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Rolex Buckley Dial: Origin Story & 3 Models That Use It

Nicknames and Rolex watches go together like ice-cream and sprinkles. The reason for that is simple. While model names are often too vague for specific watches reference numbers are too sterile and difficult to remember.

For example, while just the word Submariner could be one of hundreds of different variations of the same watch the reference 116610LV clears up that confusion but is equal parts boring as it is forgettable. So you call the watch Hulk and suddenly everybody knows what you’re talking about and you added some character to a timepiece.

Today we will explore the background of one of the lesser known nicknames: the Buckley dial. Produced mainly in the 70s and 80s this dial configuration was just one of hundreds of otherwise largely unremarkable dials. What made this one special? What does Buckley mean?

What is a Buckley dial?

Let’s start things off by taking a look at the actual dial and figuring out what makes a Buckley dial a Buckley dial. For that you need to know that Rolex themselves would never call it that but instead they refer to it simply as a “printed roman“ dial. Roman dials were the bread and butter of old school watch design and are associated with a more classical look.

In what could be understood as an effort to make this dusty design more youthful, the indices were printed which in the Rolex world was usually reserved for the sports watches. What’s more the indices from 5 to 8 are reversed in their orientation to aid legibility. The font is also unique to these dials which is longer in their design and has aged much more gracefully than the stubby look of a standard Roman dial.

buckley dial image

Are Buckley dials popular?

With all the thought that clearly went into this design it may surprise you to hear that at the time of its release, and for all of its life cycle, Rolex watches with a Buckley dial were largely considered undesirable. They were thought of as bland so much so that they would regularly be switched out for more interesting alternatives like a fancy champagne dial. What was designed to be a sweet middle spot between sport and dress watches ended up not being the best of both worlds but rather the worst. Those who wanted an actual sports watch went for, well, an actual sports watch like the Submariner. And those who wanted something dressy went for one of the millions of Datejust pieces in two-tone with diamond dials and the like.

The phenomenon of the Buckley dial is so recent, in fact, that when I bought my first Rolex, an Oysterquartz ref. 17000, I didn’t even know that it was a Buckley dial and I am pretty sure neither did the person selling it to me. To this day Buckley dials don’t command large premiums and a lot of them aren’t even designated as such.

Where does the nickname come from?

With Rolex nicknames being forced into conversations as gracefully as vegans do with their dietary choices you have to wonder, where does this nickname originate from? Well the story, from the literal horse’s mouth as Mr. John Buckley said so on his YouTube Channel goes a little like this.

Back in the day watch forums where less of a market place aimed to hype up new releases or circle-jerk on yet another fluted bezel blue dial 40mm Datejust but instead more like locker-room discussions on all things watches. In 2007 the Vintage Rolex Forum was the place to be at and in that more innocent and less commercial time a young John Mayer made his very first post.

The topic discussed where Paul Newman Daytonas and more specifically the authenticity of a dial variation that to that date was referred to as the Texan dial. In that post, which marks the beginning of our story, it was suggested that if Mayer could prove the authenticity he would have them be named after him.

Now I don’t think anybody doubts that John Mayer is interested in watches beyond a superficial level. It cannot be denied, however, that with his financial background and the nature of this hobby it would not be hard for him to garner an impressive collection built on the backbone of his endless check-book rather than years of hunting. While on an objective level from what you build your collection should hardly matter it lacks the romantic connotation of creating something from the ground up. Having a famous dial be named after him would just be a little too easy. At least John Buckley, a long time no nonsense watch-dealer from New York, thought so.

John Buckley’s response

In response to these discussions Buckley was livid by his own accounts. In a move aimed to highlight the silliness of it all, and in a manner more joking than serious, he proposed that the not particularly desirable, but nevertheless visually interesting, printed roman dial be named after him. In his own words he wrote back in 2008:

“I thought it would be funny if I picked a very unpopular dial and named it after myself, John Buckley.”

