Perfecting a Watch: The Design Evolution of the Replica Rolex Datejust

Water resistant, automatic winding, chronometer-certified, a date window
— in 1945, the Replica Rolex Datejust was the first watch that could offer all this — just about perfect. Nevertheless, Rolex has continued to improve upon it.

What does the perfect watch look like? Automatic winding, three hands, a date display, accurate, sturdy and water resistant — you really don’t need more than that. No wonder the first watch with just these characteristics was a great success: the Rolex Datejust, which first appeared in 1945. Perfection is often achieved in small steps and so it was with Rolex. The brand introduced the water-resistant Oyster in 1926 and added the Perpetual automatic movement in 1931. The perfect watch for everyday wear was then created with the Oyster Perpetual Datejust.

Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf not only had a feel for the needs of the market; he also knew how to position his brand and its innovative technology to be both interesting and eye-catching. The names he chose were ingenious: the waterproof Oyster case, the Perpetual movement (to describe the movement of the wrist that continuously winds the mainspring) and the Datejust model (to highlight the instantaneous advancement of the date at midnight).

Rolex introduced its first Datejust in 1945.

At the beginning of 1945, the Datejust was only available in gold. And this was also its 40th anniversary year, so Rolex named the metal bracelet developed for the Rolex Datejust luxury watch  the “Jubilee” bracelet. By the end of the 1940s, the company began producing the Datejust in steel, which was powered by the Rolex 730 automatic movement in these early years.

Rolex advertised “The Incomparable Datejust” in 1948.

The design underwent slight changes at the beginning. Despite its exceptional wearability, Rolex did not rest on its laurels and continued making improvements to the Datejust. In 1954, Rolex added the famous Cyclops lens magnifier for the date. And beginning in 1955, the date advanced in the blink of an eye. In 1957, the new automatic movement 1065 allowed for a thinner case. Collectors know the watches built before this time as “Bubble Backs.”

The Datejust from 1979 with Rolex’s own quartz movement

The well-known design with its obelisk hands, fluted bezel and rectangular index hour markers has been in place since the early 1950s. In 1965, automatic movement 1570 was selected for the Rolex Datejust Replica Watch and in 1972, a hack mechanism allowed for the precise setting of the time. In 1974, Rolex was the first manufacturer to use a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, and in 1977, Caliber 3035 with its red anodized, friction-reducing wheels added the Quickset date. In 1977, there was also an Oysterquartz Datejust with a quartz movement that was developed in-house by Rolex.

Datejust 31

In 1988, the Datejust began to be powered by automatic Caliber 3135 with a balance bridge and an improved self-winding mechanism. The case size of the original version remained unchanged with a 36-mm diameter. At that time, there were only two smaller versions: 31 mm and 26 mm. While men once wore the 31-mm model, eventually even the 36-mm version seemed too small. Although Rolex long resisted the move to larger Datejust models, in 2009, the company introduced the 41-mm Datejust II, which was replaced in 2016 by the Datejust 41, which was same size but had a new movement and updated case.

Vintage Eye for the Modern Guy: Replica Rolex Air-King

Keeping with the aviation theme from last week’s article on the Stowa Flieger Klassik 40 Baumuster B, we come to this week’s featured timepiece: the Rolex Air-King. This series is one of the longest-running production models within Rolex’s modern lineup, with only the iconic Datejust Replica and the original Oyster Perpetual rivaling it for longevity.

The Air-King, like the Datejust, was first released in 1945 as part of a larger collection of “Air” models meant to honor the British Royal Air Force for their service during the 1930s and ‘40s — a collection that also included an Air-Lion, Air-Tiger, and Air-Giant. While the Air-King (pictured above) outlasted its three fellow “Air” watches, it was not until 1953, with the “transitional” Ref. 6552 model, and then in 1957, with the appearance of the Air-King Ref. 5500, that the model acquired its familiar modern aesthetic. Since then, the Air-King has been positioned as one of the more affordable options within the Rolex portfolio, and— after being briefly discontinued in 2014— was resurrected in 2016 as the Ref. 116900 (below).

Today’s model features a 40-mm steel Oyster case, with a screw-down crown and an accompanying oyster bracelet. On the black dial are applied white-gold numerals, with traditional 3, 6, and 9 Arabic numerals for the quarter-hour marks, and the remaining numerals increasing by increments of five in a look reminiscent of the navigational tools of airplanes; at the 12 o’clock position is an applied triangular hour marker commonly found on many pilots’ watches. Below it you’ll notice the printed Rolex logo, with accents in gold and Rolex green, and a printed, vintage Air-King logo toward the bottom of the dial. Indicating the time is Rolex’s signature “Mercedes” hour hand and a sword-style minute hand, with another Rolex green-accented lollipop hand displaying the running seconds. The Air-King uses the automatic Rolex Caliber 3131, the same movement currently used for the Rolex Milgauss, which stores a 48-hour power reserve. The watch is available at retailers worldwide, with the brand currently pricing it at $6,200.

