Review: Rolex Lady-Datejust ref. 6517
There is nothing else in the entire Rolex portfolio that outsells the Lady-Datejust. It has been at the top of the list since its introduction in 1957, a massively popular version of the legendary men’s model, given a scaled-down, feminine twist.
Because it made its first appearance more than a decade after the full size piece, it led a far more sedate early life. All the initial trial and error adjustments had already been made on its bigger brother and were simply incorporated into the smaller watch fully formed. As a result, the debut series, the ref. 65XX, stayed in production all the way up to 1970.
True to the vast majority of Rolex’s output as a whole, there is little to choose between the Lady-Datejust range generation to generation. The outward aesthetics have remained practically constant to the present day, the only real difference between then and now being a slight increase in size in very recent years, up to 28mm from the time-honored 26mm.
The really noteworthy changes are reserved for the internals and Rolex’s never-ending quest to stay at the forefront of what can be achieved with a mechanical caliber. The ref. 65XX family went through a movement upgrade in the mid-sixties to ensure their precision and resilience continued to lead the industry.
The series was also, like the men’s model, available in a wide variety of metal, bezel and dial combinations, to keep it appealing to as many different tastes as possible. That generosity of options has been a characteristic of the Datejust collection from day one, and a major reason behind its universal success.
So the ref. 65XX range was the one to lead the way, making it an historically important part of the Rolex story.
Below we take a more detailed look.
Rolex Lady-Datejust ref. 6517 Metal and Bezels
Modern day Rolex is a far more regimented brand when it comes to assigning reference numbers than it was in their formative years.
The ref. 65XX Lady-Datejusts included the ref. 6516, which featured a stainless steel or gold smooth bezel on a stainless steel case, and the ref. 6519, another steel model, this time with a stainless steel engine-turned surround.
Between them was the ref. 6517, the number given to several variations of the watch, all with a fluted bezel. The reference was used to describe pieces forged from steel, a mix of steel and 14k yellow gold (what Rolex call Rolesor), and solid 18k versions of any of the three flavors of gold normally used by the manufacture; yellow, white or rose. Besides their makeup however, all members of the series were identical in utility and style.
(If you’re wondering, ref. 6518 was assigned to an early example of the Oysterdate Precision—essentially a Datejust with a non-chronometer movement).
That sort of all-encompassing description makes the ref. 6517 among the most plentiful models on the vintage market, always good news for keeping buy-in prices reasonable and realistic.
Rolex Lady-Datejust ref. 6517 Movements
Rolex movements have long been recognized as some of the most reliable and intelligently engineered mechanisms in the horology industry, and rightly so.
But the calibers driving their women’s range of watches are, if anything, even more impressive than the men’s. Tasked with matching their performance and functionality, they have to do it all in a far more confined space, with a correspondingly decreased size of components.
The Lady-Datejust ref. 6517 started life in 1957 with the Cal. 1035 in control. Part of the Cal. 1000 series which had come about in 1950, it was the first of Rolex’s fully in-house designed movements. With the original Cal. 1030 providing the base architecture, the 1035 added the date module, the whole thing ticking away at 18,000vph.
It was replaced in 1964 with the introduction of the Cal. 1161, similar in many ways save for an increase in frequency, up to 19,800vph. It gave the watch a slightly smoother sweep to the seconds hand (still not as smooth as more recent model reference series ladies Datejusts) as well as providing a jot more stability and timekeeping accuracy.
As reliable as both calibers are, and each are well thought-of in the collecting community, they are certainly products of a young company. Neither are fitted with two of the more modern conveniences—a hacking function which stops the movement when the crown is pulled out to make setting the time easier, or a Quickset, which allows for independent control over the numerals in the date window.
That being said, the 1161 was still particularly advanced for its time. It incorporated Rolex’s own Microstella regulated balance wheel, a system still in use today, along with a hairspring with a Breguet overcoil, another element which has made it through to the contemporary range (although these days it’s the patented Parachrom Bleu rather than the Nivarox spring of the Cal. 1000 movements).
COSC-certified and measuring just 20mm wide and 5.4mm high, there is no doubting the brilliance of the Lady-Datejust’s engine.
Rolex Lady-Datejust ref. 6517 Dials
The pre-1970s examples of the Datejust, either men’s or ladies models, had plenty of diversity in their dial selection, but without some of the more unorthodox shades that came along in later years.
The ref. 6517, as it included precious metal pieces and was fitted with the more flamboyant fluted surround, was aimed at those happy to have their watch noticed and so had a broader choice in colors than the relatively understated steel/smooth bezel models.
You will see plenty of champagne, or gold, faces together with those in black, white, blue and grey.
The preowned market also has an abundance of modified examples—those with non-standard dials installed by a third party. This is where you will generally find the more extravagant getups, with flamboyant hues, exotic materials like mother-of-pearl and gemstone enhancements to the hour markers and around the bezel. The quality of these customization jobs obviously varies from case to case, but the best of them are excellent and can make for a unique and eye-catching addition to the collection. You will have to bear in mind though that Rolex themselves will not service the watch when it comes time to go for maintenance and you’ll need to find an independent watchmaker.
One strange thing you will likely notice as you search for the perfect model from this era is the seemingly interchangeable script on the dial between ‘Datejust’ and ‘Date’. There has always been very little to choose between the two, and with the Lady versions, there is actually no difference at all. Any distinction between the Date and Datejust really only applies to the men’s range, where the Men’s Date was (and still is) slightly smaller than the Datejust. With the women’s watches, they are both the same.
Rolex Lady-Datejust ref. 6517 Bracelets
As well as a more wide-ranging selection of dials, the ref. 6517 was also issued on all three of Rolex’s metal band options.
Most common were the five-rounded link Jubilee, created specifically for the very first Datejust reference from 1945, and the three flat-link Oyster, the brand’s oldest and most often used bracelet.
Both lend their own character to the watch; the former more dressy and the latter a somewhat sportier choice.
The third possibility was the President, a sort of halfway point between the other two in that it featured three semicircular links. Watches with this bracelet are known as the Lady Datejust President or merely the Lady President and are usually consigned only to solid gold models. It is perhaps the most prestigious of the trio and works especially well next to the sophistication of the watch.
The links themselves are hollow and riveted, and are especially lightweight compared to later examples. And we are still in the era of lug holes where the bracelet meets the case, a detail beloved by many vintage collectors.
The Lady Datejust and Lady Date ref. 6517 were the first generation of Rolex’s most successful series of watches and were produced in enough variety to appeal to any woman’s tastes.
Whether you prefer the out-and-out luxury of 18k yellow gold or the discreet nature of stainless steel, there is a perfect piece out there waiting to be found. For some of the best examples on offer, head over to our online store.
— Featured Photo Credits: BeckerTime’s Archive.