Posted on May 09 2020
Rolex Datejust History
I’m writing this article on VE day. The day that Western Europe celebrates the end of World War II. It therefore seems fitting that we’re taking a look at the Rolex Datejust.
A couple of years after the end of hostilities, Rolex was on the verge of producing their 100,000th officially certified chronometer. The company wanted to celebrate this with the presentation of a watch to a great name of their time. So in 1947 Hans Wilsdorf the Rolex founder approached Britain’s wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The watch given to Churchill was a Datejust. This particular variation being made from18 ct gold, featuring a white dial and inscribed with Churchills Coat of Arms on the rear of the case.
Rolex presented Churchill with this model because at the time it was the watch that best consolidated all of the companies successes.
It had their in-house self-winding movement, water-resistance and the distinctive Oyster case.
Originally released in 1945, the Oyster Perpetual Datejust was created for the 40th anniversary of the company. The major innovation was the inclusion of a date window at 3 o’clock. It’s a detail that we take for granted now, almost seeming like a common-sense design, but at the time this was a new feature unique to Rolex. The concept is simple. The date window at 3 o’clock - on a right-handed person wearing a watch on their left, should just be visible from underneath a shirt cuff.
It’s not just the date that makes this watch instantly recognisable. Although it does come with three bezel variations - smooth, domed, or fluted - it’s the fluted that probably springs to mind when picturing the Datejust in your head.
Again, the Datejust can have a choice of bracelets, either a Jubilee, Oyster or President. But it’s the five-piece link Jubilee bracelet, designed specifically for the original 1945 watch, that feels the most authentic (although not my personal favourite).
The final piece of the classic design came with the 1953 introduction of a cyclops lens over the date - magnifying the date window for easier reading.
As well as the bezel styles, the modern version of the watch also comes in three sizes, with different movements and a number of case and dial options. That means there’s a bit of scope when we’re looking for affordable alternatives. We’re trying not to stray too far from the classic Oyster Perpetual Datejust, but we’re also not just selecting watches that are homage pieces to one specific model.
The 7 Best Affordable Alternatives to the Rolex Datejust
Regular reader will know that Seiko often features on my blog, whether it’s when we looked at iconic Space Watches, Famous Seiko’s or affordable alternatives to the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. Having been producing timepieces since the 1800s, and now one of the worlds biggest manufacturers, they can be pulled into any conversation about watches.
Within Seiko’s various collections is the brands Seiko 5 range. Introduced in 1963, this line was designed to be an affordable collection that provided excellent value for money. The ‘5’ come from the five core features every watch in this line contains.
- Automatic winding
- Day/date displayed in a single window
- Water resistance
- Recessed crown at the 4 o’clock position
- Durable case and bracelet
The SNXJ89 is a dress watch that features each of these elements, with the automatic movement being one of Seiko’s own, in a style that clearly resembles the Datejust. There is the fluted bezel and the same hand set, but slight variations including the addition of a Day window and the movement of the crown to a 4 o’clock position. Although now discontinued, it can still be picked up new online.
This second watch from Seiko comes close to replicating the Rolex’s aesthetic. There’s a real vintage appeal to this one, despite it being a Quartz powered model. The two-tone Jubilee bracelet and the gold-coloured fluted bezel hark back to those 1980s Datejust models.
Although it’s quite faithful to the Rolex design, the crown is correctly at 3 o’clock for example, like the previous Seiko it is missing the Cyclops lens. Again, there’s the inclusion of a day window which obviously isn’t on the Datejust, but it is modestly sized at 35mm which adds to the authenticity.
Seiko Core SGF204
Like Seiko, Orient is another Japanese giant that has featured multiple times on the blog (Alternatives to the Aqua Terra and Watches You Can Modify). Indeed, this brand is actually a part of the Seiko Group. They’re a similar company who produce high-quality mid-price watches, manufactured with their own in-house movements. Again like Seiko, they produce a large range of watches with designs that cover most genres. You can shop their large range of divers or their minimalist Bambino designs. Their rugged sports watches or their classic moon phase style.
This model is a part of the brands Tristar collection. Now 50 years old, the range of Tristar watches were originally created to compete with the introduction of battery-powered Quartz watches. The idea was to release a line of mechanical watches that were cheap, easy to maintain and reliable. The three stars represent those ideals - quality, design, and price. The range proved popular, particularly in the developing world where cost and access to batteries were both significant issues.
This particular watch is far from a direct homage to the Rolex, but there’s a number of the basic elements there. This time there’s the smooth bezel, with similar hands and hour markers. With the gold case, there’s a very strong vintage aesthetic that recreates Orients own history as much as it does Rolex’s.
It’s another relatively small watch with a big selling point. This relates back to the brand’s mission for the Tristar range - one of those stars represents price. This is a reliable automatic watch that regularly retails for under £100.
Orient Tristar FAB0000FC9
The next watch on the list is also Japanese. This time from Casio, a technology company that made its name producing calculators, before releasing a digital watch in 1974. They’re a high-street brand that is probably best known to watch aficionados for their popular and well respected G-Shock watches.
This model is a cheap, quartz piece that gives more than a passing nod to the Rolex. Other than the cyclops, most of the basic design points are there, including the minutes at the edge of the dial. It’s available in a number of dial colours and is nearer the 40mm diameter than a couple of the smaller watches featured.
Chinese brand Parnis has made quite a name for themselves by producing a large selection of homage and classically styled watches. They’re readily available in the west, from both the big eCommerce sites and independent retailers. So it’s no surprise to find them on this list.
More so than some of the others, this presents as a homage watch. This is a modestly priced watch, with a Chinese mechanical movement, meant to closely resemble the Swiss luxury watch.
So all the design points we’d expect are there, ranging from the distinctive flute bezel to the cyclops lens that the previous watches missed. There’s not a great deal to add, other than it’s nice to see a more substantial crown and sapphire crystal. With this watch available in a number of variations, you should be able to find one that mimics your favourite Datejust.
Young watch company Stuhrling sold over a million watches in 2017 (See more here). With those staggering sales, they have positioned themselves as one of the go-to brands for those interested in affordable mechanical watches.
They’ve released a number of designs that clearly take inspiration from the high points of watchmaking. This model from the Symphony line is a very close homage to the Rolex.
For me, maybe more than any other on the list, this is the watch that is nearest to what I’d want in a Datejust style piece. All the basics are there, plus a number of the smaller touches. The blue dial with the simple white markers and the modern Oyster bracelet are both features that I’d choose on the original. The only downside is that for a company that produces so many automatic watches, this line are quartz powered. If that’s not a deal-breaker, and the low price does reflect the inclusion of a quartz movement, then this is a definite contender for your affordable Datejust.
Stuhrling Symphony Lineage 3935
Spend any time on Amazon browsing watches and you’ll have come across Chinese brand Burei. This final brand, while more expensive than Parnis, does seem to garner decent online reviews. Some of that price increase is due to the automatic movements used. Although from a Chinese company, this watch houses a Japanese made automatic movement. There’s also a sapphire crystal with a cyclops lens and a signed crown.
The markers are jewelled this time and there’s a little text on the dial that may or may not be to your tastes.