The difference between the pedestrian and the extraordinary can be a fine line, as far as watchmaking goes. Once a new watch arrives in stores, we begin to get a real sense of where that line might be, as far as that model goes. This is a complicated affair, and we usually advise careful consideration over impulsive action. Generally speaking, this is why some models take off in popularity after a few years. There are exceptions to every rule though, which brings us to our jewellery watch of the year, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust 31. Arguably, every watch that bears the name Rolex is an immediate contender for your wrist, especially if you are driven by the idea that a watch should express a sense of value and power, while being tough enough to wear as a daily beater. But this does not explain the allure of the watch at all.
Normally, we do not delve into the subject of why a watch is attractive – beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the images alone should do the job. However, in electing to put this on our cover, we can offer an explanation of why we made this decision. After putting the Patek Philippe Twenty~4 on the cover last year, it felt appropriate to complete the picture of what might be the most desirable ladies watches in the world. If you recall our 2019 edition, which does feel like it was a lifetime ago, then an obvious objection might come to mind: that Twenty~4 was entirely new while the Datejust 31 is not. Fair enough, but the appeal of the Datejust 31 is just now coming into its own.
We did not expect to return to the Datejust so soon, given that Rolex had launched a few versions last year, including the Datejust 31 and the Datejust 36. For 2020 – and until new models are revealed in April – there are several new Datejust 31 models to discuss. We noted last year that the new Datejust 31 model was distinguished by its date display and the Jubilee bracelet; for 2020, both Oyster and Jubilee bracelets are in play. One thing all versions share this year is that the bracelets are entirely in Oystersteel, even in the Rolesor models.
All previous versions and options for the Datejust overall remain in the collection, so we will not be discussing missed opportunities and the like. There are, however, so many options here that going back to basics is necessary. It is worth remembering, for example, that the Jubilee bracelet was launched in 1945 with the Oyster Perpetual Datejust. Purists will want to consider that. Avid fans of watchmaking in general will also recall how the Datejust got its name – it was the first wristwatch with a simple date indicator. So, Datejust literally means Just the Date, and it was revolutionary in 1945.
For convenience, we are repurposing our story on the Datejust overall from last year to add context, and detail. It follows immediately after this story.
The watch of the moment for this issue is the Datejust 31 model with the aubergine dial. Aside offering yet another variation in a collection that includes loads of options, we have a selfish reason for zooming in here. No, it has nothing to do with value, and the value-driven buyer. Instead, this is about values, which is easy to blow past when looking at the Datejust. As mentioned above, the Datejust was Rolex’s 40th anniversary watch, and is thus a little famous. The instantly changing date display that gives the watch its name also adds to its lustre, even if most people have forgotten this fact. As such things go, it is all too easy to overlook simple virtues like this.
Rolex pays tribute to its own pioneering spirit here with automatic calibre 2236, which you may recall sports the Syloxi hairspring rather than the Parachrom one. This is a little something that you cannot see, but adds untold value to the watch – the number of Rolex watches with this hairspring is relatively small. This is why Rolex says that this is a movement at the forefront of watchmaking technology. We get into it a bit towards the back of this story.
As for what you can see and feel, the glossy sunray finished dial is obviously striking. You cannot expect to rock a watch with an aubergine face and be coy about it. Helpfully, this model’s 46 brilliant-cut diamonds on the white gold bezel and that signature VI in the form of 11 diamonds telegraph power and prestige. All the markers on the dial are also in white gold, as are the hands. The watch is certainly elegant and classy, but it also packs a punch. The Oystersteel of the case and the Oyster bracelet add some robustness, including the impressive 100 metre water-resistance. Like most Rolex watches, you can comfortably wear this for most occasions, despite the white gold and diamond elements. Obviously, if such matters are a concern, there are plenty of Datejust models that offer a more utilitarian spin.
This brings us to an alternative as far as 2020 models go, the version with the mint green dial. This one looks a bit different to the olive green version shown elsewhere from 2019, and has the fluted bezel in white gold, which is the traditional flavour of the Datejust. This version, also in 31mm, uses rectangular markers for the hours, rather than Roman numerals, further adding to the utilitarian vibe.
Just the Date
A watch with an instantaneous date rollover should be a given these days, but the change sometimes drags on. Not so with Rolex, and the Oyster Perpetual Datejust offers the most pertinent reminder of this fact, by virtue of its name. The Datejust name is a reference to the fact that Rolex has been making instantaneous and precise date switching watches since 1945. Though we think of this watch with the Cyclops lens, that was only added in 1953, to especially impressive effect in this 2019 watch.
Rolex makes the Datejust in all manner of sizes, from 28mm all the way up to 41mm. In fact, the aubergine dial of the Datejust 31 that so caught our eye in 2020 actually also graces a Datejust 36 model. Rolex has faithfully expanded the Datejust collection over the years, introducing a multitude of dials and material variations. Now, even though we are paying a lot of attention to these models, they are still a bit under the radar, for Rolex watches. For example, one might think that the chief difference between the 41, 36 and the 31 versions is in the size, and that is certainly true. However, the look of the various versions are also distinguished by subtle variations in the markers on the dials and which versions have gem-set bezels. For bracelets, all versions use either Oyster, Jubilee or President variants.
Diamonds used in Rolex watches are selected by the masters of gem-setting (something we covered in WOW Jewellery 2019). Only those gems with the highest clarity grade of IF (internally flawless) are accepted. The colour must be in the most clear range, meaning D to G – the highest on the GIA colour scale, meaning these are virtually colourless. Before the gem-setters get their hands on them, the diamonds are given a thorough examination by the in-house gemmologists, using various tools including X-ray imaging, to ensure all criteria are met. The seriousness of this process is such that Rolex dedicated its Chene-Bourg site in Geneva to gem-setting and dial-making.