It all started in 1945 at the Hotel des Bergues in Geneva, when Hans Wilsdorf himself unveiled the Datejust ref. 4467 in celebration of Rolex’s 40thanniversary, complete with its in-house bracelet, the Jubilee.
The first automatic and waterproof wristwatch in the world to display a date function, it became an instant hit and flagship of the brand.
In these early examples, the size of the mechanism that drove the revolutionary date complication led to the calibers, the Cal. 710 and later the 730, being so big the watches needed a domed case back to accommodate them, similar to the previous generation’s bubbleback models.
Three years later in 1948, Rolex presented a specially made rose gold version of the Datejust, their 100,000thwatch, to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, complete with his family’s coat of arms engraved on the back. In 1951, the 150,000thpiece, another Datejust, this time in yellow gold, was gifted to Dwight D Eisenhower, the first U.S. President to own a Rolex.
Underlining the classic timelessness of its design, the watch received the last major change to its outward appearance way back in 1954, when Rolex introduced the Cyclops, a lens over the date aperture that magnified the numbers underneath by 2 ½ times. Brand folklore has it the idea came about because Wilsdorf’s wife was shortsighted and was having difficulty reading the digits. The Cyclops has since been adopted by every Rolex with a date function bar the Sea-Dweller Deepsea.
In the late 50s, the Datejust was given a significant technical upgrade with the introduction of the Cal. 1065, a smaller and more efficient movement that did away with the bubbleback case shape and brought about a more streamlined profile. That was also the decade that saw the release of the 26mm Lady Datejust, followed soon after by a 31mm mid-size.
With the aesthetics of the watch nailed down, it continued to receive internal updates throughout the following decades. In 1965, the Cal. 1575 took over the running, bringing with it a faster balance frequency, up to 19,800vph from the previous 18,000vph, as well as the hacking function a few years later.
Many of the components of Rolex’s 1500 series of calibers were interchangeable at the time, so it is not uncommon to see a Datejust with a Cal. 1575 actually marked Cal. 1570 on its winding bridge, the non-date version of the movement.
In 1977, Rolex brought out the next generation, powered by one of the new family of engines, the Cal. 3035. Ushering in the high beat 28,800vph frequency and Quickset date feature, the 70s Datejusts also swapped the previous acrylic crystals with scratchproof sapphire replacements. The same year, the first of the impossibly accurate but relatively unsung quartz-powered Datejusts emerged, known as the Oysterquartz.
Since then, the watch has had a further two caliber changes; the long-running and increasingly legendary Cal. 3135 from 1988 and the Cal. 3235 since 2017, complete with its ultra efficient Chronergy escapement.
Throughout all its internal renovations, each new iteration of the Rolex Datejust has been available in a bewildering and exhaustive range of options, and forged either from the strongest stainless steel, 18k gold in all its forms, or in the brand’s own Rolesor combination.
There is no doubt the Datejust is an emblem, not just of Rolex, but of horology in general. It is the model that laid out exactly what a watch should look like and embedded that image in the public consciousness for generations.
That it remains so affordable for collectors and fans of the marque is testament to its irresistible popularity, and the overwhelming number of different guises it comes in means there is no wrist it doesn’t suit.
It might sound like a cliché, but the Rolex Datejust is, and has always been, the only watch you would ever need.