Introduced at the Basel Fair in 1956, the Day-Date was launched as Rolex’s flagship model. Made available only in precious metals and equipped with the newly developed President bracelet, the Day-Date would go on to become the watch you’d expect to see on the wrists of heads of states, celebrities, and assorted royalty around the world.

Rolex Stella models were initially aimed at the Middle Eastern market

Even though they are manufactured in large numbers the Day-Date still remains a highly covetable object. Not only by collectors but by just about anyone who can afford one, it is a status symbol you can wear on your wrist. What makes Day-Date models truly stand out are their dials. With different dial versions Rolex created collections within this collection. Early dials could be gilt, honeycomb-patterned, dials with special finishing or extraordinary indexes. The early 1960’s also saw the creation of ostentatious diamond dials and examples with Eastern Arabic numerals made for wealthy Middle Eastern clients. Hard stones such as Opal, Jasper, Bloodstone, Lapis, Onyx as well as rarer stones like Ammonite, Coral and even Petrified Fossil were also used to make dials.

Stella is not a nickname. Rolex used the term ‘Lacquered Stella’ in their catalogs in the 1970’s.

Rolex really pushed the envelope in the 1970’s & 80’s by introducing hard enamel dials known as Stella dials. These enamel watch faces came in a riot of colors, tones you wouldn’t expect to see on a Rolex. Interestingly, ‘Stella’ is not a nickname invented by collectors or auction houses like in the case of the ‘Killy’ (a triple-date calendar chronograph) or ‘Patrizzi’ (Daytona Ref. 16520 models made between 1991 and ‘95) or the now famous ‘Paul Newman’ Daytona. The brand used the term ‘Lacquered Stella’ in their catalogues in the 1970’s.

Rolex Oxblood Stella Ref. 18039 in White Gold

These lacquered enamel dials had a high gloss surface. There are two possible reasons why similar colored dials can look very different today — it could be a) because the color faded over time or b) because of the quality of enamel used during production. The enamel of each dial was mixed separately by hand and applied in layers. The Stella colors are oxblood, red, orange, blue, green, turquoise, peach, salmon, pink, yellow, and purple with the latter being the rarest. The rarity of the colors in the above order also determine their value. Oxblood dials are frequently seen as opposed to purple which often prove to be elusive.

Rolex allegedly destroyed batches of Stella dials as they were unsellable, one reason why they are so rare today.

It is believed that these dials were originally produced for a few markets including the Middle East and Asia but found their way to other regions as well. The irony is that Stella models weren’t popular during the time Rolex produced them. Back then clients wanted more conservative dials on a Day-Date like white, silver, and black whilst Stella models sat ignored in display cases. In some cases, Stella dials were even replaced by conventional or other dials. Rolex allegedly destroyed batches of Stella dials as they were unsellable, one reason why they are so rare today.

Rolex Stella Ref. 1803 in white gold from 1977 with salmon Stella diamond dial. USD95,000

Stella dials were not just made for Day-Dates but also for a very small number of Datejust references. These rare Datejust ‘4 digit’ reference numbers (models made before the 1980’s) featured Pie Pan-shaped dials with an angled outer ring and were fitted with plexiglas crystals and non-quickset movements. The later examples had flat dials.

But the rarity (and value) of Stella models lie not only in the color, but also in the material they were made for. A yellow gold Day-Date would have yellow gold applied indexes and crown on the dial whereas a pink gold watch has pink gold ones. The dials with white gold appliques were used in white gold and platinum watches as there are no differences known to date. Another factor is the print on the dial which varies with the metal they are made for.

Ref. 1803 in yellow gold with green Stella diamond dial worth USD42,000

The number of Rolex Stella watches available now is low, even lower and if we break down the number of Day-Dates produced in each metal. We can now understand why the prices of these can vary so much. Assuming that 70 percent of all Day-Dates were made in yellow gold, 15 percent in white gold, 10 percent in pink gold and five percent in platinum; now a white gold Day-Date with the same color Stella dial as a yellow gold Day-Date can command double the price of the latter. A pink gold example could be worth triple (assuming they are in the same condition and of the same series). It is also worth noting here that the dials are not interchangeable between the metals.

The value of these Stella Day-Date models lies in the overall condition of the watch but also in the state of the dial.

Some Stella dials even featured diamond settings and a few featured printed Middle Eastern logos. Overall it is safe to say that with the introduction of these enamel dials Rolex created something which transformed the conservative Day-Date to a highly collectible model.  It remains unlike anything the Geneva brand has ever made. Like all vintage Rolex, the value of these Stella Day-Date models lies in the overall condition of the watch but also in the state of the dial. Since they are made of enamel, the dials are very sensitive to impacts (or other damages) which can result in hairlines, chips and cracks. The majority of diamond-set Stella dials show hairline cracks under the diamonds, most probably caused by tension on the surface. Be prepared to pay top dollar if a perfect example comes to the market.

Circa 1970 Day-Date 18038 in yellow gold with turquoise Stella dial worth USD30,000

These quirky models have now caught the attention of seasoned collectors and consequently prices for Stella Day-Dates have probably doubled in the last four years and most great examples have vanished into private collections. Unlike vintage Rolex sports watches, Stella has a wider appeal and given its 36 mm size, women collectors fancy it too. Only recently have they been rediscovered by vintage Rolex aficionados — even five years ago, Stella was not as hot as it is today. Compared to vintage Rolex tool watches, Stella models are still attractively-priced despite the fact that they have become dearer in the past few years. I reckon, they are still undervalued for what they are. If more collectors start paying attention to Stella, they could be among the top collectible Rolex watches one day.

Tariq Malik is a vintage Rolex expert and the co-founder of Momentum Dubai