In that same blog he also gives his official definition on what makes the unofficially named “Buckley“ dial just that: It must be “painted black, champagne or white roman markers on white, champagne, black, blue or … grey background. Black or white ‘Buckley hands’ will make the look complete.“

What do we learn from all this then? We found out what a Buckley dial is and where the name comes from. Beyond that though it shows how thin the line is between the watches that get a nickname, and accordingly command a premium, and the rest. At the end of the day the nickname of the Buckley dial is a comment on another watch’s nickname. What started out as a joke ended up getting a life of its own and transformed a forgettable dial to a
collectible one.

There are few guys in the watch world who I would be happier to have a dial named after than Buckley himself. So many times watches get named after things which seem completely arbitrary and it is nice to have one named after a watch nerd just like you and me. Behind all the hype, waiting lists, and exclusivity watch enthusiasts are the backbone of this industry, even if they just make up a small percentage of it, and the Buckley dial is a recognition of that. It is an underdog watch that to this day remains one the cheapest and most accessible entry points into the collectible nickname territory.

We hope you enjoyed this journey through old forum posts just as much as we have and learned something in the process. Who knows who could be the next of us to have the honor of a watch being named after us?

To end, let’s look at a few models using the ‘Buckley’ dial.

3 Rolex Models That Use The Buckley Dial

1. 1983 Rolex Datejust Reference 16030

To begin, we’ve pulled out a beautiful 1983 reference 16030 Datejust model. This particular model was a special one as it featured a taupe-grey dial. In a range of models that focused heavily on a white dial, the grey was something new and unique for watch fans at the time. 

Of course, it also features the now-famous printed hour markings in black, and therefore it qualifies as a ‘Buckley’ dial. It definitely makes the dial easy to read, and when combined with the white cyclops date window, it’s a beautiful watch. 

1983 Rolex Datejust Reference 16030

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Of course, it’s not just all about the dial. The watch is a great 36mm size, comes equipped with a 3035 automatic movement and is all protected by a sapphire dial. This particular model was recently listed online for around $3,600, but you can expect prices to rise up to $6,500 depending on condition. 

If you can find another one of these on the market, it’s a lovely choice for those wanting a Buckley dial on the wrist. 

2. 1973 Rolex Datejust Reference 1601

If you’re after something even older and even rarer, the 1601 reference Datejust from 1973 could be the watch for you. Like our previous model, this watch comes with a grey dial, but this time comes in a much deeper slate colouring. 

This time the Buckley style printed Roman numerals come in silver and again are super easy to read. Given the age of the watch, you’re unlikely to find a model where the date window is a sheet white colour, and instead, expect it to have slightly faded to a light brown.

1973 Rolex Datejust Reference 1601

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It’s that sort of ageing that makes watches like these so popular for vintage watch collectors, though. Whilst this model might be old, it’s by no means low quality, with Rolex’s 1570 movement delivering 40 hours of power reserve, and all sits behind a Plexiglass crystal. 

Like our previous model, expect the price of this one to float around the $6,500 point depending on the condition. 

3. 1969 Rolex Day-Date Reference 1803

Don’t worry, your eyes haven’t deceived you. While the vast majority of Buckley dials are found on the Datejust, a super limited number of Day-Date models also feature a printed Roman numeral design. 

Head back to 1969, and there are several reference 1803 models which opted for a printed dial, and this white gold model is a beautiful example. Combining a sheer white dial with black Roman numerals, it’s super easy to read alongside the signature Day-Date windows at 12 and 3 o’clock. 

1969 Rolex Day-Date Reference 1803

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Of course, the Day-Date is a really premium Rolex model, and even in 1969, the watches were high spec. The 1556 calibre movement offers 48 hours of power reserve and sits behind a Plexiglass crystal, the same as we saw with our previous model. This model also has some lume on the hands, making it functional even during the nighttime. 

If you’re after a truly premium Buckley dial Rolex, this could be the model for you. At the time of writing, this watch was listed at $21,000 due to its excellent condition despite its age.