It might come as a surprise that, in 2023, there are still underrepresented vintage Rolexes to write articles about. A while back I wrote an article apropos of my grail vintage Rolex, the Datejust 1601, which to me is the epitome of the classic, go-anywhere-do-anything Rolex (plus I have a healthy obsession for gray dials). However, recently I came across another vintage gem which might be even more special: the Datejust 1600. I know, it only makes sense that my grail was preceded by another outstanding reference, which turns out to have two little tricks up its sleeve to dethrone the 1601 as my grail. But, for a mysterious reason, the 1600 had flown under my radar until today.
First, A Bit of History on the Rolex Datejust
Still in production to this day, Rolex unveiled the first Datejust in 1945 to celebrate the brand’s 40th anniversary. The first model was entirely crafted of gold (including the bracelet) and represented an important step for Rolex: it was the very first model to combine the water-resistant Oyster case (created in 1926) with the first chronometer-certified self-winding caliber (created in 1931). In other words, it was equipped with all of the brand’s most cutting-edge technology of the time. Furthermore, it was the first model to be equipped with a date display and to come delivered on a Jubilee bracelet, two novelties that have become staples of the Datejust collection. The Datejust represents the ideal sporty everyday watch and now comes in a variety of case sizes, dial colors, and materials.
Two Outstanding Traits of the Datejust 1600
There are, actually, many Rolex Datejusts that bear the reference 1600. Rolex didn’t always bother to be more specific than a four-digit reference number. There are 1600s with various dial colors and handsets, but the one I wanted to highlight more specifically is pictured below: a variant with a silver dial, Dauphine hands, and a polished fixed bezel. This watch is especially interesting to me: the Datejust normally comes with a fluted bezel which gives it an additional air of elegance. However, opting for a polished fixed bezel immediately endows the 1600 with a more sporty vibe, a bit similar to that found on the first Explorer 1’s.
The Datejust 1600 were produced for several years during the 1960s and came equipped with the now iconic Cyclops above the date: a feature that was allegedly added by Wilsdorf to make it easier for his wife to read the date on her watch. The other key feature of this particular Datejust 1600 is the Dauphine hands that remind me of the pre-Explorer Oyster Perpetuals which Sir Edmund Hillary wore during his ascent of Mount Everest. This, combined with the polished, triangular applied marker gives this particular Datejust 1600 a 1940’s adventurous vibe.
What My Grail Datejust 1601 Doesn’t Have
Now I feel that my grail 1601 was simply lacking the additional sportiness that the 1600’s fixed polished bezel brings. In my book, being a bit more sporty always makes for a more versatile watch: something I always look for in my daily driver. It’s not that I will ever buy a vintage Rolex, which is why it will always remain a grail, but I, like many watch enthusiasts and collectors, enjoy daydreaming! Furthermore, over the years I realized that I have a weakness for Dauphine hands which constitute the perfect in-between for sporty and elegant. I find Dauphine hands to be easy to read and perennially good-looking, regardless of what the dial looks like.
The more I dig into Rolex’s past, the more amazed I am that the Swiss brand made so many iconic watches that we don’t often hear about. Perhaps it would be normal to think that we can’t know of all references and variations that have ever existed, just like I’m sure that most people don’t know about all models Breguet, JLC, and Vacheron ever released during their extensive existences. Coming across such vintage gems as the Datejust 1600, as presented here, changes the way I see Rolex as a brand. My appreciation for what they have created since their inception in 1905 is truly astonishing.
Today, Rolex isn’t as accessible as it was in the 1960s, however the fact that many of their core collections, created in the 1940s, still exist today says a lot about their iconic designs and superior technology.Featured image: www.analogshift.com