There are very few luxury watches out there as historic, recognizable, and coveted as the Rolex Datejust. The brand’s flagship dress watch, the Datejust has been around since 1945 when it made its debut as the first automatic chronometer to display a date window. Since then, Rolex has continuously evolved the watch with improvements in design and mechanics, will still maintaining the Datejust’s signature unmistakable look.
The men’s Datejust watch was only offered in one size–36mm–for decades. In fact, it took over 60 years after the Datejust’s introduction for Rolex to offer another size of the men’s Datejust. In 2009, Rolex unveiled the much larger Datejust II to answer the trend for larger watches. Then in a surprising move, in 2016 Rolex replaced the Datejust II with the Datejust 41 with an identical case size. So today we ask ourselves, what’s the best Rolex Datejust? Is it the Datejust 36, the Datejust II, or the Datejust 41? Let’s find out what each of these Rolex Datejust models offers.
1945 marked the 40th anniversary of the Rolex company so to celebrate, Hans Wilsdorf and his team set out to present the world with a brand new watch model. Plus, this was a way for Rolex to showcase all the innovations it had developed over the last few decades. For instance, there was the waterproof Oyster case introduced in 1926 and the Perpetual movement (aka an automatic caliber) from 1931. But Rolex did not stop there. To create the commemorative 40th-anniversary watch, Rolex added a date complication to the automatic movement. Furthermore, the company also designed a brand new bracelet with a five-link configuration aptly dubbed the Jubilee bracelet.
Bringing all these developments together, Rolex presented the first Oyster Perpetual Datejust model in 1945 as the first self-winding wrist chronometer to indicate the date in a window on the dial. It was fashioned from 18k yellow gold and along with the new Jubilee bracelet, the watch also included a fluted bezel framing the dial. The water-resistant Oyster case measured 36mm in diameter and included the characteristic screw-down winding crown.
Those of you who are familiar with Datejust watches will note a few key traits missing from the very first Datejust. First, the name “Datejust” does not appear on the dial. Second, there is no Cyclops magnifications lens on top of the date window–a now-ubiquitous feature of almost all Rolex watches with date windows. Rolex filed a patent for the Cyclops Date window magnifier in 1952, which served to magnify the date by 2.5 times for easier reading. And the company began rolling out this new invention to its watches that same decade. In fact, when the Rolex Day-Date made its debut in 1956, it included the Cyclops lens protruding from its crystal above the date.
Although the first Datejust was only available in 18k yellow gold and fitted with the Jubilee bracelet, the collection eventually became Rolex’s most versatile model lineup produced in a bevy of styles, materials, and as we’ll see below, sizes.
As we mentioned, the Rolex Datejust 36 is the most traditional men’s Datejust watch. As its name implies, the Datejust 36 includes a 36mm Oyster case. This is a great size for a range of wrists. Large enough to make an impact yet restrained enough to be appropriate for any occasion, the Datejust 36 is still the most popular size in the men’s Datejust range.
A big draw of the Datejust 36 collection is the vast choice available in the secondary market. Since this is a watch that’s been around for more than seven decades (!) there are plenty of models to choose from. Whether you prefer a vintage Datejust, a birthyear Datejust, or a contemporary Datejust, there are some great pre-owned ones on offer. Plus, the Datejust 36 has the largest selection of metal options, bezel styles, and dial designs. From full stainless steel Datejust 36 models with domed bezels to two-tone gold and steel Datejust 36 models with fluted bezel, the choices are vast. what’s more, Rolex also introduced Turn-O-Graph Datejust models, complete with rotating bezels. Furthermore, the Datejust 36 is available on sportier Oyster bracelets or dressier Jubilee bracelets. And in the secondary market, it’s common to find men’s Datejust models on leather straps too.
