Review: The Rolex Datejust ref. 16014

Relatively speaking, the ref. 160XX series of Rolex’s Datejust had a fairly short run. Starting in 1977, they were the fourth generation of the model which, by then, was one of the brand’s most recognizable and popular creations.

More than anything else, their introduction was prompted by a new caliber, and that was the reason they were in turn superseded in 1988.

So, not quite what can be termed a transitional reference, but certainly not among the longest serving either.

However, those 11-years proved plenty of time for Rolex to issue their universally adored piece in its customary array of different metal, dial, bezel and bracelet combinations. The bewildering scale of choice has long been the calling card of the Datejust, perhaps the most versatile dress watch in the collection, giving it the ability to fit in everywhere and appeal to just about any palate.

But while the styling and variety were similar to the outgoing four-digit references, inside things advanced significantly with the ref. 160XX. It was the series that introduced the first high beat frequency caliber, the Cal. 3035, ticking away at 28,800vph over the 19,800vph of the previous Cal. 1575. It gave the seconds hand that silky smooth glide we now associate with the contemporary range, as well as bringing a greater shock resistance and increasing the timekeeping accuracy. In addition, it debuted the Quickset feature which allowed wearers to forward the date via the crown, independently of the hour hand.

Other than that though, there was little call to alter anything else. The watch stayed at the time-honored 36mm, with its lines as elegantly sweeping as ever.

The ref. 16014 was among the most understated examples, a watch for those looking for a subtle taste of luxury but with no need to show off about it.

Below, we examine it in a bit more detail.

Rolex Datejust ref. 16014 Metals and Bezels

As with all of Rolex’s output, the structure of the reference number tells us all the information we need about the watch. So, with the ref. 16014, the 160 identifies it as of the Datejust family, and the last two digits tell us the type of bezel and the metal used to forge the case. On this model, that gives a fluted surround (white gold in this instance) sitting on a stainless steel body.

The combination of gold and steel is officially called Rolesor in Rolex’s own lexicon and it normally means the precious metal is used on both the bezel and the center links of whichever bracelet is fitted. However with white Rolesor it is a little different, and it is only the bezel made from gold; everything else on the watch is steel.

It is the similarity of tone in the two metals which makes the ref. 16014 such a low-key model. Unless you knew exactly what you were looking at, you would assume the entire piece is steel, but with careful scrutiny, you can make out the more refined luster in the bezel. It gives the whole thing a nicely discreet touch you don’t necessarily get with other examples.

That fluted design on the surround is very much an old school feature at Rolex and it evolved from a coin-edge styling which had a practical purpose—it helped watchmakers grip the bezel as it was screwed into the case to form a watertight seal. Now purely decorative, it adds an extra sophisticated element over the other options from this generation of the Datejust; the smooth and the engine turned. That last, which describes an ornate pattern engraved into the metal, it is no longer present in the modern lineup having been retired in the mid-2000s.

Rolex Datejust ref. 16014 Movements

The previous four-digit references of the Datejust actually switched movement halfway through their production run, starting out with the Cal. 1565 and ending with the Cal. 1575. The two were essentially identical except for an increase in balance frequency, from 18,000vph to 19,800vph.

The Cal. 3035 inside the ref. 16014 upped it again to the eight-ticks-per-second rate of 28,800vph, or 4Hz. Beyond that though, the basic architecture stayed the same, and the Cal. 3035 is often referred to as merely a high beat Cal. 1575.

The mechanism retained the free sprung balance with Breguet overcoil of the older caliber, along with the Microstella regulating system. The arrangement, still in use today, consists of four tiny timing screws on the inner rim of the balance wheel which can be moved closer or further away from the center, so changing its inertia. It allows for a far greater level of precision when adjusting than a traditional setup, and makes Rolex’s caliber very much the watchmaker’s friend.

Apart from the speed, the biggest change with the Cal. 3035 was the introduction of the Quickset function. Now, instead of having to wind the main hands through 24-hours to advance the date, the wearer could simply pull the crown out to a second position and turn it one-and-a-half times to forward each digit.

