First released in 1956, the Rolex Day-Date was bound for prominence right from the start.
It featured a precious metal Oyster case, a new President bracelet, and a revolutionary complication for the time – a full day window accompanied by a date.
Today, more than 60 years later, the Day-Date is widely regarded as the emblematic ‘gold watch’. Its timeless design has seen few tweaks since its debut, yet it remains unequalled, even in the company of Patek and Audemars.
In this guide, we’ll be reviewing the origins of this classic. We’re also exploring the references that most significantly marked its history and which paved the way for one the present-day’s most sought-after Rolex watches.
History Of The Day-Date: A Presidential Timepiece
In this guide, we shall be exploring the history of the Rolex Day-Date and covering its significant releases on the last few decades. You can jump ahead to a particular model or period in time using the links below:
- It All Started In 1956
- The 1800 Series
- Five-Digit Day-Date
- Oysterquartz Day-Date
- The 182XX Series Day-Date
- The New Millenium
- Birth Of the Day-Date II
Alternatively, keep scrolling to read it all!
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The Rolex Day-Date is historically recognized for having been worn by celebrities and heads of state alike, both throughout its illustrous lifetime as well as in the modern day. This has earned it the nickname “Rolex President” as well as the “Rolex Presidential” misnomer.
Some watch fans believe the moniker was earned by president Eisenhower, who famously sported an all-gold Rolex. Ike’s watch was, in fact, a Datejust, albeit one individually commissioned by the brand to commemorate their 150,000th production chronometer.
Other notable figures, such as JFK, LBJ, Nixon, and even Donald Trump, have been spotted wearing Day-Dates. Famed capitalists, the likes of Warren Buffett and Jay-Z, have also famously sported the style.
It All Started In 1956…
Only 11 years after the release of the Rolex Datejust, the brand would debut a new model line a step above its date-only offering.
The new watch possessed the same fluted bezel as its sibling, along with the same 36mm Oyster case. Yet the novel timepiece also featured a never-before-seen bracelet, now recognized as the President bracelet, paired with a new complication: the full day display at 12 o’clock.
Now as then, the watch was only available in 18K gold or platinum varieties, and existed as the 6510 and 6511 references. These would only remain in production for a single year, though, and were replaced by the 66XX series.
The 1800 Series
The next version of the Day-Date was to be the 18XX series, which appeared in the early ’60s. With this reference, Rolex would expand the dial options for the Day-Date line, as well as introduce various bezel and bracelet textures. Most notable of these is the “bark” bezel and President bracelet, a combination rarely encountered in good condition (as in the image below).
The 18XX reference Day-Date would remain in production until the late 1970s. Towards the end of its run, Rolex would upgrade the movement and introduce a “hacking seconds” function.
The Five-Digit Day-Date
The 180XX series of Day-Date was introduced not only with a longer reference number, but also with the incredibly convenient “quick-set” movement. This allowed the date to be set independently of the hour hand, saving the user a significant amount of time when setting the watch.
Other than the addition of the 3055 calibre, there were no other ‘structural’ changes to the Day-Date. Indeed, dial and bezel options continued expanding, but the look and feel was still the same.
The year 1977 also saw Rolex introduce their most memorable quartz offerings: the Oysterquartz Datejust and Oysterquartz Day-Date.
These new quartz styles were a mix between the classic model designs and Rolex’s first quartz watch, the reference 5100.
Aside from the in-house quartz caliber, the Oysterquartz watches possessed an integrated bracelet that resembled a Royal Oak more than a Day-Date or Datejust. Evidently Rolex took notice of the success of its steel competitors.
These Oysterquartz models were quite popular at the time as well, though produced in small numbers.
The Oysterquartz watches would be discontinued after 25 years, and have been slowly ticking up in the pre-owned market ever since. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before they, like other vintage Rolex models, become scarce and expensive.
The 182XX Series Day-Date
Eleven years after updating the movement of the Rolex Day-Date with the quick-set feature, Rolex would once more enhance the calibre within their President offering.
The new movement was the Rolex manufacture 3155 calibre. Most notably, it boasted a “double quick-set” function which allowed the user to quickly change both the day and date on the watch.
The New Millenium
Rolex deemed it appropriate to upgrade one of their most regal model lines, the Day-Date, for the new millenium. So, at Baselworld 2000 they released the six-digit Day-Date, the reference 118XXX.
Birth Of The Day-Date II
On the eve of Baselworld 2008, Rolex would cause waves in the watch industry yet again with the introduction of their beloved Day-Date style in a new 41mm Oyster case – the Day-Date II.
Before then, Rolex had never offered the Day-Date in anything other than a 36mm case. This was also around the same time in which the oversized watch aesthetic was picking up steam. The brand quickly took notice, and moved to satisfy its loyal customer base.
Aside from the larger case, the Day-Date II (reference 218XXX) featured an improved Rolex caliber 3156. The new size was well-received, and would enjoy significant success until its discontinuation in 2015.
The Greatest Rolex Day-Date In History
The present-day Day-Date is, naturally, the most technologically advanced Day-Date watch of all time.
The reference 228XXX line of Day-Date watches was released in 2015 and is available in 36mm or 40mm sizes. It may be equipped with a fluted or diamond-set bezel, in dozens of different dial styles, and is presented on the enigmatic President bracelet.
It’s also powered by one of Rolex’s most modern movements, the manufacture 3255 caliber. This movement meets Rolex’s most stringent chronometer specs (-2/+2), is equipped with an industry-leading 72-hour power reserve, and boasts the brand’s latest anti-magnetic and shock-resistant technologies.
Likewise, the bracelet is in its greatest version. The pins inside the links of the bracelet are now shrouded with ceramic sleeves, which prevent wear and tear within the individual links and therefore completely mitigate the dreaded “bracelet stretch”.
If you’ve enjoyed our overview of the Rolex Day-Date, make sure to check out our other Rolex model guides. You can also jump into some of our most popular watch pages below:
- The Comprehensive Rolex Brand Guide
- History Of The Rolex Daytona
- How Did The Rolex Datejust Get Its Start?
- Chinese Luxury: The Best Chinese Watchmakers
- Bespoke Unit Watch Homepage
"Of all the watches in Rolex's catalog, the Day-Date is by far my favorite. No collection can be considered truly complete without one."Rating: 5.0★★★★★