Join us today as we break down the iconic Rolex Daytona, it’s history, and some of its most notable references and feature options.
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A Brief Daytona History
Rolex introduced the Oyster Perpetual chronograph in the 1950s. When the model hit the market, chronographs were still overshadowed by three-handed dress references. Chronographs were more of a professional’s tool watch marketed towards engineers and the medical field. It also wasn’t referred to as the Daytona, just yet.
The Cosmograph wouldn’t earn that moniker until after Rolex became the official timekeeper of the famed Daytona Speedway in the 1960s, forever cementing the iconic chronograph’s place among the world of motorsport and giving it the name that appears on the dial today: Cosmograph Daytona.
The next major milestone in Daytona history came in 1963 with the release of reference 6239, which has since become known as the Paul Newman Daytona. The beloved actor and successful racecar driver wore the Daytona 6239 faithfully for most of his life. His watch is distinguished by a Panda dial with black art deco style registers. Only a few thousand of this dial type were ever produced.
Paul Newman Daytonas are rare and command upwards of $100,000 on the secondary market. Astonishingly, Newman’s personal Daytona recently sold at auction for $17.8 million. Needless to say, the Paul Newman ref. 6239 is incredibly collectible.
The Daytona was powered a manual-winding movement until the late 1980s when Rolex began to outsource self-winding movements for the watch. They turned to Zenith and their El Primero movement, which remained in the Rolex lineup until 2000 when the first in-house Daytona movement was introduced via calibre 4130. The calibre 4130 remains in production today.
Oystersteel: 904L-grade stainless steel, known for its incredible resistance to corrosion and scratches.
Yellow Rolesor: A two-tone finish that pairs Oystersteel with 18kt yellow gold.
Gold: Options include 18kt yellow gold, white gold, or rose gold – aka Everose. All gold is produced in-house.
Platinum: 950 platinum, also forged in-house.
Bezel: The bezel is available in either metal to match the bracelet and case or Rolex’s patented “Cerachrom,” which is crafted from highly resilient ceramic material.
Oyster Bracelet: Featuring broad three-piece links and a folding Oysterlock clasp with a 5mm Easylink extension system.
Oysterflex Bracelet: Oysterflex is Rolex’s take on the rubber bracelet, which features flexible metal blades encased in black elastomer.
Lume: Rolex introduced Chromalight in 2008. It is distinguished by a bright blue glow that lasts up to 8 hours.
Notable References and Pricing
116500: One of the most sought-after editions of the Daytona right now is the reference 116500. Stainless steel sports models are hot and, at times, difficult to find at retail. The ref. 116500 pairs the widely coveted Oystersteel finish with a Cerachrom bezel, another incredibly popular Daytona feature. The result is a watch that often commands a years-long wait just to purchase one at retail. If you’re lucky enough to snag one at retail, the price is $13,150. On the secondary market, the ref. 116500 exceeds $20k.
116520: The 116520 Daytona was the first to feature Rolex’s in-house calibre 4130 Perpetual movement. This fact alone is enough to pique the interest of even the most experienced Rolex collectors. What is also attractive about the reference 116520 is the steel-on-steel finish, which pairs a stainless steel case and bracelet with a matching stainless steel bezel. This option was discontinued alongside the reference 116500, which replaced the steel bezel with ceramic Cerachrom. Prices for the ref. 116520 start at $10k used.
16523 & 116523: Two popular editions of the two-tone Daytona are the 16523 powered by the Zenith El Primero cal. 4030, and the 116523, which includes the updated Rolex calibre 4130 Perpetual movement. Both are presented in Yellow Rolesor, Rolex’s patented term for two-tone pairings of Oystersteel and 18kt yellow gold. Depending on the feature set, both reference start at $10k pre-owned.
116508: The 116508 Rolex is presented in all-gold. Solid construction and high-quality 18kt yellow gold offer a substantial weight on the wrist that wears as only a gold Rolex can. As a newer-model Daytona, the ref. 116508 also includes a Triplock screw-down crown, sapphire crystal, Chromalight lume, a chronometer-rated cal. 4130 Perpetual movement, and a flat-link Oyster bracelet secured by an Oysterlock clasp. Starting price for the 116508 is $30k pre-owned and $36,650 retail.