Bulang Loves – The Rolex Zenith Daytona

by Ross Povey - Jul 29 2016

The Rolex Daytona is a king amongst all chronographs. Launched in the 1960s, it is a watch that quickly became synonymous with racing and adventure – a watch to time speed! The newly launched stainless steel Daytona at Baselworld 2016 was one of the most anticipated watch releases for many years and as expected has largely been met with rapturously positive responses. The watches are in huge demand and if you are lucky enough to get offered one (waiting lists of 200…yes!) you will induce serious watch envy from your peers! The bit of this reference was, however, with the Rolex Zenith Daytona…

A New Era

In 1988 Rolex completely redesigned their flagship sports watch and released the 16500 series Daytonas. This was Rolex’s first automatic winding chrono (although sister brand Tudor had been retailing an automatic chronograph in the form of the Big Block for some years) powered by the modified Zenith El-Primero movement. Rolex used the Zenith 400 movement as the basis for their reliable and sturdy 4030 movement. They performed around 200 modifications to the base movement to get to meet the high expectations of the Wilsdorf group. All the previous incarnations of the chronos had had plastic (plexi) crystals and the 16500 series saw the introduction of the more hard wearing sapphire crystals, which was one of the contributing factors in Rolex being able to guarantee the watches to a depth rating of 100m (330ft).

Ross Mk 3

A Waiting Game

The watch was an instant hit. It’s newly ‘beefed up’ case size and cosmetic enhancements were real crowd pleasers and as mentioned earlier, they became very sought after and because of that, people had to wait. The stainless steel Daytona is shrouded in mystery when it comes to actually walking into an Authorised Dealers and buying one. Whether down to Rolex’s strategy of limiting supply or a genuinely long-standing fever to own one, waiting lists have been in place for these watches – right back through the 1990s and 2000s. It was quite common to see ‘heads up’ type message on forums when one was spotted in a shop and there were always rumours of certain ADs having them hidden away in their safes. Whilst some of this hype had died down over the past few years (leading up to the launch of the new version this year), whatever the truth, the fact was and is that these watches are always hot!

Rolex 16520 L lifestyle BB

The Devil’s in The Details

As with all things Rolex, there is a huge interest in these watches. There is a definite pattern in Rolex collecting when a watch is discontinued and an updated model introduced, the collecting world starts looking at the small, incremental changes to the watches – in most cases the dial. The Zenith powered Daytona has a cult following and fits neatly into what collectors refer to as a transitional watch. As Rolex have improved their production facilities the evolution of dials is less frequent, but the 12-year run of the Zenith-powered Daytonas has a well-documented chronology of dial changes and variations. There have been entire books (and whole chapters within wider books) written on the subject and there are numerous details about the placement of the ‘T SWISS MADE T’, serifs on the red ‘DAYTONA’ text, the different bezel variations and the various bracelet/endlink combinations permissible with what serial number range. It makes for fascinating reading and research – one book I have particularly enjoyed reading is Rolex Daytona – A Legend is born co-written by Stefano Mazzariol. He breaks the white dial down into five versions – the Mk1 to Mk5 and a brief synopsis of each is as follows:

Mark 1 (1988) – The so-called ‘floating Cosmograph’, so named due to the word ‘COSMOGRAPH’ being spaced away from the other four lines of text. The ‘6’ in the hour totaliser is upside down or inverted.

Mk1 Dial

The Mk1 Dial (Photo by Stefano Mazzariol)

Mark 2 (1989-1990) – Like the Mark 1, this dial was made by Singer and retains the inverted ‘6’. This variation, however, has the ‘OFFICIALLY CERTIFIED’ text line missing and so collectors refer to this as the ‘Four Liner’.

Mk2 Dial

The Mk2 Dial (Photo by Stefano Mazzariol)

Mark 3 (1991-1993) – Made by Rolex, this dial saw the reintroduction of ‘OFFICIALLY CERTIFIED’ (not seen since the Mk1 dial) but all five lines evenly spaced together below the Rolex coronet. The ‘6’ is still inverted and there are still (as per the Mk1 & 2) four hash markers in each five-minute subsection of the minute register.

Mk3 Dial

The Mk3 Dial (Photo by Stefano Mazzariol)

Mark 4 (1993-1998) – Again, manufactured by Rolex this dial continues to have the five lines of text. On this dial, however, the ‘6’ is now the ‘correct’ way up and the font used in all three chrono registers is flatter and wider. The dial still utilises tritium filling in the hour markers and therefore the dial is still marked ‘T SWISS MADE T’ at the bottom.

Mk4 Dial

The Mk4 Dial (Photo by Stefano Mazzariol)

Mark 5 – (1998-2000) – The last of the 16520 dials is the Mk5, which is very similar to the MK4 dial. This version has very few serifs on the text, as per the MK4. The most obvious difference is the move from using tritium to luminova for the filling of the hour markers, which is denoted in the lack of ‘T’s in the signing at the bottom of the dial that now reads ‘SWISS MADE’.

Mk5 Dial

The Mk5 Dial (Photo by Stefano Mazzariol)

Cosmo Conclusion

The recent introduction of the new Daytona, the third incarnation of the sapphire glass Cosmographs has been a huge success and as a result of the renewed Daytona Fever people are becoming more interested in these first series Zenith-powered watches. Whilst we never really talk about watches as investments, I think that these are a great watch to buy at the moment and offer the collector an interesting area of the Rolex history to enjoy researching and enjoying. This overview is in now way definitive but is hopefully a brief overview and introduction to these classic chronos – now go and find yourself one!

Rolex 16520 L-Ser Case BB