Review: The Lady Datejust ref. 6917
Released in 1957, Rolex’s Lady Datejust range arrived more than a decade after the all-conquering men’s model.
The success of the full size 36mm version had been extremely impressive, a watch that combined everything the brand had pioneered up to that point. Not only was it stylish enough to be worn with anything and on any occasion, it possessed hitherto unheard of levels of both convenience and robustness. Its self-winding Perpetual movement and instantly changing date feature were revolutionary, and Rolex’s patented Oyster case meant it was more than tough enough to be an everyday companion.
However, while it may have been the timepiece to once and for all put Rolex on the map, and one that was bought in vast quantities, even its sales figures pale in comparison to the women’s model.
The Lady Datejust, still today, remains the best selling watch the brand has ever produced.
The reasons are fairly straightforward. Rolex saw no need to reinvent the wheel with the lady’s version of their hugely popular creation. The men’s Datejust was the only watch most people would ever realistically need, and all that was really required was to make it smaller so it would better suit a female wrist. Other than that—functionality, styling, engineering prowess, selection—they could all mirror the bigger model.
Because the first Lady Datejust arrived so long after the men’s, it wasn’t subjected to the same sort of unsettled beginnings. By the end of the 1950s, most of the series’ aesthetics had already been finalized by a certain amount of trial and error, and the movement had been upgraded to be as good as the era’s technology would allow. That meant the women’s piece was able to benefit from the work already put in, and the debut reference, the ref. 65XX range, lasted up until 1970.
Following on from that, the ref. 69XX family stayed in production up until 1983, almost identical to its predecessor save for a new caliber.
Below, we take a closer look at one of Rolex’s finest.
Rolex Lady Datejust ref. 6917 Metal and Bezels
Unlike the contemporary range of Lady Datejusts, the smallest of which has grown to 28mm since 2015, the ref. 69XX series was only ever made at 26mm.
Today that looks positively small, especially considering the modern trend for women wearing larger watches, more often than not pieces originally designed for men. But back in the 70s, 26mm was the standard accepted size for a ladies model.
The ref. 6917 reference number was used for the full 18k yellow, rose gold, and white gold models as well as the all stainless steel with a white gold Fluted bezel and the steel and gold combination pieces, known as Rolesor. These two-tone models were comprised of a stainless steel case and outer bracelet links, coupled with a yellow or rose gold bezel and center links for which the precious metal could be either 14k or 18k in purity.
Rolex Lady Datejust ref. 6917 Movements
The preceding range of Lady Datejusts, the ref. 65XX series, were powered by the Cal. 1160 movements. Much like with the men’s models, it was an advancement in calibers that gave rise to the new generation of watches, with the outside visuals remaining relatively unchanged.
When the ref. 6917 arrived, it contained the Cal. 2035, very much a scaled down version of the engine inside the 36mm Datejust of the time, the Cal. 1565 (and later, the Cal. 1575).
Present and correct were the stone lever escapement, free sprung balance regulated by Microstella screws and a Breguet overcoil on the hairspring. However, one major difference was in the movement’s frequency. While the 1565 and 1575 in the men’s Datejust ticked away at 18,000vph and 19,800vph respectively, inside the ref. 6917, its caliber had the modern Rolex high beat of 28,800vph, giving the watch that familiar smooth sweep to the seconds hand.
Despite the minute size of the mechanism, it was still COSC-certified and managed to pack in a 42-hour reserve. The one added level of convenience missing, and would remain so until the next upgrade, was a Quickset function for changing the date.
Rolex Lady Datejust ref. 6917 Dials
The Datejust and the Day-Date, the two models which really make up Rolex’s dress watch collection (the non-Cellini arm of it anyway) have long been epitomized by their vastly wide ranging choice in dial options.
Although not quite as extensive, the selection for the Lady Datejust series is still formidable.
Alongside the usual Rolex stalwarts; black, white, silver, champagne, etc. the fact the watches were aimed exclusively at women gave Rolex license to experiment with a host of more feminine hues.
You will find examples with dials of any color you can think of, either subtly shaded or else bright and vibrant. The famous Stella dials of the 70s, those gaudy lacquered enamel shockers which made their way, briefly, onto the Day-Date’s of the time, can also be found on the Lady Datejust.
Elsewhere, semiprecious stones were often used; everything from mother-of-pearl to coral to lapis lazuli to malachite and beyond.
Hour markers also echoed the men’s version, with a mix of Roman or Arabic numerals, or else the simplicity of stick batons. But you will come across far more diamond accented indexes with the lady’s models, upping the luxuriousness quotient considerably.
Covering the dial, the ref. 69XX was the last generation to include that darling of all vintage watch lovers, a Plexiglass crystal. Still plenty tough enough, it was more prone to scratches than its eventual sapphire replacement and was phased out when the first of the five digit references made their entrance in 1983. The Cyclops magnifying lens, though, was an inclusion on every watch.
Rolex Lady Datejust ref. 6917 Bracelets
The ref. 6917 can be found on all three of Rolex’s metal bracelets. The five semi-circular-link Jubilee was the one developed specifically for the original Datejust in the 1940s, while the flat three-link Oyster has been a favorite for even longer than that.
Interestingly, the third option led to a subtle renaming of the watch itself. The President bracelet, really a combination of the other two, consisting of three half-rounded links, was created exclusively for the Day-Date (and led to that piece’s eponymous unofficial nickname).
When fitted to the Lady Datejust range, they formally become the Lady Datejust Presidents. Arguably the bracelet that best suits the elegant sophistication of the watch itself, it adds an extra touch of class to an already refined model.
Further underlying its vintage status, you will find lug holes on the ref. 6917 that make swapping and changing the bands that much easier.
It is no surprise really that the Lady Datejust range has quietly stayed at the top of the Rolex sales charts.
A watch with an enormous amount of versatility, and one that never looks out of place, it matches the superb performance and build quality of its older brother, and is backed up by the industry’s biggest name.
The ref. 6917 was an especially successful series with a production run long enough to furnish the preowned market with a wealth of surprisingly affordable models.
Head over to our sales pages for our huge selection of certified authentic examples.
— Featured Photo Credit: BeckerTime’s Archive.