But, beyond fitting the Cal. 3035 with a fast rotating barrel which offered the drive train more stability and increased the power reserve to 50 hours instead of 48, Rolex were obviously happy with the underlying mechanics of their 1500 series, and this new movement was more of a consistent development than anything too dramatic. As with all their engines, they were not built to be fancy but to be resilient workhorses and did their jobs perfectly.

Rolex Datejust ref. 16014 Dials

While those models of the Datejust cast in solid yellow gold or yellow Rolesor lent themselves to some of the more outlandish dial colors, the unassuming nature of the ref. 16014 was far better suited to neutral shades.

You will find faces of white, black, grey and silver, and occasionally gold, all released by Rolex.

However, the Datejust’s something-for-everyone personality has always left it a prime candidate for modification, and the preowned market is awash with pieces which have had their dials professionally refinished in just about any color you can think of. Obviously, the quality of the workmanship on these third-party customized watches will differ depending on who carried it out, but the best of them are very good indeed and can make an already fine watch into a real eye-catcher. You will also see examples with gemstone enhancements, either on just the hour markers or else drenched across the whole dial and possibly bezel as well, which was not an option formally offered by Rolex with this reference. As with all watches from the brand which have been altered in some way, it is important to be aware that you will have to get an independent service center to maintain it for you, as Rolex themselves will refuse.

Among those officially issued dials, there are several variations on the standard colored faces. The textured options, for instance, have always looked particularly good coupled with the Datejust’s lines. The two most popular are the tapestry dial, typified by a series of smooth vertical lines running down its length, and the linen dial, which has an attractive crosshatch effect. The raised surface on both catches the light beautifully and adds a welcome three dimensional effect.

Finally, there are two slight but significant differences between the ref. 160XX series and its four-digit predecessor. The older pieces were fitted with what were known as ‘pie-pan’ dials, which featured an outer circumference that dipped down slightly. They tended to give an optical illusion of the watch being smaller than it was and they were retired by the time this new range emerged, switched to a completely flat replacement.

And the type of crystal which covered the dial stayed the same during the ref. 160XX run as they are fitted with the long running Plexiglass acrylic crystal.

Rolex Datejust ref. 16014 Bracelets

The ref. 16014 came with the choice of two of Rolex’s three metal bracelets, the Jubilee and the Oyster. Of those, the Jubilee was the one used far more often.

The five semi-circular linked band was invented specifically for the Datejust in 1945 (and took its name from the fact the watch was launched to celebrate Rolex’s 40th year in operation) and is the most elaborate bracelet the manufacture offers. It gives the watch a somewhat dressy look, as opposed to the Oyster, which is more usually found on the brand’s professional collection. The three flat links of that band adds a fairly sporty aspect, still perfectly in keeping with the Datejust’s chameleonic charm.

On both, only the outer links were solid, with hollow folded center links (rather than the completely solid bracelets Rolex make today), and the end links were also hollow. Solid end links (SEL) didn’t become a feature until the 2000’s.

Yet, there are plenty of examples on the preowned market fitted with leather straps, something else which has always suited the Datejust well.

Finding a new bracelet for the watch is no problem. The lug width is 20mm, just about the most common size produced by independent makers, and those lugs on the ref. 16014 still have the pin holes in them, so swapping bands is that much simpler.

Unlike the Day-Date, which has always been purely about the heights of aspirational luxury, the Datejust has long been seen as the perfect middle ground between formal wear and relaxed casual elegance.

With its steel and white gold makeup, the ref. 16014 is certainly among the most versatile versions of what is possibly Rolex’s most all-round adaptable watch.

By keeping its coloring as neutral as possible, it hasn’t been as affected by the comings and goings of fashion as the more showy pieces, and the extra convenience of the Quickset function on this series all adds up to it truly being the only watch you could ever really need.

The ref. 16014 is perfect as either another piece in a collection or else as the one model to last a lifetime.

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