Birch Wood Dial 18039 Rolex Day-Date
Amongst the many great accolades Rolex hold, one of the most bizarre has to be convincing their clientele back in the four and five digit era that wood was a luxury material. Wood; you know, the stuff you burn to keep warm, that’s always decomposing slowly, that’s only valuable in tonnes. Granted, Rolex chose very lovely varieties, lacquered them to freeze any degradation, and only used beautifully grained sections (there was a high rejection rate, it’s legend that only 1 in 10 dial blanks were selected), but it’s still wood. Compared to lapis, it feels more lumberjack than high street, but then you never have to worry about a fractured hairline crack. And for all their humble, ahem, ‘roots’, vintage organic wood dials are some of the most desirable Day-Dates today.
Rolex have been subverting expectation and playing with norms to the tune of huge revenue longer than you think; the first wood dials appeared shortly after Stella circa ‘73; they’re about as old as the earliest hardstone. The earliest (180X) are very dark, often referred as sequoia and rarely seen. Then came the trio most know: a darker walnut, mahogany, and this birch briar. The birch can be burled, or not (as seen here). The non-burled dials are just a bit lesser seen. Each would be cut, sanded, lacquered and printed. You’ll find them with lumionus and non-luminous hands, but almost all were signed T Swiss T regardless. The vast majority of wood dials are in yellow gold cases, which makes this discreet white gold all the more alluring.
The first time I ever handled a wood Day-Date, its owner said, ‘unscrew the crown and then smell it.’ These are the conversations you only have with the nerdiest of folk. But I did as he instructed and I can confirm, there’s a tiny hit of wooden perfume waiting to meet you for every time-setting. Unlike much of the Rolex market, Day-Dates are still having their Day (no pun intended). In the last few years white gold birch woods soared to 40-50K USD and just sort of stayed there. The rarer woods like mahogany and walnut add another considerable premium. They’re a far too often overlooked peer of the Stella and stone crowd, a Syd Barrett to David Gilmour or Roger Waters. It shined in the Day-Date’s nascent years, like a crazy diamond, not to be seen again since.
This example presents in excellent condition overall. The lugs are full, possibly lightly polished but probably not. The top brushing is hard worn, which leads me to think not. Its crystal has a few light touches. But the all-important dial is brilliant. While you don’t have to worry about fractures with wood, you do have to worry about humidity. The porous wood can warp or start to eat the text, but niether appears to have happened here. It comes from a well-regarded California retailer, watch only.