One of the oldest and most established complications in wristwatch design is the humble date window. Although we often take this innocuous feature for granted, it wasn't until 1945 that the immediate jumping date to which we've become accustomed first appeared.
The very first model to feature this common complication was the Rolex Datejust. Released 40 years after the company's foundation in 1905, the Datejust redefined expectations for a gentleman's wristwatch with its rudimentary calendar functionality and perpetual winding weight, which meant it didn't need to be wound if it was worn daily.
Nowadays, the Rolex Datejust is known for its magnified date window courtesy of the cyclops magnifier, but this recognizable feature was not part of the original release. It is rumored that the wife of Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf had complained to him about the illegibility of the date window. Nine years after its original release, the Datejust gained the cyclops and a legend was born.
The immediate jumping date now features on many watches throughout the industry. In many cases, the date window is located at 3 o'clock. While the reason for this may not be immediately obvious, there is a very clear reason for it.
Wilsdorf was a fan of form following function. He realized that the 3 o'clock position was the most frequently visible cardinal point due to it being the first to poke out from under a cuff. While many designers following the trail blazed by Rolex have mindlessly included a 3 o'clock date because it is just "the way" in which things are done, the sense behind the decision adds a layer of justification to the design.
Not too long after, the Rolex Day-Date model joined the catalog. This design, launched in 1956, brought a new level of information to the dial, including the day as well as the date in an easy-to-read format. The day window of the Rolex Day-Date stretches in an arch between the 11 o'clock and 1 o'clock hour markers. While subsequent designs have included abbreviated day codes (such as Mon, Tue, Wed, etc.) so that the information can be aligned with the date window at either 3 o'clock, or stacked above it 6, nothing quite compares to the clarity of the original Rolex Day-Date layout.
These days, watchmaking is witnessing more and more creative ways to express this information. Pointer dates (using a hand) are quite common, and orbital dates (where a marker moves around a printed or applied date scale rather than the date being viewed through a window). Examples of these new, more characterful interpretations of this classic function can be seen from brands such as NOMOS Glashütte and Oris.