Comparing the modern watch to its vintage counterparts, there are a few noticeable similarities. These include the general shape of the of the Oyster case — a style seen on almost all Rolex watches since the middle of the 20th century — and, similarly along these lines, also the Oyster bracelet. Specific to both the vintage and contemporary Air-King models are two primary details: the vintage Air-King logo established in the early iterations of the piece, and the quarter-hour numeral markers for the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions. While these numerals are not exactly in the same style as those on early Air-Kings — firstly, because most vintage models of the piece predominantly featured tick marks, diamonds, or some other stylized non-numerical hour markers; secondly, because the font and sizing are a bit more rounded and proportionally enlarged to the modern dial — the heritage of the watch is still recognizable.

Among the differences between the historical and modern watches, many are easily noticeable. These include the enlarged, 40-mm case, as compared to the vintage model’s 34-or-so-mm; the addition of the non-quarter-hour numerals and the triangle at the 12 o’clock mark; and other details such as the choice of hands and the green colored highlights. There’s no mistaking the contemporary Air-King as a modern Rolex creation rather than a direct historical homage. In my view, the modern Air-King seems more a desendant of the Rolex Explorer (vintage model pictured below), especially with its dial layout and choice of hands (which may partially be a result of Rolex sharing manufacturing between the two models, but that is, of course, a subject however this is for another article).

Rolex has done what it tends to do in the modern era for its watches with historical lineages: leave enough clear details to maintain a piece within the framework of its series, while changing enough to push the style forward for modern consumers. As with many Rolex timepieces, myself and other collectors would like to see a more direct homage by the brand. Until this unlikely event, check out this vintage-style advertisement I found through the brand’s Instagram, below.

Oyster Perpetual Replica Datejust II Rolesor

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust in Rolesor is an archetype of timeless luxury.

Created sixty years ago, the Oyster Perpetual Datejust Rolesor is the world’s most recognized and recognizable watch, if not the standard-bearer of an art de vivre. Impervious to the vagaries of fashion, it remains eternally modern. And the new Datejust II Rolesor for men and the Datejust Rolesor 36 mm for ladies, with gem-set bezel, are the proof.

Subtly redesigned over time, the Oyster Perpetual Replica Datejust Rolesor, archetype of timeless luxury, embraces all the latest watchmaking innovations to meet the most demanding technological requirements.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust RolesorRolex

Datejust Rolesor II, Reference: 116333-72213

The history of this must-have masterpiece of contemporary watchmaking is rooted in the rich heritage of Rolex timepieces. It is the fruit of the Oyster, the first waterproof and dustproof wristwatch entirely designed and manufactured by Rolex in 1926. The movement of the watch receives its energy from the Perpetual rotor, the first self-winding mechanism with a free rotor, created in 1931. The Datejust made its debut in 1945, its name inspired by the date displayed in a window on the watch dial.

The Oyster Perpetual Datejust Rolesor is the hallmark of the Rolex brand. Precise, waterproof, self-winding, this officially-certified Swiss chronometer with date display is crafted with only the noblest of materials and assembled with the greatest of care.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust RolesorRolex
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust RolesorRolex

The Datejust II Rolesor makes an exquisite addition to the extensive range of the Oyster Perpetual Datejust family. Pillar of the collection, it is a must-have for anyone who appreciates extraordinary timepieces.

The case
The case, in yellow or white Rolesor, available for the first time in 41 mm, marries optimal comfort with elegant refinement. Fitted with a fluted bezel, the watch is waterproof to a depth of 100 metres (330 feet).

The movement
The Datejust II is equipped with a calibre entirely designed and manufactured by Rolex. It features a Parachrom hairspring, highly resistant to shocks and magnetic fields, as well as new Paraflex shock absorbers, which ensure its superlative chronometric precision and remarkable reliability. The movement is chronometer-certified by the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC) and has a power reserve of 48 hours.

The dial
The Datejust II features original dials that are, at once, contemporary and altogether classic.

The bracelet
The Datejust II is available on an Oyster bracelet, fitted with an Oysterclasp and Easylink extension link, providing additional wearer comfort.