• “My wife Joanne gave me my Rolex Daytona when I started racing back in 1972.”
~ Paul Newman
ROLEX Daytona (16520)

Ask an experienced watch collector: “If you had to sell all your watches and live with just one watch, what would it be?”  No matter how extensive, high-end, or sophisticated their collection may be, chances are high their immediate reply will be: “A Rolex Daytona!” 

Why, you ask? It’s an iconic, legendary model from the world’s most well-known luxury watch brand, with a timeless design that’s evolved subtly since it was originally introduced nearly 50 years ago in 1963.

It has almost everything you could possibly want in swatch … bar NONE ! An amazing Zenith movement, a quality chronograph movement, a stunning “Oyster” case, with a design that allows it to be worn with anything from gym gear, all the way up to a black tie smoking. Oh, and to top it off, it has one of the best resale values you of any watch out there … assuming you can get your hands on one !

Nearly 25 years after the introduction of the first self-winding Daytona, the stainless steel models remain one of the most difficult watches to buy new from an authorized dealer. A prize that’s typically reserved for a dealer’s best clients. There was a prior in the 1990’s that wait lists had delivery times of up to 5 years!

1988 – The 16520 series was launched. The 16520 was a highly popular series at launch, and throughout its lifetime, it appeared on wait lists with up to 5 years for delivery. People willingly payed significant premiums to jump the queue to own it. It was commonplace to hear some folks paying twice the retail price for them. To this day, the plain stainless steel model still sells at higher prices than the two tone (gold and steel) 16500 models.

The key to the Rolex introduction of the self-winding Daytona in 1988 was that the reference 16520 used a movement based on the Zenith Caliber 400, originally introduced in 1969, but discontinued for several years until its production was restarted in 1986. A great movement as manufactured by Zenith, it was the industry’s only self-winding chronograph movement that met Rolex’s high quality standards. With all that said, Rolex still made significant modifications to the movement:

  • A new escapement with a much larger, freely sprung balance and balance spring with Breguet overcoil – a preferred, and more costly configuration for Rolex that leads to higher accuracy.
  • Setting the 4030 with a frequency to 28,800 vibrations per hour, even though it is based on the Zenith El Primero, which is well known for its high frequency of 36,000 vibrations per hour. Reasoning: less frequent need for service !
  • Elimination of the date function.

With the reference 16520 came the introduction of a sapphire crystal and several aesthetic changes from the prior generation. Influenced by Rolex’s other contemporary sports watches like the Submariner, the case diameter grew from 37 mm to 40 mm. The surfaces of the dials were now lacquered and glossy versus matte (black) or metallic (silver), and were adorned with applied metal hour markers inlaid with luminous material. Finally, the sub-dials featured a thin outer track of an opposing color, each ringed with a metallic edge.

The sum of these changes evolved the Daytona from a functional, subdued tool watch to an impressive statement piece.

It was an immediate success. Rolex’s timing was perfect – wristwatch collecting was at an all-time high in 1988. With the discontinuation of the manually wound Daytonas, and the excitement surrounding the 16520’s launch, the demand for both models skyrocketed. Dealers and enthusiasts quickly began hoarding the new model, which was produced in limited numbers due to the use of an outsourced movement. They could only be purchased through secondary channels, at prices up to double the suggested retail.

Even though the 16520 incorporated a new movement and was by all measures a spectacular success, for Rolex, one significant weakness remained. Unlike all other movements used by Rolex at the time, the caliber 4030 was not a 100% in-house design. The Daytona, therefore, was the last model in Rolex’s collection to be fitted with a foreign-sourced caliber. Twelve years later, this situation finally was rectified. As a result, the 16520 continues to be a model in very high demand, that still commands a significant premium.

Good luck in finding one … congrats if you have one … and remember, never let it go !!

Specifications:

Movement:

  • Rolex Calibre 4030 (based on Zenith 400 El Primero)
  • Perpetual, mechanical, self-winding
  • 31 jewels
  • 28,800 beats per hour (Reduced down from original Zenith 36,000)
  • 54-hour power reserve
  • Kif shock absorption
  • Bidirectional self-winding via perpetual rotor
  • Microstella fine adjustment screws
  • Breguet overcoil balance-spring
  • Non-stop seconds function
  • Officially certified Swiss chronometer (COSC)

Case:

  • “S” Series Oyster
  • Screw-down push buttons
  • Screw-down, Oyster Triplock 700 winding crown
  • Calibrated metal bezel
  • Scratch-resistant sapphire crystal
  • Diameter: 40mm
  • Thickness: ~12.7mm (including crystal)
  • Weight: 120g

Dial:

  • Mark III (5-line label, with inverted 6 in sub-dial)
  • White with white markers
  • Officially certified Swiss chronometer (COSC)
  • Luminous material: Tritium