Owner Review Review – 1972 Rolex Datejust 1603

The Skinny

  • 1972 Rolex Datejust 1603
  • $3100 cash (no bracelet)
  • 36mm
  • auto-winding in-house movement, no quick-set for date

I Was Pretty Gone In Nashville

I was in Nashville on a cross-country trip with my best friend Andy Baldwin – an Aussi record producer who is part Winnie The Pooh, part Buddha, and part Clive Davis. We had just woken up from a night of unleashed consumption of everything from finely crafted and harvested chemicals to great live music, dancing in a vintage-styled disco, chowing on proper bar-b-q, and I was still quite altered at 10:30am the next morning. Andy suggested we go get a weird-ass coffee with home-brewed tonic water, espresso, and orange in it, and so we found ourselves in the lobby of a killer hotel in downtown Nashville called Noelle drinking the strangest coffee I’ve had.

I wandered across the lobby to The Keep Shop with beautiful people selling beautiful things, and then I saw the case of vintage Rolexes. I asked to try on the 1972 Datejust 1603, and as soon as I did I knew I was going to buy it. It was a feeling. A vibe. And I was lucky my Datejust didn’t suck, because at the time I didn’t really know shit about vintage Datejusts.

Keep Shop in the lobby of Noelle in Nashville. That open case (rear left) was my problem.

The best part of the purchase is that Andy had been hauling a wad of cash with him, and so I decided to use that to buy this old Rolex. I have to admit that Andy and I looked like a couple of freaks, even in Music City USA. I looked like a hardcore Deadhead, Andy a devoted Burning Man attendee, and we waltz into this swanky place – clearly still fucked up from our night out together – and I buy a Rolex in cash. I don’t think I’ll ever top that moment as a watch buyer.

What’s a 1603?

A 1603 is a Rolex Datejust with an engine-turned bezel in stainless steel. It’s understated compared to the DJs with the white or yellow gold bezels. It shines less, and looks a little more utilitarian, even though that bezel hasn’t been utilitarian for well over 50 years. Originally it was used to screw the crystal down into the Oyster case system. But the look was so iconic that Rolex never got rid of it, even when that whole system changed into a rear-loaded two-piece case.

At 36mm the Datejust is pretty perfect. Long lugs make it fit everyone well.

Around 1978-9 Rolex updated the Datejust with a quick-set date function, and I really wish I’d known that when I bought this watch for a few reasons: 1) it’s a pain to set the date, so I keep mine in a winder; 2) parts for these older ones are harder to come by and thus far more expensive; and 3) I feel like an idiot for plunking down a wad of cash for something I didn’t really understand.

Around 1978-9 Rolex updated the Datejust with a quick-set date function, and I really wish I’d known that when I bought this watch…

If you’re going to buy a Datejust and are not seeking out a specific year (for a birth-year watch or some such), then you should really consider getting one made after that transition from four-digit codes to five-digit codes – 1979 is a safe bet, but just check the reference number and be sure it’s got five digits.

Clean, Unpolished, All-Original – That Was 100% Luck

I had enough of a sense of watches generally to see that this example just sang, but I don’t think I had the wherewithal to actually assess the watch because I was still messed up on chemicals and because I didn’t know jack-shit about Datejusts, modern or old. And so it was with great luck that I happened to get a clean and unpolished example in pretty darn good condition. But you, dear reader, shouldn’t work from such a position of ignorance. For that you can read my write up at Gear Patrol on the Datejust, which I wrote a couple years after buying mine.

A Keeper From The Moment I Bought It

I am not going to flip this watch because it symbolizes my best self that is drawn out when I’m with my best friend, Andy. I don’t know why – even Shelley doesn’t know why – but Andy brings out this really soft and gentle side of me, and for that alone I’d never flip this watch that Andy and I essentially bought together while messed up after our wonderful and unforgettable night in Music City USA. When else is the platonic love between two men celebrated so effortlessly as when I put this watch on? Just about never.

When else is the platonic love between two men celebrated so effortlessly as when I put this Datejust on my wrist? Just about never.

Up against a solid gold Day-Date, the 100% steel 1603 looks pretty down to earlth.

This open affection between dudes is one reason why I love watches so much, because watches create a zone in which we can soften our more hardened masculine selves and explore our aesthetic sensibilities – our appreciation for beauty for beauty’s sake – without having to make some weird leap in a friendship that would, without the watch present, likely feel awkward. I genuinely love many men, but rarely do I get to express that love without feeling like my sexuality is going to be brought into question. A watch can do that, and that’s frickin’ huge when seen from my quasi-feminist POV.

This Datejust hearkens from an era long before watches got huge and expressed a masculinity that a bloodied and automatic weapon-wielding Sylvester Stallone embodied so well with his massive Panerais. 

And somehow I don’t think it was mere coincidence that the 36mm Datejust 1603 was the watch to foster this connection between best friends. I think I sensed that this watch spoke of a softer masculinity, even if I sensed that very subconsciously. It’s an elegant watch. It’s small. It’s vintage. This Datejust hearkens from an era long before watches got huge and expressed a masculinity that a bloodied and automatic weapon-wielding Sylvester Stallone embodied so well with his massive Panerais. Even sub-40mm men’s watches become the new norm, this 36mm Datejust is delightfully fey – maybe even a little wimpy – and I cherish how this watch brings my best self forward, even when my best friend isn’t around.