|Year of production (circa)||
Steel & gold
Original box & papers
Rolex Daytona Ref. 16523 Full set
Have a look at this beautiful two-tone Rolex Daytona Ref. 16523.
This example is a so-called Zenith Daytona, powered by Zenith’s legendary El Primero automatic chronograph caliber. Previous generations were fitted with Valjoux movements, while later examples would come with in-house Rolex calibers. So how do you spot a Zenith? By its running-seconds sub-dial positioned at nine o’clock. Other Daytonas feature their running-seconds at six.
As if a bicolor Daytona is not enough of a party piece, this specimen comes complete with box and papers to boot!
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If you are a motorsport enthusiast, the name Daytona probably means something to you.
In the early 20th century, Daytona beach in Florida was used for numerous landspeed record attempts. The broad, flat beach was ideal for such endeavors and a local racing culture was born. The first stock car race was held in 1936. The Daytona Speedway was opened in 1958 and became the home of the legendary NASCAR Daytona 500 race. Needless to say, in an age before digital time-tracking systems, the mechanical chronograph was the timing device of choice.
Rolex had produced chronographs since the 1930’s. In 1955, the Ref. 6234 was the first to be housed in their Oyster case, resulting in the Rolex Oyster Chronograph. It is a very classical looking chronograph with old school dauphine hands and triangle indices. The second version of the later Ref. 6238 started to really take on more modern Rolex aesthetics, with its baton hands and stick indices. It was powered by the Valjoux 72 caliber and is most commonly referred to as the Pre-Daytona.
In 1963, the Ref. 6239 was the first to feature the “Cosmograph” nomenclature on the dial. This is where we really start to see the Daytona take form, even though it is still not called Daytona at this point. In fact, some advertisements from the time are known, where it is labeled Le Mans. The Cosmograph did feature the now familiar steel bezel with engraved tachometer scale and a choice of silver dial with black sub dials or the reverse color-scheme.
And then in 1965, finally, we see the name Daytona on the dial. A dial variant named exotic was launched. It was a clear sixties design with, among other things, a ring around the perimeter matching the sub dials in color and several other distinguishing design cues. It was this exact model that was worn by actor Paul Newman, earning it the nickname Paul Newman Daytona.
Since we do not have the space here to go into all subsequent variations, we jump to 1988. Rolex launches a new line of 40mm Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytonas in steel, two-tone and gold. These are the 16500 series. And since older Daytonas have appreciated into the stratosphere, these post-1988 models are the primary focus of many aficionados today.
These Daytonas featured a sapphire crystal and Rolex’s adaptation of the famous Zenith El Primero movement. They are known as Zenith Daytonas, recognizable by the running seconds sub dial being positioned at nine o’ clock, versus the later in-house Daytonas with the running seconds at six o’ clock. In 2016, Rolex fitted all new Daytonas with ceramic bezels, resulting in a much more modern aesthetic.
The Daytona is a true racing chronograph. You will spot them on many professional racing drivers’ wrists. But even if you abide by the speed limits, they make for a versatile, elegant-yet-sporty watch that has been one of the most sought-after Rolex models for years.
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