A Crown Fit for a Queen

A Crown Fit for a Queen

In the world of Rolex, it is the outliers that tend to dominate much of the conversation. Books have been written and gallons of digital ink spilled over the minutiae of exotic dials, short production runs and specialized, technical watches built to overcome a particular set of obstacles.

While this depth and breadth of knowledge is incredible and does an admirable job of explaining why people love the Crown the way they do, in a very real way, it’s missing the point. For while the professional models and esoteric variations are exciting, the watch that is at the heart of the catalog is the humble Datejust. For decades, this uncomplicated watch has defined the values of Rolex and become an enduring symbol of the Crown — values that are as uncompromising for women as they are for men, as the Lady-Datejust proves.

2021 Rolex Lady Datejust with Mother of Pearl dial and yellow gold case
2021 Rolex Lady Datejust with Mother of Pearl dial and yellow gold case

Origins of the Datejust

The Datejust story begins with its launch in 1945, on the occasion of Rolex’s 40th anniversary. Today, the Datejust is the epitome of an elegant daily watch; at the time of its debut, it was something else — a cutting edge, technological powerhouse. In 1945, the Datejust was a watch that combined all of Rolex’s major innovations in one watch. First of all, the Datejust made good use of the Oyster case, the leader in waterproofness since 1926. On top of that, it was powered by a caliber that boasted chronometric precision and automatic winding — another technology Rolex patented in 1931. Finally, the Datejust boasted its signature move, an instantaneous date display shown at three. It took a little while for the famous cyclops to show up; it wasn’t until 1953 that this visibility- improving bubble was added. Today, the date display is ubiquitous, but back then, it was yet another small step in Rolex’s quest for an enduring, perpetual timekeeper.

Setting the blueprint for years to come, the first Rolex Datejust released in 1945
Setting the blueprint for years to come, the first Rolex Datejust released in 1945

Rolex and Women’s Watches

The Datejust was an instant hit, with its classic style quickly becoming a cornerstone in Rolex’s visual identity. In 1957, the modern precision of the 36mm Datejust was resized for a woman’s wrist, and the Lady-Datejust was born.

The first Lady- Datejust, from 1957
The first Lady- Datejust, from 1957

Of course, it was far from the first time that women played a central role in the story of Rolex. Mercedes Gleitze, the British professional long- distance swimmer, had been famous for being the first woman to swim the Channel, with an Oyster-cased Rolex on her wrist. Over the last 100 years, it’s easy for Gleitze’s accomplishments to be refined into a single sentence. While accurate, this summary misses the larger point. It was exceptional for a woman to have such a prominent role in sport; after all, 20 years earlier, Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman was arrested in America for wearing a one-piece swimsuit in public. On top of that, Gleitze wasn’t a society woman. She was the daughter of German parents, a working-class woman for whom swimming was equal parts career and passion. While her talent and perseverance made her a good fit for Rolex to showcase their Oyster technology, her prominence as an aspirational, financially independent woman made her perfect.

Front cover of the Daily Mail, 1927
Front cover of the Daily Mail, 1927

The Ladies of the Datejust

While Mercedes Gleitze might have been the first woman to don an Oyster case and conquer the world, she wasn’t the last. The Lady Datejust is a watch that has graced the wrists of exceptional women, leaders in their field, from cultural pioneers like New Zealand-born opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa to Yuja Wang, a dynamic and talented pianist who is breathing new life into classical music and winning fans the world over. Both these women, separated by generations, have made the Lady-Datejust and the spirit it embodies, their own. Sportswomen also wear this elegant all-rounder, from legendary figures like golfer Annika Sörenstam, to emerging tennis champs like Coco Gauff. No matter the discipline, Rolex’s petite classic is up to the task.

The watch has its advocates in the field of scientific pioneers as well, perhaps none more famous than the legendary ocean explorer, Dr. Sylvia Earle. It’s fitting that Her Deepness, as she is respectfully known, wears a Crown, usually in the form of a yellow gold Datejust. While some might expect a Submariner, or even a Deepsea might be more suitable for professional diving, Dr. Earle explains that even the dressier Rolex offerings are up to the task.

