A brief history of the Rolex Day-Date
Today, we’ll talk about the watch that propelled Rolex in the wonderful world of high-end luxury watches. The watch of generals and presidents, but also the very first watch displaying both day and date of the week : You got it, it’s the Rolex Day-Date, a watch that would become the ultimate symbol of success in everyone’s mind.
1950's : Birth of the Day-Date and early references
The Day-Date story begins in 1956 with ref. 6510 and 6511. Those models laid the foundations of the Day-Date everyone knows to this day : They were the first watches to display the date and day of the week spelled out fully, and they came with the so-called “president” bracelet that still lives up to this day in Rolex catalogs.
Those legendary references are very rare to this day, because they were replaced within 1 year by the refs 661x. They were basically a 6511 with lots ot technical improvements, especially in accuracy since lots of energy was needed to change both day and date at midnight.
1960's : Ref. 180X, the myth
With all those necessary improvements, Rolex finally unveiled the 18xx series of the Day-Date. They all came with the brand new 1555 caliber, which featured 18,000 beats per hour until 1965, where it was modernized to 19,800 beats per hour.
A very rare Rolex Day-Date 1803 in rose gold
It’s also very important to note that the 18xx were significantly thinner due to the improved movement, in line with the designs we all know today.
Configuring a 180X Day-Date
With the 18xx, Rolex introduced several bezel and bracelet textures to accompany the new Rolex President watches. The most significant of these new textures is the “bark” finish, a “brushed” texture on the bezel or/and the bracelet that didn’t really found buyers at the time, but is now more than welcome in any vintage collection.
Talking about the dial configurations, they were almost infinite : We talk about more than 80 different models, with an unlimited combinations of faces, hands, hour markers and over 20 languages.
A textured Rolex Day-Date 1807, with the "Bark" finish visible on both bezel and bracelet
Now, there are maybe some combinations nobody still knows about to this day, because until 1977 Rolex didn’t match any dial configuration with the serial number.
1977 - Late 80's : The introduction of 5-digit Day-Dates, Refs. 18XXX
The Day-Date was then updated again in 1977, with a new 3055 caliber manufactured by Rolex and a brand new sapphire glass. It introduced a quick-set date, which was seen as a revolution in a watch where you have to set both day and date manually!
a very rare example of a Day-Date 18078 with a "bark" textured bracelet
The watch was still available in lots of combinations, but this time the material/finish was indicated in the last digit of the serial number. Also, rose gold was discontinued, which made the already-rare rose gold 180x references even more rare and sought-after !
These updated 18xxx Day-Dates also came with another version. At the time everyone thought Quartz technology was the future, everyone felt the need to give it a go, which explains the unveiling of the Rolex Day-Date Oysterquartz.
Launched at the same time as the Oysterquartz DateJust, the design of this Day-Date had nothing to see with the previous refs, and relates more to Rolex’s very first try at Quartz watches, the Rolex 5100 with an angulous and sharp drawing. The bracelet was integrated, making the watch sportier and closer to an Audemars than a DateJust.Their production was quite limited and they were discontinued 25 years after, making the OysterQuartz Day-Date a pretty collectible item.
Late 1980’s to late 1990’s : The Rolex 182XXIn 1988, Rolex introduced another caliber for the Day-Date with Caliber 3155. The biggest improvement was hugely noticeable as new Day-Date watches would come with a DOUBLE quickset function, allowing to set both the day and date independantly .
a Rolex Day-Date 18206 in platinum, with a "myriad" diamond dial.
2000’s : Case size changes and late references
In 2000, at Baselworld, Rolex introduced the 6-digit Rolex Daydate President watches with references 118XXX : The modifications were mainly on the bracelet and clasp, but the same 3155 caliber was used, as well as a 36mm Oyster case.
2008 : The Day-Date II
In 2008, the Day-Date II was released with, for the very first time, a change in the case diameter. The Day-Date now lived under a huge 41mm case, under 2015 where it was again replaced by the Day-Date 40.
As in the name, the case was slightly smaller, and those 40mm still are the usual standard for a Day-Date in Rolex catalog!
Even with all the changes Rolex made in its catalog and the ongoing trend of steel models, the Day-Date will never cease to make the greats of this world dream, and has made a name for itself in popular culture. With more than 6 decades of history and legendary stories all over the world, it might be the Rolex with the craziest configurations the watch has ever seen. And, believe me, it still has a long, beautiful way to go !