Monochrome Watches
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Horsing Around With a Vintage Rolex Datejust

| By Mario Squillacioti | 9 min read |
Rolex Datejust 16030

It took a lot of crisis counseling around the offices to get over my failure to spend the entire Year of the Snake with ONE watch. The initial plan was to spent one lunar year with my Omega Seamaster GMT on my wrist, however the monogamy was too heavy a burden and I also spent some time wearing my Speedmaster Professional. I had to spend a lot of time figuring out what watch could do it all for 383 days. In the final reckoning it wasn’t something incredibly dramatic. Rather, it was something relatively old.

Let me state here and now that I DO really love my Omega Seamaster 2535.80.00. It is a fantastic watch in every respect. As much as I love it – I’m not going to lie and say that I didn’t enjoy wearing a number of other watches throughout the year. The entire time I wore the 2535.80.00 I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wanted something else… and when I dipped into my case for something else I couldn’t escape the feeling that these little ‘tests’ were not working! What’s the point of a yearlong test if you don’t wear the watch exclusively for the entire year?

Pile of Seiko watches

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The Task: For this year I wanted to do it right. I wanted to have ONE watch on my wrist, 24/7/383 with no exceptions or additions or substitutions.

What ONE watch could do it? What watch could I wear to the office? To the beach? To do kettle-ball presses and jumping-jacks at the gym? To meet with people personally and professionally? What one watch could be plain enough to fit in all the settings I find myself in over the course of a year, yet be maintain some sense of interest for me to keep from getting bored?

Thinking about it in terms of features: it would need to be, automatic or manual wind, but have a decent power reserve. Titanium would be nice, though that limits it to sports watches, so stainless steel would be better. A leather strap would not be a deal breaker – but an integrated bracelet that I could swap-out on my own would make for more intrigue. Either new or preowned, but for a preowned watch it would need to be something ‘mainstream’ that could be serviced quickly and easily at a company owned service center. And while I do like the security of a 200+ meter water resistant watch, a screw-down crown is enough for me to feel comfortable splashing around in the pool or the bathtub.

Year of the horse contenders

The Contenders:

After a few hours of trawling through internet auctions and the inventory of some of the dealers I know and trust I narrowed the search down to a short list of some six watches:

  • Cartier Tank
  • Rolex Submariner
  • Rolex Datejust
  • Panerai 305
  • Patek Philippe Aquanaut
  • Omega Aquaterra … something with a 8500 movement…

As much as I would have liked to experiment with spending a year wearing the Aquanaut – when I boiled right down to it – I was not willing to commit that kind of money, new or preowned, for a watch that is really an entry-level piece. Chop it up any way you want to, if you’re going to buy a Patek Philippe, buy something nice. The differential in prices is not that great between an Aquanaut and a decent Calatrava. (Why not a Calatrava?) I ruled out the Calatrava because it doesn’t look like “my” watch. It looks like I’m borrowing a watch from someone with better taste than me.

As much as I love Omega – last year was an eye-opener for me. The AT probably wasn’t going to carry my interest for 383 days! Sorry.

I ruled out the Panerai 305 because I know that on ME the bezel will become a scratch-magnate! Also, I own the 025 (SIT DOWN! I know they are different watches!) and I have had a love/hate relationship with that watch. I used to take it with me when I traveled because I thought that if were damaged/lost/stollen I wouldn’t really care! It’s a great watch, but just like a best friend, sometimes you just want to punch it in the head a few times because it aggravates the **** out of you!

Rolex Submariners and Seadwellers
Photo courtesy

I already own/have owned a bunch of Submariners. No fun to use a watch I already own! Also, I have a genuine aversion to the Submariner line; it is too highly sought after by ‘up and coming’ folks to make it a serious consideration. It’s a serious watch, but sometimes it is worn by silly people for all the wrong reasons. I’m not taking away from the Sub. It is an incredible watch with a deep history and tradition that would make ANY person proud to own it (again folks, don’t just buy the watch, buy the books written about the watch and delve into it’s history). However, it is still the domain of people wanting their first “Rolie” but don’t know why or what they will use it for.

The Cartier Tank was an interesting proposition. If you can’t tell from my writing – I’m not really a very classy person. I have no time or use for excess formality and while I try to be dignified in front of most people – I don’t really care enough about who or what you are to feel an overbearing need to try to impress you – especially with a watch. I keep my money in a bank. Which was another interesting aspect to the Tank; I have a very good friend who is a portfolio manager. He IS a classy guy. He DOES have to ‘dog and pony’ around conference tables to win friends and influence people and he utterly swears by his Tank. The idea that there was some kind of intrinsic value to the Tank that allowed my dear friend to feel content to wear it day-in-day-out year after year for the past 25 years or so was a fascinating notion and a good kernel to build off of. But ultimately if you take a bull-dozer and try to dress it like a Rolls Royce Chorniche you won’t fool very many people – and those you do fool aren’t worth associating with in the first place.

… And so I settled on the Datejust. Another Rolex! The brand ‘everybody hates to love’!

