With a history as long and illustrious as Rolex’s, and with an output as prodigious, it can sometimes get confusing keeping track of the slew of different models the brand has released over the years.
In their earliest days, and especially during their 50s and 60s heyday, an entirely new watch or an update of an existing design seemed to emerge from the company every five minutes, with reference numbers issued almost at random.
Staying on top of it all is tricky enough, and sometimes Rolex themselves seem to go out of their way to muddy the waters even more.
The Oyster Perpetual Date and the Oyster Perpetual Datejust are prime examples. Two watches, still in production after more than half a century, practically identical, but with the slightest of dissimilarities to warrant the change in name.
Below we’ll take a look at both and find out what difference a ‘just’ makes.
Date Vs. Datejust
It’s quite difficult to imagine now, with its modest styling and by-no-means-exotic complications, but when the original Datejust arrived in 1945, it was a radical trailblazer in the world of horology. The Oyster case and Perpetual movement secured its place as the first waterproof, self-winding wristwatch in the world to display a date aperture. Less than a decade later it debuted yet another innovation when it became the test bed for Rolex’s new Cyclops magnifying lens—an element that now covers every date window in the lineup bar the Sea-Dweller Deepsea.
Although it lost its official flagship crown soon after to the Day-Date, it has remained an absolute emblem of the brand and, alongside the Submariner or GMT-Master, is the watch that most immediately springs to many people’s minds when they hear the name Rolex.
A Question of Size
Throughout its long long life, and until very recently, the Datejust has stuck rigidly to its 36mm dimensions, traditionally considered the perfect size for a man’s watch.
However, with the arrival of a 26mm Lady Datejust in the fifties, Rolex also released a smaller edition of their men’s watch, a virtual duplicate of the original but measuring only 34mm, and called it the Date.
Why they decided to shorten the name is unclear, but it has led some to consider it as a separate entity to the Datejust and more an evolution of the Oyster Perpetual line that started life in the 1920s; a version of the similarly sized Air-King, for example, but upgraded with a date function and Cyclops.
It is perhaps easier to think of it as a link between the two, and it has benefitted from most of the technical advances that have been applied to the Datejust over the last 70 years.
Although never available in quite the same number of infinite variations, there were still plenty of options presented to potential Date customers. Alongside the stainless steel models, examples in yellow Rolesor and all yellow gold appeared, as well as a choice of bezel types, including domed, fluted and engine turned—a technique that creates decorative grooves in the bezel’s surface.
As the technology, both inside and outside, improved on the Datejust, its smaller cousin was never far behind.
So the pair each received the convenience of a Quickset date function in 1983 (with the ref. 16XXX and ref. 15XXX series respectively) when the Cal. 3035 made its first appearance. Now, rather than having to wind the hands through 24-hours to progress the date, the crown could be set to a second position to adjust it independently.
By the end of the 80s, the movement was upgraded again, to the legendary Cal. 3135, Rolex’s longest and most widely used caliber. These 162XX and 152XX references also saw the introduction of scratchproof sapphire crystals, replacing the earlier acrylic.
The Latest Models
2009 saw the arrival of the short-lived Datejust II, a 41mm version of the understated dress watch, that signaled Rolex’s move into larger case size territory for their all time classics. Although the extra heft was a welcome element for more modern tastes, too much of the original model’s refined looks had been lost and it was discontinued in 2016 to make way for the Datejust 41. While the same in diameter, this new piece retains more of its ancestors graceful proportions.
Now available in three sizes, (41, 36 and 31mm) and not including the Lady Datejust, it comes in just about every possible combination of metal construction, bezel type, dial color and bracelet style you can imagine. There is a Datejust to suit literally any taste, from the unfussy minimalist to the all-out showman.
By comparison, the Date has far fewer options. Only offered with the Oyster bracelet, you can choose between all steel models, or steel with a white gold bezel, either smooth or fluted; engine turned surrounds are sadly no longer an option anywhere in the lineup.
Although its last update in the early 2000s gave it a slightly stockier case and wider lugs, with its modest 34mm dimensions, it is still a small watch by today’s standards and it occupies an interesting position in the catalog. On Rolex’s official website you’ll find it listed on both the men’s and ladies pages.
The Rolex Date is perhaps a more stealthy version of the Datejust. Very slightly smaller, although you’d be hard pressed to notice on the wrist, the biggest difference is really in the number of variations available.
If the modern Oyster Perpetual or Air-King lines are the ‘entry level’ Rolexes, should there be such a thing, then the Date could be seen as the next step up. Fantastically simple and effortlessly versatile, but with the added convenience of telling you what day it is.
Suited to just about any occasion and historically popular with both sexes, the Rolex Date and Datejust are the ideal all-rounders.