The Story Behind Rolex’s Buckley Dial

Part of Rolex fanfare includes nicknames such as the “Buckley Dial”. But what does this even mean? To begin to understand, we must first shed some light on the Rolex Datejust.

A 1981 Rolex Datejust ref 16030 with a Buckley dial for sale on Sotheby’s.

The Datejust is one of Rolex’s most iconic models. It has graced the wrists of many notable people, from actors to American presidents. An iconic watch model used to celebrate milestones and handed down through generations, it is instantly recognizable and retains excellent value.

But as popular as this watch is, one of its iterations, the Buckley Dial, wasn’t well received during its debut. Decades later, however, this version is now sought-after, becoming so popular that numerous imitations have sprung up.

Today, the Buckley dial on the Rolex Datejust has become symbolic in its own right. In this article, you’ll get some historical perspective on the Buckley dial, what it is, how it got its moniker, and what makes it so collectible.

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What is the Buckley dial?

A Buckley dial is a Rolex dial printed with Roman numerals. It is found on some Datejust models from the 1970s and the 1980s, like the Rolex Datejust 16018 below.

It doesn’t have any sharp outlines or raised edges, and the markers are simply printed onto the dial. Although this dial is usually found on Datejusts, it is less commonly found on Daydates.

A Rolex Buckly Datejust listed on Subdial

So what makes the Buckley dial so special?

Rolex didn’t always make dials this way. They used (and still use) applied hour markers. Applied markers are screwed onto the dial from behind. They have shiny embossed outlines that catch the light and reflect it playfully. The refined, elegant look of these dials is part of the mass appeal of Rolex watches.

A dial with applied markers.

Even though Buckley dials were “well-made but unimpressive”, in the words of John Buckley, they regained popularity in the early 2000s, and have remained desirable ever since.

Why is it called a Rolex Buckley dial?

The moniker ‘Buckley dial’ was coined unintentionally by John Buckley, a New York-based vintage watch dealer whom the dial is named after.

In the 2000s, pop star John Mayer gained a reputation in the Vintage Rolex Forum as an active buyer of rare vintage Rolexes. Because he was obsessed with buying Datejusts with printed dials, other moderators on the forum wanted to name the dial the “John Mayer dial’, just like the Paul Newman dial.

John Mayer has a thing for luxury watches, including Rolex and Patek Phillippe. From his Instagram

But another moderator, John Buckley, wasn’t having it. He felt that John Mayer wasn’t iconic enough to have a dial named after him. In a move that was more jocular than serious, he proposed that the dial be called the Buckley dial instead. And the name stuck ever since. 

John Buckley did list some criteria for what constitutes a Buckley dial.

In a post on the Vintage Rolex Forum, he states that “a TRUE ‘Buckley dial’ MUST be painted black, champagne or white roman markers on white, champagne, black, blue or the very rare grey background.”

He added “Black or white “Buckley hands” will make the look complete.”

How rare is a Rolex Buckley dial?

Two models featured Rolex’s ‘printed Roman’ Buckley dial. They are the Rolex Daydate and the Rolex Datejust Oyster Perpetual.

Although they are not impossible to find, Datejusts and Day-dates with the Buckley dial are still difficult to find, not only because these watches were made in the 1970s and 1980s, but because buyers didn’t respond positively to them when they were first bought. Consequently, not many were made.

Non-quicksets from the 1970s and some Quicksets from the 1980s, including models with the reference numbers, 1601, 1603, 16013, and 16014 feature the Buckley dial.

Although you’ll find that most Buckley dials are white, the blue and black ones are even rarer.

Image from Rolex Forums

Why did Rolex make Buckley dials?

The simple answer to this question is innovation. Although Rolex is much younger compared to other brands like Blancpain, which was founded 175 years earlier, they managed to create a culture with their incessant innovations such as this stamped Roman numeral dial.

Although there is no official statement from the brand as to why the Buckley Dial was made, there are two theories.

The first theory is that they made it so that the markers would be more legible, with black paint on white dials as opposed to silver markers, and white paint on black or blue dials. This is along the lines of what Hans Wilsdorf did when he created the date window for the Datejust so his wife could read the date on her watch.

The things we do for love!

The other theory is that they were trying to make the Rolex Datejust appeal to a younger audience by making it less ‘dressy’ with printed dials.  Many considered these watches a horrid hybrid: not quite dressy, and not quite sporty either.

Both are equally viable theories, but a utilitarian like myself will lean towards the first theory, as it’s a much more convincing argument.

How much do Buckley dials cost?

The cost of a Rolex with a Buckley dial depends on many factors, including the material used to make the case. Stainless steel for instance will command a lower price tag than say yellow gold or rose gold. Also, the condition of the watch is a huge determining factor: if the watch has had other non-manufacturer parts grafted onto it, major physical flaws on the case, or if the dial has been damaged in any way, the price will be on the lower end.

Those who frequent watch forums will see admit that it’s generally accepted that the condition of the movement isn’t that important, as long as the dial and the case are in pristine condition.

With all of this in mind, if you want a Rolex with a Buckley dial, expect to pay anywhere from $4,000-$28,000, depending on its condition or configuration.

Final verdict: Should you buy a Datejust with a Buckley dial?

For value shoppers and those who are first-time Rolex buyers, we don’t recommend getting a Buckley Rolex. It’s harder to assess the true condition or value of a vintage watch, so knowing that you are paying a fair price becomes quite subjective with this model. You can get a better bang for your buck by buying a fully functional, “normal” Rolex Datejust or Daydate, which are more likely to sell for the same price or even more than you bought it for.

However, if you enjoy novelty and history beyond function in a watch, then perhaps a Datejust with a Buckley dial is for you.

Fewer things increase the charm of a vintage watch than ultra rare, ultra-specific features. In the case of Datejust, one of that rare specific features is the Buckley dial.

If you absolutely cannot resist the charm of vintage watches, go for it!

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