Rolex Datejust 16030

The Selection Process:

I could have gone to a boutique and picked-up a new Datejust – but not everyone can just go out and plonk down a bunch of money on a brand-new and very, very pricy watch. A preowned model would make it cost effective enough for other fools to try this at home – after all – it isn’t juggling chainsaws!

I also could have opted to pick a ‘Turn-o-Graph’ or ‘Thunderbird’ model to gain access to my favorite horological tool, the rotating, graduated bezel. I also could have reached for the ‘Explorer I’ model to gain the benefit of great lume. Ultimately I balked on those models because I wanted to have to ‘do without’ certain comforts I had grown accustomed to.

Reaching for my handy-dandy Mondani guide to Rolex models I was able to isolate my search to a few specific generations of Datejust models that I thought would be acceptable for a really LONG test. Some of the late 50’s early 60’s models appealed to me because of their pie-pan dials. But I was turned off by the presence of a non-quickset movement; caliber 1565 movements don’t jump out at me for being dodgy or unreliable. Caliber 1565 movements suffer from being 60 years old and lacking a quickset function. If it breaks – who will fix it – fast?

Rolex Datejust 16030

The 16030 then came into focus. The caliber 3035 movement has only (relatively) recently been removed from production, supplanted by the 3135. That means Rolex will still service this movement in-house. It also means that these movements have been out and about for long enough to find local folks to repair them easily, parts will also be fairly easy to come by in a pinch.

In past articles I’ve touched on the idea that buying preowned watches can be a bit of a dice roll. It is always best to work directly with the brand. As many times as I have suggested to Rolex that they take back pieces and sell them as “Certified Pre-Owned” I have also been escorted to the sidewalk with the expression: “If you have any more questions – please feel free to die!” (this happened on Bond Street in London! The sales associate must have been having a rough day. I understand.)

So we can strike Rolex off the list of places to go to. Next is to go to jewelers that you know and trust. I repeat: know and trust. The quality of fakes on the market today is astounding. It is becoming an absolute nightmare for experienced jewelers to sort through the onslaught of fakes and doctored watches showing-up on jewelry store counters every day. For a novice or even for someone who is experienced in a different segment of the industry the name of the game is Russian Roulette!

Rolex Datejust 16030
The actual Rolex Datejust ref. 16030 – photos courtesy Robert Maron

I’m pretty lucky. I have a rolodex of friends all around the world who are still willing to take my calls and answer my email messages. Rob Spayne and Robert Maron are two such people. Rob and I exchanged several messages in the process of finding the most plain, run-of-the-mill Datejust out there. I found THIS one. I did not ask for a discount but they made a great price on the watch. I requested to have the watch thoroughly inspected and serviced before shipping it off to me – which they did for a very, very reasonable fee. When it came, two days or so after returning from spa treatment it was in STUNNING original condition. Not over-polished. Not filthy. Just right.

What if you get bored?

Going cold turkey from splitting time between so many watches is dangerous. The withdrawal sickness can be horrible. Though I have vowed to stick to just the one Rolex for the entire year (I tinkered with the idea of having the bracelet soldered closed onto my wrist… which would do absolutely nothing because any devotee of vintage Rolex will tell you that a Datejust from 1984 still had holes drilled into the lugs to press the pins out through!) I purchased 5 watches from the day I put the 16030 on until now. I’ve never worn them – some I haven’t even taken delivery of – but I bought them nonetheless!

Then I decided to refocus my ‘Buy It Now” trigger finger on something more productive and in the same milieux as the Datejust. In the coming months you will see how I have found ways to keep my relationship with the 16030 fresh by changing its appearance with commonly available products. Think of it as role-play with your watch (sans the rope bondage or security word!)

4 responses

  1. I wore my Datejust 16200 Y series for 10 years before I discovered watch forums.. So yeah, it’s totally possible to wear a DJ for a year as it is a very beautiful and versatile watch. Rolex has hit a home run here with its timeless design. Even now, I find that I still go back to my DJ every now and then. It is getting a whole lot more wrist time than my Sub 116610LN, AT8500, Speedy Pro and Omega 2535.80 or any of my other watches for that matter..

    Yes, it is that good of a watch. But the bracelet is a let down tho, otherwise it is the perfect watch.. If only they made older DJs with brushed SEL and upgraded Oysterlock bracelet..

  2. “In the coming months you will see how I have found ways to keep my relationship with the 16030 fresh…” What happened with this story? Is there a second article?

  3. Being a happy owner of a 16030 Datejust and a 1680 Submariner makes me feel that smile that those toys get from me every time they are on my wrist.
    Rolex is always Rolex , though my dayly watches are nice homages!!

  4. My daily wearer is my Rolex Datejust 16014 from 84-85. I’m the second owner of the watch and I purchased it 2 1/2 years ago now and it rarely leaves my wrist. I purchased it as a full and complete kit and 100% original. It’s a gray sunburst dial and has no oxidation anywhere. It’s a perfect watch for any day. I’ve owned lots of Rolex and Tudors and I have to admit that the older I get the more I like the sweet spot that a 36mm watch occupies.

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