Review: The Rolex Datejust ref. 116233
The ref. 1162XX series of Rolex’s legendary Datejust emerged in the mid 2000’s. It was the first of the Datejust six-digit references to make an appearance, and also the last one to be fitted with the long-serving Cal. 3135.
The range took the collection up until as recently as 2019, making it a wholly modern version of perhaps Rolex’s most traditional watch.
Its story dates all the way back to 1945, when the original Datejust was released as a celebration of the company’s jubilee; their 40th year in operation.
While its complications might seem modest, and even quaint today, on its launch it was a revolution. Utilizing Rolex’s two groundbreaking innovations and adding a third, it became the first waterproof, self-winding watch ever made to display a date function.
It has been in constant production ever since, making it the model with the longest unbroken run in the brand’s history. It is also arguably the most diverse.
Although it was touted as Rolex’s flagship creation for the first decade of its manufacture, when it lost that title to the Day-Date in 1956 it was repositioned to be the watch designed to appeal to as many people as possible. To that end, it was made available in a truly vast number of different styles. The variety of metal, bezel, dial and bracelet configurations which have been issued over the years are virtually uncountable, meaning there is a Datejust out there somewhere that suits just about anyone’s palate.
But undoubtedly the epitome of them all, the one that sums up not only the Datejust but also Rolex’s overriding design visual, is encapsulated here.
The two-tone construction of the 36mm ref. 116233, topped by a bezel which displays just a hint of flamboyance, is really the perfect analogy of the watchmaker itself. The strength of steel and the lavishness of gold says everything about a luxury watch meant to be worn everyday, finished off with a surround that draws the eye without overpowering. There really isn’t anything else which says ‘Rolex’ quite so clearly.
Below, we take a closer look at an undisputed classic.
Rolex Datejust ref. 116233 Metals and Bezels
The bimetal combination of gold bezel, winding crown and central bracelet links, formed around a stainless steel case and outer links, is a trademark arrangement Rolex call Rolesor.
It was actually patented all the way back in 1933, but not used by the marque until 15-years later, when it appeared on one of the early Datejust models.
Since then, Rolesor has found a place among many of the brand’s watches, and all three colors of gold have been, and are still, used. However, because of the similarity in tone between steel and white gold, on those pieces, only the bezel is forged from the precious metal.
But yellow Rolesor was the originator, and it has never found a more appropriate home than on the Datejust.
It is a look which seems to drift in and out of fashion, as yellow gold itself does from time to time. It is currently enjoying something of a resurgence after the hit it took in the early 2000s when the odious Patrick Bateman wore a Rolesor Datejust in the movie American Psycho, seemingly embodying everything that was bad about the excesses of the 80s.
On the top is a fluted bezel, featuring a gentle tooth-like wave that catches the light and adds just a little glitz. It is one of the oldest types of surround Rolex uses, one which graduated from the old coin-edged style, employed to make it easier for watchmakers to screw them onto the case.
Nowadays, all Rolex fluted bezels are made from gold.
There were, as you would expect, plenty of other options in the ref. 1162XX series issued at the same time. They ranged from the most basic, such as the ref. 116200, all in steel with a smooth surround, to the ref. 116243, another yellow Rolesor piece, finished off with a diamond-encrusted bezel.
Rolex Datejust ref. 116233 Movements
It is pretty much an accepted practice at Rolex, particularly when talking about the likes of the Datejust and Day-Date, that new iterations (and therefore a new set of reference numbers) are only brought in to introduce an updated caliber. With most of the company’s output, the outward aesthetics have remained virtually untouched for decades, their designs so timeless there is little left to do to improve them externally. Stand up a modern-era example next to a classic from the past and you will see nothing but a gentle evolution at work.
However, the movements on the inside are in a fairly constant process of improvement. Rolex engineers have long led the way in perfecting their mechanical calibers, coming up with major advances to both processes and materials.
Yet the ref. 1162XX series came into bat in the mid 2000’s with the same mechanism which had been driving the Datejust range, as well as just about every other time-and-date Rolex watch, since 1988.
The Cal. 3135 is among the most enduring and widely-used movements in the entire Rolex canon. In fact, it still powers the contemporary Submariner today, more than 30-years after it was launched.
It is a physically large, and therefore robust, caliber, ideal for the kinds of watches Rolex produces. Unfailingly accurate and built to last a lifetime, it has only very recently started to make way for the next generation.
Many of the elements found on the Cal. 3135 have been in use across the brand’s collection of movements for years. The frequency, the speed at which the balance wheel swings back and forth, is the Rolex standard 28,800vph, giving the fluid sweep to the seconds hand. Regulating the wheel is their own Microstella system, an arrangement of four adjustable screws on the inner rim which can be moved in or out to fine-tune its rate. The hairspring is the Parachrom Bleu, made from a patented alloy of niobium and zirconium which renders it completely paramagnetic and around 10 times more resistant to shocks than the previously used Nivarox component. And it is fitted with a Breguet overcoil, ensuring it gives consistent timekeeping at different tensions.
