Birchwood Dial 19018 Rolex Oysterquartz Day-Date
I know it says Rolex on the dial, but in every other way this is the anti-Rolex. It’s got a battery. There’s an integrated bracelet. The dial is not silver, not stone, but wood. It’s a Day-Date, but not as you know it. Everyone has an off day every now and again, but Rolex had a decade of turmoil thanks to Japan. Here’s the thing though: Rolex on their off day . . .they’re kind of amazing. Sure, the Oysterquartz is hated by purists, the only Day-Date that would feel more at home with a floral shirt than a suit. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all?
At the dawn of the quartz crisis, Rolex sought to develop their own movement far superior to the early ref. 5100 Beta 21 efforts. In 1977, their brainchild calibre debuted with a new angular integrated case design; the Oysterquartz. It featured a degree of over-engineering that really asks for an analogy to Mercedes of that era. Incredible finishing (truly, google it), ability to self-regulate for ambient temperature, 11 jewels, and eventual COSC certification. The Oysterquartz was available as both a Datejust and this halo-product Day-Date with calibre 5055.
Much like mechanical Day-Date analogues, a wide variety of metals, dials, bracelets, and details exist. This 19018 is one of the most niche, a 36mm yellow gold child of the 80s. This one’s dial is birchwood, with a bright amber tone. That’s, to put it mildly, not the normal production. Most have estimated that about 25000 Oysterquartz were made from COSC certification numbers, but its more likely total production numbers were around the 50k range as much production was outside COSC as well (thanks @misterrolex). Majority steel, followed by yellow gold, then white gold. Wood dial Day-Dates though, a vanishing fraction of that overall pie. Quality quartz movements have slowly re-entered the good graces of many more open-minded collectors recently, and this Day-Date makes a strong case in the literal and metaphoric sense. This Day-Date came from a time of absolute turmoil and high-stress in Switzerland, but today embodies a culture of carefree, open-minded, excellent watchmaking. There’s a cosmic irony about it. But surely, once in awhile, we all need to let our hair down, button up something with palm trees on it, and go grab a mojito without a care in the world. This is the watch for that day. And date. Preferably in Mexico, given the Spanish wheel.
This example has a great case with proud bevels. The dial shows few signs of age. Print can often degrade a bit on the lacquer of these wood dials, but this one’s is strong. Its minute hand has seen the tritium fall through entirely, but I actually don’t really mind it. For some, that may be a deal breaker. But I think it fits the ‘F-it’ attitude the OQ has always had. At any rate, it comes from a well-regarded California retailer and is priced definitely on the competitive side of the market given the hand.