Launched in 1956, the Rolex Day-Date President has remained as the brand’s signature status watch. Exclusively crafted in precious metals, few luxury watches come close to the prestige, excellence, and timelessness of the Rolex President. When Rolex introduced the Day-Date, it was the first watch include the day of the week written in full at 12 o’clock along with the date window at 3 o’clock. Another hallmark of the Rolex Day-Date is its band, officially named the President bracelet. Characterized by its semi-circular links, the President bracelet is almost as famous as the timepiece itself.
In true Rolex fashion, the watch has remained largely the same throughout its history with the brand adding incremental technical modifications and design enhancements over the years. Today we explore the evolution of the famous Rolex Day-Date watch, simply known as the President.
Late 1950s – Late 1970s: Rolex Day-Date ref. 180x
While the earliest models of the Day-Date were the ref. 6510 and the ref. 6511, it was necessary for Rolex to improve the mechanics of the movements of those early models. So, in 1959, Rolex unveiled the 18xx series of Day-Date watches.
The Day-Date ref. 1803 is the most famous version within that series sporting a gold 36mm case, gold fluted bezel, and a gold President bracelet. Gold choices include yellow gold, white gold, and rose gold. This particular rose gold Day-Date ref. 1803 comes with the “pie-pan” style dial where the perimeter drops down for an attractive design.
The Day-Date ref. 1803 was in production throughout the 1960s until the late 1970s. The early models ran on the Cal. 1555 automatic movement until Rolex replaced it with the higher-beat Cal. 1556 automatic movement in the mid-1960s. In 1972, Rolex equipped the Cal. 1556 with the “hacking” feature, meaning that the seconds hand comes to a complete stop when the winding crown is pulled out.
Late 1970s – Late 1980s: Rolex Day-Date ref. 180xx
In 1977, Rolex presented a new generation of the Day-Date equipped with a brand new movement. The Day-Date President watches carried the 180xx reference numbers, again available in different precious metals and with different types of bezels. The movement charged to power the then-new President watches was Cal. 3055 with a higher frequency rate of 28,800 beats per hour. Plus, the Cal. 3055 also has the quickset date functionality, meaning that the date window could now be set independently from the center hands.
The Day-Date ref. 18038 traditionally has a 36mm yellow gold Oyster case, a yellow gold fluted bezel, and a yellow gold President band. However, this particular Rolex Day-Date ref. 18038 comes with a custom diamond-set bezel and custom diamond dial.
Late 1970s – Early 2000s: Rolex Oysterquartz Day-Date
In 1977, Rolex also launched another version of the Day-Date watch–the Oysterquartz. It may come as a surprise to some, but Rolex did indeed produce quartz watches at one time. Powered by the in-house Rolex Cal. 5055 quartz movement, the Day-Date Oysterquartz watches had a design that was quite different than its mechanical counterparts.
The Day-Date Oysterquartz was available in either white gold or yellow gold. This particular Day-Date Oysterquartz ref. 19018 is the 18k yellow gold version. While officially the Oysterquartz has the same 36mm case size, its Oyster case actually wears slightly bigger on the wrist thanks to the distinctive angular shape of the case. Furthermore, the President bracelet is also different from the mechanical Day-date watches given its unique integrated style–a design detail characteristic of all Rolex Oysterquartz watches.
Late 1980s – Late 1990s: Rolex Day-Date ref. 182xx
In 1988, Rolex debuts yet another new day-date movement, the Cal. 3155. As a result, a new batch of Day-Date President watches with the 182xx reference numbers (and the 183xx with diamond cases) join the Rolex catalog. Mechanically, the biggest improvement the Day-Date 18200 series brings to the table is the double quickset functionality. Therefore, wearers can set both the day window and the date window independently from the center hands.
Like preceding editions, the yellow gold Rolex Day-Date President ref. 18238 sports a 36mm Oyster case, a fluted bezel, and a yellow gold President band. The watch’s matching champagne dial with vertical lines add another touch of elegance to the timepiece. While this version is in yellow gold, Day-Date watches from this era are of course also available in white gold and platinum.
2000 – Present: Rolex Day-Date ref. 118xxx
Finally, in 2000, Rolex revealed the newest version of the Day-Date 36 with the six-digit 118xxx series. While the watches came equipped with the same Cal. 3155 movements and the same sized 36mm Oyster cases, they do boast improved bracelets and clasps. A vastly varied collection, the current series of the Day-Date 36 watches are available in yellow gold, white gold, rose gold, and platinum. There are plenty of diamond options too. What’s more, dial choices are plentiful and there are even options with leather straps along with the famed President bracelet.
The Day-Date ref. 118205 is an 18k rose gold version with a smooth bezel and rose gold President bracelet. Contrasting with the warm precious metal is a crisp white dial with rose gold Roman numerals.
2008 – 2015: Rolex Day-Date II
In 2008, Rolex surprised the luxury watch world when they unveiled the Day-Date II collection with a much larger 41mm case size. This was the brand’s modern version of the classic Day-Date President watch and it was well recieved by those who favor larger men’s watches.
Like many of the previous models of the Day-Date, the President II was availble in yellow gold, (ref. 218238), white gold (ref. 218239), Everose rose gold (ref. 218235), and platinum (ref. 218206). At the heart of the Day-Date II watches is the Cal. 3156 automatic movement with 48 hours of power reserve.
2015 – Present Day-Date 40
The Day-Date II was only in production for a short seven years until it was replaced by the Day-Date 40 in 2015. As its name suggests, Rolex reduced the case size ever so slightly on their larger President watch to now include a 40mm Oyster case. Along with the size change, the Day-Date 40 also runs on a new generation movement–the Cal. 3255. The new movement features a longer 72-hour power reserve and an improved accuracy rating of -2/+2 seconds per day.
This yellow gold Day-Date 40 ref. 228238 has the familiar gold fluted bezel sitting atop its 40mm case and a black dial housed within. The rich black dial is home to lume-filled gold baton indexes and of course, the pair of calendar windows at 3 and 12 o’clock. Finishing off the look of the larger men’s Rolex President is the legendary President bracelet in solid 18k yellow gold.
Regardless of the specific model, the Rolex Day-Date President is a luxury watch that’s truly in a league of its own. With over six decades of history behind it and countless fans around the world, the legacy of this Rolex icon will continue on for a long time to come.