01/05/2024
 6 minutes

Things to Know Before Buying a Rolex Datejust

By Thomas Hendricks
ONP-766-2-1

Things to Know Before Buying a Rolex Datejust

Don’t make a mistake when buying your first or next Rolex! The Datejust is often the first (and sometimes the only) luxury watch people buy. But with so many options out there (over 35,000 listed on Chrono24 right now), it can be tough to choose the right one for you.
That’s why we’ve rounded up the most important things to keep in mind when shopping for a Datejust.

Know Your Options

Since we have about 35,000 Datejusts on the marketplace at the moment, you’ve got to use the filter options to find the right watch for you. First, let’s take a look at size.

Sizing can be tough because there’s a 5-mm gap between the two main options, and many people fall in between 36 and 41 mm. Rolex would be wise to make a 38.5-mm model, especially since both versions use the same movement, but until that day comes, you’ll need to determine which one suits you better. If you have a smaller wrist or want a more classic size, 36 mm is the way to go. If your wrist is on the larger side and/or you like big watches, then 41 mm is the better choice. Thankfully, the watches fit true to size, and even if you can’t try one on in person, you can always do a Google image search for “36 mm Datejust on a 7-inch wrist,” for example, to see how it looks.

Next, you’ll want to filter for case and bracelet material. You’re mainly choosing between steel or two-tone here. This is generally an easy choice based on personal preference, and you probably already know which one you prefer.

Rolex Datejust – dank glattem Boden ideal für Gravuren
Rolex Datejust 36 ref. 126234

There’s no filter option for this, but you’ll also need to decide between an Oyster and a Jubilee bracelet. There are a few factors to consider here: one is look, one is feel, and one is maturity. The Oyster bracelet is a classic Rolex sports bracelet, and it will make any Datejust sportier by association. The Jubilee bracelet is the go-to choice because it was made for the launch of the Datejust, and is the dressier option of the two. Since the Jubilee bracelet has smaller links, it will hug the wrist more precisely than the Oyster. We mentioned maturity above, and here’s where that factors in: The Jubilee has more individual links and more connections between those links that can break down over time, therefore, it’s less sturdy and more susceptible to what we call “bracelet stretch.” This is what happens when all those link connections get more flexible over time and create a drooping, jangling effect on the wrist. You can even hear the jangling of an old Jubilee bracelet. This really only matters for vintage Datejusts, but it can be an important thing to keep in mind from the start.

And finally, the last fork in the road to navigate is your choice of bezel. Do you like smooth or chunky peanut butter better? I mean, a smooth or fluted bezel? Again, your choice here boils down to sporty vs. dressy. Many people go all the way in one direction and pair the Oyster bracelet with a smooth bezel or the Jubilee bracelet with a fluted bezel. But I’m reminded of our friend and chef Raymond Trinh’s choice: He opted to mix and match the bezels and bracelets to strike the perfect balance of sportiness and dressiness that he was after.

Pricing & Popularity

If you’ve seen our new ChronoPulse watch market index, then you know that the Datejust (both 36 and 41 mm) is the bestselling watch on the site. If you’ve used our Watch Collection tool, you know that prices have been a little turbulent over the past few years, but they are still above where they were before the watch market boom.

There are a few factors that affect Datejust prices. The first one is size. Since the Datejust 41 is more watch, it tends to sell for more money. Case material is another commonsense cost factor, with precious metal options typically selling for more than the standard steel models. Next, having the original box & papers always adds value to your watch.

Der Dauerbrenner: Rolex Datejust 41 mit der Referenz 126334
Rolex Datejust 41 ref. 126334

When it comes to dials, there are a few fan favorites that command higher prices. For example, we might have laughed at the palm dial when it was released a few years ago, but the owners of that watch are the ones laughing now. Being in good condition is always a factor that can result in higher prices, particularly on the vintage market. Unpolished examples with clean dials and tight bracelets will naturally sell for higher prices than a similar watch in worse condition.

Finally, since the Datejust is bought and sold so often, it’s an easy watch to dip in and out of. What does that mean? It means that you can easily sell it down the line if you don’t end up wearing it that much or if you decide to upgrade to a nicer watch.

Know Your History

Taking a quick look at the most important improvements in the development of the Datejust will help you decide which chapter of the Datejust timeline appeals to you most.

In 1945, Rolex introduced the Datejust in honor of the company’s 40th anniversary. These original examples came in 36-mm solid gold cases. Although we take it for granted today, the Datejust was the first automatic watch to feature a date window that automatically changed at midnight. The Datejust was also the first watch to use the Jubilee bracelet, with its comfortable and classy five-link construction.

In the 1950s, Rolex introduced steel and two-tone models with the references 5030 and 5031. From 1957, we started seeing the word Datejust printed on the dial.

The 1960s and 1970s saw the release of four-digit references that continue to serve as the foundation for vintage Datejust collecting. These include the ref. 1600 with a smooth bezel, ref. 1601 with a fluted bezel, and ref. 1603 with an engine-turned bezel.

Rolex Datejust ref. 16030

In the 1970s, Rolex introduced the caliber 3035 featuring a quickset date. If you’ve handled some of the early Datejusts, you know how annoying it can be to wind and wind the crown to reset the date. So, if the quickset is a feature you insist on having, be sure to look for a Datejust from the 1970s or later.

In 1988, Rolex replaced the former acrylic crystals with sturdier sapphire crystals. Sapphire lacks the warmth of acrylic, but it’s much more scratch-resistant.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Rolex switched their luminescent material from tritium to LumiNova and then to Super-LumiNova. These are important dates to keep in mind if you want to be able to see your watch at night.

Finally, in 2009, Rolex introduced the 41-mm Datejust II. Larger watches were big at the time, although the Datejust II was only produced for a few years. It was shelved and later revived in 2016 with the Datejust 41, which is the name that’s still in use today.

Three Eras of the Datejust: Pros & Cons

With those key dates in mind, let’s talk about the three main eras of the Datejust: vintage, modern, and the in-between stage called neo-vintage. These terms also apply to other watches, too.

Vintage Datejusts are best for the romantics among us. You want the patina, you want that vintage glow, and you want to hold a piece of illustrious Rolex history in your hands – so much so that you’re willing to overlook the inherent downsides of a vintage watch.

First, make sure you’re buying from a trusted seller. Second, make sure the movement is functioning and keeping good time (although no vintage watch will be perfectly accurate). It’s a good idea to set aside a budget for potential repairs. Thankfully, the popularity of the Datejust makes finding replacement parts super easy. Finally, keep an eye on the condition. I love tropical dials, for example, but they could point to previous moisture damage that could result in costly repairs. You’ll also want to make sure that the edges and bevels of the case and the lugs aren’t polished or over-polished. The sharper, the better.

Modern Datejusts are best for those who want the most advanced and reliable watch from Rolex. With modern Rolexes, you sacrifice the vintage romance in favor of functionality. And by that I mean, Rolex has been on a slow and steady march to build the perfect daily wearer, and the modern Datejust features all of these successive improvements.

Neo-vintage watches are often forgotten about because they are neither the golden oldies nor the hits of today, but this presents an opportunity for you to look where other people aren’t. That’s often where the deals are, and you can come out with quite a nice watch for a nice price as well.


About the Author

Thomas Hendricks

I didn’t grow up a watch guy, but a few years after graduating from university, I landed a job at the online publication Watchonista as a writer and marketer. “Welcome to the watch world,” my colleagues told me half-jokingly, “no one ever leaves!” Now at Chrono24, I work as a private client advisor, helping people find the perfect watch for major life moments.

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