Like most Rolex watches, the Datejust has undergone incremental modifications over the years while still retaining the fundamental design codes. At Baselworld 2018, Rolex introduced the newest generation of the Datejust 36 with a redesigned case sporting reshaped lugs and a new movement, Caliber 3235. Not that we ever doubted the relevance of the Datejust 36, but these new models signals just how committed Rolex is to the evolution of the men’s 36mm Datejust watch.
Over the years, men’s watches have increased dramatically in size. There are some massive men’s luxury watches out there that certainly adhere to the mantra, “go big or go home”. While Rolex does offer larger sports models such as the 44mm Deepsea, 43mm Sea-Dweller, and the 42mm Explorer II, for their dressier Datejust II, Rolex stuck to a more wearable 41mm.
When Rolex presented the Datejust II at Baselworld 2009, the larger men’s Datejust was met with great enthusiasm. The Datejust II’s 41mm Oyster case, broad lugs, and a wider Oyster bracelet meant that men who wanted to wear a larger Rolex dress watch now had a go-to model. The watch’s bigger dimensions and bulkier build brought about a masculine, modern, and sporty approach to the classic Datejust. Naturally, as part of the Datejust collection, certain design traits remained the same such as the Cyclops lens placed on the sapphire crystal directly above the date window at 3 o’clock. Similarly, like all Datejust models, the Datejust II models are water-resistant to 100 meters and are fitted with Twinlock screw-down winding crowns.
Over the years, Rolex offered different versions of the Datejust II such as the full steel Datejust II, the steel Datejust II with an 18k white gold fluted bezel, and a two-tone steel and yellow gold Datejust II. However, the Datejust II was only ever offered on an Oyster bracelet and not a Jubilee bracelet, which is intriguing given that the Jubilee and the Datejust are a classic pairing. Perhaps Rolex sought to emphasize the sportier nature of the Datejust II by making it exclusively available on the three-link Oyster bracelet. Despite initial success, the Datejust II collection was short-lived, eventually coming to an end in 2016.
In 2016, Rolex shelved the Datejust II and replaced it with the Datejust 41. While on paper the Datejust 41 retains the same 41mm case diameter, the case does have a different look to it. The Datejust 41 is slimmer, has leaner lugs, and a thinner bezel than the Datejust II. As a result, the Datejust 41 is a more refined approach to a larger Datejust watch than the sportier Datejust II.
In terms of choice, the Datejust 41 is available in a slew of materials. There’s, of course, the steel Datejust 41, the two-tone yellow gold and steel Datejust 41, as well as the two-tone Everose gold (Rolex’s proprietary pink gold alloy) and steel Datejust 41. Rolex also brought back the choice between the Oyster bracelet or the Jubilee bracelet within the Datejust 41 collection.
The biggest change to the Datejust 41 over the Datejust II is the automatic movement powering the watch. Rolex equips the Datejust 41 with the new generation Cal. 3235 with an increased power reserve of 70 hours compared to the 48-hour power reserve of the preceding Datejust II. As the newest version of the larger Datejust for men, it can be assumed that the Datejust 41 will continue to be a part of Rolex’s catalog for the foreseeable future.
Now that you have all the basic information, what’s the best Rolex Datejust for you? First, you have to decide if you prefer the 36mm or 41mm size. If you prefer the 41mm size, then it’s a matter of choosing between the Datejust II or the Datejust 41. Some prefer the bolder look of the Datejust II, while others appreciate the slimmer proportions of the Datejust 41. Which one suits your taste better? Also, if a higher power reserve is important to you or if you want the choice of a Jubilee bracelet or Everose gold on a larger Datejust, then the Datejust 41 is the way to go. Essentially, the classic design of the Datejust is evergreen–it is simply timeless as illustrated by its seven-decade history. So, deciding between the three main Datejust collections, 36, II, or 41, is a matter of choosing what size fits your wrist best. Once you’ve settled on the collection, then you can decide between the abundance of material, bezel, and dial options.
Browse our selection of pre-owned men’s Datejust watches and once you see the one that calls out to you, you’ll know that that’s the best Rolex Datejust watch for you!