Dr. Sylvia Earle at work, with a gold Datejust on the wrist
Dr. Sylvia Earle at work, with a gold Datejust on the wrist

She says, “I had a Rolex given to me as an aquanaut in 1970 [as part of the Tektite II project that Rolex equipped], which had been my favorite dive buddy, as a watch. It was an instrument that enabled me to say how long I’d been down, how much longer I had to go; it was my lifesaving piece of equipment. But, about 10 years later, I saw my best friend, a diver, who was wearing this watch [a Lady-Datejust] underwater, and I was shocked when I saw it. We were down at 50 feet in the Florida Keys, and I looked at it and thought, ‘Ah, she’s forgotten to take off her watch.’ She gave me a smile like a Cheshire cat, implying, ‘It’s okay.’ And then I saw it was a Rolex. When I saw this beautiful instrument that could not only go out on dive trips and be rugged and reliable but was quite okay to take to a black-tie party, I was smitten. Not only did I get one of these beautiful instruments that keeps me alive when I go diving, but I acquired one for my mother, daughters and grandchildren. We’re a Rolex family! My Rolex watch is part of me. I just never take it off, whether it’s in the shower, the submarine or in the ocean directly. It is an extension of me.”

Moving with the Times

The fundamentals of the Lady-Datejust have been set for decades; the classic style, the instantaneous date and cyclops, the precision caliber, small size and strong water resistance. However, over the years, the watch kept evolving and improving in step with technical advancements, for example, with the addition of Paraflex shock absorbers and Syloxi silicon hairsprings.

Things changed on the outside too. While the overall feel of the model has remained the same, the Lady-Datejust has proven to be versatile and mutable over the years. Mother-of-pearl dials add a soft shimmer, while diamond and other stone-setting add a more definite sparkle to the situation.

In 1992, the Lady-Datejust evolved even more, with the introduction of the Pearlmaster
In 1992, the Lady-Datejust evolved even more, with the introduction of the Pearlmaster

The latest example of this is a poetic new floral motif dial in a 31mm white gold and Oystersteel case. The dial is beautiful, a field of soft Azzurro-blue petals shimmering on the wrist. There is also an olive-green dial in yellow gold with a diamond-set bezel and an Everose Rolesor model with a diamond bezel and a silver floral dial.

New for 2022, the 31mm Datejust has been given a floral makeover
New for 2022, the 31mm Datejust has been given a floral makeover

Whatever the color, the beauty of the dial is far from simple. The texture of the dial is enhanced thanks to the use of a combination of sunray, grained and matte finishes, with each flower marked by a single diamond center, with a total of 24 across the dial.

From its inception in 1957 through to today, the Lady-Datejust has served not only to uphold Rolex’s enviable reputation for precision, durability and style, but it has also been a faithful companion to explorers, adventurers and artists, supporting and celebrating women across the world.

Tech Specs

Rolex Datejust 31 in White Rolesor Ref 278274

Rolex Datejust 31 in White Rolesor Ref 278274

Movement: Self-winding caliber 2236; 55-hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds and date
CaseL 31mm; White Rolesor; water resistant to 100m
Dial: Azzurro blue floral motif set with 24 diamonds
Strap: Oystersteel bracelet with three-piece links
Price: USD 10,050

Rolex Datejust 31 in Everose Rolesor Ref 278381RBR

Rolex Datejust 31 in Everose Rolesor Ref 278381RBR

Movement: Self-winding caliber 2236; 55-hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds and date
Case: 31mm; Everose Rolesor; water resistant to 100m
Dial: Silver floral motif set with 24 diamonds
Strap: Everose Rolesor Jubilee bracelet with five-piece links
Price: USD 19,400

Rolex Datejust 31 in Yellow Gold Ref 278288RBR

Rolex Datejust 31 in Yellow Gold Ref 278288RBR

Movement: Self-winding caliber 2236; 55-hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds and date
Case: 31mm; 18K yellow gold; water resistant to 100m
Dial: Olive green floral motif set with 24 diamonds
Strap: 18K yellow gold President bracelet with semicircular three-piece links
Price: USD 41,400

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Felix Scholz

Felix Scholz has spent the last decade covering watches from his home in Australia. Given this, it's surprising that he still struggles with time zones. Over the years he's become a firm believer that less is more when it comes to watch design – except when a rainbow bezel is involved. He's written for numerous titles including Hodinkee, GQ, A Collected Man and more. These days he looks after the Australian edition of Revolution and takes a break from writing about watches to talk about them, as the co-host of OT: The Podcast.

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