I received this watch in November of 2016, a couple of months after my grandfather passed. It was his watch, and watch he had had for just shy of a decade, but had worn everyday of that time — it was a watch which commemorated a business success for him. This is also the watch which caused me to kick my Apple Watch to the curb, and entrenched my wrist and my wallet back into the watch world.
And, this is also the watch model (generally not this specific variant) I will almost always recommend to someone who wants a one watch collection. I thought it would be good to sit down, and write about this watch after having it now for seven years myself.
Specs and Stuff
First, let’s talk about the watch itself. This is reference 116264 which is named ‘Datejust Turn-O-Graph Thunderbird’. It comes in a few dial colors, mine is a charcoal (white and blue are the two others I know of). Essentially this is a standard steel Datejust with two changes (none of this matters if you want a new Datejust, but for those who find tidbits interesting):
- The bezel freely rotates and is marked as a standard dive/timing bezel style. Most Datejust have no markings or rotation on the bezel. Additionally, the bezel on this model is white gold, giving it a slightly different hue/tone visually from the polished stainless steel. This gives the watch the “Turn-O-Graph” designation.
- The seconds hand, and date window are contrasted. Every model is the same here, with the red seconds hand, the red date numerals on a white background. This is the Thunderbird part.
You can find other Datejust models with these features if you are into vintage Datejust you can get one of the above on other models, as of this writing, none come from Rolex today like this.
The movement is Rolex’s cal. 3135 which boasts the ‘Superlative Chronometer’ rating at ±2 seconds per day. It has an underwhelming 48hrs power reserve.
These were made before the modern sizing, so they are a 36mm diameter with about a 12mm height. They have 20mm lugs, and a 100m rating on the Oyster case.
This is a decently standard Rolex setup, and it works perfectly.
The Daily Classic
I am not going to go much over the quirks of this specific model, and instead focus on what you can expect out of long term ownership of a Datejust generally. When I first received this watch, I wore it for nearly two years straight. That put the watch at over 10 years of service, and it wouldn’t be until the watch was closer to 13 years old before it was ever sent in for service from Rolex.
Keep in mind, Rolex now states something like 7 year service intervals, so I had pushed it almost double. Why? Well a service to the movement from Rolex is about $800 (or more) and that wasn’t something I wanted to pay for. Additionally, the watch was running perfectly within spec, and it seemed like there was little reason to send it in.
After sending it, the watch is still in spec, and running fine. Yes, a Rolex is an expensive luxury item, but they are also very robust tool watches — which is the true legacy of a Rolex.
After owning a lot more watches in the interim, I have really come to appreciate the easy wearing nature of the Datejust. Rolex really nailed this watch. It can handle casual, sporty, office, maybe even dressy affairs with the right color combinations. It wears very comfortably, and can take a litany of third-party straps.
The accuracy is straightforward, seemingly unmoving, and is an underrated element of a Rolex. I like to be persnickety about the accuracy of watches, but I’ll be damned if this Rolex hasn’t proven to be my most accurate fully mechanical watch when worn across all scenarios.
All of this leads me to what is probably the item I least expected from this watch: the durability of it. When you think of a durable, hard wearing, Rolex — you mind is with the Submariner and Explorer line, and if you stretch maybe you think of the GMT-Master II. But you don’t think of the Datejust.
And yet, I can attest to how durable this Datejust has been. Not only the movement, and its unwavering ability to keep in spec, but also from general life things. Travel, swimming, woodworking, moving, beaches, and more — I’ve had exactly zero issues with this watch. Rolex has been doing this for quite some time, and it seems they have it well sorted when it comes to building a watch you can wear and forget about.
Which lands us on the aesthetics of this model. It is a classic in the same way a navy blazer is a classic staple of men’s fashion: meaning you either own one, want to own one, or simple cannot imagine a time when you would wear such a frivolous thing. I get it, it looks a little fancy and “the Submariner speaks” to you, right?
Except the Submariner is boring, it was made to be boring, and it will always be boring. The Explorer also is boring, even more so. What the Datejust excels at is providing you with an ample and durable platform for time telling, which will never drag your outfit down — not in any way.
It’s a classic, so many watches have copied this that when you start to look at other watches, you quickly realize “isn’t this just a Datejust”? Yes, but no, it’s unlikely that it is as good as the Datejust.
This time and date only watch is simple in all the right ways. It’s flashy in all the right ways too. The fluted bezel, the best choice of a bezel, is a gem. The facets catch just enough light to make the watch pop, while still settling into the background when it drops below your cuff. The hands are considered, and appropriate.
At 36mm this watch wears decently small. Small enough that it can be worn by those with very small wrists, and worn well. But large enough that it looks appropriate on most larger wrists as well — a classic size.
And the patina. I’ve never had my watch polished, you can see that, and it looks better and better every year. It shows a life being lived, not one being hidden away.
And then you put it on a strap. I never thought I could get this to work on a strap, but I now almost exclusively wear it on one. It takes the vibe down a notch, but loses nothing.
In the end, seven plus years and counting with this watch, I often think about all the watches I own. And if I remove sentiment from them, what would be the best single watch to own. I always end up at the Datejust, because it’s my easiest watch to own, to wear, to care for, and to wear with anything and everything.
It’s a really fucking good watch. How is a watch which is this popular, still this underrated? I have no idea, that’s what I really wanted to tell you today.
If you are getting ready to buy one, here’s my advice:
- Size: Most people with an under 7” wrist will be best served by the 36mm variant. This will allow it to wear up the dressing well scale better, without hindering it on the casual side. Those over 7” should for sure select the 40mm.
- Dial: go with the black or blue dial (my preference as stated) for the most versatile of watches.
- Indices: skip the numerals and all that, and stay with the stick/batons that are filled with lume. I wish mine had that, and they look perfect in person.
- Bezel: say it with me “fluted”. I know, but trust me. Fluted.
- Bracelet: there’s two options, and both are great. There is no wrong choice between the Oyster or Jubilee bracelet. That said, some (but not all) say the Jubilee can tug at arm hair more. While most say the Jubilee wears a little more comfortably. I’d buy the one you like the look of the best.
That’s it! Oh, and I should note, the second hand prices are less insane on this Rolex model — it’s worth a look if you are open to it.