March 6, 2017
by Ariel Adams
In 2016, Rolex released the new reference 126333 Oyster Perpetual Datejust 41 watch (debuted here) which quietly replaced the outgoing Datejust II that Rolex had been making for a few years. Both models are larger-sized versions of the classic Rolex Datejust that for most of its life came in a 36mm-wide case. The Rolex Datejust is one of the world’s most popular luxury timepieces and has been around since Rolex originally released the Datejust back in 1945.
I’ve been wearing the Rolex 126333 Datejust 41 quite regularly for the last few months as part of my normal timepiece rotation. This is one of those watches that I also happened to add to my own collection. It was not until I was able to wear the watch for a while that I was able to truly develop a relationship with the Rolex Datejust in a way that so many owners have done over the collection’s long lifespan. One of the major questions that I was trying to answer as part of my review is “what category does this watch fit into?” I’ll get to why that question is important later on.
When Rolex originally released the Datejust, the name of the watch made a lot more sense. Quite literally, the main technical attraction to the watch was the fact that it had a movement that was able to automatically change the date at midnight, which was a novel piece of functionality at the time. Since then, the humble “date complication” has gone on to become the most popular function on wristwatches right after displaying the current time.
As a company, Rolex rarely releases brand-new model families. Instead, part of the “Rolex Way” – a clever marketing term for a very real culture at the company – is to maintain strong pillars of production collections and improve and expand upon them as they feel might best serve the market. Thus, the majority of Rolex’s stable of watch lines (Submariner, Explorer, GMT-Master, Daytona, Day-Date, Datejust, et cetera) have been around for decades. What this means is that while there is “one Datejust,” in reality there are dozens and dozens of variants from previous years, as well as those currently available.
The Rolex Datejust is the most popular among all the brand’s collections, and that includes Datejust watches made for both men and women. Especially including women’s models, there is an incredible variety of styles, sizes, material and dial choices, and more. As an enthusiast, it can be extremely challenging to navigate currently available and formerly available Rolex Datejust models, perhaps even more so than most other watches the storied high-end Swiss watch maker produces. It is here where we should add that some of the now discontinued Rolex Datejust II models may still be around in stores for some time.
What makes tracking Rolex Datejust models even more complicated is the variety of dial, bezel, and bracelet options. Even though Rolex debuted the Datejust 41 in exclusively a two-tone (“Rolesor,” as they call it) variation as opposed to just steel, you can opt for either steel and yellow gold or steel and Everose gold, choose between two bracelet options (Jubilee or Oyster), and between a total of ten dial options between the two gold variants, and last but not least, pick a polished “flat” bezel or a fluted bezel as seen here. All I can say is that if you are interested in a Rolex Datejust 41, make sure to do your homework and decide which particular variant is right for you.
The one I chose was actually the “poster model” that Rolex used to show off the Datejust 41 reference 126333 on its website and in various marketing materials throughout most of 2016. This particular Rolex Datejust 41 reference 126333 is 904L steel and 18k yellow gold with the fluted 18k yellow gold bezel and matching “champagne”-colored dial with easy-to-read baton-style hour markers. It also uses Rolex’s newest version of their popular Jubilee-style bracelet which makes use of many small links.
Two-tone “Rolesor” Rolex watches can be identified easily by the fact that they use steel and gold together. The crown is also in gold. The two dots below the Rolex logo on the crown indicate an Oyster case with a Twinlock water and dust protection system in the very sturdy screw-down crown assembly. In the future, Rolex will likely release all-steel variations of the Rolex Datejust II, but all-precious-metal options will not likely be available, as that is the domain of the more expensive Rolex Day-Date “President” that Rolex also released a new model of recently.
Back in 2013, I did a joint review of the Rolex Datejust II and Day-Date II watches here. It made sense to review both of them together at the time as both models share an extremely similar (if not mostly identical) 41mm-wide case and very similar movements. The main difference between the two models is that the Rolex Datejust only indicates the time and date, whereas the Day-Date indicates the date along with the day of the week.
In 2015, Rolex debuted the Day-Date 40 watch here. What was important was that this was an entirely new Rolex Day-Date watch from the ground up, which is ironic because if you look at modern Rolex Day-Date or Datejust models, you can easily mistake them at a glance for older ones. This isn’t exactly an accident, as Rolex is intentionally trying to continue a visual look and style which has become familiar to its wearers for decades. The Rolex Day-Date 40 boasted both a brand-new case and movement. The case was a millimeter smaller than the outgoing model’s, but with a much better shape and proportions. A year later, in 2016, Rolex followed suit with the Rolex Datejust 41, which maintained a 41mm-wide size but also enjoyed a very similar new case design with vastly improved proportions over the Rolex Datejust II.
