On Owning A Rolex Day-DateJuly 13, 2021
Few Replica Rolex watches can stir up the genuine reverence – among hard-core collectors and enthusiasts, alike – that a Rolex can. In fact, just a few days ago, our own Jack Forster wrote about the experience of finally getting a watch he’d dreamed about for fifty years. I don’t suppose it would be giving away the punchline to say that it’s a Rolex. For this week’s Sunday Rewind, we wanted to offer just a little more fodder for your Rolex dreams by taking a look at one of the brand’s more underrated models, the Datejust.
The very first Datejust – the reference 4467 – was released in 1945 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Rolex corporation, and it was only available in yellow gold with the corresponding yellow gold Jubilee bracelet. It was the very first automatic wristwatch with an automatically changing date window, which was downright revolutionary at the time. Since then, however, numerous variations of the Datejust have been released. In this article, Stephen Pulvirent, an avowed vintage Rolex fan, offers an in-depth look at the watch’s history and explores a few notable Datejusts from over the years. He also takes a modern 36mm Datejust for a spin. Read on to find out what he thought.
The term “grail watch” is one that I’ve seen floating around the internet for probably as long as I’ve been reading about watches on the internet. Calling a luxury object for which you’re experiencing unrequited desire a “grail” is maybe a little fresh. The term is derived from the legend of the Holy Grail – a cup, or vessel, which first appears in an unfinished work by Chretien de Troyes in 1180. In most grail stories, the grail is the object of a quest or quests and the achievement of the grail quest is nearly impossible: It is arduous, may take years, requires great personal sacrifice, noble intentions, and purity of heart. It is often sought but seldom even seen.
Sometimes trying to get a watch you really want badly can feel the same way, although I doubt that purity of heart is a necessary prerequisite to getting to the top of the list for a 5711. When you fall in love with a class of objects, there are the easy early wins, but as you find out more, your desires tend to become more and more ambitious and quite often, more and more unrealistic, as well.
Still, a grail watch is fun to think about and talk about and dream about. In my own case, I have had several over the years (that’s the great thing about grail watches, why stop at just one? As Han Solo said in A New Hope, “I can imagine quite a bit.”)
One particular grail watch of mine for many years has been the Rolex Day-Date, which I first saw on an uncle’s wrist in the 1970s. I wrote a very long story about the Day-Date back in 2016. In retrospect it was sort of like those letters that those of us with big dumb hearts and literary pretentions write to someone, usually in adolescence but not exclusively, whom we’re in love with but who five seconds of rational analysis ought to reveal will never so much as give you the time of day.
I know, I know. A gold Day-Date is kind of absurd. It’s just so much. I guess it says something about me that the fact that it has appeared in films as the watch of a cold-blooded, ruthless criminal mastermind (Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects) and on the wrists of countless mid-level caporegimes of certain fraternal businessmen’s associations, was part of the attraction. But the heart has its reasons whereof reason knows nothing: I still wanted one.
I wrote a thousand stories for www.bestbuycheap.ru as of a couple of weeks ago. A few days after I ran that thousandth story, Ben Clymer, who has been letting me do pretty much whatever I want for six years running (I think the strongest objection he ever registered to anything was the day I ran the spring-bar origin story – he wandered diffidently over to my desk and said, nonchalantly, “So … we’re really going to publish this, aren’t we”) asked me to come into the office for a face-to-face catch-up. Seemed reasonable given how seldom any of us have seen each other in person over the last nineteen months.
I have to say, if he ever wanted a second career in espionage I don’t think he’d have any trouble fitting in at the cloak and dagger outfit of his choice. I definitely didn’t see it coming. We had a desultory but apparently meaningful and cordial chat and at the end of it, without any preamble or indeed any warning at all, he grinned, took a small grey leather box I’d missed seeing off a shelf, and handed it to me. I opened it and there was a 36mm yellow gold Rolex Day-Date.
