Review: My Very First Luxury Watch – a 90s Rolex Datejust (16233)

While this was my first luxury watch, it would be several decades before the watch collector itch would overtake me. Did I start out on the right foot?

It’s 1990 and I’m graduating from high school. On the day of the ceremonies, my parents presented me with a small green leather box with the instantly-recognizable gold crown imprinted upon it. Inside was this two-tone Rolex Datejust (16233) with a personal inscription etched on the back.

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Rolex Datejust 16233 Box (Early 90s) © 2017 Adam Brown

Yes, it was a very special moment. I’d never received any gift quite like this one. The watch was beautiful, and became something that I would wear constantly over the next two decades – to college, my first jobs, celebrations of joy, events of sadness and even to moments as mundane as a grocery store run.

Throughout it, the Datejust never missed a beat. I’ve had it serviced several times over the years and it has consistently stayed within COSC specs. I’ve resisted the temptation to get it polished too many times (although I did have it polished before becoming a WIS and before I understood the nuances of material removal and sharp lugs).

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Rolex Datejust 16233 © 2017 Adam Brown

The Dial

This is a 90s watch, pure and simple. The days of shoulder pads and colorful linen suits wasn’t necessarily kind to watch design. But thankfully, my watch had some things going for it – including a really nice dial.

The off-white/pearl sunburst dial still looks great and – could I say – is a vintage look that is coming back into style. It’s aged nicely and probably doesn’t look that much different when it left Geneva in the late 80s.

The baton hour markers, hands and Rolex crown logo are all yellow gold and conservative-looking – something else I appreciate about my parents. The KISS (keep it simple, stupid) strategy worked well for the selection of this timepiece. In 1990, there were a crazy-wide variety of dials to choose from for your Rolex, but my parents kept a design right down the middle. Thank you.

The cyclops on the crystal showcases the Datejust feature – its instantaneous flip at midnight being a feature that fascinated me in 1990 (and still to this day). I’m not sure – but I think the crystal is mineral glass – this watch pre-dates sapphire I believe. I do know I’ve had to have the crystal polished a few times over the years. The tritium lume on the hands and hour markers (I know it’s tritium because of the T before and after the words “Swiss Made” on the dial) is absolutely, positively dead. Not even a UV-A light can make this stuff glow. I know, I tried.

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Rolex Datejust 16233 © 2017 Adam Brown

The Case & Bracelet

While this Datejust pre-dates solid end-links (SEL) and the newer Oysterlock clasp as well as featuring a Jubilee bracelet (which isn’t necessarily my favorite), it’s held up well. Yellow gold goes in and out of style every few years, and right now it’s making a bit of a comeback. Two-tone stainless steel and yellow gold aren’t going to get the same style points as they did in 1990, but the watch still looks good. And the very slight pearl/yellow hue of the dial balances out the color of the gold middle links.

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Rolex Datejust 16233 © 2017 Adam Brown

The stamped (rather than milled like today) deployant clasp is typical of the time and has held up over the years. Even the brushed surface looks decent – and could be perfect with a little super-fine grit sandpaper treatment (or Bergeon polishing pad.

Bergeon No. 5444 Polishing Stone
The best tool to brush out minor scratches on a brushed surface. © 2017 Adam Brown

The Movement

The Datejust uses the workhorse Rolex 3135 movement. When this watch was manufactured, the 3135 was Rolex’s newest movement, having been launched in 1988. It replaced another reliable Rolex movement, the 3035 as the go-to power plant. Since then, much has been written about the 3135 because of its reliability and the fact that it’s been placed in more Rolex watches than any other movement (including the Submariner).

Power reserve is 50 hours, and the watch can easily stay at full reserve thanks to its bidirectional winding rotor.

Wrap-Up

This watch will never be traded, it has a very special place in my collection (and my heart). I love the fact that it still looks great, over 25 years later. And it will probably still look good in another 25. Thanks, Mom and Dad.


WHAT I LIKE:

  • My first luxury watch, given to me by my parents
  • Timeless design that is aging nicely
  • The off-white/pearl dial (even thought the tritium is shot)

NOT SO MUCH:

  • Never been a big fan of the Jubilee Bracelet
  • For some reason, the bracelet shrunk over the past 25 years – I had to add a link. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN? 😉

WATCH SPECIFICATIONS:

MODEL NAME: Rolex Datejust Stainless Steel & Gold

REFERENCE NUMBER: 16233

MOVEMENT: Rolex 3135

CASE SIZE: 36mm

WATER RESISTANCE: 100m/325ft

 

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