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Article: From Concept to Series - A Special Datejust Dial with A Story

From Concept to Series - A Special Datejust Dial with A Story

From Concept to Series - A Special Datejust Dial with A Story

As you guys already know, I have a huge passion and affection for the Rolex Datejust. One of the all-time classic watch designs in the perfect size with so many variations to choose from. Do you know them all? And, especially this one?

The 1960s was a different era for many watch brands, in contrast to today. A switch in architectural style, clothing, art, design and public opinions began to emerge. The big watch companies like Rolex were struggling in this period with low sales across multiple model ranges like, for example, the Cosmograph Daytona. To make their watches more appealing to the consumer, some changes needed to happen.

60s style and watch hero Steve Mcqueen, in Los Angeles 1969 representing the era.

In that period, Rolex did not produce all the components of its watches in-house. For dials they used famous companies like Stern, Beyeler, Lemerich and also Singer. Let’s stay focused on that last name, especially since their co-operation with Rolex has resulted in some of the most legendary dials known today. In the 60s multiple brands asked the dial producer Singer to design new studies to enter a new era for watches. Times were slowly moving into the funky 70s. So, the company began to design some of the most beautiful and craziest designs we have ever seen, some of which became icons!

In a 1967-1968 catalogue they presented these new designs, print techniques, markers, lay-outs and finishes to multiple brands. In this “bible of dial design” some of the most famous dial designs can be found. Maybe the most famous is the “Exotic” dial, which we refer to today as the Paul Newman dial. One of the most legendary, unique and stunning dials ever to be mounted into a watch. I believe that this design truly represents the quality and style of “Singer” and my personal opinion is that the detail, refinement and quality of these dials is about as good as dial design ever got.

Early Singer Cosmograph designs (Rolex passion Report)

Another early Cosmograph design showing a lot of resemblance with the Exotic Paul Newman dials (Rolex Passion Report)

Rolex 6241 with the result of the design studies, The Paul Newman dial

Many of these designs, however, never saw production! Maybe due to the fact that they were still too funky for a company like Rolex, or the Swiss manufacture did not believe in the new style that was emerging towards the 70s. We will never know, but it is extremely interesting to look back at that time and these “Singer” studies to understand the watch market at the time. Most of these designs were archived back into these books and never thought about again, until these books turned up for sale at a German watch fair many years ago.

Crazy Submariner 5513 design we would have loved to see in a production line (Rolex Passion Report)

Another early Cosmograph design which did not make the cut! But how stunning is this lay-out (Rolex Passion Report)

The Iconic “Yacht master” prototype by Singer

Universal Geneve design from the Singer books (Rolex Passion Report)

Funky Brandless design for a Rolex Submariner that didn’t make it, but damn this is cool (Rolex Passion Report)

Having the insight into these books that we now have; we know that only some of these incredible designs found their way into a production line. One of my favourite pages in the design studies is the one showcasing crazy dial proposals for the Rolex Datejust, in which I noticed a design very similar to a watch I had before. A four-digit silver Pie-Pan dial with beautiful, funky block markers! After a lot of research, talks with friends and reading I can confirm this unique Datejust dial is a surviving design from the Singer books, that went into production in very low numbers. The original dial can be seen on the right bottom of the Datejust studies from the catalogue.

The 1601 with the Singer block markers dial this article is dedicated to

The page from the Singer design catalogue on which the dial can be found! See the dial on the bottom end of the page on the right!

A closer look at the block markers dial executed in steel and gold!

It is an amazing design, which I believe was accepted by Rolex due to the fact that it suited its new way forward and yet was not as extravagant or eye-catching as some of the other Datejust designs or dial designs in general seen in the sample books. The dial features beautiful block markers filled with a mirror surface that gives a unique feel on the wrist. The light always reflects differently at an angle, making the markers look black and white. For me the shape of the markers is really what sets this dial apart from all others that can be seen in production watches. It is a simple detail but makes a world of difference. The shape, height and position really are so interesting and clearly add an unusual dynamic to the soleil silver dial. It definitely has the prototype feel and vibe of the famous designs seen in the catalogue.

Close up of the crazy markers!

The height and shape of the markers

The mirror surface reflecting the light

Crazier Datejust designs from the Singer prototype design catalogue.

Philippe Stahl’s gold 1601 with singer dial (Rolex Passion Report)

After a fascinating period of research and exploring of this amazing design, it was time to take this journey further! Together with my watchmaker we opened the case and carefully took the dial out of the case. We turned the dial over to examine its back side and, YES, there it was - the famous singer stamp and signed brand name confirming the story I hunted for! This dial is really a unique and rare one to be find a the four-digit range of the Datejust. A story which really makes “vintage” special to me.. Not only the design is stunning but also the story and period that it represents.

The Singer stamp on the backside of the dial, completing the story.

I cannot stop saying it and this watch underlines it: the Datejust is maybe one of the most interesting and best designs Rolex has ever created. There are so many variations still to be found. A beautiful and timeless model that also still is a great entry into the wonderful world of vintage Rolex. Every watch has its own story, one more interesting than the other. But I am convinced that this watch proves that whether a seasoned connoisseur or a newbie; there is a Datejust for you!

Berend Bulang

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