In 1945, Rolex was celebrating their 40th anniversary. To commemorate the occasion, they wanted to create a timepiece that was different than any other watch offered at the time. The result was the first self-winding, water resistant wristwatch with a date window on the dial. This groundbreaking model was the Datejust.
The Beginnings of the Datejust
Rolex named the original model the Jubilee Datejust, Reference 4467. It was named for the brand’s all-new Jubilee bracelet, which has since become a staple for Rolex. The initial reference was only available in 18-karat gold and showcased the brand’s signature water resistant Oyster case with a fluted bezel. To accommodate the larger Caliber 710 movement that powered the new date function, the model featured a domed caseback, similar to the brand’s Bubbleback. Soon, the Datejust became the flagship model for Rolex.
Datejusts of the Early 1950’s
Just about a decade after its initial release, the Datejust received its first major aesthetic update. In 1954, Rolex debuted their all-new Cyclops lens on the Datejust. This magnifying lens is directly above the date window, which increases the legibility by two and a half times. Today, the Cyclops lens is standard on Rolex watches and is one of the trademark features of the brand.
A year later in 1955, Rolex launched a special edition variation of the model called the Turn-O-Graph, which was later nicknamed the Thunderbird. United States Air Force pilots received this unique version as a reward when returning home from combat missions. What distinguished it from the other models was the rotating Turn-o-Graph bezel for which the watch was named.
Datejusts of the Late 1950’s
Rolex made another significant update to the Datejust a few years later in 1957. This modification was more technical than aesthetic. However, the functional change necessitated a small design update. The model received its first major upgrade with the addition of the Caliber 1065 movement. This smaller, more efficient caliber in turn altered the design of the Datejust. It eliminated the need for the domed caseback and created a more streamlined design for the model.
In the late 1950’s, Rolex also added a ladies variation to the Datejust collection. The design of the Lady Datejust is nearly identical to the men’s counterpart. The primary difference is in the size, with the ladies version measuring smaller than the men’s.
Datejusts of the 1960’s and 1970’s
The model continued to receive updates to its movement throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s. In 1965, Rolex introduced the famous Caliber 1570 into the model. Then, in the 1970’s, the brand added the quick-set feature to the timepiece, and, in turn, it got an all-new movement: the Caliber 3o35. These technical changes resulted in an aesthetic change as well. When the 3035 first debuted, the Datejust was slightly thicker than previous iterations. Later in the 1970’s, following the onset of the Quartz Crisis, Rolex introduced a quartz movement into the collection with the Datejust OysterQuartz Reference 17000.
In the late 80’s Rolex changed the movement again to the 3135. This movement was approximately the same dimensions as the 3035. However, the addition of a sapphire crystal, replacing the acrylic, allowed for a slightly slimmer watch. This further refined the iconic design.
The Modern Datejust
Today, the Datejust continues to be one of the brand’s most popular and highly sought after models. Since its inception, it has served as the modern archetype of the classic watch and the forerunner for other favorite Rolex models like the Explorer and Submariner.