I’ve already written about why I feel the Rolex Datejust is understated and under appreciated, and if you, like me, are quietly looking for Datejusts to use and enjoy, here is a simple guide. I’m going to split the choices into pre 1980 (vintage Rolex Datejust) and post 1980 - 2003 (recent) and ignore the 116234 and 116233 (to be covered later).
Often bought as a birth year watch, a good vintage Rolex Datejust will look much newer than it is, and are popularly worn with a leather or nato strap, given the early jubilee bracelet’s tendency to stretch. Original dials add value and were often swapped at service. Avoid any weird customisation, Mickey Mouse looks great at Disneyland but less so on a classic Rolex. After set diamonds are also a no no. I’m strangely OK with a well repainted restored dial, as long as its clearly stated when sold and bought for enjoyment. (I’m a sucker for a cool leather strap matching a dial), but don’t pay any premium. Originality will hold its value over all else.
Whilst the 16220 and 16234 reference are virtually indistinguishable at first glance, the 16234 held a decent lift in price when new. Today, the price lift is minor, and of course you gain a white gold bezel. I’d look for originality and condition first.
I’d buy (have bought and do buy) Datejusts on this basis only, and look for a box and papers second. Its still quite easy to find a mint 1990s and early 2000s Rolex Datejust with a jubilee bracelet which is little used and without stretch as well as an unpolished case. We currently (at time of writing) have a 1991 16234 which retains the green sticker on the back. This one genuinely is one of the best Datejusts I have seen. Go for gold and steel (the bi-colour or two-tone) and there’s a generous adding of glamour which can bring retro cool to your look. All gold is a rare thing, and a good 16238 I’m tipping as a strong investment piece.