I would like to say I remember him saying, “Congratulations on a thousand stories,” but the blood was singing in my ears. I mean, you can forgive a guy for having a moment – it was 1971 when I first noticed that 1803 on my uncle’s wrist, which means that in one form or another I’d been hankering after one for fifty years. Even for a glutton for punishment like me, that’s a long stretch of unrequited love. I would say it felt like Christmas morning but at least on Christmas morning you more or less expect something. Not gonna lie, I kind of floated home from the office that day and it wasn’t because it was 93º out.
I feel like I ought to have some more nuanced perspective on what is basically a dream come true. It is, after all, the fulfillment of a desire – a long-nurtured desire, and a sentimental one, but a desire nonetheless. Over the years I’ve imbibed a lot from Zen Buddhism (although when it comes to actually sticking to the Buddhist precepts, I have managed to – well, I haven’t managed at all, honestly) and one of the things I think about a lot in this job is that desire, from a Buddhist perspective, is something to be approached with extreme caution if at all.
And it’s not as if the Buddhists have cornered the market on desire as something problematic. Socrates once prayed, “Let me have only as much gold as I can comfortably carry,” and the same sentiment has been expressed by pretty much every philosopher of any note for the last two and a half thousand years (although the jury’s still out on De Sade).
The thing is, when I wanted a yellow gold 36mm Day-Date but didn’t have one, I could affect to regard that desire as a harmless foible in an otherwise irreproachable ethical life – a meaningless random quiver of the ol’ moral compass, as it were. Now that I have one I feel like Fate has called me on my bullshit. Oh, I wanted one all right. And now that I actually have one, I feel filled with most unseemly ecstasy.
But the simple fact is, it’s a very cool watch. It’s an 1803 (the exact reference my uncle had on, fifty years ago) non-quickset, and it came full-set, as they say. According to the papers it was purchased at a US Army PX in Hong Kong, by a gent named John C. Elben, in 1967. The bill of sale says, enigmatically, that his rank was “Major (equivalent)” whatever that means. Major (or equivalent) Elben must have been having a good year. He did forgo the added expense of a bracelet (the watch came with a period-correct Rolex strap and gold buckle, although I’m currently wearing it on an aftermarket gold Italian bracelet).
During the first week I had the watch, it was necessary to advance the date by hand, from June 30th to July 1. It’s not as much of a chore as I thought it would be. It only took five minutes or so; you have to advance the hands past midnight, at which point the day and date both switch over, and then you turn the hands back to about 9PM and advance them past midnight again, which switches just the date; the day wheel doesn’t advance. For a watch that’s pushing fifty it feels awfully solid in operation, which is partly thanks to a service it got before I got it. That day wheel jump is pretty exciting, it leaps into position with a satisfying clunk (okay, it’s not as exciting as, say, starting up the reconditioned engine in a vintage Miura would be to a car enthusiast, but what do you want, I’m a watch writer).
The movement’s a classic in Rolex’s repertoire – the caliber 1555, which in addition to the 25 jewels in the movement, has additional jeweling in the calendar works, in order to ensure smooth operation and reduce friction. It has a Breguet overcoil balance spring, a freesprung balance with Microstella timing weights, and has kept time over the last two weeks – well, like a Rolex.
They say, don’t be afraid to meet your heroes. I knew from that experience of doing a week with two Day-Dates back in 2016 that I enjoyed the experience of wearing one; what I didn’t know, of course, was what it would feel like to own one. You’re never quite sure until some time has passed – I know I’m not the only www.bestbuycheap.ru community member or watch enthusiast who’s scrimped and saved for The Big One, only to find that once it’s actually in hand, you just never quite warm up to it.
But not this time. Maybe the fact that the watch celebrates a real personal milestone has something to do with it – in fact I’m sure it does. But I think the truth is, I wanted this watch for as long as I did, and I’m as happy with it as I am, because I too have reasons whereof reason knows nothing. It’s a wholly, completely unreasonable pleasure to put it on in the morning and see it glowing on my wrist all day, and the pleasure is all the keener for being irrational.