The Day-Date ref. 180XX series launched in 1978 and stands as something of a transitional reference for the model.
Things were moving fairly swiftly for Rolex at the time, as evidenced by the fact that the range was only around until 1988, before the rolex day-date 228398tbr family took over.
However, as with many Rolex models, any upgrades taking place were usually confined to the internals. The Day-Date’s aesthetics had been nailed down through previous references, and the incoming five-digit watches shared a virtually identical look to the retiring four-digit ref. 18XX examples which had been in production for more than 20-years.
As the brand’s longtime flagship, the watch nicknamed the President was issued with a wide-ranging options list. It was available in any of the three colors of gold (rose, white and yellow) as well as some extremely rare platinum versions. The only one missing, as always, was steel. The Day-Date has long been the most elitist creation Rolex has brought forward and as such, it was always forged from precious metal or nothing. Even the half-and-half steel and gold Rolesor is absent.
The rolex day-date 228398tbr f is a particularly special reference, and one fast becoming the new darling of collectors looking for the next big thing. With even the late run versions now more than 30-years old, they are just turning vintage and have started to emerge as neo-classics, albeit with a quirky twist.
Definitely an eccentric in among the usually conservative President models, below we take a closer look at this beautiful model.
Like every previous iteration of the watch, the ref. 18078 is 36mm in diameter. It is only in recent years that the piece has been made in versions measuring beyond those time-honored dimensions, firstly with the short-lived 41mm Day-Date II in 2008 and then the current Day-Date 40 from 2015.
These days, 36mm is actually seen as somewhat of a traditional size offering, as popular with women as men, with tastes in watch sizes gradually increasing as fashions change.
The reference numbers from around this era become more carefully regulated than earlier in Rolex’s history, and give us all the basic information we need about the model. So, 180 indicates a Day-Date with the then-new Cal. 3055 movement. The final numeral, 8, indicates that the watch is made from 18k yellow gold. But it is the 7, the number that denotes the bezel, which signifies this as one of the more unusual variants in the stable.
Very much of its time, and no longer an option in the range, the ref. 18078 has what is known as a bark finish on its surround. In visual terms, it is somewhat akin to the engine-turned pattern seen on vintage Datejust models, where a series of decorative grooves would be etched around the perimeter. That style, however, is intentionally uniform and ornate (and not especially different to the traditional fluted design) while the bark is kept deliberately rough.
It is a very different aspect for a watch seen as a pillar of the establishment, and adds an unconventional, playful element which has attracted many fans. As if that wasn’t enough, the look is continued down the central links of the President bracelet, which we will come to a little later.
By far the biggest change introduced into the rolex day-date 228398tbr f range over the former series was the movement in use.
The Cal. 3055 replaced the Cal. 1556, one of two calibers which had driven the ref. 18XX watches over their two decades of production (the other one being the Cal. 1555 up until 1967).
While the Cal. 3055 carried over many components from the Cal. 1556, it did introduce several key differences, modifications that elevated the Day-Date to new heights of accuracy and convenience.
Firstly, the balance frequency. The outgoing engine had beat at 19,800vph, itself an increase from the Cal. 1555’s 18,000vph. It was the Cal. 3055 which brought the now-standard 28,800vph speed to the President range, giving the familiar eight-ticks-per-second sweep to the seconds hand.
Furthermore, the Quickset feature made its debut, allowing the date numeral in its three o’clock window to be adjusted independently. Now, pulling out the crown to its second position gave free control over the setting process, without having to spin the main hands through 24-hours. However, the day of the week display in the 12 o’clock aperture still had to be changed the longwinded way, and so the Cal. 3055 is known as a Single Quickset. It wouldn’t be until the series was renewed again in 1988 to the ref. 182XX models, powered by the Cal. 3155, that the President received its first Double Quickset mechanism.
Beyond that, this upgraded caliber had much in common with the old one. Features such as the free-sprung Nivarox hairspring with Breguet overcoil, the Microstella-regulated Glucydur balance wheel and the hacking function (introduced in the Cal. 1556 in 1972) were all retained, those systems being so well-proven there was no need to start messing around with them.
It gained an extra jewel, going from 26 to 27, but the power reserve stayed at a reasonable 48-hours.
In all, even though it wasn’t one of the longest serving movements in the Rolex canon, it provided excellent service and the addition of the Quickset brought a welcome break from the tedium of setting at least one of the calendar complications.
Because the bark finish on the ref. 18078’s bezel and bracelet was such an unorthodox look, the watch had a more limited appeal overall and so Rolex produced it in far lower numbers than some of the more established examples.
As a result, we have a smaller range of dial colors to choose from than you might be used to when looking at other President models.
Most common is the champagne dial, the glowing hue complementing the case perfectly and providing the classic Day-Date aesthetic. Elsewhere you will find faces in black, white, blue and silver, each of which has a significant effect on breaking up all that gold and giving a more restrained visual.
But perhaps the most popular combination on the ref. 18078, considering its slightly far-out styling, are the wood burl dials. These were particular to the 70s and early 80s and featured on both the Day-Date and Datejust models. Thin slivers taken from knots of wood, usually from birch, mahogany or walnut trees, would be fused with the underlying brass plate from which Rolex forms their dials. As you would imagine, each one is utterly unique, something which has always attracted luxury watch collectors and President buyers especially.
A couple of other differences with the ref. 180XX series over the ref. 18XX was the shape of the faces themselves. The vintage pie-pan design of old was retired and the new dials came in completely flat as we see them in the contemporary range.
The number of languages used for the day of the week also grew considerably. The outgoing reference had only 11 while the initial run of the ref. 18078 had 24, rising to 25 around 1984.
And finally, a sapphire crystal was used to protect everything for the first time, replacing the former acrylic. That, and the introduction of a Twinlock crown, meant it was the first family to gain a water resistance of 100m.
The Day-Date ref. 180XX was issued exclusively on the three semicircular-link President bracelet, from where the watch itself takes its nickname.
It has always been the ideal accompaniment for the piece as a whole, superbly flexible and with a wonderful contrast between its polished center links and the brushed outers.
On the ref. 18078 though, it is a little different. Continuing the wood-like motif from the bezel, the central part of the band is also finished with a bark pattern, running its entire length. The whole bracelet is forged from 18k yellow gold, as is the iconic Crownclasp, an introduction from 1969 that offers a concealed fastening.
By this era in the President’s development, the end and side links were solid while the middle ones were folded, giving the bracelet a certain heft but it is lighter than the completely solid modern version. Beautifully well made and surprisingly sturdy, some of the first-run examples might have started to exhibit signs of stretch by now, but far less so than the true hollow-link style found on older vintage pieces.
The Rolex Day-Date ref. 18078 is an unusual model without doubt, very much characteristic of fashions in the 70s and 80s.
But, just as all trends seem to come full circle eventually, it is fast becoming a highly sought-after variant of an undeniably legendary watch.
The styling gives a great departure from the norm for those who want to stand out, but underneath it is still one of the most meticulously engineered timepieces you can buy, certain to last a lifetime and beyond.