At Rolex’s manufactures in Switzerland, only natural diamonds designated IF are selected to grace the brand’s timepieces. The initials, which stand for internally flawless, mean they’re in the top one percent of high-grade stones and, as you can imagine, they’re extremely rare. You will, however, find them in a shimmering circle gracing the bezel of the beguiling new Oyster Perpetual Datejust 31, a model that also features 10 diamond hour markers.
But there’s far more to this model than supremely alluring diamonds; a great deal is also contained and concealed within the watch’s workings. A statement watch since its launch, the Datejust holds a particular fascination for timepiece aficionados. By the time of its debut in 1945, Rolex had long been attracting the industry’s attention with a run of innovations. Having already given birth to the world’s first water-resistant watch in 1926 — with a case, the Oyster, named after the elusive watertight mollusc — in 1931, Rolex followed up by creating a wristwatch complete with another first, the perpetual rotor. This new ability to power a watch with energy stored from the wearer’s moving wrist was an astounding feat and gave rise to automatic wristwatches, which still dominate watch collections today. It was a game changer.
And so, arriving as it did to coincide with the brand’s 40th anniversary, the first Datejust had to be special — and it didn’t disappoint. When it was unveiled, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust featured both of those previous innovations and one new one, becoming the first automatic wristwatch to display a date on the dial — at 3 o’clock. As it had done previously with the perpetual rotor, Rolex had created a function that went on to revolutionise the entire watch industry. Later, the company emphasised that fact by circling the date window with its famous Cyclops magnifier.
The model has become an icon for the brand, and an enduring mainstay; indeed, it’s arguably the most recognisable member of a rich family of notable timepieces. And, as this year’s beguiling new editions demonstrate, it’s still full of innovations.
This year, the Datejust 31 is updated with the calibre 2236. This new-generation, self-winding mechanical movement is entirely manufactured in-house at Rolex, and features the Syloxi hairspring that Rolex brought to market in 2014, after many years of research. Made from silicon, this innovation has been confirmed in testing to be 10 times more precise than traditional ferromagnetic hairsprings. The perpetual rotor and Oyster case of the original Datejust remain, and offer a 55-hour power reserve and waterproofing to 10 bar, as well as a scratch-proof sapphire Cyclops lens that beautifully showcases the wristwatch’s most distinctive feature.
The Datejust has been released in many iterations, large and small. This time around, the 31mm models sit sleek on the wrist, meeting the modern desire for more diminutive sizing, and are crafted from blocks of yellow gold, the pink-hued Everose gold and beguiling white gold. Each is set with 46 brilliant-cut IF diamonds on the bezel, selected by specialists at the Rolex atelier for their authenticity and clarity. Then, with a meticulous deftness of touch, a dedicated gem-setting team places each stone into its allocated position, one by one.
There’s also no compromise in terms of performance, and from superlative gems we move swiftly to a superlative chronometer. Since the 1950s, Rolex has tested and certified its timepieces to its own high standards. The process was revised in 2015 and named the Superlative Chronometer, and now specifies that each watch is found to satisfy a series of controls in Rolex’s own labs, using criteria that not only complement the already rigorous Swiss watch industry’s COSC certification, but also go above and beyond industry norms. The brand’s certification tests begin only once the watch is entirely finished and fully assembled in the casing, and measured for precision, waterproofing, self-winding ability and power reserve. A positive Superlative Chronometer certification, the result of this process, is finished with a flourish, with the watch receiving an inscription on the dial, a move that has become a signature for Rolex.
Given the brand’s growing worldwide popularity today, it can be easy to lose sight of the excellence in performance that Rolex has long pursued. In 1910, for example, the brand was awarded the first Swiss Chronometer certification for a wristwatch. When a wearer selects a Datejust 31, what they’re choosing is not just a modern marker of time, and a rather dazzling one at that, but a culmination of decades of precision and prestigious watchmaking. This adornment is not only a story of classic style, but also of a fabled past.