphire
Languages: 26

So, the ref. 180XX range brought the President to the end of the 1980s when it was superseded by the ref. 182XX models.

This time, while the new reference carried on in very much the same vein as the one it had replaced, Rolex seemed to have more faith in it. As a result, it was released with far greater variation than with the older series, especially in regards to the most luxurious versions.

The usual suspects were obviously front and center, with the classic ref. 18238, featuring a yellow gold case and fluted bezel being the archetypal Day-Date look. But after that, there were roughly 20 other versions released, with more than a dozen of them containing precious stones—on either lugs, bezels, dials or all three.

The ref. 18946, for example, was about as opulent as the watch could get at the time. A case of pure platinum, but increased in size to 39mm, with 40 square-cut diamonds set into the surround, it was finished off with a further 10 baguettes for hour markers. It also sat on one of the two different types of bracelet Rolex used for this iteration of the Day-Date. First created for their Pearlmaster range, which came out in 1992, the Masterpiece bracelet was made up of five links, and was flatter than the Jubilee and President but more rounded than the Oyster. And just as with the Day-Date’s original nickname, these very special and rare examples also took their title from the name of their bracelet and are known as the Rolex Masterpiece range.

The other new style, which sadly is no longer an option anywhere in the current collection, was called the Tridor. These could be had in two versions. The first was a standard President bracelet, featuring a stripe of all three colors of gold running vertically through each of the center links. The second was another form of the Masterpiece, with yellow and white gold making up the outer links and rose gold used for the middle. But, whichever type was fitted, all were secured with the invisible Crownclasp.

One curious omission from the collection, however, was a reference of the Day-Date forged from rose gold. This had been an option since pretty much the beginning but was missed out for the ref. 182XX family.

The ‘90s Day-Date Versus the 2000s Day-Date: The New Engine

By 1988, of course, the shape and style of the Day-Date was firmly established, and so the biggest changes went on under the hood. And, in truth, even those were relatively minor.

The Cal. 3135 replaced the Cal. 3035, bringing with it a full balance bridge and the convenience of a Double Quickset. That last meant both the date numeral in the three o’clock window AND the day of the week at the 12 o’clock, could now be adjusted directly with the crown instead of having to wind the hands around endlessly to advance either.

Beyond that though, there was little to choose between the two engines. The Cal. 3035 had been the one to increase the frequency to the standard 28,800vph and pretty much everything else—Glucydur balance wheel, Breguet overcoil, Microstella regulation—had been in use in Rolex’s movements for many years. The switch from 3035 to 3135 was very much a gentle evolution, and a case of making even better what was already very good indeed.

The ‘90s Day-Date Versus the 2000s Day-Date: The President Gets New Shoes

Day-Date Ref. 118XXX
Key Features:
Production: 2000-2019
Case Size: 36mm
Materials: 18K Yellow/Rose/White Gold. Platinum
Movements: Cal. 3155
Bezel: Fixed. Fluted/Smooth/Bark. Diamond-Set
Crown Guards: No
Dials: White/Champagne/Black/Silver/Ice Blue
Crystal: Sapphire
Languages: 26

As evidence of just how proven the Day-Date was by this point, the jump from five-digit references to the first of the six-digit models in 2000 was really only centered around Rolex finally improving on their bracelets.

Whereas former incarnations had at least some hollow links (the center ones on the previous collection) here, at last, were all solid links including SEL (Solid End Links). Because of that, although a ref. 182XX model and these new ref. 118XXX pieces might look more or less identical, the more recent example is about 30% heavier. One other difference you might spot is polished lugs on the six-digit watches, where they had been satin brushed before.

Beyond that, this generation still used the same movement, but did introduce the renowned Parachrom Bleu hairspring to guard against shocks, temperature variation and magnetic forces.

It also saw the reinstatement of rose gold models, with both smooth and fluted bezels and on metal or leather bands. But perhaps the biggest draw was found on the platinum pieces. These came with the option of a new color dial, exclusive to the king of metals, in ice blue. They caused something of a sensation on their release, and the brushed sunburst faces have since been fitted to the platinum Daytonas as well.

The ref. 118XXX collection would take the 36mm Day-Date all the way up to 2019. But long before then, in 2008, a momentous new version of the President was launched.

The ‘90s Day-Date Versus the 2000s Day-Date: The Sequel

Day-Date II Ref. 218XXX
Key Features:
Production: 2008-2015
Case Size: 41mm
Materials: 18K Yellow/Rose/White Gold. Platinum
Movements: Cal. 3156
Bezel: Fixed. Fluted/Smooth/Diamond-Set
Crown Guards: No
Dials: White/Champagne/Black/Silver/Ice Blue/Diamond Pavé
Crystal: Sapphire
Languages: 26

In 2008, Rolex finally addressed the trend for oversize watches, but in a wholly unexpected way.

Fans had been clamoring for larger versions of the brand’s most famous sports watches for years; the Submariner, GMT-Master and Daytona were all seen as prime candidates.

But, proving that they can still be as contrary and surprising as ever, Rolex instead unveiled a Day-Date in a 41mm case.

The new Day-Date II came in only a handful of options (yellow, white or rose gold, with either a fluted or diamond bezel, or platinum with just a smooth bezel) but would certainly have expanded had the range been better received.

As it was, although the added millimeters were just what enthusiasts had wanted, the way the watch’s various elements sat together turned off too many potential buyers. Most noticeable was the bezel itself, now conspicuously wider than before, as were the lugs. It left the piece as a whole looking a little…chunky. Nothing wrong with that in a tool watch, obviously, but on a dress model, famed for its understated elegance, it never really took off.

The Day-Date II was retired in 2015, one year before the withdrawal of the Datejust II which had received the same treatment.

Both the Datejust and Day-Date sequels were replaced with more well thought-out alternatives later on, but that period falls outside our term here so we’ll pick it up again in another article.

We’re going to leave the Day-Date at the end of the 2010s, still sitting unassailably at the top of the Rolex tree. It was, as it had been for pretty much its whole life, the most aspirational watch in the business, the one sought out by the elite and worn by some of the most accomplished individuals in the world.

Check back in with us to discover how its most recent incarnation differs from those which have come before.

Featured Photo: BeckerTime’s Archive.

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