Then and Now: The First Rolex Datejust vs. The Current Rolex Datejust

For the first three chapters of our Then and Now series, we compared the first and current models of three popular Rolex sports watches. Today however, we’re focusing on Rolex’s flagship timepiece—the Datejust. An absolute classic in the luxury watch space, the Rolex Datejust has earned its spot as one of the most recognizable high-end timepieces out there. While today the Datejust is Rolex’s most varied collection, with a host of sizes, materials, and designs available, its history began as a yellow gold dress watch. Let’s compare the inaugural Datejust model with its most modern counterpart.

The First Rolex Datejust

In 1945, Rolex was celebrating its 40th anniversary. As a result, to honor the milestone, Rolex unveiled a brand new watch, the Datejust ref. 4467.

That first Datejust took important elements from past Rolex watches, such as the waterproof Oyster case, a fluted bezel, and the self-winding perpetual movement, and coupled it with new design details that would eventually develop into undisputable Rolex hallmarks. For instance, the Datejust debuted a new style of bracelet Rolex named the Jubilee. The Jubilee has since become one of Rolex’s main bracelet styles used in a number of different collections.

Vintage Rolex Ref. 4467
Credit: Rolex.

More importantly, there was the addition of the date indicator on the watch, hence the “Datejust” moniker. In fact, the Datejust was the world’s first automatic chronometer to include a date window on the dial. However, for those familiar with the Datejust collection, you’ll notice the absence of the Cyclops date magnification lens attached to the crystal. This signature design trait would only come about a decade later.

The Datejust ref. 4467 was crafted entirely in 18k yellow gold from its 36mm Oyster case to its then-new Jubilee bracelet. The white dial included applied faceted gold hour markers and yellow gold hands, all accented with radium luminescence. The “roulette” style date window displayed the date in alternating red and black numbers. Especially interesting is the lack of the “Datejust” name on the dial on the very first Datejust ref. 4467 watch. What you do see is the Rolex crown and logo on top of the “Oyster Perpetual” text on the upper portion of the dial accompanied by the “Officially Certified Chronometer” label on the bottom half.

The first Datejust runs on the self-winding Caliber A295 and because of the movement’s winding rotor, the caseback of the watch protrudes quite a bit to accommodate it. The result is an egg-shaped bubble case, which explains why early Datejust models are commonly referred to as “Ovettone”—Italian for large egg.

The Newest Rolex Datejust 36

Rolex Datejust 36 126231
Credit: Rolex.

Over its more-than seven-decade history, the Datejust has undergone plenty of design modifications to become Rolex’s most versatile collection. There are Lady-Datejust watches with smaller cases, Datejust II watches with larger 41mm cases, but our favorite remains the classic 36mm size.

Just this year at Baselworld 2018, Rolex launched new generation Datejust 36 watches in yellow Rolesor and Everose Rolesor. For those who may not be aware, Rolesor is Rolex’s official term for marrying gold and steel on the same watch, better known as a two-tone watch.

Rolex Caliber 3235
Credit: Rolex.

The new Datejust 36 watches, Datejust ref. 126233 (yellow gold and steel) and Datejust ref. 126231 (Everose rose gold and steel) flaunt all the elements we’ve come to expect from a two-tone Rolex Datejust. There are the gold fluted bezels and gold screw-down winding crowns on the steel 36mm Oyster case, along with the gold center links on the steel bracelets. Rolex offers both the classic Jubilee and the sportier Oyster bracelet as options on the new models. Of course, the dials include the famed date window at 3 o’clock, but this time, unlike the very first Datejust, it comes with the now indispensable magnification lens protruding from the sapphire crystal right above it.

Rolex Datejust 36mm Ref. 126233
Credit: Rolex.

The biggest change to the new Datejust 36 watches from its predecessors is that they now run on the Caliber 3235 automatic movement. This particular caliber is the same one that powers the latest Sea-Dweller, Datejust 41, and Pearlmaster 39, and boosts the power reserve of the new two-tone Datejust to 70 hours.

The Rolex Datejust Evolution, Then and Now

The appeal of the Rolex Datejust is that it manages to be such a versatile watch collection, yet each Datejust features a handful of details that are so fundamental to the watch’s design that it’s always instantly recognizable as a Rolex regardless of the specific model.

Whether vintage or modern, gold, two tone, or steel, large or small, you simply can’t go wrong with a Rolex Datejust watch.