The Rolex Datejust ref. 126233 vs. 116233

The Rolex Datejust 116233 vs. 126233.  A side-by-side image of both watches.

The Datejust in steel and yellow gold is iconic.  It’s been a staple of the brand’s catalog for almost as long as the Datejust itself, with references 126233 and 116233 being among the most sought-after in recent years.  Side-by-side, both editions of the watch look nearly identical.  They have 36mm cases, fluted bezels, the Datejust’s signature calendar display at 3 o’clock, and steel and yellow gold finishes. So, what exactly is the difference between the Datejust 126233 and 116233?  Let’s break it down.

What is the difference between the Rolex 126233 and 116233?

Ref. 116233 (left) and ref. 126233 (right).  Photo Credit: Bob's Watches

Reference 116233 is from the first generation of 36mm 6-digit Datejusts, which came to market in the mid-2000s.  Ref. 116233 replaced ref. 16233, bringing with it a brand new style of bracelets with solid links and solid end links.  Overall, it has a more substantial weight than the ref. 16233.  The 1162XX generation was also the first to feature the engraved rehaut with a repeated “ROLEXROLEXROLEX” motif.  Many of the same elements from the 5-digit generations carried over to ref. 116233 as well, including the scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, caliber 3135 Perpetual movement, and lugs without holes.

The Datejust ref. 116233.  Photo Credit: @langedyk_vintage_watches

Rolex released Reference 126233 in 2018, effectively discontinuing ref. 116233.  Initially, the 1262XX series only included steel and gold (Yellow Rolesor) and steel and rose gold (Everose Rolesor) models. However, it didn’t take long for Rolex to release the Datejust 36 in other two-tone, all-steel, and full-gold models.

With reference 126233 came a new case with redesigned lugs for a more refined, proportionate profile on the wrist compared to the Datejust 116233.  It also comes on the same bracelet options, both the Jubilee and the Oyster, only now it has new end links, and Rolex seems to have done away with the beloved hidden Crownclasp paired with the Jubilee bracelet on previous models for the folding Oysterclasp.  This swap alone initially had many Rolex enthusiasts divided.

Rolex Oysterclasp.  Photo Credit: Bob's Watches

A few new dial color options also joined the lineup in 2018, including sunray black.  More recently, Rolex added new fluted and palm motif dials to the Datejust collection.  Looking even closer at the dial, the baton hour markers are slightly longer and bigger.  Additionally, Rolex initially discontinued the famous railroad minute track when ref. 126233 first hit the market.  However, it seems as though the company has since added it back to their catalog.  Keen-eyed Rolex enthusiasts will also notice that the “Swiss Made” distinction was moved to underneath the 6-hour marker instead of on either side of the marker, and Rolex added a tiny 5-point coronet between “Swiss” and “Made.”  Integrating the Swiss Made text with the minute track makes the dial less cluttered and more refined.

Rolex Caliber 3235 vs. 3135

Last but certainly not least, the Rolex Datejust 36 ref. 126233 sports the brand-new caliber 3235 Perpetual movement, replacing the caliber 3135 powering ref. 116233.  Remarkably, the caliber 3135 was in production since 1988 and has only recently been retired, with caliber 3235 taking its place across the Rolex portfolio.  With the caliber 3235 comes a more efficient Chronergy escapement, accuracy up to -2/+2 seconds per day, and a 70-hour power reserve.  Compare that to caliber 3135 with a 48-hour power reserve.

Photo Credit: @roberto.tarabella_watchmaker

Aesthetically, there are quite a few minor differences between the two Datejust models that have purists divided, including the larger baton hour markers and the new Swiss Made configuration. However, it’s undeniable that reference 126233 is more refined.  Ref. 126233 also boasts the shiny new caliber 3235 Perpetual movement, although the caliber 3135 powering ref. 116233 is also a very reliable movement in its own right.  Which 6-digit Yellow Rolesor Datejust 36 is your favorite?

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