The History and Development of the Rolex Day-DateBack to Articles
Today the Rolex watch that many picture when thinking of the Day-Date is the ref 128238. The ref 128238 has the classic 36mm 18kt yellow gold case with fluted bezel, matching ‘president’ bracelet with its satin finish and high polished centre links.
The first Rolex Day-Date, introduced in 1956, was the first wristwatch with both the date and day written in full, displayed on the dial. It was available with a polished bezel (ref 6510) and a fluted bezel (ref 6511), and was available in 18kt yellow gold, rose gold, white gold, or platinum. Just a few years later Rolex updated the Day-Date with a new movement and gave the watch the new ref 1803, and the design has remained largely unchanged with the current models of the Rolex Day-Date having many of the original design features included in this ref 1803.
Perhaps the most recognisable feature of the Rolex Day-Date, present since the first model, is the timeless ‘president’ bracelet, although it wasn't given this name until later. The semi-circular, 3 piece link bracelet would become an instant hallmark of the Day-Date Range.
The ‘president’ name comes from 1965, when US President Lyndon B Johnson wore a Rolex Day-Date with that bracelet. From then, the Rolex Day-Date became so associated with power and success, that it became known as the ‘Rolex Presidents Watch’. The Rolex Day-Date has been the status symbol to be seen wearing, having become the choice of watch for powerful figureheads and celebrities, such as Michael Jordan, of course U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson and even The Dalai Lama.
Although the design has gone largely unchanged, as with all Rolex watches, the Rolex Day-Date has been subject to various updates throughout its production. With options including the introduction of diamond set bezels and dials, the option of an oyster bracelet instead of the president bracelet. Alongside this, many different dial colours and designs were phased in and out over the years. Perhaps the most surprising option offered in the Rolex Day-Date line-up was in 1977, when Rolex offered a Day-Date watch powered by its Cal. 5055 quartz movement. The Rolex Day-Date Oysterquartz also had a slightly different case and bracelet design to distinguish it from its mechanical counterparts, and was only available in 18ct yellow or white gold.
In 2015, Rolex made perhaps the biggest change to the design of the Rolex Day-Date by adding a 40mm case size to the range. This new case size brings the new full size Day-Date in line with the case size of other gents Rolex watches, where 40mm is the standard. Before the introduction of the 40mm case size of the Day-Date 40, as it is known, the Rolex Day-Date was only available in a 36mm case size, and although a 36mm is still available today, the 40mm option is a sign that Rolex are keen for the Day-Date not to be left behind as larger watches become more fashionable. As more and more women are wearing larger watches, it is clear that the classic 36mm case has become more of a modern ladies size, and the new 40mm case more suited to a gents size.
The current line-up of watches in the Rolex Day-Date range are all powered by the same calibre 3255 movement. This movement has a 70 hour power reserve, and the ability to set the time, day and date independently from each other, a feature only introduced in 1988.
As was the case with the very first Rolex Day-Date available in 1956, the current Day-Date range is available in 18kt yellow gold, rose gold, white gold, or platinum, with platinum only available on the 40mm variant, and not the 36mm. Interestingly, the 40mm platinum Day-Date is also not available with the famous fluted bezel, only polished or diamond-set bezel options. Unlike the majority of gents Rolex watches, and similar to the Rolex Day-Date range in recent years, the current collection also has a broad range of bright and vibrant dial options, from a chocolate brown to match the warm rose gold option on the case and bracelet, to a deep ombre green set with diamonds, to a cool ice blue.
The Rolex Day-Date 36 ref 128238 and Day-Date 40 ref 228238 are still considered the flagship watch of the Rolex line of watches, and despite being in the ‘classic’ watch family. The demand for this watch and therefore its status and price point in the pre-owned watch market rivals some of the watches in the ‘professional’ range.
Author: C Lawson