It is often said that Rolex’s 5-digit Datejust watches represent some of the best value for the money among all of the brand’s various models on the secondary market. Compared to Datejust watches from the subsequent generation with 6-digit reference numbers, the older 5-digit Rolex Datejust models are significantly less expensive to purchase (at least at the time of writing), yet they still offer key features such as a quickset date and a high-beat chronometer-certified movement.
However, people often refer to the 5-digit Rolex Datejust as a single generation of models, when in reality, it actually consists of two separate generations of 36mm Datejust watches (not including the Oysterquartz Datejust models, which also have 5 digits in their reference numbers). All things considered, the two generations of 5-digit Rolex Datejust have a fair amount in common, but they are actually different watches, both inside and out.
Two Generation of 5-Digit Datejust Watches
The 5-digit Rolex Datejust began its life in 1977 and remained in production all the way up until 2005. However, during this time, there were two distinct generations of Datejust 36 watches. The first 5-digit Datejust that arrived in the late 1970s was the reference 160xx series, while the second generation of 5-digit Datejust watches was introduced in 1988 as the reference 162xx series and remained in production all the way up until 2005, when Rolex updated the classic 36mm Datejust to feature a redesigned case and bracelet, which ushered in the next generation of Rolex Datejust watches with 6-digit reference numbers.
Compared to both the previous 4-digit and subsequent 6-digit generations of Datejust watches, Rolex’s 5-digit models are immediately recognizable. Unlike the older 4-digit Datejust watches that feature “pie pan” dials (which are characterized by their downward sloping outer edges), the 5-digit models feature dials that are completely flat. Additionally, unlike the more modern 6-digit Datejust watches that have cases with thicker lugs that have a completely high-polish finish, the lugs on the older 5-digit models follow the classic proportions of the collection and feature brushed top surfaces with high-polished sides.
With that in mind, while all 5-digit Rolex Datejust watches share a number of the same core features, there are a few major differences between the ref. 160xx series and the ref. 162xx generation of 36mm Datejust watches.
Holes vs. No Holes Case
When it comes to the cases of the different 5-digit Rolex Datejust watches, all of them will feature the same overall style of lugs. However, the most significant difference between them will be whether or not they have visible lug holes. Given that the reference 160xx generation was in production from approximately 1977 until 1988, all of the watches from this particular 5-digit generation will have “holes cases” - which means that the lug holes are drilled completely through the lugs themselves.
However, beginning in the mid-1990s, Rolex started phasing out cases with drilled lug holes and switched to the hidden design that the brand still uses today. While there are many 5-digit Datejust watches from the reference 162xx generation that have the previous style of holes case, the examples produced closer to the end of its production run received “no-holes cases” - which means that their lugs are completely smooth on their outer surfaces. While some people prefer the older style of case with pierced lugs due to how it facilitates strap changes, there are others who prefer no-holes cases for their slightly more refined appearance.
Acrylic vs. Sapphire Crystals
At a quick glance, the easiest way to tell the two generations of 5-digit Rolex Datejust watches apart is to look at the type of crystal that is fitted to them. Models from the older ref. 160xx generation of 5-digit models will have acrylic crystals, while their more modern ref. 162xx counterparts will have crystals that are made from scratch-resistant synthetic sapphire.
The debate between acrylic vs. sapphire crystals is one that has been going on for years, and at the end of the day, neither is flat-out better than the other in every single way. However, the type of crystal fitted to a watch can have a direct impact on its overall appearance, and since the dials that are fitted to both generations of 5-digit Datejust watches are going to be virtually identical, the crystal material is actually responsible for one of the most significant aesthetic differences between the ref. 160xx and ref. 162xx generations of 5-digit Rolex Datejsut watches.
Although neither version of the 5-digit Datejust is going to look all that modern, sapphire is more glossy and transparent than acrylic, and this can result in a significantly different overall look and feel. The sapphire crystals on the reference 162xx generation of watches provide them with a noticeably more modern overall appearance compared to their direct predecessors that are otherwise virtually identical, except for the fact that they are fitted with acrylic crystals. Simply put, if you have your heart set on a 5-digit Rolex Datejust, opt for the ref. 160xx generation if you want a vintage appearance, while you should go for the 162xx series if you are looking for something a bit more modern.
Caliber 3035 vs. Caliber 3135 Movements
Another key difference between the two generations of 5-digit Rolex watches is the type of movement that is fitted to them. The reference 160xx models are powered by the Caliber 3035, while the reference 162xx receives the Caliber 3135. Both movements run at a rate of 28,800vph, feature quickset date mechanisms, and offer COSC chronometer-certified timekeeping performance. Although they are not the same movement, the differences between the Cal. 3035 and the Cal. 3135 have more to do with the way they are actually designed, rather than their features or listed performance metrics.
Structurally, the Caliber 3135 features a transverse balance bridge (rather than a balance cock) to offer better support and stability for the balance wheel assembly. Additionally, due to the fact that the actual structure differs between the two in-house Rolex movements, setting the time is done by rotating the crown counterclockwise on the Caliber 3035, while a clockwise motion is required to achieve the same action on the Caliber 3135. On-paper, the more modern Cal. 3135 should offer superior performance, but with both movements beating at the same frequency and guaranteed to the same -4/+6 seconds permitted by COSC tolerances, any significant real-world differences will be relatively minimal.
The 5-digit Datejust is truly one of the best buys among all pre-owned Rolex watches and if anything, the fact that it consists of two distinct generations is a strength that only makes it more appealing to collectors. Rolex’s 5-digit Datejust models are inherently attractive value propositions due to the fact that they are consistently among the most affordable Rolex watches available. Additionally, regardless of whether someone is looking for a vintage or modern aesthetic out of their watch, one of the two sides of the 5-digit Rolex Datejust range is almost certainly guaranteed to hit the mark.