Rolex Day-Date: the history

Written by:IWS Team|

Today we will discover together the history of a watch that… made it.
In catalogue since 1956, the first to indicate both the date and the day of the week, the watch that was unanimously elected “The President” of our world: of course, we’re talking about the Rolex Day-Date.


The birth

Its full name is Oyster Perpetual Day-Date and was presented by Rolex in 1965. The public immediately understands that it was an unrivalled watch, thanks to its innovative 12 o’clock window that indicates the full day of the week.
Rolex initially produced the day wheel in 11 different languages, but given the planetary success of this milestone, today you can choose from as many as 26.
The caseback has a slightly domed appearance, reminiscent of the previous bubble-backs, due to the thickness given by the automatic mechanism and the two day and date wheels.

After just one year, these references are replaced by the new Day-Date ref. 6611  (fluted bezel),  6612  (smooth bezel) and  6613  (diamond-set bezel).

The most important difference from previous models is in movement: the microstar adjustment of the balance wheel allowed it to earn the COSC certification. A very limited number of specimens of 6611 have a different bridge plate, 0.1mm thicker. These specimens can be recognized thanks to the specific reference 6611B and, for their extreme rarity, are highly sought after by collectors.

Rolex - Day-Date - Ref. Rolex - 6611

The icon

If we ask you to close your eyes and imagine a Day-Date, you would almost certainly go back to 1959, the year the iconic ref. 18XX was introduced.
In all its variants, this family of references has become the classic canon that is associated with the Rolex Day-Date.

HQ Milton - 1963 Vintage Rolex 18K YG Day-Date 1802 SWISS Only ...
HQ Milton

Mechanically, the new mechanism with 18,000 beats/hour receives the appellation 1555 until the year 1965, and was then implemented up to 19,800 beats per hour.
The last change came in 1972 with the introduction of hacking seconds to synchronize watches.
These new mechanisms, thinner than the previous ones, allow the case to adopt a leaner line, in line with the oyster standards we are used to.

In its long production – until 1977 – Rolex allowed buyers to choose their own Day-Date in a wide range of combinations.

“Stella” dials, “Buckley”, different metals… The only difference in the reference is, however, based on the decoration. We distinguish thus: 1802 with smooth bezel, 1803  with fluted bezel,  1804 with diamond-set bezel,  1806 with “Florentine” decoration,  1807  “Bark “and  1811  “Morelli/Moire“.

This difficulty in identifying the material was overcome in 1977, with the introduction of the new 5-digit references. Each material with which the watch is made now corresponds to a specific number.
In addition to the new references, sapphire glass and 3055 movement with quick-set date were introduced.

Perhaps the most curious model of Day-Date is right within this series of references. We just said that each metal receives its own particular identifying number, such as 8 for yellow gold and 6 for platinum (e.g. 18046 in platinum with a diamond-set bezel)… but when there are three metals at the same time?
This is the case with the “Tridor“, ref. 18039, in which we find a bracelet in white, yellow and pink gold born to demonstrate the new gold molecular-bonding technique developed by Rolex.

Rolex Day-Date 18239 'Tridor' Full Set - AMSTERDAM VINTAGE WATCHES
Credits: Amsterdam Vintage Watches

The misunderstood

Another novelty presented in 1977 is the Day-Date Oysterquartz, moved by a quartz cal movement. 5055. Available in both yellow gold and white gold, it is instantly recognizable for the case and the integrated bracelet, as well as for the famous “tick” hand.
If you want to find out more about this – in our opinion, very interesting – model, you can read the history of the Oysterquartz line in our dedicated article.

Rolex Day-Date Oysterquartz oro bianco 18k indici brillanti - Mr ...

Always in the 1970s we find what is probably one of the rarest Day-Date references ever made, considered as a mirage by collectors. We are referring to the mythical ref. 1831,Emperor“, made in only9 specimens on a special order from the Shah of Iran, all in platinum.

A look halfway between an Oysterquartz (which we just talked about) and a King Midas (of which you can read here), it forced Rolex to equip it with a specially designed mechanism, the automatic cal 1566.
One specimen, however, features the Khanjar, the crest of Oman. Given the exceptional rarity of these models and the confidentiality of Rolex, it has not yet been possible to reconstruct the history of this specimen.

Le Monde Edmond | Rolex 1831: The King of day-dates
Credits: Le Monde Edmond

Another very rare collectors’ dream are those very few steel models produced in the 1950s and given as prizes to the most talented students of the Geneva school of watchmaking, the Ecole d’Horlogerie de Genève.


The evolution

Resuming the historic path of the Day-Date, which we left to 1977, we take a leap forward until 1988, the year in which the 3155 caliber is introduced, with double quick-set date and day.
The Day-Date series equipped with this movement is produced from 1988 until 2000, with five-digit numbering of the type 182XX and 183XX.

Rolex Day-Date Watches | ref 18238 | 'Never Polished' Box & Papers ...

In 2000, the new version of Day-Date, the six-digit numbering 118XXX series, was unveiled. But the big news comes in 2008, with the introduction of Day-Date II, with 41mm case and 100m of water resistance, in line with Rolex’s modern proposal.

In 2015 the Day-Date 40 was presented, with the new 3255 movement, reduced by one millimeter and still available (along with the 36 mm version).

Rolex President Day-Date II Original Ice Blue Arabic Dial Platinum ...

This line, Rolex’s flagship, perhaps doesn’t enjoy the glory it rightly deserves. Often left on the sidelines by steel models in the middle of the Rolex price list.
What do you think the future holds for Day-Date?
As always, let us know in the comments.

Author

IWS Team
Team Italian Watch Spotter
Italian Watch Spotter's Team

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