In all, the Cal. 3135 is possibly the ultimate workhorse caliber. Rolex tend not to go in for haute horlogerie gimmicks or lavish finishing on their movements (seeing as no one is going to see them on a day-to-day basis anyway) and stick to making sure their mechanisms simply keep on ticking no matter how harshly they’re treated.
Towards the end of the ref. 116233’s run, the company actually one-upped themselves. A few years ago, Rolex announced their own standards for accuracy, far beyond those sanctioned by the COSC. To be formally ruled a chronometer, a caliber has to be able to pass the battery of stringent tests orchestrated by the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute, retaining a precision of between -4/+6 seconds a day, in a range of different temperatures and positions.
Practically every movement Rolex has built since 1951 has qualified as an ‘Officially Certified Chronometer’ from the organization, and from around 1957 their mechanisms have exceeded requirements by so much they have been deemed as ‘Superlative Chronometers’.
In 2015, the brand declared their own definition of the ‘Superlative’ label, now requiring their movements to be accurate to within -2/+2 seconds a day. It meant that each one would have to be tested twice; once by the COSC as a separate unit, and again by Rolex themselves after it was installed inside the case.
They also increased the length of the warranties on their new watches from two to five years, the longest in the industry.
Even after more than a century, Rolex are still finding ways to keep themselves at the top of the horology tree.
Rolex Datejust ref. 116233 Dials
If two-tone yellow Rolesor is the classic Datejust metalwork, then pairing it with a champagne dial tops off the definitive look.
The golden toned face matches perfectly with the 18K elements on the bezel and crown, and you will see many examples of this set up as you explore the preowned market.
As one of the higher end models in the range, the ref. 116233 also has a vast array of other options too, each one offering the watch a complete change in personality.
The most common remain black, white and silver, which all have a somewhat restrained look, before delving into some of the more off-beat colors.
While there is not enough room to list every one of the different dials available to the ref. 116233 here, it is safe to say if you look hard enough, you will find the perfect specimen.
Interestingly, by this point in the Datejust’s development, 36mm watches were being worn by nearly as many women as men. Recognizing that, Rolex catered to their new audience with more feminine shades, and there are models with pink and floral dials included in the lineup.
With the hour markers, they could be either the simplest stick batons, or the choice of either Roman or Arabic numerals. And, as is common among gold Rolex dress watches, even the half-and-half of Rolesor, diamond indexes were also a factory-set addition.
The luminescence, only really used sparingly compared to the brand’s tool models, is Superluminova. Known as a photoluminescent material, it doesn’t produce its own radiance as earlier, more harmful, substances did. Instead, it needs to be charged by light before it will glow. It is also blue in color as opposed to the older watches.
And finally, over the top of the dial is a sapphire crystal, something which was phased in during the Datejust’s previous, five-digit, generation. It replaces the vintage-lovers’ favorite, the acrylic crystal, but is far tougher and more scratch resistant.
Rolex Datejust ref. 116233 Bracelets
Traditionally, the Datejust is released on one of two bracelets in Rolex’s metal trio.
The five-link Jubilee, the band created specifically for the model’s launch in 1945, is the more elaborate option, lending the watch a somewhat dressy aspect. It is possibly the one found most often on the ref. 116233.
The other choice is the three-flat link Oyster, a bracelet which has made its way onto almost all of Rolex’s creations at one time or another. It has a sportier look, but still pairs perfectly well with the chameleonic Datejust.
Curiously, it is in the bracelets that the biggest difference between the ref. 1162XX collection and the series before it, the ref. 162XX, lie.
The brand had faced criticism in the past concerning the apparent flimsiness of its bands, with their hollow links causing them to fall prey to stretching and rattling over the years.
By the time of the ref. 116233’s introduction, the bracelets had progressed to all solid links, including end links. It gives them a great deal more strength and rigidity, as well as a noticeable increase in weight.
The Datejust is the bestselling model in Rolex’s history, due mostly to the fact it is so adaptable it can be worn by pretty much anyone, pretty much anywhere.
Without question though the archetypal version, among the thousands in which it is available, is the two-tone yellow Rolesor edition with a fluted bezel.
It has been an essential almost since the beginning, the only thing really changing over the decades being the grades of each of the metals. Rolex employs only 18K gold these days, and are practically unique in their adoption of 904L steel.
The ref. 116233 uses both of these, along with a caliber which has more than proved its worth during its 30-plus year run.
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— Featured Photo Credit: BeckerTime’s Archive.