Then and Now: The First Rolex Day-Date vs The Current Rolex Day-Date

The status watch to end all status watches, today we’re digging into the famous Rolex Day-Date timepiece, also known as the Rolex President. As with all editions within our Then and Now series, we compare the first model in a Rolex collection with its modern counterpart. And, today we’ll be looking at the first Rolex Day-Date vs the current Day-Date 36 model.

The First Rolex Day-Date

Rolex Day-Date Ref. 6511
Credit: WatchBase.

In 1956, Rolex unveiled the Day-Date watch, ref. 6511. As its name suggests, the watch featured a pair of windows on the dial to indicate the day of the week (written in full) along with the date.

In addition to the practical calendar indicators, the ref. 6511 also debuted a brand new Rolex bracelet style the company dubbed the President bracelet. With a three-piece configuration made up of semi-circular links, the President bracelet is a big part of what makes the Day-Date so recognizable.

The Day-Date ref. 6511 was a full 18k yellow gold model, from its 36mm Oyster case to its fluted bezel to its new President bracelet. Hefty both in terms of weight and presence, the overall look of the Rolex Day-Date President packed a punch.

Rolex Caliber 1055

The dial of the Day-Date ref. 6511 is what collectors often refer to as a “pie-pan” dial. This is where the border dips down, echoing the shape of an upside down pie pan. The center gold Dauphine-style hands match up perfectly with the gold faceted indexes. Not to mention the gold Rolex coronet placed under the day window at 12 o’clock. The fluted gold bezel secures the acrylic crystal in place, which has the essential protruding Cyclops magnification lens sitting above the date window at 3 o’clock. The first Day-Date movement was the self-winding Caliber 1055.

The Current Rolex Day-Date 36

The newest version of the yellow gold Day-Date 36 came out in 2000 as the Day-Date ref. 118238. While Rolex has released newer versions of the President since then, those watches belong to the larger sized Day-Date II and Day-Date 40 collections. Therefore, we have selected the current version most closely related to the original Rolex President for the sake of continuity.

Rolex Day-Date President Ref. 118238

Like the first, the newest Day-Date ref. 118238 features a 36mm yellow gold Oyster case, yellow gold fluted bezel, and yellow gold President bracelet. In fact, look at these models—separated by four decades—side by side, and the resemblance is striking. As we’ve mentioned several times before, Rolex is the king of consistency! Of course, the newest Day-Date collection also offers versions in white gold, Everose gold, and platinum.

Dial options are abundant ranging from classic champagne to vibrant green to lavish diamond pavé and plenty more in between. There are even other bracelet choices apart from the President band. These include the sporty Oyster bracelet and leather straps in a range of colors. However, call us purists, but the President bracelet would be our ideal choice for the Day-Date. Rolex began using sapphire crystals on Day-Date watches since the late 1970s and that’s what you’ll find on the current Day-Date ref. 118238—naturally, also furnished with the Cyclops lens.

The current Day-Date 36 is equipped with the self-winding Caliber 3155 movement with a two-day power reserve. Unlike the original Day-Date, this caliber offers the practical double quickset feature. This means that both the date window and the day window can be set independently from the center hour hands.

The Rolex Day-Date Evolution, Then and Now

Say the words, “gold watch” to a non-watch enthusiast, and we wouldn’t be surprised if an image of the Rolex President came to their mind. That’s because the Day-Date is recognized by pretty much everybody as a symbol of wealth, success, and status. And Rolex’s ability to consistently stick to winning designs without messing around with them too much plays a major role in that.

Rolex certainly has enhanced the Day-Date collection with technical improvements over the years. However, the watch has not undergone any major design overhauls. That’s because the Day-Date came out of the gate in 1956 as the perfect luxury watch with a style that transcends fleeting trends.