History of Ladies Rolex Watches
Although not as old as some traditional watchmakers, Rolex has been around for well over a century. Founded in 1905, it started life in a very different, far less enlightened time than today.
It was a period when only men were permitted to hold any position of power, and it was men who were the leaders in business and the military.
As a result, the vast majority of watches Rolex made were targeted at a male audience, because they were the only ones with the financial clout to be able to afford them.
However, the brand in their earliest days did still produce a small number of ladies models, extremely delicate pieces which were little more than ornamental bracelets with a tiny watch set into them. You can still find these for sale today if you look hard enough, beautiful items of jewelry with strong Art Deco influences.
Over the years, Rolex has developed a wider range, although if you look at the ‘Women’s Watches’ section of their current website, it is obvious that it still trails a significant distance behind the men’s collection.
Essentially, it is made up of smaller versions of some very well known names—pieces originally created full size scaled down for a slimmer wrist, more often than not with some kind of gemstone enhancement, either fairly restrained or else drenched head to toe.
But whether one of the daintiest 26mm dress watches, all the way through to the 44mm giants of more recent times, the same fierce commitment to quality permeates throughout the entire Rolex portfolio. The brand is still at the forefront of engineering and technological progress, producing the most recognizable, coveted and impressive timepieces available today.
A Question of Size
Back when Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf was setting up his fledgling business, men’s watches were at a size we would now consider strictly for women. Barely getting above 32mm, they were conspicuously small by modern standards.
In fact as a concept, the wristwatch itself was mainly for the ladies; men more usually wore pocket watches, as they had done for hundreds of years.
It would take two world wars before the usefulness of a watch worn on the arm proved definitive, providing a much quicker way to assess the time than fishing around inside a tunic and then having to open a case.
But from 1945 onwards, the year Rolex introduced the revolutionary Datejust, the image of the wristwatch as a fundamental male accessory was sealed. That model started life at 36mm, fairly sizeable for the time, and certainly much bigger than any woman of the era would wear. With the men’s version enjoying unparalleled success, Rolex released the first Lady-Datejust in 1957, benefitting from identical groundbreaking features, i.e. the date function, automatic winding and waterproof case, but shaving a full 10mm off the dimensions to give a more elegant profile.
It has since gone on to become the all-time bestselling watch Rolex has ever made, for either gender, outperforming even icons like the Submariner and the Daytona.
The Lady-Datejust has been in continuous production ever since its launch, given a similarly huge number of different metal, dial and bezel configurations as the men’s model until you have to wonder what the likelihood is of ever seeing two the same.
In 2015 it went the same way as much of the rest of Rolex’s contemporary output and grew in size, up to 28mm for the first time. Interestingly, although it is now one of five sizes of the watch, it is only the 28mm which is officially called the Lady-Datejust, even though you will find the 31mm, 34mm (known simply as the Date) andthe 36mm all listed on the ‘Women’s’ page of Rolex’s site. It is just a representation of how much tastes have changed in regard to the sizes of women’s watches.
Currently, the smallest model Rolex makes is the 26mm Oyster Perpetual. Commonly regarded as the entry level piece, it is a series which has been in existence even longer than the Datejust and it too comes in five versions. All but the largest 39mm are included on the ladies watch page.
In the last couple of decades, the demand across both sexes has been for ever bigger watches. That has led, out of necessity, to more women wearing models from the Rolex catalog which were originally designed solely for men, as there was simply nothing in the ladies collection in a sufficiently large size.
These days, seeing a Daytona or a GMT-Master on a female arm is nothing unusual.
Back at the start of the nineties however, the brand started addressing the issue with two new series, the Yacht-Master and the Pearlmaster.
The former was a more well-appointed take on the Submariner, and became the first Rolex sports watch available in three sizes; the full 40mm, a mid-size 35mm aimed at both women and men with smaller wrists, and a genuine ladies version at 29mm.
The Pearlmaster range was, and is, part of the Datejust family, made exclusively as a ladies watch, in one of the three flavors of gold and with plentiful helpings of gemstones upping the luxurious quotient. They arrived originally in two sizes, 29mm, a full three millimeters larger than the smallest Lady-Datejust of the time, and a 34mm.
Since then, and in keeping with the general trend, both have gone through some changes. The whole Yacht-Master range has shifted up a notch; the 29mm is no more, the mid-size has become the ladies version in all but name and increased to 37mm, and 2019 saw the release of a 42mm at the top end.
And the Pearlmaster, in a real sign of the times, has welcomed a 39mm model to head the series.
In total, there are just four different models aimed at women in the modern lineup; the Datejust, the Oyster Perpetual and the Yacht-Master, all three of which have larger equivalents for men, as well as the Pearlmaster, which is wholly a ladies series. But with the fashion for larger pieces now being shared by both sexes, it wouldn’t be that much of a surprise if Rolex introduced more ranges entirely for their female devotees at any time.
Rolex Ladies Watches Milestones
|1905||Rolex starts life as Wilsdorf & Davis in London, fitting imported Swiss movements into cases and selling them through a network of high end jewelers. At the time, the majority of wristwatches are worn by women.|
|1920s and 1930s||Now officially called Rolex, the company produces a number of ladies timepieces highly influenced by the Art Deco school of design. But with their invention of both the waterproof Oyster case and the automatically winding Perpetual movement, the image of the wristwatch is completely transforming, and Rolex starts concentrating its efforts on making especially resilient and robust watches for men. Yet there is still a healthy number of Oyster Perpetual models made in diminutive sizes, some as small as 24mm.|
|1957||The incredible success of the radical Datejust in 1945 leads Rolex to produce a women’s version, the Lady-Datejust. It will go on to become the highest selling watch the brand has ever produced.|
|1992||Both the Yacht-Master and the Pearlmaster range debut this year. The Pearlmaster is targeted entirely at women, and the smallest of each series is 29mm. In addition, the Yacht-Master has a 35mm and a 40mm, while the Pearlmaster is given a 34mm.|
|1998||The smallest of the Oyster Perpetual watches also increases in size, up to 26mm.|
|2015||The Oyster Perpetual is issued in five variants; 26mm, 31mm, 34mm, 36mm and 39mm. Although all but the largest are featured on the Women’s Watches page of Rolex’s website, the same year also sees a 39mm Pearlmaster introduced, with that size now more than accepted as suitable for a ladies watch.
The Lady-Datejust grows from 26mm to 28mm and continues to be the quintessential Rolex for women.
— Featured Photo Credit: BeckerTime’s Archive.