A 26mm Rolex model has been at the heart of Rolex’s women’s range since the very earliest days of the company. As with many of the men’s watches, they have resisted the urge to follow fashion and increase in size for as long as possible, but even they have had to concede in recent years.
Currently there is a grand total of six 26mm rolex models in the lineup, all part of the Oyster Perpetual family. The last of the Lady-Datejusts, by far the most popular examples in the size, were retired in 2016 to clear the decks for the next wave of 28mm pieces.
However, with such a long history of production, it is no surprise that the vintage market is full of stunning watches measuring in at 26mm. Designed with the same attention to every conceivable detail and filled with the kind of groundbreaking technology that has given the brand its status as the most famous watchmaker of all time, these are the timepieces that rank as some of their most impressive miniature gems.
Below, we’ll take a look at some of the beautiful examples we have here at Beckertime.
Launched in the mid-fifties, the Lady-Datejust is the Rolex equivalent of the little black dress. An elegant, indispensable staple in the wardrobe that seldom looks out of place, whatever the occasion.
The female version of Rolex’s most popular creation ever, the 26mm Rolex Lady-Datejust is the immediate first port of call for the majority of women looking for the one watch that will be their lifelong companion.
Much like the men’s series, the range of different combinations of bezel, dial color, case metal and bracelet has numbered into the thousands over the decades it has remained in production. As such, not only is there always a model out there to appeal to just about everyone’s taste, it is also a fairly rare occurrence to meet someone with a matching wrist.
The Lady-Datejust can be as subtly understated or as eye-catchingly flamboyant as the wearer desires, crafted in everything from unassuming stainless steel and all three flavors of gold, through to the ultimate luxury of platinum. You will also find pieces glittering with gemstone enhancements of every type, with diamonds, rubies and sapphires either delicately highlighting hour indexes or festooned liberally from every surface.
Inside, things are even more impressive. When the original Datejust was introduced way back in 1945, it became the first waterproof, self-winding watch in the world with a date function. The mechanical calibers that made it all possible were a revolution, and have been subjected to Rolex’s ever-increasing demands for perfection ever since.
The movements that drive the Lady-Datejusts have identical functionality, but their minuscule size is an even greater test, and testament, to the watchmaker’s art. Incredibly, the most recent generations of these tiny engines even outshine their larger variants for accuracy and reliability, holding the record for the highest first time pass rate of any movement tested by the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute.
Yet despite it all, prices for the 26mm Lady-Datejust represent Rolex at its most accessible.The benefit of such a small watch is usually a lower buy-in. You can find stunning examples of this legendary timepiece starting for under than $3,000, and sometimes far less.
With peerless engineering, faultless dependability and all the style choices in the world, this is really the only watch you could ever need.
The Oyster Perpetual
The Oyster Perpetual is the longest unbroken series of watches in Rolex’s history and forms the basis for the entire brand.
Taking its name from the water resistant casing developed in 1926 (the Oyster) and the self-winding mechanism they perfected in 1933 (the Perpetual) the first of the range appeared in 1936 and has been in constant production ever since.
Today, every product in the catalog, bar the Cellini collection, wears the Oyster Perpetual tag on their dials, followed by their individual series name.
But there is also a separate entity known simply as the Oyster Perpetual; the most low-key and unassuming family of watches of them all.
While the modern lineup is made entirely of stainless steel, past generations have been cast in yellow, white and rose gold, as well as Rolesor, Rolex’s own patented gold and steel combination.
Essentially a Datejust without the date, the Oyster Perpetual is the embodiment of three-hand simplicity and represents, for many, their entry point into the world of the crown. With the 26mm Rolex ladies version particularly, the minimalism of the design and lack of any superfluous complications make it easily the best value for money product throughout the entire portfolio.
As a collection, the Oyster Perpetuals are generally sought out by those whose main concern is for a watch that will last a lifetime and beyond, rather than those intent on wearing a symbol of their achievement or status. Where a GMT-Master or Daytona are likely to be worn, partly at least, for show, the Oyster Perpetual is for people who recognize Rolex first and foremost as the makers of the most reliable and enduring timepieces of any manufacturer.
The 26mm Rolex version is a beautifully petite and unpretentious watch, and the archives are awash with examples at extremely accessible prices. Like the Datejust, they are powered by calibers that redefine the performance of mechanical movements, and the styling is typically timeless in a way only Rolex can do.
For the best in versatility and dependability, the Oyster Perpetual is hard to beat.