The Top 10 Rolex Datejust Dials
There’s a strong case for calling the Rolex Datejust the single most versatile timepiece ever made. Not only is the overall styling itself the definition of ageless, setting the standard for what a watch should look like since the 1940s, but the sheer number of different permutations of bezel type, metal, indexes, bracelets and, crucially, dial design mean it can be a match for literally anyone’s taste.
The conservative aesthetic underpinnings of the Datejust are a blank canvas onto which wearers implant their own personal sensibilities—taking the once revolutionary watch into whatever direction best suits. Sober and restrained through to splashy showboater, there is enough variety inherent in the range to cater to all.
A model which has enjoyed some of the most consistently high sales over one of the longest uninterrupted production runs of any in the Rolex stable, there have been a host of standout looks over the decades. Key to them all is the dial, the one element which has the greatest effect on any watch’s personality.
Below, we have picked out our Top 10 Rolex Datejust dials.
Even a brand as notoriously traditionalist as Rolex got a little crazy in the 1960s and 70s, coming out with a slew of avant-garde and experimental visuals for some of their biggest hitters. The Submariner went all yellow gold and blue dialed, the GMT-Master got Root Beer coloring (and nipples for hour markers), and the Datejust went wooden.
Fashioned from burls, rounded outgrowths with a distorted grain, Rolex took thin slivers from birch, mahogany and walnut trees to make completely unique dials for both the Datejust and the Day-Date.
Matching especially well with a solid yellow gold case and bracelet, it left the whole with a beautiful warmth and distinctive presence. And, like much that was around in the 1970s, it is a look enjoying something of a revival on today’s preowned market.
In the same vein as the wooden dials, this is another material Rolex used sparingly over the years in order to create absolute one-offs.
Taken from the 26,000kg Gibeon meteorite which crashed to earth in Namibia millions of years ago, it was discovered in 1838 by Captain J.E. Alexander, a Scottish soldier and explorer.
During its journey across the cosmos, the meteorite, probably a piece of molten planetary core, slowly cooled, resulting in the iron and nickel strands inside forming into the famous Widmanstätten patterns.
It means that no two slices taken to use as watch dials by Rolex and others looked the same, giving a much prized exclusivity to each example.
To date it has been used for very special models of the Datejust, Day-Date, the Daytona and, most recently, the newly released GMT-Master II.
Something just not really done by Rolex anymore, and very much missed (by me anyway) is the honeycomb dial. In fact, the brand used to offer a whole range of textures—everything from linen-type finishes to elegant Florentine to effects that resembled denim.
But the honeycomb was perhaps the most notable and also found its way onto other models in the portfolio, including the Milgauss, where it acted as a further magnetic shield for the scientist’s watch.
On the Datejust it was phased out within the first decade of production, leaving those pieces still around as particularly valuable vintage finds.
Another thing Rolex don’t go in for these days, what with them being one of the most recognizable brands on earth, is the logo dial.
Back in the day, a very select handful of stores were permitted to include their own name on the dial of some of the Rolex watches they sold.
Of course, not just any old retailers were given such a license. The rare personalized examples that occasionally come up for sale are co-branded with the likes of Tiffany & Co., Cartier or, if you’re really lucky, the legendary Venezuelan jeweler Serpico Y Laino.
It is just a tiny flourish, and the only thing that separates the watches from the standard issue examples, but it adds an unmistakable prestige that is most often reflected in the asking price.
The Datejust, of course, was brought out in 1945 in celebration of Rolex’s 40thyear in operation. When it debuted, it was on a new type of bracelet, an intricate five-link offering named the Jubilee.
However, in 1985, when the watch itself turned 40, Rolex decided to commemorate the event with what they called the Jubilee dial.
Alternatively known as the Anniversary dial, it featured the name ROLEX repeatedly engraved across the whole face. It was the perfect look for the logo-obsessed 80s and has remained so popular, in fact, that it is still a part of the contemporary lineup today.
A sort of amalgamation of the logo dial and Rolex’s own Jubilee dial, Chevrolet commissioned the watchmakers to come up with something to honor the car marque’s 75thyear in 1986.
Choosing the Datejust ref. 16018 for the event, Rolex fitted it with an exquisitely crafted yellow gold dial featuring the Chevy badge in a repeated pattern across the entire surface.
With 75 also being a diamond anniversary, the hour markers were made up of 10 handset gems (the 12 o’clock and three o’clock remained the Rolex coronet and date window respectively), and the watch was awarded to dealerships with exemplary sales records.
Extraordinarily rare, the Chevy Datejusts make great collectors items, and symbolize a successful collaboration between two titans of industry.
Coming to power in 1970, Qaboos bin Said al Said overthrew his own father in a palace coup and is still the current Sultan of Oman.
Educated at England’s Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, he was helped to power by the British and, as a token of his appreciation, commissioned Rolex to create a number of watches to give away as gifts to his supporters.
The models chosen ranged from the Day-Date, the Oyster Perpetual, the Sea-Dweller, a tiny handful of Daytonas and, more usually, the Datejust. All were decorated on the dial with the symbol of the Sultanate of Oman—the khanjar, a short, ceremonial dagger with a hooked blade.
In addition to the khanjar, usually in red or white and less commonly in green or gold, the watch cases would also bear an inscription proving their origin.
Today, these rare pieces are particularly sought after as collector’s items.
Pie Pan Dials
One of the keys to the Datejust’s longevity has been its enduring design language. Of all the pieces in the Rolex portfolio, it is the one that has remained the least visually altered over the generations.
One way to roughly pin down the era of a Datejust lies in the use of Rolex’s so-called pie pan dials. These, as the name suggests, feature a downward sloping edge around the perimeter, giving the face the look of an inverted dish.
They started to be replaced with the now-standard flat dials when the new five-digit Datejust series debuted in 1977—possibly in an attempt to make it look more imposing. The slight recess caused a trick of the eye which made the watch appear smaller than it actually was.
Diamond Paved Dial
Although it lost its opulent flagship status to the Day-Date less than 10 years into its run, the Datejust has never lacked for luxurious touches—and nowhere has this been more in evidence than in the Lady-Datejust series. First released in 1957, these scaled down and unfailingly elegant versions of the men’s model have long been the most commercially successful family of watches Rolex has ever made.
The modern range is incredibly extensive, with a bewildering range of dial options, but some of the most distinctive are fitted to the 31mm examples. Among those are a number of pieces with dials paved with some 262 hand cut diamonds and inlaid with a swarm of mother-of-pearl butterflies.
Available in any of the three flavors of 18k gold, they are a contemporary take on an all time classic
Another relatively new addition to the never-ending succession of Datejust faces, the concentric dials feature repetitive circular patterns that add an attractive depth and texture.
There are a number of different styles which can all be described as being concentric dials. They range from having a single solid color with engraved detailing that radiates out from the center, through to unusual examples containing three individual segments, with all the dial text conforming to the circle motif.
Although not an option in the current catalog, they make a surprisingly affordable preowned buy.