As the world’s most famous luxury watch brand, Rolex has plenty of iconic models to its name: Datejust, Day-Date “President,” Submariner, and Daytona, just to name a few. However, there are some models within the brand’s lineup that get overshadowed by the more famous watches. The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date, sometimes just called the Rolex Date, is an example of one of these. Despite being one of Rolex’s oldest watch models still in production today, there’s still some confusion that surrounds the Date collection. This is perhaps because it is very similar to the Datejust watch and many assume that they are one and the same. So let’s shed some light on the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date model by taking a look at its history, evolution, and current status.
The Origins: Early Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date Models
The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date made its debut in the mid-1950s. For some context, Rolex released the Datejust in 1945 and it came equipped with a 36 mm case. On the other hand, the Date sported a slightly smaller 34 mm case size. Also, while the men’s Rolex Date was the same size as the men’s Air-King at that time, it provided the added functionality of the date window. So if you’re confused as to what the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date model is, think of it as the middle ground between the Air-King and the Datejust.
Early models of the Rolex Date include the stainless steel Date ref. 6530 with a smooth bezel, the stainless steel Date ref. 6535 with an engine-turned bezel, and the stainless steel Date ref. 6534 with a white gold fluted bezel. There’s also the yellow gold Date ref. 6537. It’s important to note that there was also the Rolex ref. 6518, which came out a few years prior, but this particular vintage Rolex reference was made with several different names on the dial including Oysterdate Perpetual, Oyster Perpetual, and Oyster Perpetual Date.
As the name of the model implies, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date watches were waterproof (Oyster), automatic (Perpetual), and included a date window (Date) on the dial. These early Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date models were equipped with the then-new automatic Caliber 1035 (the date version of the Caliber 1030). These movements are non-quickset date Calibers, meaning that the date cannot be set independently from the timekeeping hands.
Rolex also added the protruding Cyclops lens on the crystal to magnify the date window. These magnification lenses were relatively new as Rolex only introduced them to the Datejust in 1954. The date wheels of the watches were particularly notable for having both red and black numerals, which are often referred to as “roulette” date windows in collecting circles. Dial layouts were relatively simple, with the trio of center hands and a few different index styles. Like most high-end watches during the era, Rolex used self-luminous radium accents on the dial for legibility in the dark. Aside from the size of the case, the Oyster Perpetual Date was identical to the Datejust—which explains the frequent mix-up between the two different Rolex watches.
The 1960’s & 1970’s Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date Models
Following the ref. 65xx series of Date models, Rolex introduced the 15xx reference family of the Oyster Perpetual Date in the 1960s. This era of Rolex Date watches first ran on Caliber 1565 (18,000bph) then on the higher-beat Caliber 1575 (operating at 19,800bph) movement. Both movements were still non-quickset date calibers.
The watches retained their 34mm Oyster cases, date window at 3 o’clock, acrylic crystals, and Cyclops lenses. However, the mid-1960s is when Rolex switched from radioactive radium to much safer (but still self-luminous) tritium for luminescence on the dial. Rolex dials with tritium are marked with “T SWISS T,” “T Swiss Made T” or “Swiss-T <25” under the 6 o’clock hour marker.
In terms of material and style choices, there’s the stainless steel Rolex Date ref. 1500 with a smooth bezel, the stainless steel Rolex Date ref. 1501 with an engine-turned steel bezel, the two-tone Rolex Date ref. 1505, the gold-shell Rolex Date ref. 1550, the 14k yellow gold Rolex Date ref. 1503, and the 18k yellow gold Rolex Date ref. 1507.
An especially noteworthy model to point out within this family is the Rolex Date 1530, which Rolex made from 1975 until 1977. These stainless steel models have the same angular case and integrated bracelet as the Oysterquartz watches (released in 1977) but were fitted with mechanical movements while Rolex was still perfecting its in-house quartz movement. Interestingly, this was the first Date model to feature a sapphire crystal rather than an acrylic one. Yet, the sapphire crystal wouldn’t appear on the Date models again until the 1990s.
The 1980’s Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date Models
The eighties ushered in a new generation of Date models fitted with the Caliber 3035 and carrying the 150xx reference numbers. Caliber 3035 was Rolex’s first automatic movement to feature the quickset date feature. Therefore, the date window could now be set independently from the timekeeping hands, making the Date ref. 150xx models more practical than their predecessors.
