The Rolex Day-Date is still the ultimate watch of ballers and shot-callers The Rolex Day-Date is still the ultimate watch of ballers and shot-callers

The Rolex Day-Date is still the ultimate watch of ballers and shot-callers

D.C. Hannay

Welcome to The Icons, a series where we take a horological deep dive into the most legendary watches of all time. We’ll delve into the story behind the watch, its evolution over the years, famous (and infamous) wearers, the classic references, and the contemporary versions you should be checking out. This week, it’s the Rolex Day-Date…

Rolex Day-Date
Picture Credit: @watchshow_rolex_israel

Introduction: The Rolex Day-Date

Whether you call it the Day-Date, the President, the Presidential, or even El Presidente, this is likely the watch most non-watch people think of when they think of Rolex. While watch nerds may rattle off esoteric Swiss watchmakers and obscure reference numbers, without a doubt, Rolex is the go-to answer when you ask a normal person what a “nice” watch is, and the gold Day-Date is the first thing their mind’s eye sees whenever the Geneva-based manufacture is mentioned. 

Rolex is as ubiquitous a brand as Band-Aid or Kleenex, and with good reason. Their culture of consistent quality, year after year, has stood them in good stead with watch buyers worldwide. New models are seldom released, rather, incremental design tweaks come at a sometimes glacial pace. The result? The majority of Rolex designs are generally considered classics, refined over many years through small improvements to the movements, case dimensions, dial materials, and other components. They control every aspect of their production, from the milling of cases and bracelets down to movement manufacture, and even the smelting of their own gold alloys. With proper servicing, a Rolex can be handed down for generations. They hold their value as well, and can even be used as currency in the right circumstance. Unless you’re extremely lucky (or a very good repeat customer), you can’t even buy one at retail. So how did the Day-Date reach this peak at the top of the horological mountain? 

Early History

There were plenty of nice watches in the world before the Day-Date. Gold pocket watches with high complications, thin and elegant dress watches from watchmakers like Patek Philippe, even Rolex themselves were crafting fancy timepieces from precious metals long before. But let’s face it, you can’t wear most dress watches in the pool, and manufacturers eventually began fancying up their larger, more utility-based tool watches into what is now known as the “dress sports watch” category. A watch that can easily transition from a day at the office to a night out, and then handle a weekend’s activity with ease. Rolex’s own Datejust fits squarely in that box, but what about those customers looking for something a bit extra? Enter the Day-Date.

Rolex Day-Date

First introduced in 1956, the 36mm Day-Date was the first watch to feature both a full day of the week aperture and a separate date window on the dial. It evolved from the Datejust’s basic architecture, but was exclusively offered in precious metal, including the trademark fluted bezel. The water-resistant Oyster case nailed the brief for a luxury do-all watch, too, gliding effortlessly from boardroom to beachfront. The new three-link bracelet looked suitably luxe as well, and felt like wrapping your wrist in little ingots of gold. It’s this bracelet, made exclusively for the Day-Date, that’s now simply referred to as the “President”.

Rise To Fame

So why ‘President’? Contrary to popular belief, US President Dwight Eisenhower did not wear a Day-Date (his was a yellow gold Datejust). But JFK did own a Day-Date, however briefly. Apparently a gift from Marilyn Monroe (complete with a personalised engraving), Kennedy disposed of it as soon as possible.

Rolex Day-Date
Picture Credit: Rolex Magazine

It was JFK’s successor LBJ who launched the Day-Date to presidential status. The ‘President’ moniker stems from Lyndon B. Johnson’s 36mm white-dialled yellow gold Day-Date that he wore during his presidency.

Rolex Day-Date

Updated movements and more dial variations followed over the years, and the model became viewed as the Rolex. The Day-Date was a cultural institution: You couldn’t throw a martini olive without hitting one at a country club. Movie stars and musicians loved it, and it became a symbol for many that you’d finally “made it”. 

With the Day-Date’s expanding popularity came the opportunity for greater personalisation, and a vast array of dial choices became available: anything from fine burlwood, precious stone like tiger eye or onyx,  and even the so-called “Stella” dials with their bright colours (unloved upon their release, they’re echoed in today’s wildly popular Oyster Perpetual) were all on offer.

Picture Credits: @johnson167

And if you needed next-level wrist presence, the final frontier was the jewelled Rolex. Anything from delicate diamond dial markers to fully iced-out cases and bracelets were possible, depending on your need to be ostentatious. You couldn’t watch an action movie in the ’80s without seeing one on the wrist of a coke kingpin, and the explosion of hip-hop during that same period saw the rise of rappers endlessly striving to one-up a rival’s wrist game.

Picture Credit: @sw1368

Today, the Day-Date remains as popular as ever, with long waiting lists and inflated prices on the secondary market. You can choose from models in traditional yellow gold, white gold, Rolex’s proprietary Everose Gold, and even platinum, along with a host of tasty dial flavours. And although now available in a larger 40mm size (as well as the traditional 36mm), the look remains unmistakably Presidential, and the luxury watch to which all others are compared.

Famous Wearers

Golf legend Jack Nicklaus could be the Day-Date’s biggest fan. Rolex presented him with his yellow gold President in 1967, and surprisingly, it was the first watch he’d ever owned. It became his only watch, one he would put on after every tournament win that followed, becoming one of Rolex’s most iconic ambassadors in the process. And being one of the nicest guys in sport, he auctioned that very watch in 2019 for $1.2 million to benefit the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation.

Legendary investor and Berkshire Hathaway chairman Warren Buffett may be worth $100 billion dollars on any given day, depending on the market, but even he can’t always get what he wants. A longtime Rolex fan (he’s worn the same yellow gold Day-Date for years), it’s rumoured that he actually wanted to buy Rolex, but was quietly…rebuffed. Really sorry about that one, folks.

Jay-Z is a longtime President wearer, having rocked several versions over the course of his career.

Late actor James Gandolfini (as mobster Tony Soprano) famously wore a yellow gold Day-Date in the hit series The Sopranos, an on-the-nose choice for his powerful character.

Favourite Models

Not that they’re easy to get these days, but I’ve highlighted a few of the modern references you should be checking out.

Here it is: The modern iteration of the iconic all-gold-everything Rolex Day-Date. With its 36mm case size and gleaming champagne gold dial, what more is there to say?

Rolex Day-Date

You want bigger? More flash? The 40mm Everose model with a gorgeous olive green dial should fit the bill. It’s as glittery and gorgeous as you imagine, but the warmth of the rose gold against the muted green is surprisingly tasteful. 

Rolex Day-Date

Are you too cool for school? Well, so is this one, resplendent in superclean platinum with an ice blue diagonal-motif dial. It’s so cool, you probably didn’t even notice the lack of a fluted bezel. Trust me, you don’t need it.

Rolex Day-Date


If your MO is “step into the party, disrupt the whole scene”, you’ve found your Day-Date. Get set to taste the rainbow with this diamond and coloured sapphire-set stunner, complete with diamond-set President bracelet. Because if you’re going to go for it, insist on nothing but Rolex factory-set gems. You’re worth it.

Rolex Day-Date

And here’s my personal pick: the 36mm Day-Date in white gold with silver dial. Ever so tasteful, it’s the polar opposite of the jewelled models, and the ultimate in stealth wealth.

Rolex Day-Date