In the Day-Date 40, Rolex debuted what is easily the most impressive mechanical movement it has made to date, which is the caliber 3255. This Rolex Datejust 41 also has a new movement which is extremely similar to the 3255, being the caliber 3235. It is difficult to explain all the ways that the 3235 is special because Rolex hasn’t reinvented the mechanical movement so much as it has reinvented how to produce in some volume extremely high-quality mechanical movements. What I mean by that is an intense effort in trying to extract as much performance as possible with the same type of architecture. It is like when a car maker releases a new engine that isn’t per se larger or that has more displacement, but is able to get more power by having its current system tweaked and refined.
The best way Rolex uses to describe the performance of the calibers 3255 and 3235 is by mentioning that timepieces containing these movements are “Superlative Chronometers.” While this statement has been used in connection to Rolex watches for a while, only recently has it begun to take on a more precise meaning. Rolex has a still relatively new and very strict in-house certification program for its movements. It promises performance of +2/-2 seconds per day for its watches, which is more than double the accuracy required by COSC Chronometer certification – performed separately outside of Rolex by the third-party company COSC.
Rolex’s Superlative Chronometer watches like the Datejust 41 are tested both in-house at Rolex and externally at COSC. I’ve mentioned at least a few times that this double certification is sort of redundant, but it does add to the high-end experience of owning a performance machine that is meant to last for a long time. Rolex also offers a five-year warranty on the movements – which is near the top of the industry standard.
Rolex caliber 3235 automatic movements operate at 4Hz with a roughly three-day power reserve (70 hours). In addition to including parts in the movement which represent Rolex’s finest work today, the movement also contains Rolex’s new “Chronergy” escapement system which helps the regulation system in the movement perform in a “superlative” manner. In day-to-day testing, I’ve had no problems with the movement, and find that it remains very accurate and reliable. My favorite part of the movement is how the date adjusts. Directly at midnight (and not slowly leading up to it), the date disc immediately and satisfyingly jumps to the next position. It is a beauty to behold (and super nerdy to discuss).
I think that the important takeaway message for consumers is that this isn’t just a standard automatic movement inside of a pretty watch, but it has been meticulously engineered to offer as much performance as possible in a movement that is designed for relatively mass-level production – something that Rolex is arguably the best in the industry at doing.
While the movement inside of a watch is very important, to be honest, I didn’t need to think too much about it while wearing the Rolex Datejust 41. Rolex doesn’t make the movement visible through the rear of the case, which in many ways makes the wearing experience more about what is on the outside, versus what is on the inside. I say all this because I do find that watches with and without exhibition caseback windows do make for different wearing experiences (not better or worse, just distinct). In the context of the Rolex Datejust 41, it allows me to focus a lot more on the design, as well as the club I am now a part of. That club being the many people before me and who currently wear Rolex Datejust watches.
I have a lot to say about the experience of being someone wearing a Rolex Datejust and what that makes me feel. In fact, I will spend the majority of this watch review discussing those elements, as I think it is central to the Rolex Datejust wearing experience. Allow me to explain. When I look at the Rolex Datejust on my wrist, sometimes I see the storied age of the design. This is a brand new watch, so why is it that I find it to look old?
It does help to recall that this is a design Rolex has been perpetuating since the 1950s. Even though the Datejust debuted in 1945, it was not until the next decade that Rolex modified the design of the Datejust more to its current form. That includes the distinctive hands, bezel design, and bracelets. This means that for over 60 years people around the world have become familiar with the core look of a Rolex Datejust. I will talk more about the Rolex Datejust in popular culture below, but suffice it to say that when you decide to wear a Rolex Datejust, you aren’t simply wearing a timepiece that becomes part of your personality. Rather, you are putting on an institution, and lending your personality to it.
This is an important distinction because, in my opinion, “you wear some watches” and at other times “the watch wears you.” If that sounds cheesy, then perhaps you have a better way of phrasing it. The idea I am trying to convey is that some watches are so recognizable, they have a personality independent of who is wearing them. Thus, if the watch is more famous than the person wearing it, it lends personality to its wearer in a way that a less distinguishable timepiece ever can. The Rolex Datejust has that power, and when you put it on, the perceptions people have of what the watch suddenly become part of your character – regardless of whether those traits apply to you.
The next logical question is “what is the character of a Rolex Datejust?” I’ll begin by saying that I don’t know if I can definitively answer that question because I think it depends on who you were asking. I grew up seeing the Rolex Datejust in one way, but someone around the world could have a totally different perspective on what type of people wear the watch. I will say that, oddly enough, you rarely see people who consider themselves watch collectors wearing a Rolex Datejust, which is a topic I am interested in exploring.
Why is it that watch enthusiasts and collectors rarely themselves wear Rolex Datejusts? The worst thing most of them have to say about Rolex Datejust watches is that they are “boring” or “the watch a grandfather wears.” Watch enthusiasts often see the Rolex Datejust as the luxury watch for the masses. It is what you wear if your collection of timepieces is small or consists of just a few items to help your sense or style or external communication of success. So much of the mystique about the Rolex Datejust is in being an overt luxury item as opposed to a representation of horology.