As always, the case size for the men’s Date watches stayed the same at 34mm and they continued to use acrylic crystals. In true Rolex fashion, there was an assortment of materials and bezel styles to choose from. There’s the stainless steel Rolex Date ref. 15000 with a smooth bezel, the stainless steel Date ref. 15010 with an engine-turned bezel, the 14k yellow gold Date ref. 15037, the 18k yellow gold Date ref. 15038, and the two-tone Date 15053.
The 1990’s Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date Models
In 1988, Rolex unveiled its newest date self-winding movement in the form of the Caliber 3135. This movement became the cornerstone of Rolex watches with date window and it is still in use today in the brand’s catalog. To house the new movement, Rolex introduced a new batch of Rolex Date watches in the late eighties/early nineties with the reference numbers 152xx.
Along with the new movement, the then-new Date ref. 152xx watches were furnished with scratch-resistant sapphire crystals on top of their 34 mm Oyster cases. In the early 1990s, Rolex was still using tritium for luminescence on the dial but towards the end of the decade, the company switched to a material called Luminova. Instead of being self-luminous like tritium or radium, Luminova first needs to be “charged” by a light source, after which it will continue to glow in the dark. Because of when Rolex adopted Luminova, earlier Date ref. 152xx models have tritium on the dial (marked with “T SWISS MADE T” under 6 o’clock) and later-production Date ref. 152xx models have Luminova (marked with SWISS under 6 o’clock).
The 2000’s Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date Models
Finally, in the mid-2000s, Rolex released the newest Date models with the six-digit 1152xx reference numbers. These are still in production today, and thanks to their everlasting case size, they go by the official name Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date 34 collection. However, Rolex did slightly redesign the case to be broader than previous versions despite the same official 34mm diameter measurement. The bracelets were also revamped to feature solid end-links and center links along with an improved clasp for an overall more substantial fit and feel.
As modern Rolex watches, the current Date 34 models are of course fitted with a quick-set date feature thanks to Caliber 3135 and sapphire crystal above the dial with the famed Cyclops lens to magnify the date window at 3 o’clock. For luminescence, Rolex switched again to another material type called SuperLuminova in the 2000s and yet again to Chromalight in the late 2000s and dials are marked with “SWISS MADE” under 6 o’clock.
For this generation of Oyster Perpetual Date watches, Rolex dropped the two-tone and yellow gold versions to just focus on stainless steel editions. There’s the Date ref 115200 with a domed bezel, the Date ref. 115234 with a white gold fluted bezel, and the (short-lived) Date ref. 115210 with an engine-turned bezel.
The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date References Over The Years
The Ladies’ Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date Models
While we’ve focused on the men’s OP Date watches, Rolex did make ladies’ Oyster Perpetual Date models as well. These feature smaller 26mm Oyster cases and the same date window on the dial plus Cyclops lens on the crystal combination.
The evolution of the ladies’ Date watch followed a similar path to the men’s models. In the 1960s, there were the ladies’ Date ref. 65xx models, in the 1970s, there were the ladies’ Date ref. 69xx models, in the 1980s, there were the ladies’ Date ref. 69xxx models, in the 1990s and 2000s there were the ladies’ Date ref. 792xx models. Material options are plentiful, as are dial and bezel styles. For instance, for a lavish version of the ladies’ Date watch, there’s the Date ref. 6916 in full yellow gold with a President bracelet, complete with bark accents. Alternatively, there’s the classic two-tone Date ref. 69173 that combines steel, yellow gold, and a Jubilee bracelet.
Rolex has since discontinued the ladies’ Date watches with 26 mm cases and has turned its attention to the ladies’ Datejust collection of watches.
The Appeal of the Rolex Date
A solid entry-level Rolex, the Oyster Perpetual Date, whether vintage or modern, is a delightful everyday luxury watch. While it may fly under the radar, the Rolex Date certainly boasts its own rich history and variety.
The 34mm size makes it a good choice for many wrist sizes, particularly since there is a growing trend towards smaller, more restrained watches. And within the world of Rolex watches, the Oyster Perpetual Date lineup offers prices points that are relatively accessible, especially when considering pre-owned versions.